There were two defining images from the Spanish Grand Prix. The first was Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel battling wheel-to-wheel for victory. The second was a crying Kimi Räikkönen fan.
Let’s deal with the latter image first. The Kimi fan in question was six-year-old Thomas Danel, who was spotted by TV cameras sobbing after Ferrari’s Finnish driver crashed out of the race after a first-lap clash with Max Verstappen. The footage provided a talking point for the commentators, and stills and video of Danel crying quickly spread around social media.
It was what happened next that was really notable. Under the old, Bernie Ecclestone-led F1 regime, the story would likely have ended there. Well, apart from FOM people busily ensuring any F1 video was taken off the internet.
But Liberty Media, F1’s new owners, have vowed to make the sport open and more accessible. And what better way to demonstrate that than by tracking down young Thomas, and his parents Coralie and Jordan, and whisking them into the paddock to meet Kimi Räikkönen in the Ferrari garage?
The meet-and-greet took place before the end of the race, with the TV cameras capturing it all. It was another great TV and social media moment. It was a significant moment too. Fans? Invited into the paddock? Surely not!
There were other signs that F1’s new owners are trying to make the sport a bit more fan friendly, with revamped fan zones introduced at the Circuit de Catalunya, and a new paddock bar for VIP guests. And if they can succeed in making the sport feel that bit more accessible, it will be a great help.
But such initiatives will only go so far. Unlike the Thomas family, most F1 fans won’t ever get invited into the paddock to meet their favourite driver. And that’s why the other defining image from the weekend might be the more significant one.
Put simply, the Spanish Grand Prix was the best race of the year so far. While other races featured drama, surprise results and plenty of tension, this one had it all.
Hamilton and Vettel – and their Mercedes and Ferrari teams – staged an intense, strategic battle that lasted for all 66 laps. The two drivers had to push to the limit to try and make their respective strategies work and it all ended with the pair battling wheel-to-wheel on track. When Vettel emerged from the pits after his final stop he came out right alongside Hamilton. The two oh-so-nearly touched, with Hamilton only just staying out of the gravel.
Vettel stayed out front but Hamilton, on faster tyres, was relentless, and despite the best efforts of the four-time champ, the Mercedes ace soon took the lead. It was exactly what F1 needed: a race between the two 2017 title contenders that was packed with strategy, and decided by on-track overtaking.
That’s important because, ultimately, the appeal of Formula 1 is about what happens on the track. Or, as Hamilton put it after the race: “This is what the sport needs to be every single race.”
It’s unlikely that will happen, but the refreshing news is that, after three years of Mercedes dominance, this season seems destined to feature a title battle between drivers from different teams. And if even a handful of the remaining races are as entertaining as the Spanish Grand Prix, it should make more fans as passionate as young Thomas Danel.