Croft: Mini sectors risked “ruining the jeopardy” of F1 qualifying

At the start of the 2017 Formula One season, Formula One Management (FOM) added mini timing ‘loops’ to their graphics for the Australian Grand Prix qualifying session. However, mini sectors disappeared from television screens without trace for the remainder of the season. Speaking exclusively to this site at the Autosport Show, Sky Sports F1 lead commentator David Croft said that the graphic risked “ruining the jeopardy” of qualifying.

Each Formula 1 race track consists of three sectors, which are in turn split into mini sectors, FOM choosing to present mini loop information on-screen for the first time at the start of 2017. The new graphic enabled viewers watching around the world to see detailed splits for the driver in focus, such as Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel’s battle for pole in the Melbourne qualifying session. However, Croft amongst others did not see the appeal.

FOM graphic comparison - mini split with and without.png
With and without the mini sectors: on the left, FOM’s qualifying graphics, from the Australian Grand Prix, and later in the season from the United States Grand Prix.

“In the commentary box, you have Martin [Brundle] and I interpreting the timing screens for you, picking up where the stories are, building up the tension, using our vocabulary, helping you to become more involved and engaged in what is happening on the track,” Croft said. “Why do you need to see on a screen half way between the end of the second sector and the finish line whether someone’s going to get on pole or not? There is no tension involved in that.”

“It’s like going to see The Mouse Trap and half way through Act II someone telling you who did it, or someone spoiling Star Wars. Sometimes you’ve just got to keep the excitement, and have to keep the anticipation. You don’t open your Christmas presents on December 19th.”

Croft noted that he was not alone in his opposition to the new graphic. “I said to the guys at FOM when they brought this in, and Martin [Brundle] was of the same view, that you risked ruining the jeopardy of this. People can sit there and go ‘I need to know all of this information.’ It might be nice for a handful of people, but actually you’re spoiling the crescendo.”

“FOM took everyone’s feedback on-board, and made their own decision, which was to get rid of it. Have we missed them? I haven’t. If someone has missed them, tell me why.”



Looking ahead to 2018

Heading into 2018, there are several stories which promise to keep bubbling away during the next twelve months, some of which have significant relevance to UK readers.

new look Formula 1 will greet fans at the start of the 2018 season, both on and off the track. On track, we say hello to the Halo. Will the introduction of the cockpit protection system cause a ratings drop worldwide for F1, or will audiences continue to be enticed by the machinery on offer?

Off the track, F1 unveiled its new branding at the end of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which will be rolled out across all forms of media at the start of 2018. How will fans react to the new visual on-screen look? Friendly, more playful is the intention, we wait to see if fans like what they see come Melbourne, if not earlier.

Also, Formula 1’s new over-the-top services are highly anticipated, which should launch in a number of countries. Sean Bratches publicly confirmed the service during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend, but early 2018 will see firm details unveiled, such as pricing and content. Will an entry level tariff allow F1 to reach new fans and markets? Will the platform make a noise to start with if the initial user base with access is low?

With an over-the-top network comes personnel. Will Formula One Management poach personnel from their existing broadcasters’, or bring new pundits into the sport? Will we see the likes of Will Buxton and Jason Swales (both part of NBC’s former F1 line-up) play a part?

In the UK, as readers are aware, Sky Sports hold exclusive television rights from 2019 to 2024, marking a significant shift in the market. However, is there appetite from them to sublet a highlights-only package to a free-to-air station, allowing Formula 1 to continue to reach the masses? As it stands, 2018 will be Channel 4’s third and last season covering Formula 1.

We should also in the first half of 2018 find out which UK broadcaster will air MotoGP from 2019 onwards. BT Sport’s contract expires at the end of 2018. They are expected to retain the rights, but it is not a nailed on certainty, and Eurosport could still steal back the premier motorcycling sport.

So many questions unanswered as we head into 2018. If you love your broadcasting news, do not change the channel…

Formula 1 to remain on free-to-air television in Germany

Formula 1 will remain on free-to-air television in Germany for the next three seasons, after Formula One Management (FOM) and RTL signed a new contract.

Historically, RTL and pay-TV broadcaster Sky Deutschland have shared television rights, with their existing deal expiring following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. This evening, RTL have confirmed that Formula 1 will remain on their network for the next three years, until the end of the 2020 season at least.

