Formula 1 continues to spark in Baku

The 2018 Formula One season continued to perform well over the weekend in the UK, overnight viewing figures show.

Race
As a prelude to the analysis below, bear in mind that last year’s race was red-flagged and restarted a short while later, skewing the average audience figures slightly as a result.

Channel 4’s live coverage, covering both the build-up and the race itself, averaged 2.38m (22.7%) from 12:00 to 15:40, an increase on last year’s average audience of 2.26m (21.6%).

Unlike last year, where coverage aired across both Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports 1, Sky’s coverage aired only on their F1 channel, and their audience reflects this fact. Sky’s programme from 12:00 to 15:30 averaged 499k (4.7%), a steep decrease on last year’s combined figure of 730k (7.0%), but a slight increase on 2016’s audience of 465k (4.4%).

The combined average audience of 2.87 million viewers is slightly down on last year’s audience of 2.99 million viewers. Last year’s red flag period meant that the race from start to chequered flag took up a larger proportion of the overall programme (two and a quarter hours), inflating the average. The average is up on 2016’s number of 2.64 million viewers.

Arguably, a race in April should be able to attract a larger audience than in June, but there are other factors to account for, such as the weather and sporting opposition, including football and beyond.

The race started at 13:15 with 3.74m (36.0%), the same starting point as last year’s race. Following the start, the audience hovered around 3.9 million viewers for most of the race. As the two Red Bull’s hit each other, the audience in the UK hit four million, 4.17m (36.9%) to be exact, at 14:30.

A small dip followed during the Safety Car period, but once racing resumed, the race peaked with 4.47m (37.7%) at 14:50 as Lewis Hamilton claimed a surprise victory. At the time of the peak, 3.66m (30.8%) were watching on free-to-air with Channel 4, with a further 812k (6.8%) watching via Sky’s F1 channel, a split of 82:18.

The combined peak audience of 4.47 million viewers is an increase of 159,000 viewers on last year’s 5-minute peak audience of 4.31m (35.4%), and an increase of over half a million viewers compared with 2016’s peak of 3.85m (32.2%).

The peak is higher than all but one peak from last year (USA) and higher than all but three peak figures from 2016 (Britain, Mexico, and Abu Dhabi). Channel 4 can take most of the credit for that given Sky’s year-on-year decreases.

Qualifying
Live coverage of qualifying aired on Channel 4 to an audience of 1.20m (13.1%), with a further 268k (2.8%) watching via Sky Sports F1.

The combined average audience of 1.47 million viewers is down slightly on last year’s audience of 1.59 million. However, the combined peak audience increased by over 200,000 viewers, from 2.21m (25.9%) in 2017 to 2.43m (24.4%) this year.

The 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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Brundle to step away from Sky F1 microphone for three races this season

Martin Brundle is to reduce his commitments with Sky Sports this year and will be absent from three Formula 1 race weekends.

Writing on his Twitter, Brundle said “I’m not in Azerbaijan this weekend (or Sochi and Suzuka later in the year) but my great and very talented friends at SkyF1 are of course. Because only Sky invest in bringing you every single minute and lap of F1 live, on various platforms.”

Brundle has been commentating on Formula 1 for UK viewers since 1997 with ITV, BBC and more recently Sky Sports. During his early ITV days, Brundle missed several races due to his sportscar commitments, as well as missing the Hungarian Grand Prix on occasion. Brundle called every race from 2009 until the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix.

Immediately after the chequered flag waved in Monaco, the former Jordan and Benetton racer suffered a small heart attack, resulting in him missing the Canadian Grand Prix that season. One week later, Brundle also skipped the Baku race weekend, which clashed with his Le Mans commitments.

> Behind the scenes: The evolution of the grid walk

Fast-forward to 2017, and Brundle was taken ill prior to the British Grand Prix race, having been caught up in a sickness bug that affected a portion of the Formula 1 paddock. The bug caused him to miss the Hungarian Grand Prix as well. On three of the four occasions, Paul di Resta replaced Brundle in the commentary box. Anthony Davidson was the super-sub in Hungary 2017 when di Resta was himself replacing then-Williams driver Felipe Massa in the cockpit.

