Sebastian Vettel? Who the heck is this kid?
I mean kid, too. To this father of a teenage son, Vettel doesn't look old enough to have a driver's licence for city streets. He wins Formula One races? You're kidding, right?
And so it goes this morning at the Circuit ICAR north of Montreal. These thoughts are rattling around my head as I'm introduced to a pleasant, well-mannered and very skinny young man from Germany. He's wearing a baseball cap and sporting the kind of scruffy beard you'd expect to see worn by a college sophomore backpacking through Europe for the summer.
We're not in Europe, though. We're standing beside a modest race track in the shadow of one of the great Canadian boondoggles of all time - Mirabel Airport. If ever you want to see a monument to government waste, this is it. But I digress.
Vettel is here as part of his contract with the Red Bull F1 team. Infiniti, the luxury brand of Nissan Motor, signed a sponsorship deal with Red Bull a few months ago and part of the deal includes public appearances for Vettel. He has to rub shoulders with the likes of me. Torture, I know.
The idea is to associate the globally expanding Infiniti brand with what many consider the pinnacle of racing, F1. Vettel is the reigning F1 champ and going into the Montreal Grand Prix, I am told he's won a pile of races this year, too.
Yeah? Really? So what? I am not a big F1 fan. I've been to about half a dozen races and I've found all of them tedious and horrifically dull. Only a few teams have cars fast enough to win; it makes for something less than gripping sport.
Don't believe me? Check the F1 standings. On this Wednesday before the Montreal race, Vettel has won five of the six F1 races, from Australia to Monaco and parts in between. Some might argue the very dominance of a 23-year-old only in his third year on the F1 circuit is exciting and amazing.
I would argue he needs some competition. When the same guy from the same team wins again and again, that adds up to a snooze-fest.
Don't get me wrong. When I finally meet the kid I am impressed by his poise and good manners. Not all F1 drivers are well mannered, and he mixes a good upbringing with a refreshing dose of humour and humility. I can understand why Infiniti might want to sink millions into a partnership with the Red Bull team that employs him and a second driver, Mark Webber, who also has the reputation of a decent sort.
The deal makes sense from another perspective, too. Red Bull uses Renault engines and Renault is in a global alliance with Nissan, the Infiniti parent. The dots connect nicely.
I am hoping Vettel can connect the dots on Circuit ICAR well enough as we climb aboard an Infiniti G37 coupe. This is the IPL version of the G coupe, IPL standing for Infiniti Performance Line.
We'll know what Vettel can do soon enough, once the video crew has finished turning on the on-board camera which will record my laps as Vettel's passenger. Vettel is fiddling over something with the organizers and ignoring me, which allows time for me to think about Infiniti and its new IPL venture.
Frankly, I don't get it. Nissan is busy with Renault in introducing all sorts of "green" electric cars, yet Infiniti is getting all racy with a high-performance sub-brand and an expensive tie-in to F1. This plan has been in the works for some time, in fact.
Just about a year ago to the day, just-auto.com reported that Nissan North America Inc. had filed for trademark protection for the names "IPL" and "Infiniti Performance Line." At that point, Infiniti signalled an intent to boost its image by launching hot-shoe models to compete against the likes of Mercedes-Benz's AMG and BMW's M.
Infiniti could use some jazzing-up and a lot more, too. The brand has a muddy image in the marketplace and rival brands generally have broader lineups, complete with faster, sexier versions of mainstream models.