As part of their announcement, RTL also confirmed that Nico Rosberg and Timo Glock will join the network as pundits, replacing Niki Lauda, who stepped down from his duties at the end of the 2017 season.

Speaking on Tuesday, RTL’s Manging Director of Programmes, Frank Hoffmann said “We have made Formula One great here, it has thrilled an audience of millions and has become an important component of our brand. The owners of Formula 1 have an economic interest in the fact that the sport is seen by many people and we stand here as a free-TV broadcaster in general and RTL in particular.”

Ian Holmes, Formula 1’s Director of Media Rights, said “Germany is one of the most important countries for Formula 1, where motors sport has deep roots, and RTL Television has been a fantastic and loyal partner for many years.”

“The extension of the agreement comes as a natural consequence of such a strong and mutually fruitful relationship and will guarantee that our fans in Germany will continue to watch Grands Prix on free TV. The agreement is part of our strategy that aims to increase and strengthen television coverage on a worldwide basis, whilst tailoring it to the characteristics of each TV market.”

The pay-TV rights that Sky Deutschland previously held now hang in the balance, and it appears that Sky could well end up losing the television rights in Germany altogether to Eurosport, a fascinating development if it comes to fruition. One reason for the delay may be the change in management recently at Sky, with Martin Turner, who oversaw Sky’s F1 operation globally, including in Germany, leaving Sky during the Summer.

This is the third key market where Liberty Media have signed a television deal. In France, it was agreed to bring F1 back to free-to-air and air key races live on TF1 (a free-to-air station) from 2018, whilst in America, rights switched from NBC to ESPN, in a move aimed to boost Formula 1’s digital presence from 2018 onwards.

You cannot talk about trends with such a small data set, but you get the impression that Liberty are not signing rash pay-TV deals like their predecessor did.

2018 French Grand Prix to go head-to-head with England’s second World Cup game

A reduced television audience in the United Kingdom looks set to greet the French Grand Prix when it returns to the calendar next year, because of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The draw for the tournament, which takes place in Russia, has placed England in Group G. As a result, England will face Panama on Sunday 24th June 2018 at 13:00 UK time. Historically, games held on the same day have ‘swapped’ time slots to suit television audiences in various territories, so England’s game could move to later in the day, with Japan versus Senegal or Poland versus Columbia taking the earlier slot.

It is rare for an England game to directly clash with an F1 race, although there have been two near misses. In 2006, England’s World Cup knock out game with Ecuador clashed with build-up for the Canadian Grand Prix, whilst their knock out game with Germany in 2010 resulted in the European Grand Prix moving to BBC Two.

Although England’s World Cup games have been less of a draw in recent times than historically, the games are still a huge event nationally, and would put a significant dent into the French Grand Prix audience. In the era of free-to-air highlights though, I expect Sky to broadcast the race exclusively live to a reduced audience if the race stays in its current 13:00 time slot.

To avoid the situation, the French round might find itself moved to either 11:00 UK time (12:00 local) or 15:00 UK time (14:00 local). Elsewhere, the French Grand Prix qualifying session clashes with Belgium versus Tunisia, both teams in the same group as England.

Channel 4 F1 versus Sky Sports F1: Your 2017 Verdict

Whilst the 2017 Formula One season was not as nail biting as the 2016 season finale, the championship has seen a lot of good wheel-to-wheel racing. A competitive Ferrari meant that Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes’ driver Lewis Hamilton kept squabbling through the first half of the season, until the start-line collision in Singapore turned the championship on its head.

On the broadcasting side, 2017 marked Channel 4’s second season covering Formula 1. Has Channel 4’s coverage in year two been as good as their first year analysing the sport? Over on Sky Sports, has their coverage upped the ante this season, or do you feel that their programming still has inherent, fundamental problems?

It has been a big year elsewhere. Over in America, NBC bowed out of Formula 1, Abu Dhabi marking their final race before the contract is handed over to ESPN. If you are in America and reading this site, will you miss NBC’s output? And lastly, have you enjoyed following Formula 1 in the first year under Liberty Media’s ownership?

The best thoughts and opinion will form a new article on this site in a few weeks’ time.