AUSTIN (KXAN) - To many Texans, Formula One racing and the drivers who take the action to the track remain a mystery. Here's is a closer look.
With five wins this season Sebastian Vettel is in first place in the Formula One standings. The 25-year-old German leads the Red Bull-Renault racing team. He's F1's youngest world champion. German journalists tell us he's a household name in his native country - earning millions from endorsement deals.
"You know Vettle has had a little struggle with the first of the season and has since come on really, really strong," said Bill Dollahite, a former F1 driver.
Sebastian's childhood heroes included Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson. He loves music from The Beatles.
Sebastian says - like a ship - every race car should be named after a woman. Preferable a sexy one.
His teammate is Mark Webber, 36, is a native of Australia. His father was a motorcycle dealer, but Mark didn't discover motor racing until he was 14. Mark's racing style is described as "straightforward, clear cut and aggressive." His straight talking approach with the media has won him fans around the world. Patience is also one of Mark's virtues. It took him seven years and 130 races to notch his first F1 victory.
The McLaren-Mercedes team includes 27-year-old Englishman Lewis Hamilton. He was named after the American sprinter Carl Lewis. His parents emigrated from Grenada in the Caribbean. His dad bought Lewis a radio-controlled car when he was 6, fueling his love of all things "fast". Off the track he was once caught speeding on a French highway going 122 miles an hour.
Lewis says he has no fear of death and never even thinks about it.
He's been honored with a wax statue at Madame Tussauds in Paris.
As a teenager Lewis' teammate Jenson Button failed his first driving test for getting to close to another car. The 32-year-old native of England now lives in Monaco.
His career low is going 114 races without a victory. But he overcame adversity and won the F1 World Championship in 2009. He owns a garage full of exotic cars and even an ancient Volkswagen campervan. Jenson is also a brand ambassador for Head and Shoulders shampoo.
Team Ferrari roars into Elroy with marquis driver Fernando Alonso - considered by many as the greatest all-round driver in the sport.
The 31-year-old Spaniard is a two time F1 champion. He started racing pedal-carts at age 3.
"Vettle is certainly popular," said Formula One racing expert Jim Gewinner. "I'm not so sure Alonzo isn't maybe the most popular for several reasons. Number one, he's accomplished. He's been on the circuit longer. He's associated with a team that is the most popular, which is Ferrari. He has a pretty strong fan base."
During race weekends you might see Fernando performing card tricks to relieve tension. He doesn't like salty foods. Fernando is fearless behind the wheel - but he's claustrophobic and is terrified of being stuck on an elevator.
The other half of Team Ferrari is Brazilian Felipe Massa, 31. Three years ago he survived a horrifying accident at the Hungarian Grand Prix. Racing observers say he's prone to make rookie mistakes. But Felipe is regarded as the "gentleman of F1." He says if he races well on Saturdays he'll wear the same underwear on Sunday. At least once he's auctioned off his underwear for charity.
Lotus-Renault brings three drivers to Texas. Growing up in Finland, Kimi Raikkonen jumped on a pedal-cart at the tender age of 3. Thirty years later he's known for his "laid back" approach to racing. His nickname is "The Iceman" for his cool and unflappable character. Before his first big professional event he was asleep until 30 minutes before the race. His wife owns four horses and competes in international events. But Kimi is allergic to horses. He prefers watching ice hockey.
Romain Grosjean races under the French flag, although he's spent his entire life in Switzerland. At age 26, many in his sport have branded him a "first lap nutcase". That's after he crashed during the opening lap of his debut F1 race and the one just a week later.
Romain was told by his father growing up that he couldn't start racing until his grades improved at school - making him a late start to karting at age 14. When he's not at the racetrack Romain can be found working part time at a bank in Geneva.
Jerome D'Ambroiso is a 26-year-old from Belgium. He joined the Lotis F1 team just this year as the third driver and is ready to stand-in for his teammates. He says he feels great about this backup role, calling it an exciting "next step" in his career.
Not surprisingly, Mercedes brings two prestigious German drivers to the competition at Circuit of the Americas.
Michael Schumacher, 43, is a seven-time world champion. According to the official Formula One website his is "Statistically the greatest driver the sport has ever seen." He won 91 races in 19 seasons. And Michael
has announced he will retire from Formula 1 at the end of the season. He credits his success with a burning desire to win. Michael once said he can't really imagine life without Formula One. His millions of fans around the world can't imagine F1 without him.
27-year old Nico Rosberg once considered a professional tennis career.
Instead he's recognized for his natural pace and ability on the racetrack for Mercedes. His career highlight is outperforming his legendary teammate Michael Shumacher during their first season together. Nico's father is from Finland; his mother is German. This over achiever speaks fluent German, English, French and Italian, but does not speak Finnish.
