Vettel behind off track as well as on it

LONDON Tue Mar 11, 2014 6:56am EDT

Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany prepares for the second practice session of the U.S. F1 Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas November 16, 2012. REUTERS/Jim Young

Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany prepares for the second practice session of the U.S. F1 Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas November 16, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Young

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LONDON (Reuters) - Ferrari's Fernando Alonso is Formula One's most marketable driver with Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel only fourth despite winning the last four world championships, according to a report published on Tuesday.

The report by global sports marketing research firm Repucom found the Spaniard, a double world champion, enjoyed the greatest worldwide recognition and celebrity impact while Germany's Vettel ranked only fourth.

Britain's 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton, who drives for Mercedes, was second on the list and Brazilian Felipe Massa, who moved from Ferrari to Williams at the end of last season, took third place.

Finland's Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion who has returned to Ferrari this season after leaving the sport and then making a comeback with Lotus, rated higher than Vettel in awareness but below him in overall marketability.

"It may be a surprise to some that globally, Sebastian Vettel does not score as highly in terms of public opinion as the likes of Alonso, Hamilton and Massa," said Repucom's Nigel Geach, senior vice president of motorsport, in a statement.

He said that was due in large part to Ferrari's popularity and brand recognition - the Italian team are the most glamorous and successful in the sport - as well as Alonso's own international sponsorship deals.

"Despite Red Bull's recent successes, globally, 59 percent of F1 fans have an interest in the Ferrari team, representing the highest levels of interest in any F1 team," added Geach.

"With races screened across 160 global markets to a cumulative global TV audience of 1.8 billion, one can see the importance this can have on perception."

The report said Alonso was known by 71.14 percent globally, although only 12.76 percent of those in the United States were aware of him. Vettel's global awareness rating was 54.30 percent.

"Alonso is a very likeable driver and as the global appeal of the sport increases, people seem to be rooting more and more for a new F1 champion and as the results show, Alonso is starting to edge ahead as the fans favorite," Geach said.

The season starts with the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday and Vettel's Red Bull team are already on the back foot after problems with their new Renault V6 power unit in testing. Hamilton and Mercedes are the early bookmakers' favorites.

Despite Hamilton's global recognition being second only to Alonso, the report found compatriot Jenson Button was more marketable to a British audience.

"Button's appeal, influence and aspirational scores see him as a better product endorser and a more marketable personality," it said of the McLaren driver and 2009 world champion.

Massa enjoyed the highest domestic recognition of any driver, with a 99.2 percent rating in Brazil compared to Vettel's 97.58 percent in Germany.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond)

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