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Mr. 20 Percent Wants to Manage Sebastian Vettel

Mr. 20 Percent and Michael Schumacher

Willi Weber (a.k.a. “Mr. 20 Percent,” in reference to the slice he skimmed from Herr Michael Schumacher’s annual income), is offering a bit of advice to reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel: get a manager.  And the best manager for the job?  Why, Willi Weber, of course.

Vettel, most unusually for a modern F1 driver, has been managing his own affairs, with a bit of help from his father Norbert, and a lawyer they retain to review contracts.  Some might consider Vettel’s interest in putting racing before business admirable.  Others will simply see it for what it is: a lost opportunity in a venue which is more business than sport.

Racing drivers are much like other sportsmen or athletes: their natural window for earning is relatively brief.  Most drivers retire before they’re 40 (the examples of Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell and Michael Schumacher not withstanding).  They must make their pile quickly, and then rely on savvy investing thereafter – or go into broadcasting, as in the cases of Martin Brundle and David Coultard (it’s possible that Brundle is more successful as a commentator than he ever was as a driver).

Sebastian Vettel is now entering the steeply angled portion of his career earnings curve.  For the next decade or so, unless his driving ability should completely unravel for some inexplicable reason, he will be in his peak earning years, in terms of team salary, product endorsements and merchandizing deals. Every year that he doesn’t take advantage of this is money lost.  Or, as an economist would put it, there is a measurable “opportunity cost” for not having a decent manager to handle his affairs.

How to quantify?   Spain’s El Mundo newspaper recently reported that Vettel’s 2010 earnings were only $2.6 million.  Note, I said “only.”  You can use that adverb with impunity in the world of F1.  The same El Mundo article listed Fernando Alonso’s income for the year as $40 million, Lewis Hamilton’s as $21 million and Mark Webber’s as $5.6 million.

Of course, you might note that Vettel is still very young, and he signed his current deal before he’d won the world title.  That misses the point.  Willi Weber began steering the business side of Schumi’s career while that particular wunderkind was still making his mark in the lower formulae.  By the time Schumi entered his first retirement at the end of 2006, Weber had made him (and himself) very rich.

Doubtless, Weber saw a similar opportunity with another young German, Nico Hulkenberg.  Or so he’d hoped.  It hasn’t quite worked out that way.  Having been dropped by Williams for 2011 to make way for the Venezuelan pilot Pastor Maldonado (who brings mucho petrodollar funding to the team), the Hulk is now out of a job.  It’s only natural that Mr. 20 Percent should  begin casting a wider net.  As Weber seems to have a predilection for managing his fellow Germans, young Herr Vettel would be the obvious choice.

Of the other Germans in the field, he’s the only driver without significant representation.  He’s also, currently, the most successful.  The other Teutonic talents include Nico Rosberg, Timo Glock, Adrian Sutil and one Herr Schumacher.  (Weber still handles the commercial aspects of Schumi’s career, while the German ace now negotiates his own team contracts.)  Given a choice between any of these young guns, and Vettel, Weber would, of course, opt for Vettel.

And while Weber rates Alonso, Hamilton and Vettel as the three best pilots in the sport (what, not even a nod to past and current client Schumacher?), he still insists that given a choice he would prefer to bring Vettel into the Weber stable of champions.  As he recently told Auto Motor und Sport, “Now he needs a manager more than ever, because he needs to sell his success. It is all about money and what he can earn outside of the cockpit.”  And judging by the aforementioned money stats, Mr. 20 Percent is just the sort of manager young Herr Vettel needs.

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