Liberty Media Corporation completes acquisition of Formula 1

Liberty Media Corporation have completed the acquisition of Formula 1; it has been confirmed this evening. As you have probably already read, Bernie Ecclestone is now in the position of ‘Chairman Emeritus’.

The relevant quotations below are from the key players. I do not normally regurgitate press releases, but this has far-reaching implications across Formula 1 and beyond that will no doubt play out over the next year, including the motor sport broadcasting circle.

Greg Maffei, President and CEO of Liberty Media Corporation, commented: “There is an enormous opportunity to grow the sport, and we have every confidence that Chase, with his abilities and experience, is the right person to achieve this.”

> September 2016: The formula for tomorrow
> January 2017: A high level overview of who owns what in the motor sport landscape

Chase Carey, Chairman and CEO of F1, said: “I am excited to be taking on the additional role of CEO. F1 has huge potential with multiple untapped opportunities. I have enjoyed hearing from the fans, teams, FIA, promoters and sponsors on their ideas and hopes for the sport. We will work with all of these partners to enhance the racing experience and add new dimensions to the sport and we look forward to sharing these plans overtime.”

Bernie Ecclestone, Chairman Emeritus of F1, added: “I’m proud of the business that I built over the last 40 years and all that I have achieved with Formula 1, and would like to thank all of the promoters, teams, sponsors and television companies that I have worked with. I’m very pleased that the business has been acquired by Liberty and that it intends to invest in the future of F1. I am sure that Chase will execute his role in a way that will benefit the sport.”

If it has not done so already, the hard work for Liberty Media starts now. The next days, weeks and months ahead will be fascinating – on the track, and off it.

Update at 21:50 on January 23rd: Ross Brawn has been appointed Managing Director, Motor Sports and Sean Bratches as Managing Director, Commercial Operations. Bratches is an unfamiliar name to readers, but to quote the press release, Bratches was with ESPN for 27 years and, on the interactivity side was “responsible for the distribution of related HDTV, broadband, video-on-demand, subscription video-on-demand, interactive television, pay-per-view, Spanish-language, and sports syndication products.”

Carey said: “I am thrilled Sean is joining Formula 1. Sean was a driving force in building ESPN into one of the world’s leading sports franchises. His expertise and experience in sales, marketing, digital media, and distribution will be invaluable as we grow Formula 1.”

Bratches added: “I’m very excited to be joining Formula 1 and contribute to the continued growth of this extraordinary global brand and sport. Formula 1 is one of few truly global tier one sports, and I am encouraged by the manifold opportunities to materially grow the business, work closely with current and future sponsors, race circuits, television rights holders as well as create next generation digital and on-site race experiences to best serve the Formula 1 fans.”


Flashback: 1995 Brazilian 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, we’re not picking these races 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, 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 time travelling back to the mid-1990s for the start of the 1995 Formula One season. After a controversial championship decider in 1994, Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher are ready to do battle again, starting with the 1995 Brazilian Grand Prix! First things first, the key UK broadcast details:

  • Date: Sunday 26th March 1995
  • Channel: BBC Two
  • Time: 16:45 to 19:00
  • Presenter: Steve Rider
  • Reporter: Tony Jardine
  • Commentator: Murray Walker
  • Commentator: Martin Brundle
  • Analyst: Jonathan Palmer

1995 was the first year that the BBC aired the Brazilian round live. In previous years, the channel had only aired highlights of the race from Interlagos. Qualifying was not aired live, instead the session was delivered through a ten-minute slot in Grandstand, the norm for Formula 1 in 1995. If you were lucky, you probably watched Eurosport’s coverage of Formula 1 instead, with Ben Edwards and John Watson at the helm.

After the bass riff that is Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ and a reminder of events the previous November in Adelaide, Steve Rider welcomes us to proceedings from BBC Television Centre. We are shown Schumacher’s two accidents from practice, which is one of the key strands of the weekend. Rider talks through the leading drivers on the starting grid, before a snippet of Damon Hill’s post qualifying press conference interview is shown.

