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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In conversation with Marc Priestley

Ahead of Marc Priestley’s return to the Formula E paddock this weekend, I sat down with him at the AUTOSPORT show to chat all things motor sport from his technical background, through to his media activities in the past few years. We started the chat by talking about his early motor sport career.

MP: My fascination with motor sport like most people started by watching it on telly, I was always interested in Formula 1. I grew up living next door to Brands Hatch, which at the time was the venue for the British Grand Prix every other year. In our little village, the whole world used to descend on the place, and it drew me in. I couldn’t avoid it; you could hear the noise of the cars from where I lived. I guess it was inevitable looking back that I was going to be drawn towards motor sport.

I was doing a creative and artistic A Level course, nothing to do with engineering. At that point, it clicked in my head, I’m going down this route of education that I don’t really want to do. Motor sport is my ultimate fascination, so why not work in it. I went home; I remember having a discussion with the parents saying that I want to ditch my A Levels. They thought I was crazy!

I switched onto an engineering course at the same college. In the meantime, I started making as many contacts through the people in the village that I knew that were involved loosely. I did a number of work experience opportunities, with different teams in the lower categories. I absolutely loved it.

My friends always dreamt of being racing drivers, which was the natural thing to do, but something in my mind wanted to be part of a pit stop crew. It was the teamwork, and the engineering that I became obsessed with, so that’s why I ended up on this route towards Formula 1. I went through the various rungs on the ladder, Formula Ford, Formula 3, Formula 3000 and then eventually onto Formula 1. It was a dream come true.

F1B: As you stepped the ladder, the pressure grows a bit, the paddock changes slightly. How did you adjust from going to a paddock of 50 people to say a paddock of 500, did it feel like there was more pressure?

MP: The step up to Formula 1 is a big, big step. Each step towards that is a relatively minor step. The step, even from Formula 3000 is a big step up just because the teams in Formula 1 are so enormous. I was suddenly in the McLaren garage that I had been watching on telly in awe of just two weeks before. Now I was dressed in the same gear, and I was with these guys. I knew there were millions of people watching these pit stops.

The pressure is the single biggest thing you have to find a way to deal with. There’s no training for it, the teams don’t have a mechanism to ease you into the pressure, you’re kind of thrown in. Some people deal with it and I have seen people who can’t. You have to be the right type of person to be able to handle that sort of situation. Strangely, I thrived on it, every time we had a pit stop, even in my final year after being in Formula 1 for ten years; the adrenaline rush of a pit stop was just amazing.

F1B: McLaren was your only Formula 1 team, but were you tempted by any switches along the way?

MP: I very nearly went to Ferrari in 2007. When Kimi [Raikkonen] left to go to Ferrari, I’d been working with him for many years. My very good friend and his personal trainer Mark Arnall went with him to Ferrari, and a few of us had discussions with Kimi and talked about going over as well. It was something that I toyed with. I was on the verge of going out there for a meeting, to have a look around and talk about it further, but in the end I decided not to, mostly for personal reasons. It would have been a huge adventure, but I was probably less risk adverse at that time than I would have been 15 years earlier.

F1B: At McLaren you worked with various different drivers, Raikkonen, David Coulthard, Mika Hakkinen, so on and so forth. How did you manage to control the media element, with a lot of high-profile drivers comes, not necessarily ego, but a bit of ‘baggage’ along the way?

MP: It does, with some much more than others. The media department within McLaren deals with it, so there is a team of people to handle that. The drivers handle it all very differently. Someone like Kimi is incredibly low maintenance he has no ego. I know the media have a love-hate relationship with him, but when you’re working with that in a team, you love that because you know he’s not playing up to the camera, he’s not giving off any false persona when he’s doing an interview. He’s the same guy in front of the camera as he is in the garage, or when he’s having a beer away from the track, and I love that.

Others feel like they have to give off a certain image, and that’s the more common trait amongst Formula 1 drivers and I think Formula 1 does that a little bit to people. It’s a very corporate world, more so at McLaren, you always feel like you have to give off the right image, even if that’s not your natural image. That’s sometimes quite hard to curb. I used to push the boundaries; Ron Dennis hated that because if the media saw it then it would ruin the team’s reputation. You have to be slightly careful; I came close a few times! In terms of working with drivers, it utterly depends on whom you have and whom you’re working with at any given time.

F1B: Did you find that if there was media attention for a certain driver that you would just have to try to block it out?

