Flashback: 2008 Australian Grand Prix

To celebrate the fifth anniversary of The F1 Broadcasting Blog, we are looking back at five races from the archive and chewing over them. Being a broadcasting site, these races are not being analysed from a racing standpoint, but instead from a media perspective.

The five races include Grand Prix from the BBC and ITV eras, crossing over from the Americas, into Europe and Australia. Some races picked are your usual affair, whilst others have major significance in Formula 1 history. I did think about looking at five ‘major’ races, but each race has equal merit from a broadcasting standpoint, irrespective of how great the race was.

We are heading down under for race four in the series, the start of a new Formula 1 season. Formula 1 aimed to put a controversial 2007 season behind it, with 2008 set to offer another close championship battle between McLaren and Ferrari. McLaren, led by Lewis Hamilton following Fernando Alonso’s exit, would fight both Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa.

The journey starts with the 2008 Australian Grand Prix! ITV enhanced their Formula 1 offering for 2008 with live World Feed coverage of Friday practice via ITV.com, a welcome addition and the first time that UK viewers received live practice coverage since F1 Digital+ in 2002. The key broadcast details can be found below:

  • Date: Sunday 16th March 2008
  • Channel: ITV1
  • Time: 03:30 to 06:40 (re-run: 15:45 to 18:30)
  • Presenter: Steve Rider
  • Reporter: Louise Goodman
  • Reporter: Ted Kravitz
  • Commentator: James Allen
  • Commentator: Martin Brundle
  • Analyst: Mark Blundell

For 2008, ITV retained the same team as in 2006 and 2007, with Steve Rider continuing to lead the presentation line-up.

Pre-Race
The pre-show covered three main strands: McLaren’s expectations after turmoil in 2007, a preview of the new drivers and teams, and the rule changes that have come into effect for the 2008 championship. With an hour-long build-up, and only one commercial break, there is ample time to cover the three angles.

We join Rider in a scorching hot Melbourne situated outside the McLaren garage alongside Mark Blundell. The two talk about Hamilton’s early season prospects following a poor qualifying session for the Ferrari opposition, Blundell describing the hot conditions as “very tough for the boys out there.” In between, the VTs and interviews, Rider and Blundell discuss the various teams, with BMW Sauber’s strong performance getting a mention.

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James Allen and Martin Brundle decipher the qualifying session.

Both Ted Kravitz and Louise Goodman voice the first feature as they run down the complete grid in a quick fire manner. It is a good way to introduce viewers to the new faces and revamped teams (Force India) on the grid in 2008 for those that do not follow the off-season gossip. This kind of feature has disappeared in recent years, as there is an expectation that viewers have followed Formula 1 in the off-season, which is not always the case.

Kravitz also talks through the rule changes for 2008, with the likes of Nico Rosberg and Hamilton giving their opinion on the new regulations, including the banning of traction control. “It’s lovely to see a car with opposite lock on, fantastic,” says Blundell, noting that it will be good to see drivers’ make mistakes.

Attention briefly switches back to McLaren with Anthony Hamilton and Pedro de la Rosa giving live interviews. The Hamilton interview does not bother me; it is short enough to be harmless in the context of the show, whilst de la Rosa gives good insight into the strategy for the race ahead.

James Allen voiced over the qualifying report, appearing in-vision at the start of his piece. ITV’s virtual grid graphics are lovely, scrolling down the grid row by row, with an instrumental version of ‘Lift Me Up’ in the background. Following some post qualifying interviews, Allen and Brundle recognise the “changing of the guard” that is taking place due to the new regulations, giving control back to the driver, with recognition for Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Vettel who has benefited as a result.

I enjoy it; it’s a challenge for everyone. This is real racing. I’ve been saying for years that I wished that the cars were like what they were in the Senna and Prost days and we’re slowly moving more towards that. Without traction control, it’s tricky. It’s hard work. – Lewis Hamilton speaking in a pre-race interview with Steve Rider.

There is some foreshadowing at two stages in the build-up around Honda. With Jenson Button on the cusp of a new three-year deal, Nick Fry states, “Our objective is to make him world champion.” Later on in the build-up, Dannii Minogue has a good bit of fortune telling, “Things are looking up [for Honda], I saw Ross [Brawn] with a smile on his face. This year and the next, they’ve got a long-term plan. The team morale has lifted; it’s wonderful to see because I’ve followed Honda for a long time.” Even this early on, there are signs of 2009 looking good for the outfit!