It is unclear if Brundle’s absence from this weekend’s proceedings, or Russia and Japan later this season, is on health grounds, or whether there is a scheduling conflict that prevents him from attending, although it is slightly odd that Brundle’s absence was unreferenced during Sky’s Chinese Grand Prix coverage.

Nevertheless, his reduced schedule gives him around a three week break between China and Spain, and a further four weeks between Singapore and USA.

Analysis
First and foremost, from the outset the thing of utmost importance is Brundle’s health, and I absolutely hope that everything is okay with him. His tweet leaves open room for interpretation as the tweet does not say why he is missing the races, but this is not the forum for speculation about his health.

The Formula 1 calendar this season is 21 races, the joint longest it has been, and may only increase in size moving forward. This length takes its toll on those working in the sport, travelling the world, away from home.

Brundle has been part of the paddock for over thirty years. At some point, in the same way others have, he may want to reduce his Formula 1 broadcasting commitments partially, or fully. It is unknown if this is part of that wider picture.

BT Sport’s MotoGP commentator Julian Ryder retired from his MotoGP duties at the end of 2017, citing the ever increasing travel as one of his key reasons. For Sky, their key on-air personnel will be, or have been, going through a contract renewal process ahead of new contracts kicking in ready for 2019.

I hope we see Brundle around for the medium to long-term in the commentary box. If not, I would be unsurprised if Paul di Resta is indeed in line to succeed Brundle as Sky’s leading Formula 1 analyst.

Updated on April 29th to correctly reflect that Davidson replaced Brundle for Hungary 2017 and not di Resta.

Happy 6th Birthday!

An idea following my first year of University in 2012, turned into something that thousands read every month and enjoyed by those inside and outside the paddock.

Today, this site marks its sixth birthday. My main driver behind setting up the site was that motor sport broadcasting, in my view, is not adequately covered by the mainstream motor sport media, something that I wanted to change. Yes, the headline stories are, but underneath the surface in-depth independent pieces are rare.

We all watch motor racing for the drivers, the machinery, the thrill of the speed. But there is an undercurrent to all the spills: an effort consisting of hundreds, if not thousands of people to get the show televised, to get the story told and re-told in various formats, around the world.

Combining my love for motor sport, my interest in the media landscape and then the data driven side led to the creation of this site, which felt like a natural fit for me. Writing race reports that are elsewhere ad-nauseam does not interest me, other sites exist for that purpose.

The reason this site exists is to tell the broadcasting story, and to be distinctive in its content, from behind the scenes with those involved in motor sport broadcasting through to the analytical in-depth number crunching.

Over the past twelve months I have moved towards focusing on more on in-depth writing: fewer posts, better content, branching out into previously uncovered areas, and I hope that comes through on the site.

There will always be a need for instant posts in the event of breaking stories, however I have tried to balance the nature of the articles produced. If you are reading this and thinking “you should cover X”, I am open to new, original guest posts. Whether it is Formula E, World Rally Championship, or something completely different, new ideas and contributors are welcome.

I am proud of how far the site has come and look forward to seeing how it continues to evolve over the next year.

Cheers,
Dave
Creator and Editor of The F1 Broadcasting Blog

Analysing Formula 1’s new on-air package

Touted as being a revolution to the way fans watch Formula 1 around the world, F1’s new on-air package debuted at the 2018 Australian Grand Prix. After the first three races, is the sport living up the hype?

Even at this early stage in the season, there have been several notable changes on-screen to World Feed, although some mooted adjustments have yet to come to fruition.

Music
Historically, Formula 1’s opening sting five minutes each session did not feature the stars of the show. From 1994 to 2002, the sting featured many segments untangling to create the FIA Formula 1 World Championship logo, with a well-loved backing track.