MP: Yeah, absolutely. When I was a mechanic, I had a lot of friends in the media. When there’s a story breaking, you can sense that these people, who are your friends, but work in the media, they want a story. At that point, the friendship has to change because you have to be slightly guarded in what you give off, you can’t give out too many secrets and also they’re just your friends. There is a fine balance, and particularly when I left the team and moved into the media myself, I noticed that from my [McLaren] friends and former colleagues. It’s a shame that happens slightly, you go back to square one having to build up the trust with your friends again, knowing that you’re not going to betray their confidence if they tell you something.

F1B: How was 2007 from the media point of view?

MP: It was horrible, a negative year other than the fact that we had a very quick car and two quick drivers, those were the positives. Everything else was negative. The drivers were fighting, the team was fighting and we had the spygate case going on in the background, which was a global news story. We were found guilty and thrown out the championship. There was negativity everywhere. As a mechanic, being part of that team, you feel like that takes you and your reputation down. I had nothing to do with any of that stuff, the spygate stuff was nothing to do with any of us in the garage, but you can’t help feel like that the media or people watching on associate anyone wearing a McLaren shirt with the bad press and cheating. It was my most difficult year in motor sport. We should have walked away with both championships. The media love a story like that, so when you’re in the middle of it, it’s very difficult to try to park that to one side and to get on with the job. It’s difficult anyway with people trying to take the whole team down at times.

F1B: In hindsight, is it just one of those things that you have to accept “it will happen” with two fast drivers, or is there anything you can do to stop it?

MP: It’s very difficult to avoid, and to a degree, you want to a bit of it. When your biggest competitor is the other side of the garage, you have to fight against him. I think one of the interesting things will be is if we get the likes of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo fighting for the championship, the media will try to stir it up. So far, they’ve been great mates and have got on very, very well, have bounced off each other nicely yet pushed each other hard and fairly.

Each one of these situations, which doesn’t come around that often, is a case study. Lewis and Nico will have undoubtedly learnt from Lewis and Fernando with us. And if it turns out to be Red Bull’s turn next, they will learn from what the guys have done before them. I don’t think there’s any real magic answer as to how to deal with it, I thought Mercedes actually did a good job over handling what can be a very difficult situation to be in. They’ve been pretty open and honest about their drivers, with their drivers and with the public about what was going on. I think that’s all you can do.

F1B: After McLaren, you moved into the media spotlight, and you’ve been there since.

MP: Yeah, I’ve absolutely loved it. When it came to the point that we had won the championship with Lewis Hamilton in 2008, in 2009 I had started to think about what I would do after leaving the team. I realised that I had all of these stories, all of this knowledge and experience from my many years in the team that fans love to hear about it. It started by writing a blog at first, that’s how it really got going. It was the fans reaction to the stuff that I was writing, and the rest of the media’s reaction, that spurred me on. I realised how much insight I had that people wanted to hear about.

It was the producers of the BBC 5 Live Formula 1 radio show that noticed my writing and took me in as a pit lane reporter back in 2012. I was alongside Jennie Gow, absolutely loved it, realised that was where I wanted to go with my career next, so set about really trying to get to where I am now. I love Formula 1, I’ve always loved motor sport in general and I love being able to try to explain to people what’s going on, why things are going on, how things work. I think I have a technical understanding from an engineering background, so to be able to try to translate that into perhaps more simple terms for some people and keep it intricate for others is quite a fine balance and a difficult thing to do. I like to think it’s something I’m reasonably good at!

F1B: You should be in hot demand this year, considering the amount of changes that we have. Viewers will turn on in Australia and think, “Those cars are different”, but quite a few will want to know why.

MP: Absolutely, I hope so. Times like this are exciting for me because of the big technical changes in the sport. Things like Formula E, which is brand new and need total explanation, because they’re completely different from what everybody understands as a racing car, I love that. I love innovation, and trying to explain innovation and both Formula 1 and Formula E are at the forefront of that, so to be involved in both is a dream come true.

F1B: How have you found the Formula E journey so far, this year is its third year.

MP: I’m a massive fan. I understand from a traditionalist point of view, the fans that say they want screaming engines, burning rubber and noise, but I’m more of the view that we need to move forward. Let’s embrace something that is futuristic with technology that no one has seen before, that no one has pushed to the limits before. We’re sat here in front of a line-up on 1970s [Lotus] Formula 1 cars, these things made incredible noise, but you can’t cling onto that forever.