Rider hands over to the World Feed in Brazil, with Murray Walker taking over proceedings from this point forwards. It is clear that the commentary team are in Interlagos as they are talking down a telephone line. Rider notes that Martin Brundle is alongside Walker, which is possible as a result of Brundle’s drive share at Ligier with Aguri Suzuki. I believe Brazil 1995 was the first time that Brundle and Walker were together in the commentary box, the two working well together from the get go, without any issues. I imagine BBC would have liked to have him a bit earlier instead of Jonathan Palmer if they had the choice.

Walker’s role as lead commentator is different to that of David Croft or Ben Edwards in 2016: Walker has the job of introducing viewers to the sights and surroundings of Brazil, whilst also explaining the rule changes (such as the engine size and changes to the fuel tank). It is a difficult job to summarise all the key stories from the Winter and keep the viewer engaged within a very small time period. It does mean that the smaller teams are neglected somewhat at this stage in proceedings. For example, a story regarding the demise of the Larrousse team prior to Brazil is mentioned briefly in passing as the cars are lining up on the starting grid.

A cameraman in the centre of the starting grid greets the 26 cars as they pull away. Amusingly at this point, Palmer reiterates that this isn’t the start proper, which is something you couldn’t imagine Croft or Edwards say in the present day. There is the assumption that the casual fan knows more nowadays than the mid-1990s. Whether that is necessarily true or not, I don’t know, but it is an interesting observation nevertheless.

Pierluigi Martini in the Minardi is the first casualty of both the race and our local World Feed director (Rede Globo) who managed to miss his retirement on the formation lap. To the credit of the director however, the start of the race was handled well, managing to capture briefly the aftermath of an accident at turn one involving Olivier Panis whilst also getting in an on-board shot with Hill as the first lap came to an end. No replays were shown of the start, nor of how Panis spun at turn one.

1995 Brazilian GP - on-board.png
On-board with Damon Hill’s Williams during the 1995 Brazilian Grand Prix feat. a retro speedometer!

In the early laps, the director is fixated on the battle between Schumacher, Hill and David Coulthard which given the close gaps is understandable. The decision paid off, as an attempt by Hill to overtake Schumacher failed, but most importantly was captured live as Walker reminds viewers of the history between the two drivers. The battle does mean that Walker is having to recite the running order and the relative gaps to viewers regularly, as the graphics provided do not display this information.

A consequence of the battle up front meant that other activity down the grid is ignored. Johnny Herbert’s fall down the order in the early stages is missed by the director. Frustratingly, the director is not relying on replays to show viewers the overtakes that were not aired live. It is clear that the director cares about the leading drivers and little else. If you are below tenth place in the race, you’re not being shown on television (unless you’re a Forti and being lapped), the equivalent of neglecting anyone McLaren downwards in F1 2016. Crumbs for the lower teams, really.

Just watch, the next time we have some in-car shots, the amount that the steering wheel is moving. I’ve never seen that kind of movement in a Formula 1 car in all the years that I’ve been around. – BBC co-commentator Martin Brundle

Walker and Palmer do a good job to keep the battle between Schumacher and Hill interesting, but it is Brundle who is the stand out, analysing the on-board footage and his own driving expertise to comment on the various styles during the race. Two years before his permanent broadcasting debut and you can see some of his brilliant commentary traits starting to come to the forefront.

The leading pit stops are all captured live (including Schumacher having to avoid a very slow Rubens Barrichello on his way into the pit lane). It is noticeable that there are no references to soft or hard tyres, just one set of tyres off, another set on. Palmer does describe the effect degrading tyres can have on the car, but no reference to the specification of the tyre. Instead, the focus back in the mid-1990s was on the refuelling strategy, with drivers also refuelling whilst stopping.

1995 Brazilian GP - on-board 2.png
On-board with McLaren’s Mika Hakkinen as he battles Tyrrell’s Mika Salo in the 1995 Brazilian Grand Prix.