The sting from 2003 to the end of 2017 went through several iterations (2003 to 2008; 2009 to 2011 and 2012 to 2017), predominantly featuring different coloured lines racing around in circles, eventually leading to the F1 logo. Whilst both fulfilled the individual briefs, neither introduced the characters that would feature in the next 90 minutes of action.

The 2018 version, created by Californian based Drive Studio, uses a cut of Formula 1’s new theme song from Brian Tyler, and is twice the length of yesteryear. Critically, the sting introduces the drivers to casual fans, with a fast pace to the theme song. Liberty Media’s mission was to bring the stars to the forefront, and the five-minute sting helps to fulfil that remit.

A minor drawback is that the introduction will need to change in the event of driver moves, so comes with an overhead for Formula One Management. Tyler’s theme has grown in stature so far this season. Some might argue the sting is not as impactful as previous iterations, but the purpose is different, and it satisfies Liberty’s intended direction perfectly.

There was a worry that music would begin to dominate the race broadcasts, but that fear so far is unfounded. Apart from brief interludes for the starting grid introduction and in pre-race parc ferme, music was absent from the race itself. The only interference has come with the replay swipe. The swipe features the sound of a V8 engine, too loudly and to the detriment of the broadcast.

Timing wall – team logo, numbers, and compounds
Last November, as part of the unveiling of Formula 1’s new logo. Wieden+Kennedy (W+K) published mock-ups of what the 2018 graphics set may look like, which raised cause for concern at the time. Like with the music, the concern was unfounded, although there are still drawbacks currently with the timing wall.

Now in its fifteenth year on Formula 1 television, the latest iteration of the timing wall clearly displays when drivers have moved up or down the order. In the race this is important: if two drivers switch positions the number of the driver that gained the position has their position highlighted in green; with red for the driver who lost out. A simple but positive change (even if it leaves me pulling hairs out at the director, sometimes).

Additional information displayed at regular intervals, such as the team logo and driver numbers. Both show the flexible and dynamic nature of the timing wall to switch between the two at given intervals, which will only help when FOM implements new features.

Tyre compound information is part of this puzzle, as an alternative option to the team logo and driver number, however seems to be less popular with FOM’s television director. The team logos and driver numbers help casual viewers, tyre graphics may confuse them. On the other hand, tyre choice can dictate the outcome of the race as we have already seen in 2018 and should receive preferential treatment.

2018 Chinese GP - Fernando Alonso.png
Riding on-board with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso during the 2018 Chinese Grand Prix.

As a racing fanatic, on the MoSCoW scale, tyre graphics are a must have, but ask a casual fan and they might give you a different answer. It is balancing the priorities. A secondary point is that the tyre graphics need to be accurate, which FOM have struggled with on occasion.

Font sizes and yellow flags
It is important with any kind of graphics set to have a uniform look across its on-air package, with the same font package used throughout and eligible font sizes. F1’s package breaks one of these.

There are two fonts on offer during Formula 1’s broadcasts. The first is a ‘broadcast safe’ font; the second is one of the fonts created as part of W+K’s suite of fonts. A major oversight is that W+K did not create a broadcast safe font, meaning that the graphics set resembles a half-way house where multiple remits are trying to be satisfied (the ‘a’ in W+K’s font does not look good on-screen).

Uniformity is critical throughout the package, and I feel that F1 has some way to go in this space, which is disappointing considering how well 2017’s graphics set fulfilled this (and that is not even accounting for Formula Two or GP3, both remain stranded in yesteryear).

Australia highlighted shortcomings that F1 could have avoided if adequate user testing occurred beforehand, on a variety of devices. In FOM’s defence the timing wall font, which was too small during the Melbourne race weekend, was quickly rectified starting with the Bahrain Grand Prix.

