A status update does not a champion make: Vettel and social media

Sebastian Vettel at the 2013 United States Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel at the 2013 United States Grand Prix

The 2013 Formula One season was the season of Vettel. We saw, in alarming fashion, just how good the guy is in the Red Bull, just how astonishingly dominant he can be in a car he’s comfortable in. We also saw how ruthlessly he will pursue a win, how easily he can disregard orders from his team to hold position in his endless search for success. These are (almost) all noble characteristics, but just as the Malaysian Grand Prix proved, they can sometimes come back and bite him in the butt.

We all wonder why Sebastian leads such a private life. He lives (relatively) secluded in Switzerland. He doesn’t even have a manager, instead opting to run his own life both on and off the track. This is also highly admirable, but it lends to a life almost exclusively portrayed to his fans through journalists and off-hand observations. These are not always the most reliable ways to learn about a person.

However, those who really know what’s up know that Sebastian is one of the most kind and genuine figures in the paddock, with a quick wit and infectious smile making him a pleasant guy to be around. Having never met the man myself, I can’t personally attest to this, but I like to give the guy the benefit of the doubt and assume that these observations are true.

Formula One and social media have a tumultuous relationship. Formula One, as a sport, hasn’t done much to embrace the meteoric rise of social media in recent rears. The sport’s official Twitter account is just an endless regurgitation of links to its website, leaving no indication that the account’s administrator, if it even has one, is making an effort to connect with fans across the world. Most access any fan gets to the sport is through teams themselves, which is fine considering that gets you, perhaps, closer to the sport than had one connected through an “official” Twitter account for the sport.

Even drivers have taken to connecting with fans through social media outlets, with Twitter being the most popular. I’ve made the argument before, however, that having such connectedness, which in F1 is far worse than in other motorsport (NASCAR, Indycar), takes away from the otherworldly and sometimes mystical nature of the sport. That’s what draws people in in the first place. The once black and white separation between racers and fans is growing increasingly grey these days.

One of the great-unanswered questions of our time, rather unfortunately, surrounds the mystery of why Sebastian Vettel is not on Twitter. If you’ve kept a keen eye on the events surrounding Michael Schumacher’s skiing accident, you may have noticed several Twitter accounts claiming to belong to Sebastian Vettel get into trouble for tweeting messages of support for the champion. While this seems like a strange reason to take flack from the Twitterverse, there is a reasonable platform from which this criticism stems. I’m sure Vettel, should he have had his own Twitter account, would have voiced similar concerns about Michael’s condition in the hospital, and would have shared equally touching messages of support for the champion in his time of need. But just as we trust in sometimes-unreliable sources for our on-track impressions of Sebastian’s character, our perception of him online is equally foggy.

No one apart from those close to him truly knows what Sebastian is like. That is something we won’t know unless he makes his presence online known.

Perhaps Sebastian avoids Twitter like the plague because he’s observed some of its negative effects. We all remember the backlash from Lewis Hamilton’s online escapades after qualifying for the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix, where the then McLaren driver tweeted an image of important telemetry in a flash of anger at missing out on pole position to his teammate. The same goes for Fernando Alonso, who, it seems, gives the big wigs at Ferrari heart palpitations every time he goes near a keyboard.

One could argue that Sebastian could take charge of his own public perception by taking to social media, allowing his doubters to see the “real” him. I hate to say “the real him” in this way, as invariably taking to social media in the first place is not like Sebastian; it is the opposite. But to betray that small part of his identity and allow himself to let fans see him in a non-competitive light would do wonders for his career.

Not that he cares. Sebastian isn’t one to compromise himself to please others. The Malaysian Grand Prix, once again, speaks volumes to that.

There is something to be said about a driver who constantly faces a barrage of criticism from the sport’s fans that grow weary of his domination, but refuses to change his ways. This is why Sebastian’s presence does not need to extend to social media. He’s plenty powerful where he is, on the track.

Image courtesy of Octane Photographic.

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