You’ve got to move forward, so I absolutely applaud Formula E for taking the plunge. You could argue that they went in early; maybe the technology and fans weren’t quite ready. They’ve continued with it and I think they’ve done an incredible job of making a great show, taking it to some amazing places. I’m fascinated to see where it goes from here, they’ve got a blank canvas to do anything and that’s something Formula 1 doesn’t necessarily have. Formula 1 can’t take a giant leap in the opposite direction, it’s like an enormous container ship trying to change direction, it has to do it slowly. It has so many fans that they need to be edged into new technology and change. Formula E doesn’t have that, they can do whatever they want and I think these are really exciting times.

F1B: How long do you think it will take Formula E, both in terms of the championship, but also the media and the audience perspective to mature? At the moment, it’s still a very immature product.

MP: It is. But you can see from the number of major auto manufactures that are now getting on-board, a number that’s increasing all the time over the last six months. We have some major players coming on-board. That tells you the level of potential that this series has got. Big names like BMW, Audi, Renault, DS Citroen and Jaguar. Those big names are the names that people out there watching, flicking through the channels, they recognise those names. The names being associated with Formula E gives the championship extra credence, and people will begin to believe in it even more. That’s where Formula E needed to get to, and it’s promising that is genuinely now starting to happen.

F1B: Lastly, what are your plans for 2017, what do you have lined up?

MP: Well I sat at home just last week, having had a month’s rest, looking at my schedule for 2017 and it’s crazy. I’m doing most Formula 1 races with Sky, I’m doing every Formula E race now with Formula E itself, and a load of other things in between, some of which I can’t say at the moment! 2017 is looking like a really exciting year for me, a very busy one. I’m really excited for it.

My thanks go to Marc Priestley for spending the time with me on the above interview.

Scheduling: The 2017 Buenos Aires ePrix

After an extended absence, Formula E returns for the second half of its third season with the Buenos Aires ePrix.

Returning to the fray are two names familiar to site readers. Jack Nicholls returns as lead commentator for this round having been absent from the Hong Kong and Marrakech ePrix due to his BBC Radio 5 Live F1 commitments. Nicholls will be around for the Mexican ePrix on April 1st, before missing the Monaco and Berlin ePrix.

Marc Priestley is the second name returning to the fold, in a move officially confirmed on the Formula E website. Priestley replaces Ben Constanduros as Formula E’s YouTube presenter. Priestley has previously been part of ITV’s Formula E coverage when they were the UK broadcaster, but never part of the host feed’s coverage. It is a good move to bring Priestley into the picture.

Channel 5’s sister channel Spike is airing live coverage of qualifying, with the main channel airing the race live, which should be a good shop window for the championship in primetime next Saturday. The channel will cut away from the World Feed before the end of the post-race analysis, finishing slightly earlier at 20:10. After this race, there will be a further six week break until the Mexico City ePrix on April 1st.

Formula E – Buenos Aires (online via Channel 5’s social media channels and YouTube)
18/02 – 10:55 to 11:55 – Practice 1
18/02 – 13:25 to 14:10 – Practice 2

Formula E – Buenos Aires
18/02 – 14:45 to 16:20 – Qualifying (Spike)
18/02 – 18:30 to 20:15 – Race (Channel 5)

If anything changes, I will update the above schedule.

Update on February 17th – In a u-turn, It looks like Channel 5 are adding a studio element, with Andy Jaye confirming on Twitter that he will be presenting tomorrow’s live race broadcast.

Formula E best of the rest as MotoGP season comes to an end

The 2016 MotoGP season ended on Sunday live on BT Sport, but was beaten by Formula E’s second round of its new season in Morocco, overnight viewing figures show.

Formula E continues solid start on Channel 5
Live coverage of the Marrakesh ePrix aired on Channel 5 from 15:30 on Saturday (12th November). The two-hour programme averaged 281k (2.1%), peaking with 443k (3.3%) at 16:40. Bearing in mind that Formula E was resoundingly beaten on ITV4 whenever it clashed with Formula 1, this is a solid number.

The Marrakesh event also holds the feat of being one of the most watched races so far in Formula E’s history, only behind the London ePrix and the inaugural Beijing ePrix. This shows that their deal with Channel 5 is already paying off, and helping the championship reach a larger audience than it could on ITV4. Formula E at the moment needs to take baby steps on Channel 5, to try to increase the audience.

However, Formula E’s numbers were lower than Channel 5’s slot average which might be concerning for the network. Formula E’s deal with Channel 5 is two years long, so there is time to improve numbers. The large calendar gaps won’t help, but hopefully Formula E can maintain a positive trajectory when it returns in February.

