Note: Although this post isn’t sponsored by F1 sponsor Heineken, we agree with the message: When you drive, never drink.
While I’ve been a wine fan for over twenty years, I’m very new to Formula 1. Like many American fans of the sport, my first exposure was the Netflix series Drive To Survive, which follows the behind the scenes of the sport. My wife and I quickly became hooked on the show in 2021, which served as a gateway to a Formula 1 TV subscription that we use to religiously watch every race, usually live. Since signing up, we’ve traveled to the Grand Prix in Mexico City and Baku (Azerbaijan), and will be attending the Abu Dhabi race this coming November.
If it wasn’t apparent, we were instant and full converts to what is a fairly genius conceived sport. Like other types of motorsport, I think many don’t take Formula 1 very serious because how is it, after all, that there can be much to a sport that involves basically no human input during the actual competition? The drivers just put the pedal to the floor to push the cars around a track, right? Nothing could be further from the truth.
What makes the sport so compelling for me are the countless variables purposefully and strategically included in the sport and organized to make it nearly impossible for the best driver and car combination to be the guaranteed victor race in and race out. The sport is also set up to create a lot of off-the-track drama that is at the same time reality television for fans and psychological warfare for drivers, team principals, and crews.
As a spectator there’s a lot going on both during and between race weekends, the latter including three practice sessions, a qualifying session, and the race itself (plus the occasional sprint race) over three days, all of which serve different purposes and therefore require a variety of strategies and variables that mean each time the cars go out on track there is something unique for fans to follow.
It takes a little bit of time and dedication to pick up and understand the sport enough to get the most out of being a fan. The rules are complex and create rigorous complications for the teams and drivers, and are even subject to change (within limits) during the season. Each race weekend is an opportunity for the regulators to make track-specific interpretations of certain rules (though there is less of that this year), which keeps the teams and drivers on their toes. Teams are always retooling their cars (again, within limits that sometimes carry penalties, which teams will strategically accept), and no car can be ideally suited for the myriad of track types out there (being faster on the straights necessarily means sacrificing speed in the corners, for example), so you never really know how a given car or driver is going to perform from race-to-race. And between the 20+ races each season spread across the globe over nine months, variables like weather and altitude often result in finishing orders quite different from the prior race.
All of this means that Formula 1 can be as just as daunting a hobby to pick up as wine. Most people who drink wine don’t put much thought into what they drink beyond the most important question: do they like it or not? Many see the exploration of wine as a bottomless pit of daunting technical terms and financial expense that can turn the wine hobbyist into an elitist snobby wino. Many surmise that those in and around Formula 1, a sport that does require some financial investment to take on as a serious interest, are essentially the same.
Not so, at least necessarily so, with wine as much as with F1. Yes, those kind of people exist in both worlds, and they give the rest very bad names. Thankfully, it feels like these terrible reputations for both are being replaced with more kind ones that reflect the growing and increasingly diverse fan bases of both motorsport and wine.
This parallel between Formula 1 and wine got me thinking about other parallels I could draw on the pages of Good Vitis, and I’ve settled on what to me is the most interesting: if someone wanted to pair their favorite Formula 1 driver with a bottle of wine, what wine would best reflect that driver’s personality and driving style?
I sat down to think through this incredibly subjective question, and put some effort into crafting what I hope are fair narratives about each driver that I could parallel with a type of wine. I then choose three versions of that wine representing a range of price points and styles with the purpose of helping Formula 1 fans pick a wine to drink whilst watching their favorite driver or celebrating that driver’s success (or perhaps drowning their sorrows after that driver’s next poor result).
One important note before we begin: Though I’ve been able to observe a few drivers up close whilst at races, I’ve never met a single one, and so I’ve had to base my notions here on what I see on television and social media, and on what I’ve read in interviews and the press. I don’t claim to be an expert on any of them.
Nicholas Latifi (Team: Williams) Lance Stroll and Nicholas Latifi are the two Canadians on this year’s grid, and unfortunately for both of them they’re on teams likely to finish in last and second-to-last in the constructor’s championship. Like Stroll, Latifi is what is often called a “pay” or “paid” driver, meaning they bring sponsorships to their teams that effectively pay for their place on the team. This notion carries a negative tinge because it suggests that money matters more than talent. But neither of these two are a slouches behind the wheel, and both followed successful junior and Formula 2 careers into Formula 1 where they’ve shown promise and achieved the occasional impressive result.
