Sorry Ferrari, Michael Schumacher is still the main event in Formula 1

Alonso fans packed the grandstands at Valencia

Alonso fans packed the grandstands at Valencia

Over 36,000 F1 fans packed the grandstands in Valencia to see Fernando Alonso make his first appearance for Ferrari on Wednesday.

Ferrari hailed the reception as a sign that Alonso, not Michael Schumacher, is Formula 1’s biggest star draw:

It has to be said that the Ricardo Tormo circuit was hosting seven new cars making their debuts and at some point or other, no less than four world champions were in action. Added to that was the return of Michael Schumacher, but the main attraction was undoubtedly, Fernando Alonso’s first official appearance in red.
Ferrari statement

Let’s not confuse Alonso’s staggering popularity in Spain with the worldwide pull of the Schumacher brand.

The number of searches for each driver recorded by Google paint an interesting portrait of the popularity of the two stars.

Don’t be put off by the fact that Alonso attracted more searches in total from 2004-2009 – remember first that Schumacher has had three years out of action:

Searches for Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher (click to enlarge)

Searches for Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher (click to enlarge)

A closer look at the figures reveals the picture is distorted by the mania for Alonso in Spain – where there are so many searches for his name they outnumber those for ‘Michael Schumacher’ by a factor of 1:0, according to Google.

Looking at the same figure for other countries shows interest in Schumacher spreads far wider, and not just in Germany where they outnumber searches for Alonso by 34:1.

Here in the UK – hardly the world capital for Schumacher devotion – he’s up 2:1.

Those important North American markets? Schumacher’s up 1:0 in Canada and 6.5:1 in the United States.

It’s when we look at the new countries F1 has begun racing in recently, and will race in soon, that we see the true evidence of Schumacher’s popularity. In Malaysia and India searches for ‘Michael Schumacher‘ outstrip those for ‘Fernando Alonso’ by 1:0.

Perhaps most depressingly for Ferrari, there are four searches for ‘Michael Schumacher’ in Italy for every search for “Fernando Alonso”.

It would be wrong to write off Alonso’s popularity as a mile deep and an inch wide – he fares well against Schumacher in Brazil and France for example. But he hasn’t captured the attention of fans beyond his home country in the way Schumacher has. A prolonged period of success in a top team may well be enough to change that.

Do I detect the bitterness of the jilted lover in Ferrari’s attitude towards Schumacher since his defection to Mercedes? That SLS advert can’t have helped matters.

If they’re looking for the next F1 driver who can command the same levels of worldwide interest Schumacher can, I think they might have backed the wrong horse. Lewis Hamilton is catching them up quickly after just three years in the sport.

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140 comments on Sorry Ferrari, Michael Schumacher is still the main event in Formula 1

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  1. David B said on 5th February 2010, 9:44

    Curious stats, Keith.
    They reflect the inner struggle I also felt. I’m a Ferrari fan, and supported Schumi and later on Raikkonen.
    The next year I will support Schumi…but it is hard to see Ferrari as a competitor…
    And I agree with you Hamilton has a great appeal, too.

    Interesting year, indeed.

    • Back Schumi for drivers but Ferrari for WCC. Best of both worlds :)

      • David B said on 5th February 2010, 10:07

        I’m going to get crazy: “Overtake him, overtake him…no, no I was wrong, stay behind, stay behind!” :-D

    • Xanathos said on 5th February 2010, 10:26

      I’m with you there….
      I’ll support Schumacher first, but I won’t go as far as supporting Mercedes as a team. They’ve been racing against Schumacher for years and it is basically impossible to support them as a long-time Schumacher fan.

