“Stay on this! Stay. On. This.” – the split second decisions behind Formula 1’s television direction

For the first time ever, Formula 1 has given fans a behind the scenes look at how they direct a Grand Prix, and what happen during a race-changing incident.

Through Formula 1’s Fan Voice site (login required), a six-minute clip covering Sebastian Vettel’s accident during the German Grand Prix, complete with full open audio of the main production desk, has been uploaded by the team [note added on 21/08 – also available on YouTube now below].

The clip offers an eye-opening account into how motor sport production works, and the effort that goes in by those working on the television product, from the camera operators situated at each of the designated points, to the lead director. Before going any further, it is worth taking a look at how the British Superbikes outside broadcast truck is operated, which is what this site did last year (here and here). Whilst F1’s production is on a much grander scale; the broad principles apply across the spectrum.

For the six people portrayed in the video to function properly, many other people must be on their toes and ready at the correct time for the machine to turn. To put it simplistically, the video depicts four work streams:

  • Main Feed – otherwise known as the World Feed that millions of fans around the globe see. Philip Rorke leads the ship, with Paul Young the production assistant. Rorke chooses between the Track Mix and all the other camera options available to him, such as heli-cam, on-board, and pit lane angles, whilst Young is making sure we are not missing anything on the other feeds.
  • Track Mix – imagine Formula 1, but without the added extras, such as replays, crowd shots, on-board angles, or pit lane shots. The track feed is simply that. Dave directs the track mix, calling the next camera number along with the style of the shot, whilst “Foxy” is the link between Dave and the camera operators, ensuring Dave has not missed anything.
  • Replays – the ability to isolate specific shots, and choosing an order for the play out of the best angles. If you heard Tony shouting different colours during the video, that is what he is doing.
  • Team Radio – a team of four, led by Ray, listen to the radio feeds throughout the race, choosing which snippets are worth playing out over the World Feed.

The four work streams are constantly interacting with each other, to deliver the best product to fans. In the six-minute video, the underlying World Feed switches feed twenty times, flipping between the track mix, roaming pit lane and paddock cameras, the ‘cam cat‘ camera, amongst other angles. I will at this point apologise if I have misinterpreted anyone’s voice and attributed it to the wrong person below.

Feeds used during Vettel’s German Grand Prix accident
00:00 to 00:16 – track mix
00:16 to 00:43 – heli-cam
00:43 to 00:53 – track mix
00:53 to 00:57 – roaming camera 2
00:57 to 01:05 – track mix
01:05 to 01:09 – roaming camera 3
01:09 to 01:13 – track mix
01:13 to 01:27 – roaming camera 1
01:27 to 01:31 – special
01:31 to 01:44 – cam-cat
01:44 to 01:57 – track mix
01:57 to 02:39 – replay (roll A)
02:39 to 02:50 – track mix
02:50 to 03:08 – heli-cam
03:08 to 03:19 – track mix
03:19 to 03:24 – roaming camera 2
03:24 to 03:42 – cam-cat
03:42 to 03:59 – roaming camera 4
03:59 to 05:05 – track mix
05:05 to 05:10 – roaming camera 2
05:10 to 05:55 – replay (roll A)
05:55 to 06:00 – track mix

Although only used for just over two minutes in the clip, the track mix is operational for the entire race. If you listen carefully, even while the heli-cam was the focus of the World Feed before Vettel’s crash, you can hear Dave calling the track mix shots.

“Stand by 12. Stand by 12. And take 12. Stand by 15. Stand by 15. And take 15. Stand by 16, we are going early, wait for Hamilton. Stand by 18. Stand by 18. Take 18 early. Stand by 19 early. Ooh, there’s an off!” The very moment you hear Dave start to begin the last sentence, a wall of noise reverberates on the clip, along with shouts from Rorke to take track mix.

Some of the above should be self-explanatory, but to explain, the camera angles around the circuit are numbered 1 through to an arbitrary number, not every circuit will have the same number of cameras. Some turns may have more than one angle, so camera angle 11 may not be turn 11. “Stand by 15” means “stand by, track camera 15” rather than “stand by, camera at turn 15”, an important distinction to make.

A director may want to take an angle earlier than usual if they want to establish a shot, usually the case if a new segment is about to begin (for example, an emerging battle). By having multiple feeds in the background, it meant that Rorke and his team could switch straight from the heli-cam to the track mix as soon as Vettel headed towards the tyre barrier.