Whereas Stroll’s father is a very visible part of F1 and provides a constant reminder of his son’s paid status, Latifi’s father is not such a fixture on race weekends. The apple doesn’t far fall from the tree in the Latifi family; Nicholas is quiet and mild-mannered, and spends more time focusing on the details of the car than showing his face to the media or crowd. He’s realistic in his assessment of his own development and the prospective success of his team. Behind the wheel he’s at the helm of what I’d suggest is the least racy car in Formula 1, and Latifi’s main job is to push the car without over-driving it and forcing a did not finish, and is therefore patient, even hesitant at times, during races.
When it comes to a wine parallel, I’m going with pinot gris, an understated white grape that most of the time doesn’t stir up much excitement because it has a knack for delivering steady, reliable results within a narrow range of prototypical styles. Pinot gris, it should be noted, is the same grape as pinot grigio. The best regions for pinot gris aren’t the most famous or flashiest, which means the best pinot gris wines tend to fly under the radar. The best pinot gris, a precious small percentage of which gets produced, is intensely age-worthy, and like Latifi’s preference for snacks can be made in a very sweet style.
Alexander Albon (Team: Williams) Alex Albon is one of the most likeable drivers in this year’s Formula 1. Off the track he’s outgoing and self-deprecating with a cunning sense of humor. He’s completely comfortable giving retrospectives on qualifying and races, but he’s most enjoyable in those media moments when he’s talking about other drivers and things unrelated to motorsport. He’s very family-oriented, and clearly loves spending time with them.
This is his second stint in Formula 1. After having progressed rapidly as a junior driver into an F1 seat with Toro Rosso in 2019, then the junior sibling team to Red Bull, he was promoted to Red Bull, one of the two teams at the pinnacle of the sport at that time. However, by the end of the 2020 season in which he both impressed and disappointed, Red Bull decided to demote him to reserve and test driver, and he sat the 2021 F1 season out.
He’s back this year with Williams where he’s had a few impressive results mixed in with some bad luck and car troubles. The man is a hungry, brave, and persistent driver, and it will be interesting to see if he can help push the Williams program back into the midfield after signing a multi-year deal that takes him through the 2024 season.
Like Albon, rosé from the Bandol appellation in France’s Provence wine region is for real. Rosé is often relegated to summer porch pounding and seen as a light-hearted, fun wine for social events to lubricate interpersonal interactions rather than dazzle the palate. Bandol’s rosé does not exactly fit this mold because the region produces very hearty grapes and favors a winemaking style that produces hearty wines across the full range, including rosé.
But this doesn’t mean that Bandol rosé lacks those floral aromas and red berry flavors that are essential to what makes rosé so perfect for fun times. Still, local laws require that the hearty mourvèdre grape make up at least 20% of every bottle of rosé, which means you can expect at least a little hit of peppery spice and dark fruit with each sip that reminds you it has some real substance behind its jovial façade.
Lance Stroll (Team: Aston Martin) Lance Stroll has three F1 podiums (all third places) and 35 top-10 finishes in six-and-a-half seasons, and yet people think the only reason he has a spot on the grid is because of his wealthy father who invests in the teams he’s on.
I get the logic of those who think of him negatively as a paid driver because technically he is – every team he’s been on has either been owned, at least in part, or heavily invested in by his father, and he’s never not raced for a team that his father hasn’t invested in. But his drives also suggest he earns the seat he fills, and he’s only 23 years-old.
In his private life he’s into adventurous sports like mountain biking and snowboarding, and in school he was apparently considered a “cheeky” guy by his teachers. In the car he goes hard and more often seems limited by the car he’s in than his own skills. Stroll seems like a fun, good natured guy who works quietly and away from the cameras to be the best that he can be.
In wine terms, Stroll is fully New World; he’s about that fun but serious life and doesn’t seem to care much about what other people are doing or have done – he’s there to do him and to do that quietly and respectfully, and that’s what the Washington State wine industry is all about. Like Stroll, Washington’s winemakers know they are underrated and are constantly striving to show people through their performance that they’re better than they’re given credit for.