      • Hammad said on 5th February 2010, 12:43

        hmm, tough dilemma for me too… Yeah I’m prob with Schuey, but not the team. But it’s hard to support Ferrari with teflonso on board…

  2. I think that is right. Schumi';s return obviously increases the hype and the gap means Alonso had the spotlight but generally Schumi would win probably over anyone. His stats show him as the greatest racer ever, he’s a love/hate character and Spain is obsessed with Alonso.
    Speaking in general and simplistic terms and only about casual fans I don’t know what to think about Britain-Schumi’s racing for an all German side vs the all-Brit side which could bring interest albeit negative one. Alonso has always had a bad rep here since 07 which either means he’s ignored by Lewis fans or gets interest for the wrong reasons but the Singapore scandal breaking last year would have bumped up interest so I think for the last few years it all depends on circumstance. Had Schumi not retired I think you’re spot no that Schumi would win this internet popularity contest.

    • Yup, Michael is part of the F1 Olympian Gods and Fernando is far from this position.

      On the other hand, Michael made possible Ferrari returns back to being a winning team after more than 20 years of almost nothing in F1. How can any truly Ferrari supporter forgot that? In fact I read some (serious) Italian blogs and they are with their heart divided:

      They love Ferrari, but at the same time they love the man who make possible the most successful time for Ferrari, and now Michael has become a rival for them.

      I Think this will be the most challenging issue for Ferrari PR.

      That said, I cannot find any reason for saying “Spain is obsessed with Alonso”.

      At the end the first practice session was in Spain and there have been 3 Spanish drivers on the track. And don’t forget that for Spain Fernando Alonso is an exception for a country with no big tradition in F1.

      But on the other hand, Spain has a lot of tradition and a big fan base in other motor sport categories as Rallies and Motorbikes. (Many of them in Valencia) So much of those fans, has a long tradition following other motor racing categories. They are not “trolls” knowing nothing about motor sports.

      I think every F1 fan would find that as positive issue irrespective of wether country or nationality is involved.

      Long answer for a small point… sorry for that!

      • Don’t worry I likle long answers.
        To clarify, I just meant it’s natural that Alonso gets the majority of his support from Spain (like Hamilton Britain and Massa Brazil or how Brit has Murray fever right now) which is brilliant in some ways as it brings in Spain who as you point out, had little interests in F1 before. Whereas, Schumi is an international star because of his stats and what he achieved with Ferrari.
        The mainn reason why Schumi will always be the biggest name in F1 is because of his results. I was just looking at also home support etc.
        I never once said mentioned trolls as I don’t even consider them fans of the sport if they are willing to be disrespectful which harms the sport and sites like these more than anhything.

  3. Rob A said on 5th February 2010, 9:50

    I’m not sure it’s fair to say that the UK is “hardly the world capital for Schumacher devotion” – I think especially since he retired people here in the UK have warmed to him a lot. Maybe it’s an element of rose-tinted specs, remembering the great drives but not the dirty tactics. He got a very warm reception on Top Gear when he was “revelaed” as the Stig, didn’t he? Also many of my British friends who are casual F1 fans are genuinely excited about his return. Its got them talking. They seem to be more excited about this than the whole Button & Hamilton at McLaren thing, surprisingly.

    Of course Germany and Italy probably outrank us but I think the UK is well up there on the Schumi devotion league.

    • DanThorn said on 5th February 2010, 10:26

      I used to despise Schumacher, but since he retired I had time to appreciate how good he really is (with the help of James Allen’s excellent book) and now this year I hope he can do well.

    • George said on 6th February 2010, 9:50

      I think what he did to Damon in ’94 really destroyed his image in the UK (not that he didn’t have plenty of dubious incidents after that), but being 16 years ago a lot of people will have forgiven/forgotten/never known about it. My dad is still pretty bitter, but even though I know what he did and I’ve seen the incident enough times, it doesn’t have the same emotional link for me.

      I got into F1 in the mid-late 90s, so I’m quite used to the thought that if Michael gets in front the race is over, he made something of a joke of the sport in the early 00s.

      As far as I’m concerned Schumi has a clean slate, if he uses this brief return to try and clear his name then good for him, if he uses it to create more controversy then that will be fun too ;).

