A new era of Formula 1 begins in Melbourne

The 2017 Formula One season started in Melbourne this past weekend, with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel emerging as victor. On the broadcasting side, the ‘new’ Formula One Management (FOM) under the arm of Liberty Media made a step up in several areas. However, as was evident over the weekend, not everything was plain sailing for FOM…

Timing graphics tweaked
One of the biggest changes for 2017 is the introduction into the World Feed graphics of the individual mini timing ‘loops’. For those that are unaware, each of the three main sectors is split into mini sectors. This information has been available to teams for years, and as of last year was made available on the ‘Data’ feed. This year, FOM has integrated the loop information into the World Feed.

2017 Australian GP - new graphics
FOM’s new timing graphic.

To briefly explain the graphic above, the three horizontal purple lines cover your three traditional sectors; with each ‘blob’ above that representing a sub-sector. Purple means that a driver is fastest of all, green means that it is the drivers’ personal best and grey means no improvement. So, for sector one, Lewis Hamilton was fastest of all. However, within that sector, he was fastest only in one individual loop, setting a personal best in two other loops and failing to improve in the other loops.

During Friday practice, the graphics also displayed the drivers’ predicted time throughout the lap, along with ‘as live’ gap updates. FOM removed both of these features from Saturday onwards for reasons unknown (there is an argument that seeing the cumulative gaps in qualifying would dilute the spectacle as cars finish their qualifying lap). I am glad to see the timing loops integrated into the World Feed, if anything it shows that FOM are ahead of the curve in comparison to other series that have access to this information, which is great to see.

A neat addition during the weekend was the usage of infographics. Infographics helped explain in a non-technical language what key phrases meant, such as a ‘red flag’. Yes, regular readers to this site may know the sporting regulations inside out, but the first time viewer is unlikely to know, so it is important to have these explained on-screen in a non-offensive or obtrusive manner, which FOM perfected.

Improved track cameras show off the speed
Even with the faster 2017 cars on show, what was clear is that the FOM have made some slight, yet noticeable, changes to track cameras in order to capture the speed of the cars. The placing of some cameras was lower than in previous years on the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit course.

The broadcast gave off a F1 Digital vibe from the late 1990s and early 2000s, which Formula 1 needs again. The picture will not be perfect overnight, and you can understand why Liberty Media will want to keep the balance between showing trackside advertising and capturing the speed of the cars. Technical issues aside, it felt like the direction was better in Australia than we have seen for a long time, with more focus on the cars and less focus on the surrounding advertising. The move to ultra HD for the majority of trackside cameras has helped.

There is a lesson as well in strategically positioning the cameras, the video which best shows off the speed of the cars is actually from a static fan camera on the entry of the turn 11 and 12 chicane. A video, shared on reddit, shows one of the Toro Rosso cars passing through the shot. Blink and you will miss it. It is an amazing piece of footage, demonstrating the change of direction, however the shot includes little sponsorship exposure and falls right on the other end of the spectrum, were FOM to use a shot like this in future races.

Failures blight World Feed coverage
On the negative, the World Feed graphics for the majority of the weekend were sub-standard, with numerous failures from the outset. Various sources have confirmed to this site that there was a major outage on the production side just nine minutes before the World Feed was due to go on air for qualifying. Initially, this meant that FOM only had access to pit lane cameras and the heli-cam, with only a limited set of graphics. Normal service was restored towards the end of Q1.

The race itself featured only a basic graphics set, and way below the usual output from the team. The direction was fine, but with no supplementary graphics such as the timing ticker at the foot of the screen, the race was difficult to follow at stages. An inferior product, especially one that fans have paid for through pay television in some instances, is unacceptable and resulted in some social media backlash.

As a fan, failures on the World Feed are frustrating. However, as someone who also works with IT systems (and has had to deal with failures on a much more localised scale), I sympathise with the team in Melbourne and in London. In the circumstances on Saturday, FOM did a fantastic job to get things up and running as quickly as they did, meaning that Q2 and Q3 went off without a hitch.