Zhou Guanyu (Team: Alfa Romeo) Zhou Guanyu, a rookie, is a seemingly reserved guy. He is focused and patient when it comes to his development, but also clearly very driven. In the car he’s tough and confident – his quick recovery from the Silverstone GP crash was both miraculous and impressive. He strikes me as quite technically adept, too. On a recent appearance on F1 Behind The Grid, he spoke a lot to the technical aspects of the car with great intelligence, making it clear that he spends a lot of time with the team’s engineers and designers.
As a rookie, I suspect his demeanor is driven by what seems to be a great amount of respect for the sport and his elders, as well as gratitude for the journey required to obtain his F1 seat. Further, with only a single season guaranteed in his contract, he’s in constant proving-himself mode. And as Formula 1’s first Chinese driver, the man is paving a brand new path for the world’s most populous country, which means there is no shortage of pressure on the young driver’s shoulders.
In essence, Zhou Guanyu is a new version of an old wine. And his technical approach to being an F1 driver along with the multiple types of pressure he faces suggest his wine parallels should be on the more technically adept side of things. Whether it’s famed French Rhone Valley winemaker Louis Barroul making riesling in New York’s Finger Lakes region, California pinot noir master Adam Lee partnering with the late Châteauneuf-de-Pape legend Philippe Cambie to make California pinot like Cambie made French grenache, or Oregon producers making white wine from the red pinot noir grape, they’re all reflections of Zhou Guanyu’s ground-breaking presence in a sport for which he demonstrates reverence and respect.
Yuki Tsunoda (Team: Alpha Tauri) It’s no secret that Yuki Tsunoda, in just his second Formula 1 season, is both very talented and a work-in-progress. His rookie season saw a lot of Yuki-caused vehicle carnage for both himself and anyone unlucky to be near him, yet when he kept the car on the track and away from others his talent was easy to see by the naked eye.
Suffering from a lack of focus from afar, his team moved him close to their factory and he began seeing a psychologist to improve his work ethic and mindset. Although he’s not featuring close to the podium in 2022, he seems to be about as competitive as the Alpha Tauri car will allow, and he’s making fewer mistakes. He remains, however, known for pushing the car as hard as it will go, and so does particularly well in fast corners where a full throttle won’t put the car into the safety barrier.
At 5 foot 3 inches, he packs a big punch. A similarly punchy wine to pair with Tsunoda is the small-sized petit syrah grape (also spelled petit sirah), which delivers big flavors and structures that are hard to confuse for anything else. Yuki’s toughness and audacious style is mirrored by petit syrah’s thick skin and large seeds that deliver a bold slap across the face. Further, petit syrah’s big hit of pepper knocks one out even when they know it’s coming, which is another apt comparison to the mighty Tsunoda.
Mick Schumacher (Team: Haas) Mick Schumacher has had an interesting 2022 season. It started off quite poorly despite his Haas team fielding a very competitive car. Several unforced errors led to costly crashes and ultimately his team principal calling him out publicly for these mistakes, effectively demanding an end to them because of the crushing financial impact they would have by pushing the team over the annual cost cap.
To a surprisingly impressive extent, Schumacher responded and has featured as a competitor for points (top-10 finishes) in the last few races going into the summer break. With his surname (he is the son of Michael Schumacher, a 7-time world champion considered by many to be the best F1 driver of all time), the spotlight can mean a lot of pressure to a driver who at the beginning of his career raced under his mother’s maiden name out of a desire to be judged by his merits rather than his father’s.
The entire paddock seems to be delighted in his rise to form, and rumor has it that many competitors consider him one of the most talented drivers in the sport today. I cannot therefore think of any wine better to describe Mick Schumacher than Beaujolais.
Like Mick, Beaujolais lives in the shadow of greatness, located just south of Burgundy. The grape grown in Beaujolais is a red one called gamay, and it has many similar qualities to the main red grape of Burgundy, pinot noir, which has a more sterling reputation.
Many, in fact, refer to Beaujolais as the poor man’s Burgundy. This unfair moniker, because in fact the two regions produce decidedly different wines, is based on a style of Beaujolais called Noveau, which is a wine that must be sold in the same calendar year the grapes are harvested. Functionally this means a red wine that has no meaningful time to age before it’s sold. These are inexpensive, simple wines that should be consumed almost immediately to be enjoyed at their peak.
