There will be a notable absence from the grid at this year’s Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix. Daniel Ricciardo, a mainstay of the F1 travelling circus for close to a decade, has built an unrivalled profile as Australia’s fastest larrikin. But he won’t be hitting the accelerator when the starter lets them loose on Sunday.
It’s been well documented that Ricciardo was dumped by McLaren in favor of fellow Aussie speedster Oscar Piastri, and cast into the motor-sporting wilderness. But like a cat with nine lives, Daniel has managed to salvage a last-minute spot as reserve driver for Red Bull, the fastest team in the championship.
Reserves play an important role in many sports. Often, they provide timely impact for teams via a substitution or late call up, or an opportunity for young athletes to get exposure in the big time. Unfortunately, Formula 1 is not one of those sports. The reserves are left warming the corporate suite bench, and it is highly unlikely you will see him behind the wheel at Albert Park or beyond this season.
Despite this lack of on track action, there is an upside for Red Bull and Dan, particularly this weekend when all eyes are on Melbourne. This weekend, we’ll see why Dan Ricciardo is the most valuable non-playing reserve in Australian sport.
The scale of Dan’s mainstream appeal cannot be underestimated. He is Australia’s second most marketable athlete behind Ash Barty, with a gravitas that draws fans to attend and watch Formula 1 events. Ricciardo is the name most Aussies think of when you mention motorsports.
This time next year, even if he has not secured a drive with Red Bull or another team, his value as an ambassador or commentator – domestically and globally – is likely to be sky high. Just look to the US and the NFL… the going rate for ex-players who are charming, confident, and comfortable in front of a camera is nothing short of remarkable.
So while you might not see much of Dan the driver this weekend, you’ll probably be seeing a lot of that million-dollar smile.
On top of being the second most marketable athlete in Australia, Ricciardo is ranked #14* for Instagram followers in Australia and has engagement rates that far exceed the industry average (8.5% vs 0.8/%)*. Each of his posts is expected to reach around a million people, providing a strong platform to promote his enviable portfolio of sponsors. Optus, YouFoodz, CarSales and even St Hugo wines are just a few brands who have aligned with Dan and recognise his ability to connect with consumers in a relevant and relatable manner.
Just take a look at the promotional video Red Bull Racing released in the lead up to the Australian Grand Prix – there is still significant equity in his personal brand and partners are as keen as ever to algin with him and by extension, his fans.
Despite his large profile, the challenge for Australian brands has been the nature of Formula 1. One fast and furious week in Australia and then traversing the globe for the rest of the year. This has significantly reduced the ability for sponsors to leverage him in the Australian market and likely limited their return on investment.
Ironically, a spot as a reserve driver provides ample time to work with brands in 2023, as his on-track commitments are significantly reduced. While his sponsors may be wanting him to get back on the track, it is likely this is the most accessible and influential Dan Ricciardo has been for brands since he jumped in a F1 car.
Look out for how Optus leverages this newfound accessibility over the weekend (see here).
In the lead up to the Australian Grand Prix, Gemba’s research shows that over 25% of people are interested watching this year’s race. This places it in the top echelon of sporting events alongside State of Origin, AFL Grand Final and Bathurst. Brands that are partnered with Dan will get a sought-after opportunity to achieve mass-reach, whilst being aligned with the most relevant person on or off the track. Even as a reserve, he can provide immense value to brands both this weekend and for many years to come.
Motorsports fans across the country will be sad not to see Dan Ricciardo taking to the Albert Park Circuit, but his future off the track is incredibly bright. Domestically he has developed a well-known and well-liked personality that has brought him into the mainstream. Whether he continues as a driver or moves onto the next phase of his career, he won’t fade from the spotlight. This coming weekend provides him with a great opportunity to show the impact he can generate off the track with his fans and brand partners and in my opinion prove why he is Australia’s most valuable benchwarmer.
*Source – Hypeauditor