In the UK, an insurance comparison company has been running with an ingenious marketing campaign for the past five years or so. For those of you who are aware of what “simples” means, you’ll know where this is going.
For those of you who don’t, there’s a company called “Compare the Market” that has created a spin-off through its adverts called “Compare the Meerkat”. In the ads, rich meerkat Aleksandr gets up to all kind of mischief with his beleaguered and unfortunate lackey, Sergei. Most recently, they’ve adopted a baby meerkat called Oleg. It’s all rather cute and, frankly, genius marketing.
So what does this have to do with Formula 1? Well, marketing ploys. Compare the Market saw its market share increase by 76% as a result of the ad campaign, and that figure only continues to grow. It’s memorable, cute and funny.
For Sergey Sirotkin, his fellow Sauber tester Simona de Silvestro is of the same ilk – a marketing ploy, that is. In an interview with a Russian website given last week, Sirotkin called her exactly that:
“At Sauber there is a third driver, Giedo van der Garde, a test driver, myself, and a sponsored driver [Silvestro], the person they are helping to reach the level of Formula 1. But I think that is a marketing move, so I do not take it as something to be afraid of. Let’s see what happens.”
“Nothing to be afraid of”. Shots fired.
Silvestro has by no means set the world on fire during her racing career, but at the same time, she has not done herself any disservice. Racing in IndyCar is no mean feat, nor is scoring fourteen top ten finishes over a four year period, with a podium finish in Houston last year. She was a popular member of the paddock, and should be a welcome addition to F1’s travelling circus.
Now, if Sirotkin were, say, a real stand-out rising star, he might have a little bit of ground on which to make his comments. However, there are many better young drivers that are his age. The fact that he only scored his first Formula Renault 3.5 victory last weekend in Moscow says a lot about his stock as a rising star.
The reasons behind Sirotkin’s elevation into the F1 spotlight are well documented, and financially driven. The original plan was for him to drive for Sauber in 2014, only for the investment to fall through. The same is said for 2015, so we shan’t hold our breath.
For Simona, the same kind of loose promises have been made. Her place as an affiliate driver at Sauber is with a view to getting her a full-time seat in F1, and her pace so far has been impressive according to the team. Frankly, her and Sirotkin are on relatively equal footing at Sauber.
The Swiss team is not short of drivers to pick from for 2015. In effect, it has five drivers on its books all bringing in some kind of finance – great news for a team that was in a bit of a monetary pickle. Besides Sirotkin and de Silvestro, Esteban Gutierrez, Adrian Sutil and test driver Giedo van der Garde all have backing. There is a great pool to choose from for 2015, and given that neither Gutierrez nor Sutil has done much good on track this year, we could see a change or two.
Sirotkin’s comments are a little brash, to say the least. The idiom “pot, kettle, black” was applied to Sirotkin’s comments, as was the phrase “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”. Essentially, don’t moan about sponsored drivers when you yourself are a sponsored driver.
Because that is what Sirotkin is. Whilst trawling an internet forum the other day, I came across a debate about the difference between “pay drivers” and “sponsored drivers”. The commenter suggested that Maldonado was the latter with PDVSA just as Fernando Alonso is with Santander. The company sponsors the driver, and the driver takes that backing to the team. Emerson Fittipaldi had a similar deal with Marlboro in the early 70s, and was responsible for taking the brand to McLaren.
However, for me, there is a staggering difference between “pay” and “sponsored” drivers. In a nutshell, the difference is this: if you took away a sponsored driver’s money, would they still get a seat? Of course Alonso would. Pastor? Unlikely. The only reason he got the nod over Nico Hulkenberg at Lotus was because of his money. Bullet well dodged, Nico.
Sirotkin was hardly heard of in motorsport until Sauber confirmed he had joined the team. When you think of the top juniors in motorsport, names such as Marciello, Sainz, Ocon, Verstappen, Nasr, Vandoorne, Evans, Rossi come to mind – but not Sirotkin. Without his backing, it is unlikely that Sauber would be interested.
Simona just needs to keep on doing what she’s doing, as it is all heading in the right direction. Sirotkin should probably do the same, and focus on improving his on-track form (as he did in Moscow on Saturday, admittedly) instead of making snide comments.
Marketing can be simples, as Compare the Meerkat has proven. However, when you’re already known as a “pay driver”, it’s best not to start pointing the finger at others.
Sauber has a number of decisions to make, but in terms of marketing, a driver that throws stones in his glass house won’t be at the top of the list.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic, Sauber F1 Team and Compare the Meerkat.