A second basic issue that slipped through the radar concerns the yellow flag graphics. The yellow flag graphic displays over the counter, effectively ‘hiding’ the counter. This becomes an issue when the Safety Car is deployed, as it means the lap counter goes missing for several laps. In China, Formula 1’s television director resorted to displaying the lap counter separately at the foot of the screen next to the F1 logo.

FOM also need to give drivers’ names suitable breathing room within the timing wall, like they did with previous iterations of the wall. Now, ‘Magnussen’ and ‘Hulkenberg’ both feel too squashed, which is a struggle to read if you are not sitting close to the monitor.

Halo impact
Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail. The Halo has been mooted since the events of the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, and was first agreed in February 2016, although introduction of the device was eventually pushed back to 2018.

The Halo is a device focused on improving safety, aesthetics is a secondary consideration, with no room for experimentation. Could the device bring fans closer to the drivers, through cameras embedded within the Halo? Could the FIA embed a camera within the Halo looking directly at a driver; or a rotating 360-degree camera attached to the Halo?

F1 timing wall - 2018 Australia vs 2018 China
Formula One Management reacted quickly to complaints about the font size in the timing wall, switching from the left (Australia) to the right (China)

It appears Formula 1’s television team and the FIA did not discuss the potential impact the Halo would have on traditional on-board camera angles, such as the shoulder length and T-cam angles. This is a problem that Liberty Media have inherited, rather than one of their own doing.

There is also the possibility that the FIA refused (or would refuse) to budge in any instance, believing that the structural integrity of the Halo is of greater importance than enabling a better viewing experience for the television viewer. Nevertheless, after three races the Halo is not detracting from my viewing of F1 as much as I previously anticipated.

Even if the FIA were unwilling to change the Halo, it says a huge amount about the working relationship between the FIA and FOM that no tweaks occurred to the homologated 2018 car design (i.e. positioning of cameras year-on-year) to allow for a better television product.

Camera angles and direction
One of the ethos of Liberty Media heading into the new season was to make the cars look faster on-screen with closer camera angles, more akin to the F1 Digital+ days, and less focus on the advertising surrounding the circuit.

Based on the first three races, Formula 1’s direction this year will be an evolution and not a revolution. Expecting FOM to break old habits straight away is unrealistic, and besides, expecting the likes of virtual advertising to disappear is also unrealistic.

A variety of rumoured elements that would have impacted race direction, such as music (mentioned further up) and a race highlights package at the top of the hour, failed to materialise. That does not mean the initial reports were inaccurate: these were, according to the BBC, discussed during the F1 Broadcasters’ Summit in January. But negativity around the areas, along with other heavily commercialised aspects of the broadcast, resulted in their absence from Australia.

Anyone expecting a revolution might have been disappointed after Melbourne after the pre-season speculation. Nevertheless, FOM have made a few small, but notable steps to improve their race broadcast.

2018 Bahrain F2 race
By staying with the old graphics package, the above screenshot from the opening Formula Two feature race of the season only serves to demonstrate the work Formula One Management needs to do with Formula 1’s new package to bring it to the standard of last year’s F1 package.

The race direction has improved, as demonstrated in the second half of the Chinese Grand Prix, with all the key action following the Safety Car period covered live. The decision to jump on-board with Daniel Riccardo as he positioned his car to overtake Valtteri Bottas was inspired. Similarly, we were on-board with Max Verstappen’s failed attempt to drive round the outside of Lewis Hamilton.

While the Halo is clearly present in the on-board angles used, the device does not deter from my enjoyment of the action. There is a greater emphasis from the television director on on-board angles in 2018 even with the Halo, and that is only a good thing in my view. The camera angles compared with 2017 are largely the same, although FOM have added angles to help capture the speed, such as on the apex of turn one in China, showing cars swoop in and out of shot.

There is always room for improvement: elsewhere in China the director during the first half should have looked further down the order to Fernando Alonso and Romain Grosjean for the action instead of focusing on the status quo up front. The On-Board Mix was showing this battle to a very small audience when the World Feed airing to millions was focussed on little action up front.