It is time for a lap of Melbourne, Brundle on top form with his voice over of Hamilton’s pole position lap. An excellent sit-down piece between Rider and Hamilton follows; it feels more down to earth than a present day Hamilton interview, with emphasis on technical detail. ITV’s cameras catch Hamilton chatting to mechanics with Rider and Blundell talking in the background about the mechanics camaraderie from both sides after the frayed relationships in 2007.

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McLaren drivers Heikki Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton chatting in an on-camera feature.

The next feature looks at the new venues on the 2008 calendar, Goodman at the location of the 2008 European Grand Prix. The comments in hindsight are amusing, a long-term contract, with an exciting layout. Err… Martin Brundle is out in Singapore. “I can see drivers adoring this race track,” is the comment made from Brundle. Nine years later, it is still on the calendar, Singapore a lot more loved than Valencia ever was.

A further feature on McLaren focusses on Ron Dennis after speculation that he might leave Formula 1 following the spy gate saga. The one piece of fluff that does make its way into the broadcast is a chat between Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen, which focusses on the raw characters of the two drivers. Brundle’s grid walk rounds off the pre-show, but is one of the more difficult segments due to the warm weather conditions and it being race one of the new season, leaving Goodman to conduct most of the grid interviews.

Overall, it is a strong build-up to start ITV’s season, with McLaren the common denominator. Yes, the majority of VTs were dedicated to the team, but it was not repetitive, with each VT focussing on a different element. Rider and Blundell mentioned most of the leading teams, and gave credit where due. Next, it is race time!

Race
Allen sets the scene for the start of the 2008 season, with attention on the hot weather conditions. Within a minute, the first piece of team radio comes from Nick Heidfeld in his BMW, along with a nice graphic showing his key Formula 1 statistics, the same also appearing for Hamilton. The grid graphics on display are plain in terms of format, but do the job nicely, no jazz necessary.

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A camera located on Renault mechanic Greg Baker as he is changing tyres during Fernando Alonso’s pit stop.

Tyre strategy discussion starts as the drivers head to the grid, with a white line down the middle groove denoting the soft tyre. Whilst tyre choice is important, it is not deemed critical enough for Formula One Management (FOM) to display in their on-screen graphics. “When the five lights go off, the 2008 championship will be under way… and it’s go in Australia!”

The start was confusing, with the World Feed failing to identify whether Massa had spun out of the race during a melee at turn one. Only after a multitude of replays did we identify who caused what, with five cars eliminated. Whilst the director focussed on the leading drivers in the early stages, FOM used replays to pick up overtakes not seen clearly by external cameras. A camera looking back from Nelson Piquet Jnr’s Renault captures Kazuki Nakajima overtaking him from some distance back.

A lot of on-board footage is shown from Raikkonen in the early stages, tracking his progress nicely through the field, a rarity to see so much on-board Ferrari footage on the World Feed compared to even five years earlier. Allen uses the quieter gaps to add context and ‘colour’ to the stories that have not been covered, such as Super Aguri’s takeover.

Raikkonen trying to distract [Honda’s Rubens] Barrichello rather than trying to overtake him, he’s getting frustrated. Isn’t it great to see the cars moving around, the drivers fighting the car, all the way through the corner, they cannot point the nose in any longer and floor the throttle, let the electronics worry about it and think about the next corner. They’ve got to drive these cars every metre of the race track, great news. – ITV co-commentator Martin Brundle

The Ferrari driver eventually gets past Barrichello in a move that FOM managed to miss live but like previously aired in the form of a replay. The ‘ticker’ is a key form of FOM’s product in 2008, but is too transparent to be useful compared to the rest of the graphics set. Also seen here is an early version of the driver tracker during the first pit stop phase as Hamilton regained lead with Kovalainen exiting the pits just in front of Raikkonen (who had not yet pitted).

Allen interrupts an interview between Goodman and Toyota driver Jarno Trulli half way through, as Massa’s front left tyre connects with the right rear of David Coulthard’s Red Bull! The latter retired immediately with a lot of damage, causing a second Safety Car. Straight away, we hear analysis from Brundle, who gives both perspectives on the incident from how Coulthard and Massa would have seen the accident, using his driving experience to good effect. Coulthard used some colourful language in his interview with Goodman to describe the incident!

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A collage of how Formula One Management caught Timo Glock’s violent accident live.

ITV did not miss much action during this race, with Safety Car periods helping. Ferrari’s day deteriorated, with Raikkonen taking a trip straight across the gravel attempting to overtake Kovalainen, and then spinning attempting to overtake Timo Glock in his Toyota, both incidents caught live by the director.

