Swiss Luxury Brands Wait for Schumacher’s Formula 1 Comeback Win

Michael Schumacher
Michael Schumacher of Germany and Mercedes GP during a practice session prior to qualifying for the Turkish Formula One Grand Prix at the Istanbul Park circuit. Photographer: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Michael Schumacher’s record seven Formula One championships lured Swiss luxury retail brands when he made a comeback last year. They’re still waiting for him to get his form back.

The 42-year-old finished sixth for Mercedes in yesterday’s Spanish Grand Prix at Montmelo near Barcelona and hasn’t earned a top-three finish in the 24 races since his return. Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel held off Lewis Hamilton of McLaren to win.

Schumacher added fashion brand Jet Set AG, Navyboot AG and watchmaker Audemars Piguet to his endorsement portfolio when he ended his retirement after three years. Like other top drivers, he probably commands a fee of about $1 million from personal sponsors, according to Zak Brown, chief executive officer of Zionsville, Indiana-based Just Marketing, which has brokered several Formula One sponsorships.

“These Swiss brands were buying into heritage and success” with Schumacher, Simon Chadwick, a professor of sports business strategy at Coventry University in the U.K., said. “With every race he doesn’t finish or score a point, his brand equity is being progressively eroded.”

Schumacher dominated Formula One with Ferrari, winning five straight titles through 2004 and becoming the best-paid athlete after golfer Tiger Woods at the time, according to Forbes magazine. He had endorsement deals with companies including L’Oreal SA and Vodafone Group Plc before retiring.

Joy is Gone

He finished 12th of 24 drivers at the May 8 race in Istanbul before telling reporters “the big joy has gone right now.” After media reports that he may end his comeback early, Schumacher said at the Spanish Grand Prix that he was referring only to the race in Turkey and “has no issues or problems.”

Audemars Piguet, which organized an event for clients to meet Schumacher in Shanghai last month, said in e-mailed response to questions that it was “first and foremost the man and his overall career” that prompted it to sponsor him. Navyboot chief executive Faris Momani said the German is a “legend” and he has no regrets about its agreement that includes making a limited-edition Schumacher branded boot that costs 5,000 euros ($7,080) a pair. Jet Set declined to comment.

“We are very sure that he will be back on the winning track,” Momani said in an e-mail.

Best of Season

Schumacher had his best finish of the season yesterday, beating teammate Nico Rosberg, scoring eight points and taking his overall tally to 14. Vettel leads the standings with 118 points and Hamilton is second with 77. Schumacher, who is in 10th place, said the Mercedes car wasn’t fast enough to move him further up the field.

“It’s not where we want to be, that’s for sure,” Schumacher told reporters after the race.

Vettel finished 0.6 seconds ahead of Hamilton at the Circuit de Catalunya. Jenson Button of McLaren was third. Vettel said his team radioed him with 10 of the 66 laps left to say he couldn’t use his power boost button because of technical problems. He fended off Hamilton’s attempts to pass to win his fourth race in five this season.

Schumacher has “still got the knowledge but he doesn’t have the mechanical superiority” he used to have in winning five titles at Ferrari, three-time world champion Jackie Stewart said. Schumacher also has to contend with the best generation of young talent since the 1960s, Stewart said, pointing to Vettel, Hamilton and Rosberg, who are all under 27.

“There’s a galaxy of younger drivers that doesn’t hold him in the highest esteem and won’t get out of the way for him,” Stewart said in an interview.

Schumacher is approaching the midway stage in a three-year contract with Mercedes. He’s still giving sponsors value for money even if he’s not competing for wins, according to Just Marketing CEO Brown.

“It’s not like he’s coming 18th in races,” Brown said.

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