  4. Not so sure about Hamilton and significant worldwide popularity. The problem is English sports people are rarely popular outside England for whatever reason. Not at all saying they are not as successful though. I genuinely believe it is hard for an English sportsperson to have the same international appeal that Schumi had in F1, Federer in tennis, Rossi in motoGP, Woods in Golf etc…. Other Europeans are pretty patriotic and unlikely to support an English driver, nor are the ‘Colonies’ of US, Canada and Australia. Just my thoughts and ramblings. I do like Hamilton though and I’m an Aussie, so maybe I’ve proved my own point wrong !

    • Ads21 said on 5th February 2010, 12:51

      I think Hamilton is a lot more popular abroad amongst F1 fans, in the US and Germany for instance, than in the UK. Most F1 fans in Britain were over exposed to Hamilton during 2007 and took a dislike to him, where as this wasnt the case for many foreign fans. Obviously Lewis isn’t very popular in Spain and other Latin countries, but I think a quite large global following.

      • sergio said on 6th February 2010, 23:32

        Obviously isnīt !

      • Hakki said on 8th February 2010, 2:05

        Sorry,Hamilton is not popular in Japan at all.
        Raikonen is the most popular (I am not a fan of Raikonen though)in Japan.
        And there are lot of people who hate Button due to the Button-gate(Sato was suffed and lost his seat and Honda was made fool of by Button)

        I think not only in Japan, Raikonen is more populre than any other drivers in many countris.

    • Speaking as a former colonist (US citizen), I’m more inclined to favor British sports figures/teams than others from Europe. I think it is probably from learning about WWII and the common (mostly) language.

      Three cheers for xenophobia!

      • I’m with you Pete, I’m from the US and support Mclaren as my team, and alway cheered for the English drivers (Moss, Mansel, Hill, Ham, Button, just too name a few) I know they didn’t all race for Mclaren. I will always cheer for the Brits, until the US can field a viable driver!!

    • As I am from the UK I donít really know how British sports people, teams & events are viewed in other countries.

      For example if a foreign sportsperson is interviewed while competing in the UK and says that the event in question is one they have always wanted to win, I usually think they will say that to the local media in every country.

      But I think the reason there may not be many British global sports stars is because there arenít many you could class in the same bracket as Roger Federer or Tiger Woods in recent years.

      I suppose the biggest British sports person globally at the moment will be David Beckham.

      I think Hamilton could achieve significant worldwide popularity but I doubt he will become as popular as Schumacher because I donít think he will match Schumacherís achievements in the sport and also I think some of Schumacherís popularity is due to winning most of his titles with Ferrari who are the biggest name in F1 overall.

      • Peter said on 5th February 2010, 15:07

        I am Dutch. i think they should forbid sportsmen to be interview anyway. No matter where they come from. Look at all the depth interview at the car launches, being confident, high hopes, challenges, not sure of anything. Why would the new teams have the goal to become the best new team. Aiming to be 9th in a field of 13 is the best way to attract sponsors?
        Let’s leave the sportsmen alone until they have done their thing and then we discuss things here among ourselves.

    • one of the reasons for the “animosity” against english sports people surely is a not-so-subtle arrogance of the english press combined with the “misfortune” that most people are able to understand it due to the dominance of the english language. that is not the fault of the englishmen nor the athletes. but it doesn’t help.

      “player by player we are better than the germans”. i could vomit whenever i read that. please, just show it on the field during a tournament sometime. not even in our tabloids you would read those cock-and-bull stories.

      “lewis is the greatest racer since ben hur”. sure he is good. he is damn good. but history shows the greatest drivers, not reading the tea leaves. let him win some WDCs and then we’ll see.

      and finally all the would-could-should. that drives me crazy. if it wasn’t for the penalties. if it wasn’t for alonso. if it wasn’t for (insert excuse here). just win it. there is no “if” in winning.

      it’s the attitude of the press that makes it almost impossible to cheer for english athletes. although i know a lot of people who really like jenson button.