In IT, failures do happen. However, failures in recent years have been too frequent, compared to say the likes of Dorna’s MotoGP coverage. Maybe FOM’s production team would welcome a proposed ‘round zero’ from next year to ensure that their systems are up to the expected standards… a ‘round zero’ would not only test new ideas on the sporting front, but also ensure all the production systems are up and running as expected.

Social media rules relaxed
As reported throughout the pre-season across motor racing websites, Liberty Media have relaxed the social media rules for Formula 1’s teams and drivers. During an interview in Channel 4’s Australia qualifying programme, Sean Bratches, Formula 1’s Commercial Director, noted that prior to testing FOM had never issued any social media guidelines, which shows how just behind the curve the corporation were.

As they did in testing, teams have exploited the social media relaxation to varying degrees, with Red Bull, Williams and Mercedes heavily using social media to their advantage. Of note, Williams ran a few Facebook Live sessions, the first of which saw Paul di Resta and Karun Chandhok joined by Lance Stroll and Paddy Lowe on ‘Williams TV’. Every video for every team is a social media experiment as they learn more about the demographics of their audience, and which videos are more popular than others are.

FOM have been continuing to produce live social media programming through the Australian Grand Prix weekend, building on the content produced at last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and during testing. FOM streamed a live fans forum to social media on Saturday morning with David Coulthard hosting in front of the Melbourne crowd. Some of this may have been in the works prior to Liberty Media’s take over but arguably, change has occurred on a greater scale thanks to Liberty. Small steps, such as presenting the FIA World Drivers’ Championship on the starting grid help go a long way to giving the sport a more human element.

On all fronts, the genie is out of the bottle. There will be bad moves; there will be experiments that fall flat on their face, by both the teams and Liberty Media. Now is the perfect time for mistakes to happen when fans are generally accepting that change is happening, and are prepared to accept that there will be early bumps in the road. You would rather make mistakes now when these forms of communication are niche for Formula 1, working to establish common ground, themes and decision-making as the season progresses. I would much rather see risk taking over the next few races instead of an organisation that is clearly relaxing or unable to adjust, as was clearly the case with FOM in previous years.

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News round-up: Sky linked with MotoGP; F1 App updates for 2017

In the news round-up, more speculation on where MotoGP could be going next, whilst the official F1 app is given an early Spring clean ready for the 2017 season.

Sky set to take MotoGP off BT Sport?
A report from Bikesport News has linked Sky Sports with MotoGP’s UK rights, which BT Sport currently holds until the end of 2018. In response to their report, Sky’s Euan Fordyce said, “I’m afraid we don’t comment on rights we don’t currently have, so we are unable to help on this occasion.”

I do not know what prompted the report, however given the amount of money BT Sport have splashed out to retain the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, it is not surprising to see Bikesport News’ piece.

Their piece does corroborate with what was reported on this site last month. It looks like the relationship between BT and Dorna is not as rosy as it could be, but I do not want to emphasise that point simply because media outlets reported the same on the BT/UEFA front, and we know what happened there…

Sky Sports were previously involved in MotoGP in the early 1990s under its previous mantra, with Keith Huewen and Julian Ryder providing commentary. The rights soon moved over to British Eurosport as Sky focussed on the Superbike World Championship

As of writing, there is no official news about who will be broadcasting MotoGP highlights in the UK, but expect some news on that front imminently.

Superbike action resumes
The World Superbike Championship was the first major international series to get back underway at the end of February live on Eurosport, and with it, there was a personnel change. Gregory Haines, who was lead World Superbikes commentator for Dorna in 2016, has moved over to Eurosport, succeeding Jack Burnicle as their World Superbikes commentator.

