The 2017 Formula One season has, on paper, been a titanic battle between Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton. However, each driver had so far excelled on different tracks and wheel-to-wheel racing has been at a surprising premium. The much anticipated ‘clash of champions’ had been simmering during the first four Grands Prix, with a Vettel pit-stop undercut the most exciting piece of racing between the two.
This changed drastically at Barcelona’s Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Vettel brilliantly overtook his British rival on the opening corner of the race and it looked for all the world as if the red Ferrari would disappear over the horizon again. Hamilton - with the help of teammate Valtteri Bottas’ slowing tactics following a Vettel pit-stop - reduced the gap and after several attempts the Mercedes man overtook the four-time world champion on lap 44.
The Briton took the chequered flag, his 55th career victory, three and half seconds ahead of Vettel. Afterwards, the race winner looked visibly shot. Hamilton claimed to have lost four and half pounds in weight during the Grand Prix. The three-time world champion had, of course, decided against carrying drinks in his car, in order to save on overall load of the vehicle, and the sweltering Spanish sun appeared to have taken its toll.
In contrast to the unpleasant press conferences that surrounded Hamilton’s rivalry with 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg, the two former world champions joked with each other and delighted at, as Hamilton put it, the “rawest fight”.
Indy time for Alonso
McLaren-Honda and Fernando Alonso’s seemingly never-ending soap opera continued in Spain. The inevitable engine failure in Friday's practice session unsurprisingly left the Spaniard despondent at his home Grand Prix. Alonso immediately left the Barcelona circuit for a nearby hotel to play tennis, sharing a picture of himself on Instagram with the caption: ‘Keeping the body active’.
Although Alonso protests that there was no ulterior motive to the post, Sky Sports’ Martin Brundle disagreed with the two-time world champion.
"It's a little bit like his deck chair incident in Brazil [in 2015] where he's saying a lot of things without actually saying anything," said Brundle.
Alonso finished the race in 12th position. Immediately afterwards, he was all smiles as he boarded a private jet - with McLaren’s executive director, Zak Brown, in tow - destined for Indianapolis. Alonso, with the blessing of his embattled team, will drive in the Indy 500 on 28th May, saying upon his departure that he is "very excited".
Liberty Media signs media deal
Formula One’s new owner, Liberty Media, has signed its first major media rights agreement. The deal was struck with pay-TV channel Canal+, which has extended its hold on the French broadcast rights to the series for a further three seasons.
The deal, which starts in March 2018, covers the practice sessions, qualifying and races for all Grands Prix in the calendar. It also includes Formula Two and GP3 races. The Vivendi Group-owned Canal+ has shown Formula One in France since 2013.
“We look forward to the continuation of our longstanding relationship with Canal+ and the Vivendi Group,” said Sean Bratches, managing director of commercial operations at Formula One.
“Formula One fans are the big winners with the planned marketing and brand building integration opportunities, utilising Vivendi’s far-reaching leadership in music, film, long and short-form TV, digital and gaming.”
Retired champion plans his post-racing career
Formula One’s reigning world champion Nico Rosberg has signed with global marketing agency CAA Sports to represent his commercial interests and his new endeavours beyond his racing career.
Since his shock retirement the German has been prolific in his use of social media and accepted a role as an ambassador for the Mercedes team. He recently made a personal appearance alongside former teammate Lewis Hamilton in Geneva at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) on behalf of the team’s partner, IWC.
“It is fantastic to have CAA’s support as I strive for new challenges in this exciting new chapter of my life," said Rosberg. "CAA Sports offers the support that I have been looking for. They understand my motivations and what I hope to achieve. I look forward to our alliance and exploring new opportunities together in the future.”
The Ice Man melts hearts
It has long been acknowledged that Ferrari’s fans are the most passionate in Formula One. However, what was not outwardly known was how early the fervour strikes the tifosi.
Kimi Raikkonen’s exit would have led to a fair few expletives in the bars of Maranello but it is doubtful that emotions would have been as hysterical as those of six-year-old Thomas Danel. The distraught boy - dressed from head to toe in Ferrari apparel - was seen by television cameras crying uncontrollably at the end of his hero’s Grand Prix.
Daniel was later seen inside the Ferrari garage meeting Raikkonen, belying his public persona by happily posing with his young French fan and gifting him an autographed cap.
The images trended positively on social media platforms Twitter and Instagram internationally, with many fans praising it as evidence of a new, fan-friendly post-Ecclestone era for the open-wheel series.
"This has been the most fantastic day for us,” said Coralie Danel, the boy’s father. “We could not believe it when they came to get us and took us to Ferrari. This is great for fans like us, it really makes F1 and all of its people come alive. Brilliant!"
More widely, Formula One’s owners have been keen to push evidence of their new fan-first approach. Daniel’s adventure helped to drive engagement on social media, with a photo of the youngster receiving his Ferrari regalia from Raikonnen reaching reaching 2.5 million users on Facebook and 827,000 on Instagram.
Meanwhile, the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya was chosen as the launch venue for the new dedicated FanZone, hosting simulators, Pirelli pit stop challenges, video game stations and a 200-metre zip-wire overlooking the track. According to official figures, 178,000 fans made the trip to the Spanish Grand Prix across the weekend, up eight per cent on 2016.