The commentators do well with the equipment that they have: a lack of television graphics mean that they have to explain repeatedly why Mika Hakkinen finds himself in a Hill and Schumacher sandwich during the first round of pit stops (different strategy). Tony Jardine’s first input into the Grand Prix comes on lap 24 following the pit stop sequence.

I’m surprised Jardine was not used earlier during the stops to get a first-hand insight into whether there were any issues that were not caught on the World Feed. As with the race as a whole, very little pit stop action is shown regarding the midfield teams. On-board shots are shown from the leading teams sporadically throughout the Grand Prix, adding to the spectacle and the speed of the show. Hakkinen’s overtake on Jean Alesi’s Ferrari heading down to turn four was captured from Hakkinen’s car, showing how close Hakkinen was to going off onto the left-hand side grass.

The race settled down after the retirements of Hill and Benetton’s Johnny Herbert. Walker notes that Mika Salo in the Tyrrell has climbed to third position, which is unfortunate because his rise wasn’t captured by the local director. Brundle called Salo’s performance “stunning”, with Walker noting that he will be a “potential world championship contender for the future.”

It’s going to get extremely confusing from now on because the Brazilian Grand Prix, as every Grand Prix will do this year, has become a series of sprint races interspersed with tyre and refuelling stops. – BBC lead commentator Murray Walker

Salo was only on-screen for a couple of laps as he chased Hakkinen, but ended his chase in a spin, losing time. Salo’s name was unrecognisable to the wider audience, meaning that the Tyrrell driver rarely received airtime during the Grand Prix itself. It is a shame, but a sign of the era where great drives went unnoticed because the director was focussed on certain teams or drivers.

The camera shots used throughout the Grand Prix are distant, long shots with some angles used to capture multiple bends, in particular at the start of the infield section. The positioning is strategic to capture advertising hoardings as the main focus of the shot rather than the racing cars (that line probably sends familiar to regular readers).

Nevertheless, while the cars look slow through the infield section, they look fast where they need to: down the long start finish straight, with the camera panning in to the Benetton and Williams on multiple occasions. A static camera placed above the start-finish line shows off the speed of the 1995 cars.

1995 Brazilian GP - sponsor logos.png
In the background, Benetton’s Michael Schumacher laps a McLaren and a Pacific. In the foreground, a whole array of sponsorship logos is on show.

There are no long holding shots of either the pit wall or the paddock, with the focus of the director only on the race track or the pit lane. I’m missing team radio, although Brundle notes later in commentary that team radio is used as little as possible and is only in used in “emergency transmissions”. The different fuel strategies mean that Coulthard briefly leads the middle section of the Grand Prix, but once Schumacher makes his final stop, the German retains his lead despite making one more stop.

The race turned into a race of attrition with the majority of the midfield being decimated: the retirements of Forti’s Roberto Moreno and Taki Inoue in the second Arrows were both captured by the director. Following the final stops, the director followed Schumacher and Coulthard round until the race conclusion, but the gap was static at around five seconds. The next question mark was around the fuel irregularity for both the leading contenders which meant that they were racing under appeal, as referenced in commentary on multiple occasions.

Inoue’s team-mate Gianni Morbidelli was another driver who rose through the order to sixth position but suffered the same fate as Salo earlier in the race, with the director disregarding Morbidelli’s attempts at closing in on Alesi’s Ferrari. Unfortunately, the director then ignored Morbidelli’s car slowing down and dropping down the order, instead choosing to focus on the front-runners.

There is no team radio so we see the cars head back to the pit lane as usual, with Walker summarising the order in the background. No immediate interviews from anyone at Benetton and Williams in the pit lane. We do see the Forti team a few times with Pedro Diniz running down pit lane holding a Brazilian flag. There are a lot more shots of Diniz and Forti here than in the race itself!

Between parc fermé and the podium, holding shots are shown of the pit lane and the circuit before the podium proceedings begin. The analysis starts as soon as the champagne is sprayed on the podium with Walker and Palmer looking at Jordan’s disappointing race amongst other topics. It is a good chance to reflect on some of the performances that went unnoticed down the order, Walker praising the performance of Keith Wiggins designed Pacific car, with Andrea Montermini at the wheel.