      • I agree. I grew to loathe Tim Henman over the years because the media circus surrounding him was so over-the-top. He was never more than an average player but the way the British press went on about him was unbearable.

        One of my favourite sporting moments of all time came when Henman won a tournament in Tashkent. Some twerp from the BBC (or somewhere) asked John McEnroe to comment, along the lines of, “Isn’t it wonderful Tim’s won something?” McEnroe’s response: “Where in the hell is Tashkent?” Priceless.

        (Tashkent, for those who don’t know, is the capital of Uzbekistan).

      • Icthyes said on 5th February 2010, 20:11

        Not just the English media (though they are very bad examples), but media in general. People are whipped up to love certain drivers and hate others, particularly if nationality comes into play. It happens in most sport and there’s an alarming lack of respect for sportsmen (and sometimes sportswomen, though it seems to be less common) as athletes and achievers and a lot of disrespect for trivial things such as simply competing for a rival team or against a personal favourite.

        When Hakkinen was racing, I always put him down because he was Schumacher’s rival. Now I look back and regret that I could never appreciate his driving when I was watching it live.

    • David - BR said on 5th February 2010, 15:38

      One word: Beckham? Other English footballers too clearly have global appeal, past and present. English tennis players simply aren’t good enough!

      From what I can pick up in Brazil, I’d say Mansell is respected (not overly talented but brilliantly fearless/reckless), Hunt admired (mostly for his lifestyle) but Hill and Button judged nor more than competent and very lucky with their cars. Hamilton is divisive, in big part, of course, because of the way he arrived in 2007. Clearly he’s talented, but seen by many to be flawed. In Brazil he’s inevitably judged by his own adulation of Senna (which works for and against him) and the fact he competed against Massa for the WDC in 2008. I’d say if he impresses this year and next, maybe winning another title, he’ll become a global icon of the sport for sure.

      • Scribe said on 5th February 2010, 16:11

        What about Clark, G.Hill and Stewart? Obviously these are historical figures but particularly Clark these guys where giants.

        I know there revered in England but how are they veiwed outside of the country?

      • Good point about Beckham. I didn’t really think of him as Football isn’t obviously that big in Australia, but yes he seems to have global appeal. I do believe as someone said above that the English media talk up English Sports people a lot, which may be taken overseas to be arrogant, even if the Sportsperson is not arrogant at all. On the flip side the English media seem to turn on its sportspeople very fast too when they slip up!

  5. The most interesting graph to see is the announcement by Ferrari that Schumacher could return.
    There you see an obvious peak, whilst his confirmed comeback by Mercedes drew a lot less interest.
    I never get the, for example, 6 to 1 odd/bet. Whats the deal with that? Here in Holland we dont use these odds too much, so could anyone explain me in noob language what these comparisons mean?
    If I get it correctly, in England virtually no one is interested, and in America Schumacher hitted the sky with many hits on Google.

    By the way, are these fixed numbers? Or percentages by inhabitants per country? Because that could be of an obvious influence as well. In America are much more motorsports fanatics in comparisson to England. But therefor America has 5 times more inhabitants compared to England.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 5th February 2010, 11:07

      There you see an obvious peak, whilst his confirmed comeback by Mercedes drew a lot less interest.

      True but consider the timings – the Ferrari announcement was in the middle of the F1 season – the Mercedes announcement was two days before Christmas.

      Also I would say the Ferrari announcement had more impact because up until then the possibility of a Schumacher comeback had never been seriously entertained.

      • sumedh said on 5th February 2010, 12:01

        Keith, I think what Beri is trying to say is that “Ferrari + Schumacher” is bigger than anything else in Formula 1.

        And this is backed up by stats: The peak of Schumi’s planned comeback (B) probably beats the combined peaks of Schumi’s comeback with Mercedez (F) and Ferrari signing Alonso (E).

        Its curious to see the following results though.

