• The Inside Line

Man of the people

Kate Walker
July 16, 2013
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Formula One World Champions - they're just like us. Lewis Hamilton spent his weekend at the Goodwood Festival of Speed before enjoying the music on offer at London's Wireless Festival. Jenson Button did Goodwood followed by a little sport, but the Somerset racer is somewhat less like us - there aren't that many people out there doing triathlons of a Sunday.

And over in Germany, Sebastian Vettel demonstrated just what a man of the people he is by taking part in a soapbox derby.

Vettel was in the German town of Herten, judging a Red Bull sponsored soapbox derby. But the entrants looked like they were having such jolly japes that the triple world champion couldn't resist having a go himself. Because he's just like us, and not because he's trying to rehabilitate his image as a man of the people, oh no.

It's been interesting to watch the gulf in popularity between Vettel and German racing legend Michael Schumacher over the past few years. Attending the German Grand Prix in Hockenheim in 2010, the fans were all about Michael - new shirts, retro shirts, tattoos commemorating his wins. Vettel was nowhere. But it made sense - the young German had yet to take his first title, and while he'd established himself as a talent to watch, Michael was Michael, and back after a three-year hiatus.

As the Red Bull racer did better and better, the number of obvious Vettel supporters at German races grew. But so did the number of fans wearing Schumacher shirts of every era, the German fanbase giving moral support to the elder statesman with the less than stellar comeback.

This year in Germany I was surprised by the radio coverage I heard while driving to and from the circuit. I don't speak German, but the words 'Lewis Hamilton', 'Sebastian Vettel', and 'Nurburgring' work in every language.

And what struck me as I was listening to the DJs babble on in short clips between songs, was that Lewis Hamilton was given a lot more airtime than Vettel. This started on Thursday morning, before either man had taken to the track, and carried through till race day. And they weren't talking about tyre tests, as I didn't hear 'Pirelli' mentioned once.

Hamilton is now a Mercedes driver, but it still seemed odd that a Brit driving for a German team would be given noticeably more airtime than the German triple world champion.

But Vettel has never been as popular in Germany as he has been overseas. The Monty Python-loving cheeky chappy persona that won him fans in Britain doesn't appear to have been able to claim the hearts of those German F1 fans still pining for Michael's glory days with Ferrari.

Ironically for a driver who shies away from displays of ostentation (regular helmet changes aside), Vettel is not the man of the people that the German fanbase is longing to support. He lacks the common touch.

Which is why the Red Bull PR machine - members of whom can be seen accompanying their star driver in Herten - will have decided that the best use of Vettel's time was a weekend spent in a small town in North-Rhine Westphalia, mingling with the people and their ironic lo-fi racing like the everyday average superstar he is.

And speaking of irony, why not dress one of the world's best known racing drivers as one of the world's best known (fictional) racers? Oh yes, they went there. Can't get much more man of the people than Mario, can you?

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