2018 German GP - Safety Car.png
Lewis Hamilton leads the field behind the Safety Car, but note how the order behind him does not represent the timing wall order. Establishing the true order on camera is critical for the director…

The emphasis from Rorke about what he expects is fundamentally clear throughout the video, Rorke leading the team from start to finish. No two races are the same from a direction perspective.

Telling the story
Directing a live sports broadcast is not just about capturing the incidents, it is about telling the story, something Rorke reiterates throughout the clip. The story was Lewis Hamilton versus Sebastian Vettel, with the other drivers playing a supporting role.

That might be exaggerating the point slightly, but other potential points of interest, such as Carlos Sainz changing onto intermediates and Lance Stroll spinning were excluded from the main feed as they were not considered part of the story that Formula 1’s production team was trying to tell. “Is it important to see Sainz on intermediates, not really, this is the story,” notes Rorke.

One of the roaming cameras captured Sainz’s change to intermediates, so the option was there to switch, whilst the attention of the track mix was on Hamilton and Vettel. Given that Stroll spun not too long before Vettel crashed, switching to Stroll on the track mix could have resulted in switching to Vettel slightly later than what they did on the main feed. Playing Stroll’s spin out following Vettel’s accident would have added very little to the overall story-arc.

Later in the six-minute period, Sergey Sirotkin retired with a mechanical problem, Sirotkin’s retirement considered a minor topic compared to re-establishing the running order up front following Vettel’s accident. Anyone who has ever watched a motor race will know that the order can radically change because of a Safety Car period. In between Vettel’s accident and Sirotkin’s retirement, several cars pitted, and whilst the timing wall is present in the graphics set, Rorke considers establishing the order critical, with several back markers also in shot.

Phil – Okay, now let’s see who is behind the Safety Car.
Dave – Hamilton is leading, now let’s get to the front please.
Phil – Don’t worry about Sirotkin for the moment. [camera cuts to him] Go to the cars then.
Dave – Here come the cars coming down here. There’s the cars.
Phil – I just need to establish the order again on that next shot again please.

It is a high-pressured environment, with things that fans, including myself, take for granted at home, discussed in finite detail to ensure that the product is not rough around the edges.

All perspectives covered following Vettel’s crash
The World Feed goes “round the houses”, covering all angles of Vettel’s accident, including crowd shots, and angles from both Ferrari’s garage and pit wall.

As well as this, the team are keen to portray the raw emotion and body language that comes with Formula 1. “Stay on this. Stay. On. This.” is the very direct instruction given by Rorke to remain on the same track feed in the opening seconds after the crash.

The supplementary stories of both Bottas’s and Raikkonen’s pit stops play out, but the overarching story is clearly Vettel’s accident as the production team returns to him walking away from his car instead of changing focus. Rorke again establishes the leadership position aboard the production truck. “Vettel is absolutely pissed off, stay with this please. There’s loads of stops going on, but this is what is all about.”

The team continue to follow Vettel back through the paddock and into the Ferrari motor home. Throughout all of this, the graphics appear at the right time, almost invisible to the conversations that we hear in the video.

Vettel’s accident is replayed over the World Feed twice from different vantage points, once without team radio and once with team radio included. There is enough breathing time between the two replay suites, the second set of replays also including a slow-motion angle of Vettel entering the motor home. Throughout the video, different conversations are taking place in the background, with decisions made that impact the television product.

Would supplementary track feeds make for good additions to F1 TV?
As mentioned earlier, the track mix is simply a feed without additional bells and whistles. For the retro gamers amongst you, think of Geoff Crammond’s Grand Prix 4, which featured a TV mode, but without the obligatory helicopter angles, pit lane shots or crowd reactions.

There are some fans who may prefer this method of viewing, and if F1 is putting together this feed for internal purposes, one might argue that the feed should be made available via Sky Race Control and F1’s new over-the-top service.

One other thing that the six-minute video brought to the forefront was that the World Feed consciously missed some moments that occurred further down the field. In the grand scheme of things, I cannot imagine many getting too upset at missing a Carlos Sainz pit stop or Lance Stroll spnning. The decision-making in this instance was on point.

Nevertheless, it brings up an interesting question as to whether a ‘Track B’ feed, which was prominent during the F1 Digital+ days, should return. The feed focused on action further down the field that the main feed may not have been covering, which in 2018 terms would be the equivalent of covering anyone from Haas downwards.