MotoGP bows out lower than 2015, but up on 2014
The 2016 MotoGP season has done as well as you would probably expect, given the way Marc Marquez wrapped up the championship several races early. Live coverage of the Valencian MotoGP averaged 107k (1.2%) from 09:30 to 14:15 on BT Sport 2. The MotoGP segment itself from 12:30 to 14:00 averaged 176k (1.8%), peaking with 234k. Unsurprisingly, overnight viewing figures are down around 45 percent on last year’s record high audiences for Valencia.

Across the season as a whole, the pattern is repeated year-on-year. BT Sport’s MotoGP race day programmes in 2016 averaged 114k (1.9%), compared with 132k (2.3%) in 2015 and 90k (1.4%) in 2014. The MotoGP portion of BT’s programming from 12:30 to 14:00 or equivalent averaged 181k (3.1%), compared with 212k (3.6%) in 2015 and 139k (2.0%) in 2014. Cal Crutchlow’s maiden victory in the Czech Republic peaked with a strong 282k, up 13.5 percent on 2015. The highest peak audience of 2016 went to Austin, which peaked with 325k.

It should not be a surprise to see 2015 with higher viewing figures: the season went down to the wire and would have hooked the attention of a broader range of viewers. On the other hand, 2016 was much more exciting than 2014 for MotoGP with nine different winners. I think the viewing figures are about where I would expect for BT. Not amazing, but not poor by any stretch of the imagination. As always, viewing figures do not include BT Sport’s app, nor MotoGP’s Video Pass which will make up a small portion of the difference year-on-year.

ITV4’s highlights programme continued to drop compared with 2014 and 2015. Their highlights programme, which aired on Monday nights, averaged 285k (1.4%) according to overnight viewing figures, compared with 306k (1.5%) in 2015 and 344k (1.7%) in 2014. A drop of 7 percent is smaller than the 11 percent drop experienced between 2014 and 2015. I don’t have the numbers to hand, but I believe ITV4’s viewing share is down as a whole, which may explain why MotoGP has followed that trend.

The combined UK audience for MotoGP is made up of BT’s MotoGP portion (90 minutes or equivalent) plus ITV4’s highlights. The total of 466k is a record low, down on both 2014 and 2015, which is slightly disappointing. I do think audiences would improve if ITV4’s highlights programme was better placed, or aired on the Sunday evening for European races, but I doubt BT would allow that. The same goes for BT with MotoGP as it does for Sky with Formula 1: both need to find ways to make their channels more accessible to the wider public, as pay TV audiences have stagnated. TV does make up a smaller piece of the pie than in previous years, but it is still an incredibly important piece of the jigsaw.

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Formula E terminates contract with Ben Constanduros after one round

Without a permanent commentator, and now without another of their personnel, after just one race of the new season. Formula E has terminated their agreement with Ben Constanduros, this site can confirm.

Constanduros has worked on Eurosport’s World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) coverage for eight years alongside the Goodwood Festival of Speed and Race of Champions. In Hong Kong last month, he was working with Formula E as magazine and social media presenter alongside Sian Welby. Formula E’s magazine show is produced by Aurora Media and Little Dot Studios.

The details behind his departure can be best described as bizarre, and can be traced back to Constanduros’ WTCC activity. This site understands that Constanduros was removed from Eurosport’s WTCC programming by François Ribeiro (the Head of Eurosport Events). Following his move to TCR International and Formula E, Constanduros was again in the firing line from Ribeiro after he found out that Constanduros was involved in their coverage.

Remember that Discovery (who owns Eurosport) is a minor stakeholder in Formula E, although Constanduros did present Le Mans coverage for Eurosport back in June. A source inside Formula E has confirmed that Ribeiro recommended Constanduros’ removal to them, but on what grounds is not known.

Speaking to this site, Constanduros said “I am devastated not to be able to continue covering the championship,” adding that he has not had any response regarding why he is not in Marrakech. Despite Constanduros parting company with Formula E, his work is still being promoted and uploaded to Formula E’s social media channels, such as Twitter and YouTube. Constanduros has since shut down his Twitter account.

Regular readers will be aware that the current Formula E line-up is in a state of flux. Martin Haven was the lead commentator in Hong Kong and will be in Marrakech, but beyond that is currently unknown. The expectation is that Jack Nicholls will return as lead commentator when he is not covering Formula 1 for the BBC, as will Bob Varsha when Formula E returns to the United States, but this has yet to be confirmed.

In a statement to this blog, Formula E said “Unfortunately we are not able to provide a comment on the employment decisions of our suppliers.” Little Dot Studios did not respond to a request for comment at time of publication.