The BBC aired the first half of the FIA post-race press conference, which is the same format as the 2016 post-qualifying press conference with the top three drivers speaking: Schumacher, Coulthard and Gerhard Berger. The BBC broadcast goes back to Steve Rider is London before Berger can speak, with Rider running down the points order. A replay is shown of Hill’s crash half way through the race, before Rider closes the programme.

And that, is a wrap.

Until the two leading drivers are disqualified and then reinstated two weeks later…

Note from David: This is the first time I’ve run content like this on the site – please leave a comment if you would like to see more reflective pieces going forward.

Looking ahead to 2017

I can’t promise that 2017 in the motor racing broadcasting world will be as interesting as 2016 has been now that the dust has settled on the next round of Formula 1’s television rights in the United Kingdom. However, there is still enough to intrigue as 2017 kicks into life.

The yearly Channel 4 and Sky television picks for the upcoming season should be revealed in the first half of January, as we find out which races Channel 4 will be screening live and which ones they will be airing in highlights form. Alongside that, there is also the question of whether we will see any changes to either team. This is a bigger question than most years given that three high-profile drivers retired at the end of 2016. Will Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg or Felipe Massa be lured towards either Channel 4, Sky or the BBC’s radio coverage?

2017 will see Formula 1 air in ultra HD for the first time. In many parts of the world, standard high-definition (HD) is still not the norm and I still watch Formula 1’s races on Sky Sports in standard definition (SD). So, whether Formula 1 is aired in ultra HD or not, doesn’t make much difference to me. However, the ongoing technological advancements as Liberty Media come on-board should be closely followed.

We are expecting an upgraded Formula 1 app in 2017, with live on-board footage present for the first time. I expect this to be geo-blocked in the UK and elsewhere, but for those countries that can receive it (assuming plans come to fruition), this will be a great addition to the product. Elsewhere, we might hear news about BT Sport’s MotoGP rights deal which is due to expire at the end of 2018. All of the above, and the usual pieces of news, viewing figures and scheduling information (and who knows what more) coming up on this site in 2017.

News round-up: Whisper Films win award; Channel 4 to air motor racing documentaries

It has been a little quiet lately, but there have been a few snippets worth reporting on, as Whisper Films have picked up awards for their Formula 1 coverage and FOM have made small innovations to their TV product.

Whisper Films win award
Whisper Films’ Formula 1 production has earned the respect of plaudits, coming away from the AIB (Association for International Broadcasting) Awards as victor in the Sport category. Specifically, their production of Channel 4’s Spanish Grand Prix was commended. The judging panel said that their coverage, specifically surrounding the Spanish Grand Prix, had “translated to a great experience for the viewer.”

Outside of their Channel 4 coverage, Whisper have continued to produce Formula 1 documentaries this year, notably a 30-minute documentary covering Mercedes following the Spanish Grand Prix entitled ‘Two Weeks to Win’ and a 60-minute documentary for Red Bull’s TV station looking at the history of the pit stop in motor racing. Sky Sports aired the Mercedes documentary a few weeks ago, but it demonstrates how much content Whisper is producing now.

Winning the Channel 4 production contract showed that Whisper meant business, and they have since recruited people from Sky and BBC to bolster their team. Like I’ve said before, I hope Whisper produces Sky’s Formula 1 coverage from 2019 onwards, simply because their team is bringing together the best from multiple different sides.

Channel 4 to air three motor racing documentaries in Abu Dhabi build-up
Whilst Whisper Films produce Channel 4’s main Formula 1 programming, two other production companies have produced two new documentaries that will air on Channel 4 in the lead up to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. ‘0 to 60mph: Britain’s Fastest Kids’, produced by Finestripe Productions, tracks three families as their youngsters chase their Formula 1 dream.

