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.
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:
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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