There may not have been much in the way of major breaking Formula 1 news over the Christmas holiday period, yet in the world of social media, two of the sport’s biggest stars have been making waves.

Lewis Hamilton sparked controversy on Boxing Day when he uploaded a video to Instagram telling his young nephew - one would imagine in jest - that “boys don’t wear princess dresses” while he played. Hamilton’s comments faced a backlash on social media, with many accusing him of “humiliating” his nephew, as well as raising questions about gender norms and stereotypes.

Four-time world champion Hamilton has stood out as F1’s most prolific user of social media in recent years, using Instagram and Snapchat to particularly good effect to give his fans an insight into his life both on- and off-track.

Hamilton issued a full apology on his social media channels after removing the video, with the saga splitting opinion. Opposing his critics were those who felt he was simply having some fun with his young nephew and meant to cause no harm.

The reaction from the Hamilton camp was to clean up his social media channels in a pretty extreme way. His Instagram account was totally wiped in one fell swoop, while the thousands of tweets sent over the years - including his apology - were gradually deleted, leaving both platforms empty. He has not posted anything on either Snapchat or Instagram, typically a daily ritual, since the controversy either.

And all the while a rather unlikely figure has been finding his feet online.

Until last week, Kimi Raikkonen was one of two F1 drivers with no presence on social media whatsoever (the other being Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel). Raikkonen’s monosyllabic, brief, and blunt nature makes him a tough nut to crack in the media, but has won him an army of fans all over the world and something of a cult following. His famous radio quotes have been printed on t-shirts, while the top results on YouTube when searching his name are all “funniest moments” compilations, garnering millions of views.

Yet Raikkonen never seemed inclined to join the rest of the world and get onto social media. While his private persona has always been known to be a world away from how he appears publicly, the guard had never been brought down to give his fans an insight into that, bar the odd appearance on his wife Minttu’s channels.

Raikkonen made his arrival on Instagram just before the new year with a simple video of himself talking on camera - all in the same tone - but not without referencing his own classic quote. “This time, I don’t know what I’m doing,” Raikkonen said. The Kimi meme became meta.

It was not a one-and-done post from Raikkonen either. His third and most recent post came on New Year’s Day when he uploaded an adorable picture of himself and Minttu with their two young children, Robin and Rianna. The image of a warm, happy, family man differs greatly from the ‘Iceman’ we’ve all come to know in F1 over the years. He also put a video up on Instagram stories of himself riding a dirt bike around a course with a number of jumps, showing how he was racing for pleasure, even in the off-season.


Happy New Year.

A post shared by #Kimi7 (@kimimatiasraikkonen) on

While Hamilton has gone into shutdown, seemingly in the wake of the backlash that followed his Boxing Day post, Raikkonen has emerged as a possible successor as F1’s social media king. His popularity extends worldwide and is perhaps underestimated. The very fact he hasn’t been online before naturally adds to the appeal of his actions now, as people are curious to see into a private life that has before been kept under wraps.

Being a sometimes misunderstood figure helps Raikkonen here, too. It was why Hamilton’s social media antics proved so illuminating and insightful. Living through Instagram and Snapchat, Hamilton didn’t need to be the champion racing driver. He could be the aspiring musician, or the fashionista, or the red carpet celebrity, or (for the most part) the doting uncle. He offered an insight into a life that was far greater than what we saw unfold every other Sunday on the racetrack.

There’s a chance for Raikkonen to do the same. Up to now, he has only been seen as ‘racing driver Kimi Raikkonen’ as that is all he has allowed to be shown. In the case of many drivers already on social media, that is all they do show. Here’s a selfie from training. Here I am in the simulator. Here’s a picture with my adoring fans. But Raikkonen’s early efforts show a different, more human side - something F1 arguably could do with plenty more of. And from one of the sport’s most mysterious figures, it is very cool to see.

As for Hamilton? He remains a global brand that reaches beyond F1. His social media following dwarfs that of any of his peers, and he is one of the most marketable stars in global sport.

But for one poorly-judged post, that has all been dented. All the posts have gone, and Hamilton’s next move or change in approach remains unclear. For the sake of his fans, let us hope that a return beckons in the near future, as you would struggle to find a figure not just in F1 but global sport who offered such an enlightening look into their private lives.

Failing that, Kimi Raikkonen is standing by to be F1’s new social media king.

And who would have thought we’d be thinking that 12 months ago?


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