The celebratory nature of Beaujolais Noveau (the region has a huge blowout the day they are released, which is always the third Thursday of November) has given the rest of the region’s wines a reputation of being unserious. However, Beaujolais has a good number of serious wines that get more thoughtful treatment than Noveau, the best of which earn the categorization “Cru.” While some of Schumacher’s 2022 races finished early and spectacularly so, like Beaujolais Noveau, other performances have shown a seriousness and brilliance that resulted in meaningful finishes, like Cru Beaujolais.
Sebastian Vettel (Team: Aston Martin) It’s hard to call someone who won four championships with the same team (Red Bull) “inconsistent,” but Vettel was frequently called that during his subsequent years at Ferrari where he made many mistakes that mystified those who had witnessed his successes. And certainly in the last two seasons at back-of-the-grid Aston Martin, his results have been consistently underwhelming. But you know with Vettel that you’ve got a driver with immense skill and experience, and so if the car is on, he’s going to finish well. When behind the wheel and at his best, he is precise, calculated, and on-point fast.
Although Vettel had plenty of moments of hotheadedness in his younger and more successful years, he’s considered to be one of the most conscientious, generous, friendly, and principled drivers in the modern era of Formula 1 – especially in the last stage of his career when he has taken on a number of significant causes. There is depth and complexity to the man.
He’s also the kind of guy who will sign and send back something a fan sends him in the mail. He prefers hand written letters to emails, generally dislikes technology, stayed off social media until using his freshly opened Instagram account to make his retirement announcement last month, and spends more time reading than watching television. In short, Vettel seems to, in many ways, be an old soul.
In the wine world I’ll point to what is widely regarded as the pinnacle of the sangiovese grape, Brunello di Montalcino. Brunello makes a big splash out of the gate with serious brawn and guts, and then goes through years of evolution to eventually become a matured wine of stateliness, a wine that no one can scoff at even if it’s not the shiny object at the table anymore. Esteban Ocon has said that his teammate Fernando Alonso has matured like a fine wine, and George Russell has compared fellow Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton to “a fine wine,” but if anyone in the paddock embodies the notion of fine and mature wine, I’d argue it’s Seb.
Pierre Gasly (Team: Alpha Tauri) I find Pierre Gasly to be one of the more interesting and higher quality human beings on the grid this season. Of all the drivers, I’d be most interested to read an autobiography about Gasly. In researching this piece, I learned, to name just one thing, that when on his way to a Formula 2 race the car he was in with his family crashed badly enough that his mother was sent to the intensive care unit. Gasly would make his way to the track, qualify for pole position, and later win the race, only to find out that he had broken a vertebrae in the crash himself. He’s overcome a lot of adversity and personal loss to get this far, and it takes a certain quality of person to survive that type of path to become one of only twenty Formula 1 drivers.
His struggles with the brief move to Red Bull in 2019 have been heavily reported as has the impact of his close friend Antoine Hubert’s death in the F2 race in Spa in 2019. He’s spoken about the pressure that being an F1 driver puts on one’s mental health, and when he engages with the media he gives some of the most thoughtful commentary you’re going to hear from this paddock. At the same time, although obviously talented, it seems likely he’ll never win a championship or all that many individual races despite being a sedulous fighter behind the wheel because that just seems to be his luck.
This description of him reminds me of merlot, a grape with tremendous qualities that make it capable of being among the world’s best wines, yet rarely gets the treatment of other more popular grapes capable of similar results. As the sole or dominate grape in a bottle of wine (like those listed below), merlot can contend with any other. But like the impact Gasly has on the F1 world, many of the world’s best red wines wouldn’t achieve their height without a meaningful addition of merlot (the most famous example being Bordeaux’s Cheval Blanc).
Daniel Ricciardo (Team: McLaren) I’m not going to do the easy thing and point to Ricciardo’s collaboration with the St. Hugo winery in the Barossa Valley, even though my description of Barossa shiraz in the (SPOILER ALERT) Kevin Magnussen section below might also seem to be a good fit for one of the most popular and beloved drivers in Formula 1 today.