Shortly after, Glock was involved in a high-speed accident, causing the live camera to shake violently as the operator struggled to keep up with the speed and velocity of Glock’s car. The on-board shot of this would have been interesting to see, but was never aired (presumably the camera was not live at the time).

The Safety Car rules meant that Kovalainen and Alonso were unable to enter the pit lane as the Safety Car came back onto track, resulting in both cars exiting at the tail of the pack once both pit. Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Bourdais was briefly fourth before he retired with engine failure, Allen referencing his time in IndyCar where Safety Car periods are prominent. After a dramatic race, Hamilton wins! Heidfeld finished second in his BMW Sauber, with Rosberg third, the latter claiming his first ever podium.

Post-Race
Kravitz gets the first interview with Ron Dennis as the cars head into parc ferme. On this occasion, the podium room is full of joy, Hamilton jumping around and congratulating Rosberg as Allen and Brundle remind viewers of the relationship between the two.

Following the podium procedure, Rider and Blundell praise Hamilton’s performance, Blundell calling it “very mature” given the number of Safety Car periods. The two review the start from the various angles provided by FOM, also commenting on the strong performance of the Ferrari car when Raikkonen was in clear air, although Blundell described some of his moves as “absolutely unbelievable”.

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Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen discusses the race with the media.

ITV aired the complete English-speaking press conference, an unusual occurrence. The remainder of the post-race programme flies by, with the major incidents covered by Rider and Blundell. The two start with Massa and Coulthard’s crash, before moving onto the mid field runners such as covering Barrichello’s performance in his Honda. All of this is in quick fire fashion, but given the number of incidents in the race, this should not be a surprise.

By ITV standards, the post-race segment is long at around 30 minutes in length, even that amount of time is impossible to cover every story that happened in the race. Kovalainen joined Rider and Blundell live, Kovalainen giving his reaction to his battle with Alonso in the closing laps (Kovalainen accidentally hitting the neutral button).

Kovalainen and the presenters preview Malaysia, before Rider and Blundell wrap up the show to conclude the 2008 Australian Grand Prix!

Note from David: I’m coming to the end of this initial series of five races. Is there interest in having a flashback piece every month, or something of that nature? Please leave a comment if you would like to see more pieces after the fifth race. It is still a work in progress, so tweaks will be made along the way.

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A few words about Danny Watts, and why it matters

Before I get into the main subject, I want to make it clear that this piece strays away from motor sport broadcasting to a degree. Whilst this is a broadcasting site, if there are other elements that I wish to talk about, then I will do so.

If you have read the AUTOSPORT or Motorsport.com website in the past few days, you will have learnt that ex-Le Mans driver Danny Watts has announced that he is homosexual. Whilst the reaction was largely positive, a few wondered why motor sport outlets were covering this as news.

A bit of back-story as to why this matters to me: I can relate to Danny’s story, having come out as bisexual last year after debating whether to for a long time. It was a weight off my shoulders, as it probably is his. Coming out should never be trivialised in the media, behind every decision is a long battle that each individual has faced.

People accepted me for who I was, bisexuality is not a taboo subject in my circle of influence. Generally, in society, LGBT matters are becoming less of a taboo subject. Now let us look at the motor sport world. How many LGBT role models are there in the motor sport landscape? As far as I am aware, there is not one LGBT role model for LGBT fans to look-up to. That changed this week. For LGBT motor racing fans, this matters.

Watts’ comments suggest to me that LGBT matters are a taboo subject in motor sport. For a variety of reasons: the media attention, the sponsorship, the countries that motor sport visits that might not be so receptive, even down to the grid girls that gives off a badly out-dated impression and so on. I can understand the predicament that Watts faced during his motor racing career.

With no major LGBT representation in the paddock, it makes it difficult for people, such as Watts, to be themselves in the eye of the media and the paddock, which in turn could affect an individual’s performance. You have to make a stand, and that is exactly what Watts has done. I applaud him for being brave and coming out. The idea of stars not coming out for fear of a negative reaction, or worse still losing their job or drive is frightening.

Is it a news story? In general culture, I would be starting to argue, not really. However, in motor sport, when you consider the taboo nature of LGBT in motor sport and what Watts faced, it absolutely is news. Danny brings into the public spotlight issues that were previously not in the spotlight. With that in mind, the stance that AUTOSPORT and Motorsport.com took in covering Danny Watts’ announcement was spot on.