In the overnight viewing figures, the first round of the season from Philip Island peaked with 55k (6.2%) at 04:30 on Sunday morning (including VOSDAL) as the second Superbikes race of the weekend concluded. As a comparison, last year’s MotoGP race from the same track on BT Sport 2 averaged 126k (10.7%), peaking with 176k according to numbers supplied by Overnights.tv.

Elsewhere in the superbike world, ITV have extended their contract to cover the British Superbike series in highlights form until the end of the 2020 season.

F1 App updates for 2017
The official Formula 1 app has received an update ready for the 2017 season. Aside from an update to the user interface, there is no major change for readers. There was some confusion around whether the content will be different depending on location, however this site can confirm that users will receive the same content regardless of location.

On a related note, I mentioned last October that users in the Netherlands were testing a new version of an app featuring in-car footage during live sessions. This site understands that live in-car footage is still on the cards to feature, but at what stage during the season is unclear due to hurdles that need to be cleared. The delivery method also needs to be agreed with each broadcaster.

ITV F1 – twenty years on
ITV’s F1 coverage launched twenty years ago this week, with the 1997 Australian Grand Prix. As readers may have noticed, there has been a running theme so far throughout the year so far looking at various aspects of ITV’s coverage, including flashback pieces looking at past races (thanks to all who said that they would like to see these continue).

There is a lot of reading over here for those of you that fancy a trip down memory lane and want to relieve some more ITV F1 goodness.

“Post Bernie” F1 evolution begins with extra flexibility for testing

Formula 1’s teams and drivers have been given extra flexibility for testing, with Formula One Management (FOM), now under the ownership of Liberty Media, giving them the freedom to upload short videos to social media. The news was first announced through Motorsport Network’s portfolio of websites.

The new guidelines allow teams and drivers to film footage from the confines of the paddock and pit lane, and then upload it to social media. A variety of content has been uploaded within the past few days. Red Bull have produced multiple Facebook Live sessions with Christian Horner, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo from the paddock, something that was impossible under the previous regime.

Other teams, such as Mercedes, have recorded footage from pit lane of cars going at full speed down the start finish straight. The possibilities this opens up for teams, from a marketing perspective are endless with drivers now able to directly interact and record video for their fans straight from the circuit. The only team that is stuck in “the Bernie era” is Ferrari, who have yet to upload any video content from the circuit to social media.

FOM themselves have been doing new things. A lot of quick bite-sized video clips have been uploaded to social media. The key moments that were uploaded included a high-speed spin from Valtteri Bottas, caught from an exterior camera, and a camera looking back from Jolyon Palmer’s Renault capturing a spin at turn three. However, it also looks like that some broadcasters, such as Canal in Latin America, are airing footage that has not been uploaded to social media, such as on-board footage from Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes.

By uploading these to social media, it unlocks a new audience, and future revenue stream. An audience that may have never watched Formula 1 may see this footage for the first time on social media, where videos can go ‘viral’, and hook them onto the sport, converting them to a fan. The idea of sharing new on-board footage on social media, let alone from testing, was unheard of just six months ago! It is a new world for the sport which is quite rightly being exploited.

With that in mind, it is mildly frustrating to see that Sky in the UK, despite being a pay TV broadcaster, is not taking advantage of FOM’s relaxations. The channel did not air Bottas’ spin during their round-up in Tuesday night’s broadcast, for example. One of my pet annoyances is to see five seconds of car footage in a 90-second feature. FOM’s current approach, with a full-round up at the end of each day narrated by Holly Samos, is geared towards the right audience. Whether Sky’s approach to testing is correct, when you compare it to that of other pay TV broadcasters, could be debated.

Overall, whilst FOM’s coverage of testing is clearly not on the scale of MotoGP or IndyCar, it is a natural step in the right direction for Formula 1. You could argue that we have lost content with no round-ups throughout the day, but the majority of fans are watching testing videos for the large part to see the cars in action, not to see talking heads.

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.

Pre-Race
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.

Race
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.

Post-Race
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.