In Motorsport, where thousandths of a second make all the difference and (to quote Will Ferrell in Talladega Nights) ‘if you ain’t first, you’re last’ you need a personality to get noticed and survive, that is if you don’t have the car to fight at the front for wins and are swamped in the midfield. We aren’t saying that strong one off results aren’t going to take you places, (Bianchi’s points in Monaco must have got Ferrari thinking again for example) but as the costs to stay in Formula One, and Motorsport in general, rise, drivers have to secure sponsorship and create a brand/image that is marketable and attractive to prospective Motorsport sponsors.
Kimi Raikkonen for example has always been known for his blunt, short answers to questions and fans love him for it. He has created a dark horse, no bull s*** character within Motorsport which makes him marketable for teams as it sets him apart from the other drivers on the grid. He is the driver that you kind of love to hate because you know he isn’t going to smile and be all fun and games, but you like him all the same and he is instantly recognisable.
Jenson Button is almost the polar opposite of Kimi. They are both very relaxed and cool guys but that is where the similarities end. Jenson is happy to smile and wave for sponsors and fans, he takes time to talk to the cameras and take part in features for pre-race shows. Jenson is Formula One’s good guy, he chats, rarely complains compared to most of the drivers and has a lot of support behind him at every race willing him on. There hasn’t really been an incident that has given him bad press or seen him come off as the bad guy, although in his early days there was an air of cockiness about him. It seems that you have to be a good guy or bad guy to create a buzz and gain exposure, there is no in between.
Rosberg has been branded, possibly earned it in some people’s opinion, the bad guy this season. Even though he would probably prefer to be liked by everyone he is being noticed and talked about regardless, which again is added exposure for his sponsors and the team. Hamilton, to the British fans at least, is the good guy of the season that just can’t catch a break. Again all of the attention surrounding him and Nico is great exposure for the team and all the sponsors involved, it does beg the question would you want them to just get along and finish without any battles or disagreements?
When you look down the grid for a driver that hasn’t really gone either way and just plods along doing his job, you have to turn to someone like Gutierrez. He isn’t right at the back of the grid and he isn’t fighting for points currently so it seems that as each weekend passes, he just races around in the background without ever really getting noticed because he isn’t outspoken and the media aren’t drawn to him. Sutil, Grosjean and Maldonado suffer the same fate. Grosjean has faded away slightly in 2014 after showing what an exciting prospect he is last year. A few of the mid-pack drivers do a good job of separating themselves from the crowd though, two good examples being either the aforementioned Button, or Daniel Ricciardo.
We know that Ricciardo is great, with a front running team and he has taken 3 brilliantly executed race wins, but even when he was with Toro Rosso he featured in a fair few TV pieces/interviews and hasn’t stopped smiling since he started in Motorsport. He is very likable, with that cheeky smile slapped across his face nearly all the time, Ricciardo is another of Formula Ones good guys. His smile and Aussie optimism is his ‘thing’, instantly recognisable and it gives him an identity. He hasn’t just faded into the pack as just another Formula One driver. He also benefits from the fact that fans have really warmed to him and got behind him. His success this season has launched him and really placed him into that group of ‘one to watch for the future’. TV crews have begun to pick up on Daniel’s results and performances much more closely since his sensational performance in the season opener around the Albert Park circuit. This will of course come with added pressure to keep it up but because he can joke around and laugh in just about any situation, he can get away with a slightly lower key session every now and then. For a sponsor this is gold, a driver that is well liked, creating waves in the sport and will be around for a long time it seems. Now would be a good time to hop on board the Ricciardo bus because it is still building momentum and the exposure that comes with it is only going to grow from this point onwards.