F1: Does Marketing Power Outweigh Driving Skill?


F1 is suffering in the financial crisis, with HRT having lost the battle to stay on the grid earlier this year when funds in its native Spain weren't enough to keep the team running. Pay drivers are proliferating and the circus is taking in a bewildering array of new events in countries prepared to pay for the privilege, usually at the expense of races with lengthy historical significance to the sport.

Which raises the question, just how important is driving skill to a team, especially when balanced against huge marketing draw?

The reason for asking this question now is related to the rise of American racer Danica Patrick, who become the first female to take pole position at Daytona earlier this week. The combination of American, female and reasonably fast suggests the kind of marketability that most of F1's partner brands would open their piggy banks for.

American racers don't generally achieve a great deal in F1. Former champions Zanardi, Andretti Jr,, da Matta, Bourdais and Montoya achieved very little between them. It's unlikely that Patrick would do much better given her moderate success in the US.

Does that matter though? Danica Patrick in a Red Bull or Ferrari would boost those brands significantly in the critical US market. Enough to give up a little success for? Probably not, but then a smaller team like Williams might be the perfect place for the 30 year old to fetch up. A race winning team last year, but still without huge expectations, it would be a relatively safe seat for the Danica Patrick brand.

Is either party brave enough to give it a shot? Maybe Bernie will be able to grease the wheels of that one...

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