        1. No peaks for Schumacher during 2004.
        2. A huge peak for Alonso in 2005
        3. Matched only by Hamilton in 2008, and no peak of Schumi measures upto these 2.
        4. And how easily, Schumacher outstrips Alonso in 2006.

    • James_mc said on 5th February 2010, 12:13

      m/n is the ratio of your winnings. For every “n” you put in, you get “m” out + the original “n” you put in.

      Example:

      6/1, you put in £1 you get 7 back (£1*6 + £1)

      2/5, you put in £1 you get £1.40 back (£1*0.4 + £1)

      Hope this helps :-)

  6. Mouse_Nightshirt said on 5th February 2010, 10:07

    I don’t think Ferrari were lying when they said Fernando Alonso was the biggest draw for that test – it was in Spain.

    However, take the test outside Spain, and as you rightly point out, it’s a completely different picture.

    I think in effect you’re both right ;)

  7. GeeMac said on 5th February 2010, 10:24

    You have a point Keith. Many folks here in SA supported Ferrari simply because of MS. Many those fans (many of whom were “fair weather sports fans who tend to support whoever wins in whatever sport e.g Rossi, Manchester United etc) stopped watching F1 because “it’s not the same without Schumi.” Now he is back, they are excited again.

    Does Fernando Alonso on his own have the same pulling power as Michael Schumacher? I doubt it. But Fernando Alonso in a Ferrari which is capable of winning world championships might…

  8. What does google search have to do with the Valencia test? Obviously Fernando was the main attraction there not Michael.That Ferrari statement refers only to that Valencia test. But in general yes, Schumacher is the main attraction. So Ferrari was right “the main attraction was undoubtedly, Fernando Alonsoís first official appearance in red.”

  9. rampante said on 5th February 2010, 10:31

    Hardly a supprise that a 7 times WDC has more hits than a driver with 5 titles less and 10 years less driving in F1. Italian fans and Ferrari fans around the world waited to long for a title and when MSC won the first title for them his name was made with the fans that support the most famous team. If Alonso drives for the team for several years and delivers the same will happen. With ferrari it is all about the team not the driver. As they say in the UK the king is dead, long live the king.
    @Dingle Dell I suggest you go and buy the bumper book of F1 facts with pictures and parts that you can colour in before making posts like that.

    • Jomy John said on 8th February 2010, 3:47

      You’re forgetting the big picture mate. For the past 3 years, we have had incredible championships – 3 different winners and yet Formula1 was losing its appeal. No one cares about a good driver. We all want to see a RACER! Thats where Schumacher outsmarted everyone. He used to drive with a loose rear making him look an even more super-duper racer and not to forget he had so many on-track incidents that watching him race made it all the more fun. Lewis is getting there, but unless he leaves Mclaren and shows his mettle in an inferior car, no one’s gonna take him seriously.

  10. The main attraction in Valencia and the number of searches for each driver recorded by Google are two seperate things. You shouldn’t post these kind of craps only because you don’t like Ferrari…

  11. Sush Meerkat said on 5th February 2010, 10:32

    Bernie’s probably worn away his hands from rubbing them with glee for the last month.

  12. Confitero said on 5th February 2010, 10:45

    Hi Keith,

    Thank you for the web and congratulations.

    I think Ferrari statement is only related to the Circuit Ricardo Tormo testings last day and indeed the main attraction was Alonso which is absolutely normal as it is been taken place in Spain.

    Best regards

  13. Alex Bkk said on 5th February 2010, 10:50

    Interesting that on the FOTA poll of which team you’ll be following I choose Ferrari. On the question of the driver I chose Shumi…I really wanted to pull for Fred but I just couldn’t…I just love that nefarious German :)

  14. Well, one thing i can say for sure, next week iīll be in Spain to see Ferrari and Alonso on the wheel, not Shumacher!
    In Spain Shumacher does not exist, only Alonso, anyone who thinks the opposite should go to a race or a test and check it by himself.
    I was a Shumacher fan for many years, but as i said a douzen times before i think his time have passed and itīs time for the new drivers to prove themselves.
    Ferrari does not need Shumacher,but Shumacher admited he missed Ferrari.

