Formula One gave fans their clearest sign yet of the impact its new owners, Liberty Media, already are having on the sport during the Spanish Grand Prix.
Sunday’s F1 race in Spain featured an intense battle on track, but what really caught everybody’s attention was Kimi Raikkonen consoling a young Scuderia Ferrari supporter. Though, that might not have been the case if Bernie Ecclestone still were heading the series, according to Autosport.
F1 CEO Chase Carey told Autosport on Tuesday that, though Liberty didn’t orchestrate the “special moment” between Raikkonen and his fan, Thomas Danel, it likely wouldn’t have happened if Ecclestone and CVC Partners were the sport’s majority shareholders.
“We got all this press about the little boy who got pulled down, and they (Ferrari) did it on their own,” Carey said, “having a sense a freedom that they wouldn’t have had a year ago.
“I didn’t tell them to find the little boy, there are people who did it on their own, thought it would be a special moment, and it was.”
Kimi’s photo op with Thomas interestingly wasn’t the only thing that happened at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya that highlighted F1’s changing culture.
Liberty also introduced things such as a revamped fan festival with simulators, pit stop practices and two-seater F1 car ridealongs, all of which are aimed at increasing fan engagement. F1 previously has long prided itself on being the “pinnacle of motorsport,” though the exclusivity that’s associated with that often severely limited fans’ access to the series.
“As we’ve been connecting the various parties we’re finding a tremendous level of enthusiasm that hadn’t existed, and to some degree you could say there was almost frustration for people who felt there wasn’t anybody to engage with,” Carey said, via Autosport.
Carey noted trackside fan experiences are big sponsorship opportunities that F1 previously under-utilized, as its business model relied heavily on broadcasting rights.