Meanwhile, Philip Glenister and Ant Anstead try to restore the Lotus Elite, which was designed by Colin Chapman. The documentary builds up to the Tourist Trophy classic car event at Silverstone, where Glenister and Anstead hope to race the restored Lotus Elite. The show, entitled ‘The Lost Lotus: Restoring a Race Car’, is produced by Love Productions.

The two 60-minute documentaries will air back to back from 19:00 on Sunday 20th November on Channel 4. A third programme, an in-depth interview with Mark Webber, will air on Saturday 26th November at 11:25 between the Abu Dhabi practice and qualifying sessions.

FOM evolutions on offer in Mexico
There were a few new graphics on offer during the Mexican Grand Prix weekend. Notably, new graphics were shown during the formation lap tracking the gap between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg as the 2016 season has progressed. During the race, graphics were used in replay segments to identify cars easier for the various turn one incidents.

Alongside this, FOM have experimented with having guests speaking to drivers’ during the formation lap and warm down lap. Following the Japanese Grand Prix qualifying session, Johnny Herbert spoke to Nico Rosberg over the radio whilst Juan Montoya chatted to Esteban Guttierez prior to the Mexican Grand Prix.

It is nice to see Formula One Management (FOM) making changes and refining their offering. As always though with FOM it feels that they experiment with something only to ditch it a few weeks later. Innovations such as line comparison and thermal cameras for whatever reason were dropped a long time ago, yet virtual advertising is kept.

I mention line comparison in light of the recent addition to Dorna’s MotoGP coverage. The Malaysian MotoGP saw a brilliant comparison aired between four of MotoGP’s leading riders at the turn 15 hairpin, showing the different apex’s that are taken. Unlike FOM, Dorna (most of the time) keep and run with their innovations whereas FOM haphazardly drop them for no apparent reason.

As I’ve mentioned previously, FOM’s entire product and direction needs a strategic re-think in order to bring some of the ‘rawness’ back to Formula 1, it feels like their television coverage has stagnated in recent years, a trend which needs to be reversed. Team radio helps, as Sebastian Vettel demonstrated in Mexico but that is only one piece of the wider puzzle.

Meanwhile over at Sky
We should see Sky Sports’ Christmas schedule filter through soon. With a lot of attention on Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill with their recent book releases, it was interesting to note that a 60-minute documentary was actually planned on Herbert in 2014 but shelved. This filtered through to Sky’s Christmas schedules that year but never materialised. Whilst incredibly disappointing, this leads me onto the next point about Hill.

Twitter users would have seen a lot of coverage on Hill returning to the Williams FW18 at Silverstone. Nothing has been confirmed yet, but I really hope that this forms part of a wider 1996 one-hour long programme instead of a five-minute snippet. I think it will be the latter, but Sky need to commit to Formula 1 more given that they are taking the sport on exclusively from 2019, and with that in mind I hope Sky to deliver on a longer edit for the Hill segment.

Live in-car footage set to take centre stage in revamped F1 app

The official Formula 1 app is set to get an overhaul, with a new version of the app currently in beta testing.

Images have been circulating on social media with Dutch users testing the app. The new app appears to give users the ability to customise which of the 22 cars they wish to ride on-board with. The key word in the linked tweet is “all”. In previous iterations of Sky’s Race Control app, there was always the limitation of how many cars the user could choose from. That is about to change.

This is clearly a significant development as the F1 app has never featured live footage of any nature before, and is a major step in the right direction from Formula One Management (FOM). I assume the testing is in preparation for the 2017 season, but as of writing we do not know yet.

What we do know is that there has been a lot of advances in the way data is transferred by Tata Communications, which will open up avenues such as every on-board camera being open at one time, and available for the viewer to use. Ideally, FOM need to be looking at MotoGP’s Video Pass and beyond for what content they need to be delivering to the consumer.

Of course, there are further questions: will this come at a cost to the customer (almost certainly an increase for F1 Access) and will it be geo-blocked where rights restrictions are in place (UK with Sky for example). On the surface, this looks like a very promising development.

As ever, we await further information and I’ll update this post when we hear anything, but it looks like 2017 will see a significant change in this landscape.