  15. Penelope Pitstop said on 5th February 2010, 10:59

    We don’t even know if Campos will make it to the grid. Their situation is looking far more unstable than that of USF1, and yet USF1 is on the receiving end of the most criticism of the new teams. I think a lot of fans have been giving Campos a free pass simply because they have Bruno Senna, and people are so intoxicated with the idea of the Senna name returning to F1 that they refuse to believe that he might lose out on a drive.

    • USF1 have also had a higher public profile so on that account it makes sense that they receive more attention. Campos have been quite quiet by comparison.

      • Penelope Pitstop said on 5th February 2010, 13:14

        But there was a point at which USF1 was being doubted for that reason: people thought that they were too quiet.

        That said, I hope both teams make it to Bahrain. It’d be such a waste to have come as far as they have, only to find their season was over before it began.

        • lol (reply glitch)

          I think there was/is a feeling that USF1 were not one of the stronger teams to bid for a 2010 grid slot and that they are there unjustly. I think Stefan GP have proved that. They have a launch date, they have a test date and they will be in Bahrain for the season opener. You can’t say any of these things about USF1.

          I really don’t care where a team is from, in fact I think teams that are based outside the traditional European locations are a good thing but I think there are other things that are more important like the ability to turn up to races and race (as opposed to testing at races or not turning up at all).

          • maciek said on 5th February 2010, 14:43

            @K Stefan GP have a launch date, etc, etc, but they’ve basically bought up a ready-made car.

            USF1 have a sort-of launch date for mid-February and somehow I don’t think they would keep saying that they’ll be there if they thought they weren’t – what would be the point? People who aren’t getting the work done usually hide, rather than pipe up about how they’re doing. Of course it’s anyone’s guess what their real progress has been, but going what they have put up on their website my feeling is that they might be the surprise success among the new teams. That’s only a guess of course, but I I’m choosing to interpret their reluctance to launch as a cautious, gradual approach.

            + Is it just me, or do I smell something slightly rotten in Ecclestone’s unrelenting jibes at the team every time he has an opportunity?

          • Nick Banks said on 5th February 2010, 14:57

            I have a feeling that USf1 will be the best of the American teams.

          • catsablanca said on 5th February 2010, 20:51

            I have strong doubts about that, and would place a bet against you if I hadn’t been cleaned out betting against the English at last year’s FA Cup final.

          • F1Yankee said on 5th February 2010, 23:47

            so do i :)

          • @Maciek

            There is something rotten about Ecclestone full stop.

            Surely it’s to Stefan GP’s credit they bought the Toyota. USF1 had the same opportunity. The old Toyota was pretty good at the end of the season, even Martin Whitmarsh expressed surprise that none of the new entrants had bought it and I think he is right.

            There are good examples of teams choosing to launch late and having success.

            There are more questions than answers really (as it should be otherwise life would be a bit dull). Either way we’ll have the relevant answers at some point. If it all goes to plan it will be good to have a US team in F1, although if they are always at the back it could be counter productive.

    • Agree I also think geography plays a part. A lot of F1 is still mainly focussed upon Europe so media and attention is there and F1 hasn’t had the best reslationship with the US so it’s easier to picture a US team coming out of the equation. There have also been rumours that Campos now has a deal in place to secure there future although we don’t know what the deal involves etc.

    • maciek said on 5th February 2010, 13:23

      That, and there is a good dose snooty Britishness looking at Americans as if they were dumb cowboys.

    • Scribe said on 5th February 2010, 17:10

      I think recently USF1 has seemed more credible and stable than Campos. The Campos buisness plan was a pretty safe one, except in recession.

      It’s just a shame they haven’t been able to grab more sponsorship

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