Instead, I’m going to use a phrase my wife conjured for this article and the humorous, good natured, and affable Ricciardo to assign Arizona wine to Danny Ric: hard to take seriously, but seriously good.
Arizona doesn’t make most wine radars (because who grows grapes in the desert?), and so people might not take it very seriously. Yet those who try the good stuff often can’t forget about it for a long, long time. And Daniel is a man of the desert and a lover of the American West, which makes this all the better of a fit.
As one of Formula 1’s more crafty drivers known for incredible passing talent (that double Alpine overtake in Hungary this year!), we need a wine that not everyone can make, and that’s Arizona wine. Only crafty winemakers who know how to navigate the high elevation and weather event prone plains in Arizona’s south and the really wet valleys (yes, it’s true) in the state’s north can produce Ricciardo pass-worthy wine. Like Riccairdo’s joly personality and racy driving style, Arizona wine is really fun and seriously good. Hard to take seriously, but seriously good.
Kevin Magnussen (Team: Haas) Kevin Magnussen is on his second stint with Haas, having been dropped by the team (and not picked up by anyone else) at the end of 2020. He therefore missed the 2021 season entirely. During that time he did a few motorsport races outside the Formula series and had his first child. When Russia invaded Ukraine, Haas ditched Russian driver Nikita Mazepin and sponsor Uralkali, which is owned by Mazepin’s father who is very close with Vladimir Putin. Magnussen was offered the seat, and he returned to the sport with a fresh and more humble attitude.
Magnussen has been welcomed back into F1 with great enthusiasm by both fans and those in the paddock, most of whom, like Magnussen himself, didn’t think he’d ever make a return to the highest level of motorsport. He’s taken advantage of this chance to match the Haas car’s good pace with skill and persistence, showing great form and putting together some impressive races.
This sequence of events has produced two versions of Kevin Magnussen the driver: First Stint and Second Stint Kevin. First Stint Kevin was aggressive, and often considered so myopically self-prioritizing that he gave little thought as to the safety of those around him. Second Stint Kevin, though still a daring and uncompromising fighter, hasn’t put other drivers into unnecessary danger this season any more than anyone else.
Because there are two Magnussens, there are two different types of wine. First Stint Kevin screams shiraz from the Barossa Valley in Australia, which has a reputation for producing big, takes-no-prisoner wines that are proudly and uniquely themselves. Second Stint Kevin is more Muscadet Serve et Maine Sur Lie, a very specific type of wine made from the melon de bourgogne grape from the Loire Valley in France that exudes subtle confidence stemming from comfort in its own skin.
Fernando Alonso (Team: Alpine) I doubt it’s controversial to say that Fernando Alonso is a bit enigmatic. Never one to hold back an opinion, either verbally or with body language, the veteran driver and two-time world champion remains remarkably difficult to understand because of the language he speaks: Alonsopeak.
According to the authoritative piece on Alonsospeak by ESPN’s Nate Saunders, Alonsospeak is both the what and how of Alonso’s communication style. It includes his status as a living legend, his penchant to distract from problems, his keen ability to change the narrative, and his confidence in being the smartest person in the room. Yet even Saunders’ explanations leave the reader confused, such is Alonso’s ability to keep the world guessing about his true meaning.
As a driver he leaves nothing on the track, and is crafty, risk-acceptant, and precise. His two world championships are often considered fewer than his talent alone should have delivered. Even today, at age 41, some consider him the best driver on the grid.
Eliminate the purposeful deception behind Alonsospeak and Alonso reminds of the wines from Jura, France. As a tiny region that’s been around for a long, long time, its wines are highly regarded among an odd combination of young hipster winos and retiree aficionados. Most of the region’s grapes, such as trousseau, poulsard, and savagnin, aren’t really grown anywhere else in the world, and some of the techniques used in the winemaking are routinely shunned almost everywhere else in the world because they alter wines in ways that most winemakers want to avoid. Yet when you try Jura wines, you know they’ve gotten away with all of it, and you can’t help but enjoy yourself in their devious presence.
Valtteri Bottas (Team: Alfa Romeo) Despite Valtteri Bottas’ respect of Champagne, I can’t give it to him, and not just because George Russell might as well be a bottle of Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle (more on that below). Instead, the Alfa Romeo driver is a high end cabernet-driven red wine from Napa Valley.
