By Ollie Barstow Follow @OllieBarstowF1 on Twitter

Zip lines, robots and crying children... F1's viral new era

'Wait until they bring out the Kiss Cam Jumbo Vision'

This comment from a fellow journalist elicited a laugh from those around me, but there was certainly an element of truth to it. OK, so we didn't get to witness betrothed couples declaring their love for one another for all the 'stadium' to coo at but there was certainly a few hints of 'Super Bowl' in Liberty Media's first proper attempt to bolster the fan experience during a grand prix.

A wander around the circuit revealed zip lines, Fernando Alonso's mural made up of Rubik's Cubes, mosaics, various people dressed in all manner of increasingly perplexing attire and a 'wise-cracking' (trans: uncomfortably overbearing) robot which somehow made its way into the paddock and delivered this moment...

How times changes indeed... but then this is entirely the point. F1 remains hugely popular yet is arguably the highest profile sport that doesn't maximise its full potential when it comes to the fan experience and the viral possibilities. After all, we journalists will always be there to promote the racing itself, but it is revenue-delivering fans that ultimately promote the experience through Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram...

So while the 'kiss cam' hasn't made an appearance (yet), we did of course have 'the crying child', which offered up a moment that - to our surprise - quick-thinking organisers brilliantly seized on, firstly by televising him (crying and celebrating to a chorus of 'awwwws') before physically finding him, getting him into the paddock to meet Kimi Raikkonen and turn him into the unexpected star for the day. It was F1's first 'all the feels' moment and you needn't be a social media guru to understand why it went viral - 2.5 million users on Facebook to be exact, according to the new 'fan engagement' press releases we receive after every race now.

Would this have been allowed happened this time last year? We'll let you decide the answer to that... but in an era where likes, retweets and shares make money, Liberty produced a big win at almost its first attempt. Cynics questioned if he was a plant, but we tried not to over-think it...

Gimmicks some may be and with the blue riband, high society Monaco Grand Prix up next week we suspect it'll strike a different tone, but Spain arguably represented the most significant shift of Liberty Media's brave new era for F1 and while it seems willing to let the drivers do the talking on track for now before exerting any sort of influence, it is happily doing what it does best around Sunday afternoon to ensure F1 makes headlines for more than just its quality racing right now.

The Iceman cometh and go-eth?

There was some respect to be admired in the way Kimi Raikkonen stuck around after his turn one skirmish in the Spanish Grand Prix to meet his devastated young super-fan. It's been a while since we saw such emotion in F1, not least for a driver that famously retains such a taciturn demeanour even at the most extravagant of times.

However, there was the impression this weekend that frustrations - and emotions - are beginning to grow in the Raikkonen camp as he not only fades in the title battle but is increasingly discounted as being much of a factor relative to Sebastian Vettel. After all, as Mercedes agonise over potentially having two title contenders, the 'team orders' questions is becoming a no-brainer in the Ferrari camp after just five races.

There is a running joke in the paddock in which we play 'Kimi Bingo' given the frequency with which he uses the same terms and clich?s over and over, but this weekend saw him shift off script a little bit when he simply declared he needed to be driving better.

This came after qualifying where you could tell he genuinely believed he was quick enough for pole position, not least because Vettel got so close despite having to change his engine. Though Raikkonen has never levelled blame at Ferrari for disappointing performances, he often talks in the royal 'we', but this response exposed him as the defining factor in another anti-climactic result.

Of course, with Ferrari demonstrating exceptional pace in the hands of Vettel, Raikkonen fairly average results in comparison are seemingly weighing heavy. Whilst we are unlikely to see hands being thrown into the air and raw passion emanating from the 'Iceman' any time soon, it will be interesting to see whether taking responsibility for his results will spur him to better performances or a decision about his future...

F1's best value team shows its worth

'Where can Force India possibly go from here?

It was a question posed several times in the wake of its run to fourth in the constructors' standings in 2016 and one that lingers into 2017... albeit now in a broader context.

Indeed, while Force India's ambitious aim to strive for third is perhaps a bridge too far on a grid of Ferraris, Mercedes' and Red Bulls, it is a success story that is still writing pages.

It much the same way its predecessor Jordan established itself as F1's best value team during the late 90s, Force India's metronomic consistency and ability to extract maximum from a quick, reliable package is one that deserves more reward than the same fourth place it is seemingly on course for at the moment.

Which begs questions about the long-term future of Force India... what will haul it into the top three? At the moment it is undoubtedly F1's best value team, armed with one of F1's most engaging (and closely matched) driver pairings and a solid, tight-knit operation around it - albeit with a management structure in disarray at the moment as Vijay Mallya fends off criminal charges and co-owner Subrata Roy remains in jail.

Sahara is still the title sponsor, but the lurid pink hues of BWT adorn the car now and rumours in the paddock suggest Force India is becoming an increasingly attractive proposition for would-be entries to take it off Mallya's preoccupied hands before F1 is potentially overhauled by new owners Liberty Media.

Prior to the Spanish Grand Prix, respected F1 journalist Joe Saward reported the iconic Brabham dynasty is considering an approach to buy Force India in a bid that would see the team renamed and refinanced, then the story re-appeared in Bild but with Bernie Ecclestone's name attached to a potential project.

David Brabham has since stepped in to deny the story (after an initial no comment when approached by but it highlights the thought processes behind it.

As much as it would be a shame to - in theory - lose the Force India name that has step-by-step revived the Silverstone set-up from also-rans to genuinely impressive front runner again, the commercial might of someone like Brabham combined with the weight of someone like Ecclestone could well give it the big time future it has set the foundation for.

All we need to know now is if Parmalat is looking to title sponsor it...

Credit: Sean Bull Design, mock up of Parmalat Brabham BT52 livery on a 2017 specification chassis


Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register to add your comment