Phillip Horton  |    |   0  |  15 May 2017

Spanish GP: Liberty Media's changes start to take shape


A friendlier paddock atmosphere prevailed at the Spanish Grand Prix weekend, with a series of events, and initiatives launched under Formula 1’s new owner Liberty Media. Motorsport Week reflects on the off-track activities. 

Ferrari began the weekend’s festivities with a karting, pitstop and football challenge in association with sponsors Santander, with an arena set up in one of the circuit’s vacant car parks. Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Räikkönen and associate Marc Gene each collaborated with La Liga ambassadors Fernando Morientes, Christian Karembeu and Marcos Senna for a series of challenges. Across three rounds, they competed in karting, a pitstop challenge and a football match. Räikkönen and Karembeu emerged as the victors, with the laconic Finn scoring a couple of eye-catching goals, though displaying typical nonchalance. “Without him, no chance, with him, all possible,” shrugged Räikkönen.

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The F1 motorhome makes an appearance

Liberty Media have already been flexing their muscles in Formula 1, but there was a slightly fresh look in the paddock this weekend. All of the team motorhomes, transported to European events, remain the same year-on-year, but the ‘Bernie bus’ – home to Bernie Ecclestone – was no longer present, with a new, smaller structure in place for Chase Carey, Ross Brawn and Sean Bratches. The paddock entry area was revised, including a spacious walkway leading to a grand entrance structure, while major sponsor Heineken introduced a bar area, which was warmly received in the glorious Spanish sunshine. Even Formula 1 CEO Chase Carey was present, casually socialising among ordinary paddock dwellers on Friday evening, unthinkable under previous ownership.

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Even though the motorhomes were unchanged structurally, there were some subtle tweaks up and down the paddock. Force India’s imposing unit had received a dash of pink, with the chair cushions inside similarly reflecting its partnership with BWT. Williams revised its Martini terrace, on the roof of its three-storey cube-shaped motorhome, while McLaren’s spaceship had undergone a colour change. The grey inside replaced by a more welcoming white. There were also nods to its orange heritage with splashes of the colour located here and there – and, rather cheekily, a bowl of oranges placed on an upstairs table…

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The Magician put his powers to work in qualifying

The aforementioned paddock entrance walkway – with Barcelona hashtags and slogans on one side –featured some eye-catching artwork on the other side. Fernando Alonso’s face was printed in Rubik’s Cube form, while a host of caricatures were gradually painted on to a white wall. There was Nico Hülkenberg as ‘The Incredible Hulk’, Daniel Ricciardo pictured with a honey badger – the animal to which he likens himself – and a bizarre portrait of Alonso dressed as a magician pulling Jenson Button’s head out of a hat – like referring to Button’s one-off return as a result of Alonso’s Monaco vacancy. Kimi Räikkönen, typically, was pictured on an iceberg, ice cream in hand, thus shoehorning as many clichés in as possible. 

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The final garage slot, previously occupied by Manor, was in use at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, with the ‘F1 Experiences’ offshoot partnering with Paul Stoddart to run the old Minardi two-seaters for a handful of journalists, VIPs and one lucky fan competition winner. Patrick Friesacher and Zsolt Baumgartner, of mid-2000s Minardi backmarker fame, were present in order to pilot the cars, giving passengers the ride of their lives at speeds of 300km/h. However, it was not all plain sailing, as one car was pictured being towed back to the pits during Friday’s lunch break. Perhaps Honda was involved…

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A singing robot anyone?

The pits straight was turned into a temporary karting circuit on Thursday evening as a group of local young guns displayed their skills, watched on by a handful of Formula 1 drivers and a healthy smattering of spectators. “Karting is really why I’m here,” said Lewis Hamilton. “I wouldn’t be able to do what I do today if it wasn’t for karting.” Home hero Fernando Alonso had a rare smile on his face as he watched on. “It’s amazing to see how much they enjoy it, the passion they put into this driving,” he commented,” before the drivers, young and old, posed for photos. 

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One of the most bizarre sights of the weekend was the presence of an eight-foot robot in the paddock during the build-up to Sunday’s race. Having been transported into the paddock, it was located near the Heineken bar and soon caught the attention of wandering paddock dwellers. Even more oddly, it began ‘singing’, with the robot appearing to mime Michael Buble’s version of ‘Cry Me A River’, before shooting water from its red eyes. It was all part of the refreshed atmosphere under Liberty Media, with many noting the happier mood of the F1 fraternity.

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From tears of sadness to tears of joy for one little boy

There was a heart-warming scene during Sunday’s thriller as one young fan’s dejection turned to elation. Thomas, from France, attended the race with his parents, a fanatical fan of Kimi Räikkönen, dressed from head to toe in red, complete with oversized cap. However, he was caught on the world feed completely distraught when his favourite racer retired on the opening lap. Ferrari and Formula One Management took the initiative and invited Thomas, and his parents, to meet Räikkönen, where they posed for photos and the Finn signed Thomas’ cap. By the end of Sunday, Thomas had become quite the celebrity!

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