This was frustrating, as fans were ridiculing the race on social media before the Safety Car period because the director was not up to the job. If the director wanted to keep focusing on the leading drivers, I dare say that picture-in-picture was an option here.

Formula Two receives further attention from FOM
An early revolution in 2018 is the attention that Formula One Management is giving Formula Two, with a variety of on-screen additions. Previously, Formula 1’s World Feed treatment towards the championship has consisted of commentary over the feed, followed by podium interviews. This season’s efforts go a step further.

In the commentary box for 2018, Alex Jacques remains lead commentator alongside Davide Valsecchi, with Sky’s analyst Johnny Herbert joining for the Bahrain sprint race. For the first time, Rosanna Tennant provided additional support from pit lane, reporting on any news from the garages as well as interviewing the top three drivers in parc ferme.

Over on social media, Formula 1’s channels are giving the series more coverage, with Will Buxton on hand, helping fans connect to future talent. However, a gap remains on the highlights front.

Formula 1’s highlights are uploaded to YouTube on the same day, whilst Formula Two’s video reel is added to their website several days after the race. Clearly there is a huge gulf between the number of visitors that YouTube has daily compared with the Formula Two website, so ideally Formula Two’s highlights should also be uploaded to the F1 YouTube channel. A relatively simple change could make a huge difference to the championship, which Formula 1 needs to exploit to grow the popularity of the feeder series.

A major negative for me is that Formula Two and GP3 have retained the old graphics set, which feels like a duplication of systems. Moto2, Moto3 and MotoGP all use the same underlying set, coordinated with one another, and all make the migration from one set to another at a given time, so why are FOM unable to achieve this? It makes Formula Two, and GP3, look like the unloved bit on the side.

The edict to Wieden+Kennedy last year should have included Formula Two and GP3, in the same way Moto3 and Moto2’s package is identical to MotoGP, the only minor difference surrounds the logo (‘2’ and ‘3’ instead of ‘GP’).

Other bits and final thoughts
Although F1 TV Pro is not set to begin until Spain, Will Buxton’s presence has been felt in Formula 1’s online content, with a 30-minute Paddock Pass on Thursday previewing the race, and then a further 30-minute show on Sunday evening reviewing the race. Both videos round-up the interview pen pieces with drivers’ that Buxton has covered earlier in the day, with Buxton giving his views in between.

Whether FOM is using Buxton to his full potential compared with his NBC stint is up for debate, I suspect we will see more once F1 TV Pro gets off the line, so it is too early to come to any conclusions yet. Elsewhere on the social media spectrum, the Drivers’ Parade is now airing live on Facebook, which is great news for those that like to see the unedited interviews rather than the trimmed down versions that make Sky’s race day broadcast on a small delay.

In other teething problems, the live speed counter does not add anything to the live broadcast for me and does not appear to serve any purpose. It needs something additional added, as an example, perhaps as the speed increases, seeing other drivers’ top speed at that point may help. Lastly, the graphics set has some jarring colour clashes. The dark red for Sauber’s driver numbers, up against a black background, is one such example.

Overall, the on-air package is not as bad as I feared considering the Wieden+Kennedy mock-ups that appeared as part of the logo unveiling in November. The package unveiled in Australia has the potential to be an excellent package for Formula 1. But for that to happen, a variety of issues outlined above need to be addressed, and rectified.

Scheduling: The 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix / Paris E-Prix

Host of a thrilling race last year, the Baku Street Circuit returns in an earlier slot on the 2018 Formula One calendar.

Because of the domino effect surrounding France, it means that Baku takes the slot previously taken by Russia, with Russia moving into the late-September slot held by Malaysia; Malaysia of course no longer on the calendar for 2018.

The race weekend airs live on both Sky Sports and Channel 4. Eddie Jordan returns to Channel 4’s line-up for the first time in 2018, whilst Lee McKenzie returns after missing Bahrain and China.

