When Michael Schumacher went from the Benetton team to the Ferrari team, his large German fan base followed. And if Lewis Hamilton ever changes from McLaren-Mercedes to Ferrari, his large British fan base will certainly follow. I know, I’ve seen the craze up close and personal when Dutch drivers Huub Rothengatter and later Jos Verstappen entered Formula One. Holland was behind them, never mind for whom they drove and what the results were. And it never was very much at all.
Poor Jarno Trulli. He has the bad luck of being a top racing driver in a country which does not value racing drivers. Maybe it has to do with the cold fact that since Alberto Ascari in 1953 no Italian driver has ever won the Formula One Championship. Maybe it has to do with the almost saintly status of the car here. But only a handful of people around Pescara, his birthplace, would have been rooting for him last night.
The rest of the country was rooting for a Brazilian, Felipe Massa, who just happens to drive an Italian car – a Ferrari. Italians will happily support Germans, Fins, anyone who is in the driver’s seat of a red F1 car from Maranello. But an Italian driving a Toyota like Trulli, or a Spyker/Force India (with Ferrari engines) like Giancarlo Fisichella won’t get any love from the tifosi.
Valentino Rossi however, the sympathetic multiple MotoGP champion, is highly popular. He started his career on an all-Italian Aprilia, but switched to Honda and later Yamaha. Not a single part of these bikes has that Made in Italy seal on it. So what’s the deal? Why is Rossi immensely popular with his Honda and why is Trulli not popular at all in his Toyota?
The secret is the winning. And since no Italian has won the F1 season since 1953, we root for the team which has won it a lot of times. As for Italian drivers… I guess we all know that there’s no such thing as a good Italian driver. It takes two steps out of your front door to discover that.