Teary boy wins hearts of fans and Fer­rari

New Straits Times - - Sport -

BARCELONA: A sobbing six-yearold, his tears broad­cast world­wide af­ter his Fer­rari idol Kimi Raikko­nen crashed out of the Span­ish Grand Prix, be­came a sym­bol on Sun­day of For­mula One’s new fan-friendly ap­proach.

Raikko­nen, the 2007 world cham­pion and one of the sport’s most pop­u­lar driv­ers, col­lided on the open­ing lap with Red Bull’s 2016 race win­ner Max Ver­stap­pen and re­tired.

As the tele­vi­sion cam­eras panned around the crowd, they picked out the tear­ful face of Thomas Danel from the French city of Amiens.

A so­cial me­dia surge en­sued, with or­gan­is­ers and Fer­rari quick to re­act and bring the boy — wear­ing a Fer­rari cap and shirt — into the ex­clu­sive pad­dock area with his fam­ily to meet Raikko­nen.

The Finn, known as the “Ice Man“, gave him a pair of rac­ing shoes and the young­ster later joined me­chan­ics to watch the podium cel­e­bra­tions with Fer­rari’s Se­bas­tian Vet­tel fin­ish­ing sec­ond.

“This has been the most fan­tas­tic day for us,” his mother Co­ralie was quoted as say­ing by or­gan­is­ers. “We could not be­lieve it when they came to get us and took us to Fer­rari.”

For­mula One’s new own­ers Lib­erty Me­dia, who took over as com­mer­cial rights hold­ers in Jan­uary, have made im­prov­ing the fan ex­pe­ri­ence a pri­or­ity as they seek to boost crowds and drive rev­enues.

For­mer supremo Bernie Ec­cle­stone had lit­tle time for so­cial me­dia and the sport re­lied on in­di­vid­ual race pro­mot­ers and the me­dia for mar­ket­ing.

The Span­ish Grand Prix, the start of the Euro­pean sea­son, saw a num­ber of new ini­tia­tives trum­peted as part of a re­vamped “fan fes­ti­val.”

Driv­ers and team of­fi­cials were in­ter­viewed pub­licly on the start­ing grid af­ter qual­i­fy­ing and be­fore the race for all to hear while more ac­cess was granted to other ar­eas.

Prizes in­cluded a 300kph ride in a two-seater rac­ing car, trips around the track on the driv­ers’ pa­rade truck were avail­able and pit lane guests were given ac­cess to a fully func­tion­ing garage.

“For­mula One is un­der­go­ing a ma­jor evo­lu­tion and the Span­ish Grand Prix is a land­mark mo­ment in the brand’s his­tory,” de­clared com­mer­cial man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Sean Bratches.

“From the out­set, we have fo­cused on get­ting fans closer to the ac­tion and broad­en­ing the ap­peal of the sport.”

The tears of six-year-old Thomas Danel turns to joy upon meet­ing Kimi Raikko­nen.

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