Bottas is not just an F1 driver. He owns a coffee shop and takes their bean sourcing very serious. He is a very good cyclist, though not as good as his girlfriend, Tiffany Cromwell, who races professionally. He started a duathlon that raises money for various charities. He’s a former member of the Finish military and was voted “Top Soldier” by his fellow servicemembers.
The man has layers, and he’s also a damn good driver. He’s surgical and steady, but is comfortable taking calculated risks. He may be the best teammate of all time, a driver without whom I’d argue Lewis Hamilton would not have the results to be in the running for best driver of all time. Bottas is known to be a great partner to his team’s engineers and strategists. In short, people want him on their team.
The wine parallel for me is high end Napa Valley red wine. If you know where to look, you’ll find winemakers in Napa who do what Bottas does with their grapes to make layered wines that get more out of the grapes than one thought possible. And, if that reason wasn’t enough, Bottas guided me here by outing himself as a Napa fan.
Esteban Ocon (Team: Alpine) Esteban Ocon is one of my favorite drivers because he lets his driving do most of the talking. Unlike many Formula Series drivers of the modern age, he doesn’t come from means. His family made tremendous sacrifices for him as he made his way to F1, so it’s especially endearing when he finishes well.
He’s humble, relatively so, in a sport that is one of the world’s most popular. But if you allow that humility to bring your defenses down, he’ll expose your mistake with calculated and smooth driving. Lewis Hamilton called him a “shining star” after his first Formula 1 win, which occurred in Hungary in 2021. Although he hasn’t won a second race yet, he is consistently in the mid-field mix.
This combination of quiet humility and cunning skill makes for a challenging pairing, though I feel good in my call to go with his home nation’s Gigondas, a region in the Southern Rhone predominantly producing grenache and syrah.
Both Gigondas and Ocon are never going to be the most expensive options, nor the most famous or flashy. Nor will they have the largest cult followings or consistently score the highest points. Yet, both are fortitudinous and when you take a moment to think about either, you realize there’s something uniquely special about them. Within the very famous Rhone Valley region, Gigondas plays a number of fiddles behind other areas, but it is one of the regions that you can almost always count on to produce something that performs well. When Ocon wins his next race, I’m toasting him with a bottle of Gigondas.
Lando Norris (Team: McLaren) Lando Norris is a joyful, direct, and forthright individual, so let’s all forgive him for insinuating that he doesn’t care about wine in an interview when comparing himself to teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who does. There’s more to life than wine, I suppose.
For me, Norris is Prosecco because you don’t have to like wine to add a splash of orange or cranberry juice to it to have the kind of pleasurable experience that is Lando Norris. And whether he’s doing an interview, goofing around on social media, or racing to the only 2022 podium appearance not filled by a driver from Red Bull, Ferrari, or Mercedes. When driving, Norris has serious game face and is exciting, calculated, and insatiable in pushing the car. If he’s ever handed a consistently and highly competitive car, he is capable of winning loads of races.
When it comes to Prosecco, like Norris, there is both simple and silly, and exciting and serious, styles. If made by really talented people with really good grapes in a purposeful way, Prosecco can deliver in similarly massive ways. Really good Prosecco is really good wine by any standard, and the thing I most respect about Norris isn’t his fun personality or straight talk (although both make him a compelling person and sports star), but his willingness to talk about the very serious topic of mental health. Norris parallels Prosecco’s range.
Wines: Pasqua Romeo and Juliet Prosecco, Andreola Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Más de Fer Rive Di Soligo, La Marca Cuvee Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore. BONUS (if you can find it): Celebrate a rewatch of the Ricciardo-Norris 1-2 finish at Monza with a bottle of Andreola Monza Prosecco.
Lewis Hamilton (Team: Mercedes) Lewis Hamilton is by far the most successful driver on the grid this season, a seven-time drivers’ champion (achieved in seven consecutive years) known for his ability to win under any combination of variables. He’s a master at tire management, does equally well in wet or dry and hot or cold conditions, can win from a starting position at the back of the grid, and rarely makes an unforced error. His success has made him one of the most popular drivers as well, with dedicated fans at any track in any country. He also attracts a lot of hate, some of which is sadly racially motivated as he is the only black driver in F1.