Congratulations Danny 🙂

Formula E jumps to second highest number ever

The power of being live on free-to-air television in primetime showed yesterday, as Formula E recorded its highest number in the UK since the 2015 London ePrix, overnight viewing figures show.

Race
Live coverage of the Buenos Aires ePrix, which aired on Channel 5 from 18:30 to 20:15, averaged 426k (2.2%). This is one of Formula E’s highest ever numbers, only behind the second race of the 2015 London ePrix weekend, which averaged 700k (6.8%) on ITV. Yesterday’s number was higher than the 2016 season finale in London. That race averaged 411k (3.8%), albeit in a longer slot on ITV. Last year’s Buenos Aires ePrix on ITV4 averaged 132k (0.6%), peaking with 248k (1.2%).

Yesterday’s ePrix, won by Sebastien Buemi, hit a 5-minute peak of 604k (3.2%) at 19:05, the series’ second highest peak number ever, again behind London 2015 (1.18 million) and ahead of London 2016 (600,000). What might take the edge off yesterday’s numbers is that not all the viewers stuck with the race action, with audiences stabilising around 500,000 viewers.

The average audience was in-line with Channel 5’s slot average for 16 to 54 year olds, but significantly down on Channel 5’s usual audience in that slot amongst the older 55+ age group. The FA Cup game between Wolves and Chelsea on BT Sport 2 from 17:00 to 20:00 averaged 652k (4.0%), higher than Formula E’s free-to-air audience.

Qualifying and Analysis
Live coverage of qualifying on Spike from 14:45 to 16:20 averaged 60k (0.7%), peaking with 91k (1.0%) at 16:05.

There are certainly positives to take away from Formula E’s figures yesterday, the demographic breakdown being one of them. Recording an audience, which tripled last years’ number on ITV4, justifies Formula E’s decision to agree a deal with Channel 5. The main negative is that the audience share (2.2%) is low for a free-to-air broadcast on Channel 5, and lower than both the programme before it, and the programme after it.

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Motors TV branding to be replaced by Motorsport.tv from March 1st

The Motors TV brand will disappear at the end of this month, with Motorsport.tv taking its place from March 1st.

Social media ‘headers’ on Motors TV’s Facebook and Twitter pages officially confirm the move, a move widely expected following Motorsport Network’s acquisition of the channel last November. For the first time, content will be available in high-definition from March 1st on Motorsport.tv HD.

For UK readers, the channel will remain on the Sky and Virgin Media platforms. The only thing that will change for the moment is the channels’ branding, and the picture quality. The channel will continue to show championships such as the FIA World Endurance Championship this season.

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Social media header confirming the channel move.

ITV and MotoGP part company ahead of 2017 season

ITV have confirmed this evening that they will not be showing MotoGP highlights this season, leaving MotoGP without a free-to-air home. Motorcycle News first reported this news on Monday.

In a statement to this site, the broadcaster said, “Unfortunately, ITV4 do not have the rights to the MotoGP this season.” As with Formula E, which ITV stopped showing at the end of the 2015-16 season, the broadcaster was understood to be paying very little to broadcast MotoGP highlights. The MotoGP highlights deal was struck just weeks before the start of the 2014 season.

One possibility is that Dorna have attempted to increase the asking price, with ITV instead choosing not to renew the contract. There is currently no word on who will show free-to-air highlights in 2017, but Channel 4 and Channel 5 are likely to be the leading contenders, having both increased their motor sport portfolios recently.

According to overnight audience figures supplied by Overnights.tv, MotoGP’s Monday night highlights programme on ITV4 averaged 285k (1.4%) across the 2016 season, compared with 306k (1.5%) in 2015 and 344k (1.7%) in 2014.

In related news, this site has also learnt that BT Sport and Dorna were close to signing a new MotoGP contract last November. At the last minute, Dorna did not sign the contract, and left the negotiating table. The assumption is that talks have since resumed, but I cannot confirm this.

You might be wondering why both parties have gone to the negotiating table early. BT Sport’s current deal expires at the end of 2018; however, there would have been an appetite from the broadcaster to renew before the UEFA Champions League rights tender started, so that an extended deal could be locked in place.

The result of the Champions League tender, which is currently ongoing and should be revealed early next month, could influence MotoGP’s future rights deal. A bigger pot of money going to UEFA from BT means less money for MotoGP. Similarly, should BT lose the Champions League (or pay less), MotoGP could end up with a bigger slice of the money pie.