Elsewhere, Formula E returns, but the race is only live on 5Spike this weekend. Channel 5’s main station at the same time is airing live coverage of the Premiership Rugby, whilst Eurosport’s duties are split between the World Snooker Championship and cycling’s Tour of Romandy.

If Formula 1’s qualifying session overruns slightly, it will also clash with Formula E’s race. The Paris round is due to get underway at 15:04 UK time, with F1 qualifying running from 14:00 to 15:00.

Channel 4 F1
Sessions
27/04 – 09:55 to 11:45 – Practice 1
27/04 – 13:55 to 15:35 – Practice 2
28/04 – 10:55 to 12:25 – Practice 3
28/04 – 12:55 to 15:45 – Qualifying
29/04 – 12:00 to 16:30 – Race
=> 12:00 – Build-Up
=> 12:40 – Race
=> 15:55 – Reaction

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
27/04 – 09:45 to 11:55 – Practice 1 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
27/04 – 13:45 to 15:50 – Practice 2
28/04 – 10:45 to 12:15 – Practice 3
28/04 – 13:00 to 15:45 – Qualifying
=> 13:00 – Pre-Show
=> 13:55 – Qualifying
29/04 – 11:30 to 16:10 – Race
=> 11:30 – Pit Lane Live
=> 12:30 – On the Grid
=> 13:05 – Race
=> 15:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
25/04 – 20:30 to 21:00 – The F1 Report: Preview (also Sky Sports Mix)
26/04 – 12:00 to 12:30 – Driver Press Conference
26/04 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut
28/04 – 15:45 to 16:20 – The F1 Show
02/05 – 20:30 to 21:00 – The F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
26/04 – 21:30 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
27/04 – 09:55 to 11:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
27/04 – 13:55 to 15:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
28/04 – 10:55 to 12:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
28/04 – 13:55 to 15:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
29/04 – 13:00 to 15:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Formula E – Paris (online via YouTube)
28/04 – 06:55 to 07:55 – Practice 1
28/04 – 09:25 to 10:10 – Practice 2

Formula E – Paris
28/04 – 10:30 to 12:00 (Eurosport 2)
=> 10:30 – Preview
=> 11:00 – Qualifying
28/04 – 10:45 to 12:10 – Qualifying (5Spike)
28/04 – 14:30 to 16:20 – Race (5Spike)
28/04 – 16:35 to 18:00 – Race Delayed (Eurosport 2)
29/04 – 11:40 to 12:45 – Highlights (Channel 5)

British Touring Car Championship – Donington Park (ITV4)
29/04 – 10:40 to 18:20 – Races

Formula Two – Azerbaijan (Sky Sports F1)
27/04 – 07:55 to 08:55 – Practice
27/04 – 11:55 to 12:35 – Qualifying
28/04 – 08:55 to 10:10 – Race 1
29/04 – 10:05 to 11:05 – Race 2

World Rally Championship – Argentina
Every stage live via WRCPlus.com
26/04 – 23:00 to 00:00 – Live: Stage 1 (BT Sport 1)
28/04 – Day 1 Highlights
=> 09:30 to 10:00 (Motorsport.tv)
=> 12:30 to 13:00 (BT Sport 2)
28/04 – 13:00 to 14:00 – Live: Stage 10 (BT Sport 2)
28/04 – 18:00 to 19:00 – Live: Stage 14 (BT Sport/ESPN)
29/04 – Day 2 Highlights
=> 09:30 to 10:00 (Motorsport.tv)
=> 12:30 to 13:00 (BT Sport 2)
29/04 – 13:00 to 14:00 – Live: Stage 16 (BT Sport 2)
29/04 – 16:00 to 17:30 – Live: Stage 18 [Power Stage] (BT Sport/ESPN)
30/04 – Day 3 Highlights
=> 09:30 to 10:00 (Motorsport.tv)
=> 09:30 to 10:00 (BT Sport 1)
01/05 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights (Channel 5)

As always, the above will be updated if anything changes.