Yes, this is partly because of Bernie’s recent comments, but actually I’ve been wanting to write this for a while now. I realize it’s not up to me to judge whether sportsmen are salesmen or entertainers, but from my point of view – and it might just be an occupational hazard– they should be neither.
People choose who to support (and the ones who are truly impartial are an extinct breed) for a variety of reasons, from whoever was winning when they first got into the sport to who looks coolest in their Instagram photos. The other day someone pitied me on Twitter for saying I relate to Kimi’s mentality. But the thing is, in my Dummies’ Guide To Being the Best Version of Yourself, that is ranked pretty high.
Let me try to explain it like this: I’m a fan of Kimi Raikkonen and Marc Marquez. I am basically the living anti-thesis of the motorsport fan. One is SportsPro’s 11th most marketable athlete and the other one has an average of 11 words per interview – I’ll let you guess which way that is. While the old Grumpy dwarf and the young Duracell bunny have little in common at the surface of things, they’re similar where it counts for me.
What I’ve learned in too many years of psychology is that for people to be truly happy, they either have to be absolutely insane or extremely rational. As the first ones have trouble getting a driver’s licence, we’re stuck with the second scenario, the one where “it is what it is” and “it happened but we’re already thinking at Jerez”. The one where things are not perfect but you learn, you do your best and you have no regrets. Where life doesn’t owe you anything. Sure, that’s easy to say and difficult to do – for me, my friends, my patients and probably you too – and that’s why I appreciate so much the people who seem to manage to live by it.
Does motorsport need characters? Define character. Motivational quotes, war cries and public outbursts mean nothing to me; diplomacy and impeccable logic are my signs of a good character.
Sounds dull? Maybe, but I don’t live in a world where I can throw a tantrum when my colleagues do better than me and put pressure on them when they make a mistake. For me, sport is not a shelter from my daily life but a happy part of it, where I appreciate people who see the world the same way I do.
Would I love to have Kimi sign every toy car in my room while Marc serenades me on the balcony? Sure. Actually, I’ve heard Marc sing, I take that back. Either way, I don’t care what they are like among strangers, be it fans, journalists or sponsors, how many t-shirts they sell, autographs they sign or commercials they film. I like them for being the closest that people can get to my version of the perfect human: passionate, focused and rational – whether those come in a cheerful little package like Marc or with a solitary coating like Kimi. Interestingly, those are also good predictors for performance, but I’m not going to get sciency now.
I know image is important, but I don’t understand it. I don’t go to work in a Ferrari, have truffles for lunch and go to the pub in my jet, so I don’t care if that’s the glamorous jet-set image that the sport wants to have. If that’s the target audience they market to, I think they’re failing at that too. Ask one of the models in the Mercedes garage in Monaco if they bought a ticket or got paid to show up and smile for the cameras. But that’s another story.
Bernie must be measuring marketability like brands do, in exposure. But how much of that exposure translates into sales I wonder? Are there people out there who get a Santander account because Jenson says so convincingly or are they saving for a new gold chain because Lewis changes them like underwear? Would ticket sales go up in Germany if Rosberg was plastered to the front page of their local Daily Mail? If the answer is yes, this is not the mature community I want to be part of.
So, does motorsport need characters? Let’s see.
Whichever you chose, you only get to experience that while the cars are out on the track, where any personality (other than vague F1 radio calls) is muted by a helmet and talent takes over. MotoGP might not be as popular without Valentino Rossi or now Marc, but you’ll probably like what you see once they draw you in.
Lewis might reach a whole new socialite audience, but what they’ll find once they turn on the TV is almost complete shambles. Dear Bernie, maybe we should fix the rollercoaster before complaining there are not enough posters plastered around town. Or we might fall off it.
Then again, I don’t own a Rolex, so what do I know?