Those on the hate him side of the spectrum (who aren’t racist) point to largely personality-based complaints. His behavior when not in a media environment can be at odds with his on-camera performance, a persona that never forgets to thank the fans or his team despite the fact that he’s not known to spend a lot of time with fans when the media isn’t also there. Earlier this year in Baku, Azerbaijan, I witnessed him ignore two adorable British children wearing Hamilton gear who tried to get his attention from well within eye sight and ear shot at a moment when he was casually hanging out after hours in the paddock.
He’s also known for proactively making negative and unconstructive statements during the race about the performance of his car and/or complaining about other drivers who he believes have violated rules that he’s been given a penalty for breaking himself, all of which seem to imply that he wants to make sure that setbacks he faces in races aren’t attributable to anything he’s done. And this year, for the first time since before he was a world champion, he is being routinely outperformed by his teammate, George Russell, who hasn’t seemed to experience the same issues with his identical car that Hamilton claims are going on with his.
Yet Louis Hamilton has the results to rightfully compete for the title of best Formula 1 driver of all time, a feat that he’s proven capable of achieving despite all of the unreasonable and unfair hurdles he’s had to overcome due to the racism he’s faced since his first days in the sport while karting. He’s gone well beyond addressing his own experiences to initiate and lead the push in Formula 1 to improve its racial and social diversity while fighting racism on a global scale on behalf of billions of people.
I’m choosing malbec as Hamilton’s wine parallel because of the keenness with which it (1) balances its structure of tannin, acid, and alcohol (comparable to Hamilton’s consistency), and (2) shows the uniqueness of where it’s grown and how it’s made (which parallels Hamilton’s skill of adapting his approach to whatever the circumstances require).
George Russell (Team: Mercedes) No driver on this year’s grid screams Champagne more than George Russell. The man slings the dapper clothing line, Kingsman. Need I say more?
Although by all accounts a modest human being, Russell’s style, accent, dashing good looks, and calm demeanor exude British luxury. Russell is affable, both confident and modest, a man for the every-person to see as a peer as well as someone to look up to. Because of this, he’s more of a Champagne House Champagne than a grower producer, a bottle of bubbles that almost everyone is going to enjoy.
As a sportsman, he is driven by obvious ambition, and his training and preparation demonstrate rigorous commitment. If we set aside some youthful indiscretions, behind the wheel and in front of fans and the press he is a consummate professional, delivering both drives and hot takes that can be provocative and respectful at the same time. His driving style includes a penchant for aggression, but only within the bounds of meticulous calculations.
Champagne doesn’t need to be braggadocious for people to know it’s serious. It very naturally exudes luxury, like Russell, without having to say a word; a simple look is all either needs to tell you exactly what they’re about. You know Champagne is serious, but like Russel it can be quite fun; it isn’t the world’s synonym for celebration for no reason. And like Champagne’s staying power as the world’s most popularly-known and loved wine, Russell has earned a reputation as a talent more likely to deliver than not. He overcame his poor-performing car while on the Williams team to earn the name “Mr. Saturday” for his consistency in getting the most out of his car in single-lap qualifying and has been the most consistent driver on the 2022 grid, finishing in the top-5 in all but one of the thirteen races so far this season.
Carlos Sainz Jr. (Team: Ferrari) With all due respect to Telmo Rodriguez, winemaker and business partner of Carlos Sainz Sr. in Pegaso, a winery outside of Madrid, Carlos Sainz Jr. is all Priorat. This wine region south of Barcelona is brutally hilly and rocky and known for powerful and complex red wines. If you like that kind of thing, it’s hard not to fall for the appeal of Priorat, just as it’s hard not to feel the appeal of Sainz if you like affable, thoughtful, and intelligent people who seem to have worked for the success they’ve had.
Due to its tiny production, limited distribution, and higher price points, Priorat never really features in discussions about the best red wine region even though its wines can hang with top wines from regions in contention for this distinction. The reality, however, is that if representative wines from these contending regions were to be put in a lineup and tasted blind, Priorat would likely feature in many a taster’s top wines. This sounds a bit like Carlos Sainz, does it not? Sainz is always capable of the win if all that matters are the merits of the driver.