Japan's Kamui Kobayashi leads the 3 man team from Sauber-Ferrari.
This 26-year-old's nickname may win him fans in Texas; it's Cowboyashi. He's described as aggressive, ambitious and unfazed by his rivals. Kamui grew up around his father's sushi restaurant in Japan. But he harbored dreams of becoming a standup comedian. His many fans in Japan are glad he turned to racing.
One of the youngest racers in the field is a brash Mexican. Sergio Perez, 22, is from Guadalajara but currently lives in Switzerland. He began driving carts at age 6. Observers say he lacks maturity, and if he wasn't from Mexico where he has a strong fan base, he'd probably still be competing in junior races. Thousands of Mexican citizens are expected to travel to Austin to cheer him on. Sergio says he's very superstitious and several lucky bracelets at each race, including one from his grandmother.
Off the track he says he's "pretty wild".
Esteban Gutierrez is the "test and reserve" driver on the Sauber-Ferrari team. The 21-year old grew up just 350 miles south of Austin in Monterrey, Mexico.
Sahara Force India-Mercedes
Sahara Force India-Mercedes has three racers in town. Paul Di Resta, 25, is a UK native who now lives in Monaco. He's known for his swagger. Danica Patrick take note:
When asked why there are no women in F1, Paul said there hasn't been a female racer who's been fast enough to compete. He's single - and he and his family own several nightclubs in England.
German Nico Hulkenberg, 25, changes his personality when he gets behind the wheel. So his manager has given him the nickname of "The Hulk".
He reminds many of fellow German Michael Schumacher - which in this sport is the ultimate complement.
A lowlight of his career came when he was accused of "brake-testing" one of his rivals during a safety car period.
The team's backup driver is Jules Bianchi, 23. The Frenchman is considered a rising star since being appointed to the Sahara Force India team this year.
The Williams-Renault driving team is from South America.
Pastor Maldanado, 27, is from Venezuela. He recently admitted he needs to change his driving style. His aggression on the track has led to seven penalties for driving infringements in 12 races. In a sport known for millionaire jetsetters, Pastor has the strong backing from Venezuela's socialist strongman president Hugo Chavez. In this case, Chavez says Sport should not be kept away from politics.
Brazilian racer Bruno Senna began karting at 5 years old in 1n 1988. But when he was 11 his mother forced him to stop racing when his father was killed in a motorcycle wreck.
But racing is in Bruno's blood and he started driving again at age 20. For a European television show he used to race different cars to the top of a multi-story parking garage.
The racer farthest from home in Elroy is the leader of STR-Ferrari. 23 year old Daniel Ricciardo was raised in Perth in Western Australia. He was cash-challenged when he began racing cars, making do with a 15 year old car in his first race at age 15. These days Daniel says racing F1 cars is a dream come true. He's even the star of an on-line Red Bull TV series called "Destination One."
Teammate Jean-Eric Vergne is a 22 year old Frenchman who began karting at age 4 at his father's kart track near Paris.
He grew quickly through the ranks, winning races on several platforms.
Jean-Eric is pleasing the people who count most - his sponsors have resigned him for another year.
A late starter - German Timo Glock began his motorsport career in 1988 at age 15. In Elroy he's racing for Marussia-Cosworth. Observers say Timo is an often-underrated driver who has yet to make a name for himself as a race winner. That's despite some great qualifying performances.
Charles Pic joined this racing team this year. He shows promise, but hasn't finished higher than third in a championship since he graduated from karting. When beginning the F1 season this year, the 22 year old Frenchman said he wasn't afraid of anything, but acknowledged a lot of hard work was ahead of him. He has a custom of cutting his hair after racing victories.
Finland's Heikki Kovalainen was introduced to racing at age 6 by his father. Today he drives for Caterham-Renault. The 31-year-old enjoys playing
the drums. And he says golf is a big passion off the track. The racing press says he has raw talent behind the wheel, but hasn't lived up to his full potential on the F1 Circuit.
Unlike most racing champions, Pedro de la Rosa's interest in motorsports started with radio controlled cars at age 12. At 41, Pedro is the last F1 driver to have competed in a Grand Prix in the 20th century. A lowlight of the Spaniard's career came when he was caught emailing information about Ferrari's racing cars. The controversy cost his team a fine of $100 million dollars. His favorite hobby is building and flying remote control helicopters.
Teammate Narian Karthikeyan is the first F1 driver from India. His father is famous in India for winning the South India Rally seven times. The 35-year-old Narian knows he has the hopes of a nation behind him and is determined to succeed. With more than 1-point-2 billion potential racing fans in his country - the industry that is Formula One knows his success can only help to grow the sport.
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