Priorat’s topologically and climatically punishing spot on the globe means its winemakers must be diligent and laser focused, and leverage their experience to overcome difficult situations. The same could be said of Sainz, who often finds himself stuck between rocks and hard places, especially due to terrible team strategy and management decisions in this season. And like the red (and white) wines of Priorat, Sainz’s career has been one that’s continually improved as he’s matured.
Sergio Perez (Team: Red Bull) Sergio Perez is known as the Mexican Minister of Defense after a heroic performance in last year’s season finale without which his teammate Max Verstappen may well have not won the race and taken home the 2021 driver’s championship. Those few laps in which he kept Hamilton behind him using a car with tires significantly more worn out than Hamilton’s are emblematic of much about Perez, from his commitment to his team to his mastery of tire management to his smooth and determined driving style and his ability to be as aggressive as the situation requires.
This well-respected driver lives a relatively private lifestyle. He’s generous with his charity and loves playing pranks. His interests vary widely, including active investing in financial markets. There’s more to Perez than what you see when he’s in the F1 press box, not unlike the right bottle of Sancerre, a small region within the Loire Valley in France known for its deceptively intricate sauvignon blanc.
You can chug a bottle of Sancerre with fresh oysters and not really think twice about it because it’s a classically good pairing. And you can also stick the right bottle in the cellar for five or twenty years because there are few wines that reveal as much complexity and depth. This makes Sancerre a stand-alone glass of wine that you can really delve into and appreciate for its own merits that stand up to the most impressive of Perez’s drives.
Charles Leclerc (Team: Ferrari) Charles Leclerc seems like a nice, genuine guy. He’s one of the quieter, more reserved drivers when not in the car. To the press he is friendly and respectful, and his social media is wholesome and almost exclusively reserved for boringly obvious reflections on his races and the occasional PSA related to things like safe driving. He routinely praises the crew of his Ferrari team, and rarely creates controversy in the paddock, though this last part seems to be slipping as the team strategy deployed throughout this season is ruining races for him. There is a wonderful picture of him passing the magnum of sparkling Ferrari Trento wine from the podium down to his team.
Yet things change a bit when he gets behind the wheel where, because of his persistence, precision, and unflappable mindset, he is more than comfortable taking tactical and strategic risks. As a result of this approach (and Ferrari’s play calls this season), he’s usually either on the podium or showered before the race finishes. In my research, I struggled to come across anything uniquely fun about him, though he seems to enjoy many friendships on and off the grid. In short, he’s a best-in-class German riesling: precise, pure, strongly-statured, well-balanced, and likely to improve with age. If you want the 2022 version of Leclerc, get yourself a 20+ year old Spatlese or Auslese and hope that its owner has done right by it in terms of storage as these can be boom or bust wines.
Max Verstappen (Team: Red Bull) Like Kevin Magnussen, there are multiple profiles for Max Verstappen because of how differently he’s approached the 2022 season compared to 2021, when he won his first world driver’s championship, in terms of both his driving style (less aggressive and risk acceptant this year) and his comments to the press (more measured and vanilla this year). But I think more than anything, the stress of getting that first championship is gone now, and we’re seeing the real Max. So, just one wine.
Since he’s said that he likes “fizzy” drinks, I’m going with a sparkling wine called Cremant de Bourgogne: from the world’s finest wine region, on par with Verstappen as the reigning world champion, but not the wine that drives that designation, on par with Verstappen’s reserved approach to the 2022 season.
These Cremants aren’t in the spotlight of the world’s most famous sparkling wines, just as Verstappen hasn’t caught Hamilton-level fame, yet in practice can be extremely well-made, mirroring his meticulous preparation. Cremants can come in a wide range of styles: you can happen on a version with gentle carbonation and a smooth mousse, like Verstappen’s personality when not racing, while you can also find one with an aggressive sparkle and energetic mousse, not unlike Verstappen’s driving style when he needs to push. Unlike the wine that Verstappen sarcastically hoped the race stewards bought with the large fine he was forced to pay after 2021 Brazil Grand Prix, Cremants de Bourgogne won’t cost anyone an arm or a leg.
Enjoy the second half of the season, and get yourself some of the good wine to go with it. With that, it’s lights out and AWAY WE GO.