A nice idea maybe for F1 TV, but the video posted by Formula One Management represented the most dramatic portion of the season so far, and not representative of the season so far where such a feed may be useless. In a 22 or 24 car field, maybe so, but I am not sure you can justify producing a mid-pack feed in a field of 20 cars. Nevertheless, it would give the main director an extra track feed to switch to, should they desire.

Motor sport is a team event in many different respects, and that extends itself to the production side of the event. If this video does anything, it helps make you appreciate just how much effort week in, week out, goes into producing Formula 1 television. It is not an easy job…


F1 broadcasters raised “serious concerns” about superimposed Rolex clock to FOM

A superimposed Rolex clock during coverage of the 2016 Singapore Grand Prix resulted in multiple Formula 1 broadcasters raising concerns to Formula One Management (FOM), the UK communications body Ofcom has revealed.

Ofcom, the body that regulates UK television and radio communication in the UK, received a complaint in relation to Sky Sports F1’s coverage of the Singapore qualifying session from 2016. The complaint related to a Rolex clock, which FOM superimposed over the Singapore Flyer during coverage that weekend, the complainant arguing that the clock was unduly prominent. As part of their investigation, Channel 4’s highlights programme was also brought into scope.

Readers will be aware that Rolex plays a major part in Formula 1’s timing system and graphics set, with their logo displayed at regular intervals, something that is frequently referenced during Ofcom’s write-up (an area they are unconcerned about). However, the Rolex clock went far beyond what had taken place before.

2016 Singapore GP - animated watch.png
The superimposed Rolex clock during Formula 1’s coverage of the 2016 Singapore Grand Prix qualifying session.

Sky argued that, under the terms of their contract with Formula 1 to broadcast the action live, they had to broadcast an unaltered World Feed of qualifying, and as a result an “increased tolerance around undue prominence and product promotion was needed,” something that applies for all live sporting events.

Channel 4 argued that, for practicality reasons, the turn-around time between the live broadcast ending and their highlights show starting was “extremely limited”, and that the placement of the graphic made it difficult to remove from the broadcast without disturbing the flow of the action significantly.

Whisper Films, who produce Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage, raised what Ofcom describe as “serious concerns” about the undue prominence “at a senior level with Formula One”, with another broadcaster according to Ofcom’s write-up doing the same. In addition, Sky informed Formula 1 that the superimposed Rolex clock was “beyond levels it felt would generally be accepted.”

Both Sky and Channel 4 in their submissions to Ofcom stated that this level of undue prominence has not occurred since. In both rulings, Ofcom said “These images [of the superimposed clock face] dominated the screen, appeared during location shots, and were not integral to the sporting event that was the subject of the programme.”

Ofcom declared Sky’s incident as resolved, because of the steps Sky took following the broadcast, and the fact that Sky’s broadcast was live. However the body, in this instance, did not believe the inclusion of the images was justified for Channel 4’s highlights broadcast, declaring the broadcaster in breach of Rule 9.5 of Ofcom’s Broadcast Code (No undue prominence may be given in programming to a product, service or trade mark).

The body said “We took into account Channel 4’s submission about the time constraints on producing the programme. However, this was not a live programme but an edited one featuring highlights of the race. There was therefore an opportunity for these images to be edited out of the programme as broadcast. [..] We therefore concluded that the commercial references were unduly prominent, in breach of Rule 9.5.”

Written in the stars

Since taking over Formula 1 at the start of 2017, Liberty Media have made gradual changes to the presentation of the sport on and off camera. Some of these changes have been noticeable, others have blended into the background.

Following the first three races of the year, I reviewed the main changes that Liberty Media made to the output, noting that whilst their new graphics were not as bad as feared, Formula One Management (FOM) still had some way to go to improve the graphics. It is worth another stock take, as there have been new developments since my April review worth factoring in.

F1 integrates the Halo
One of my main criticisms earlier in the season was that FOM had failed to integrate the Halo into its television package. Whilst I have become used to the cockpit protection system quicker than I expected, it has still rendered the main on-board camera worse than yesteryear.

Since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, FOM have dressed up the main on-board camera with a virtual game-like heads up display. The display contains the same information as the previous speedometer graphic, but FOM have cleverly used the Halo to their advantage, displaying information moulded to the shape of the Halo.

Formula 1 is part of an ongoing trend in motor sport to attract the younger gaming fan, and this is one way they are trying to do it. Formula E started the trend with their own vision, whilst MotoGP has recently introduced a fresh take on a popular angle, although F1 currently uses it more frequently than their two-wheel counterparts.

2018 Hungarian GP - Halo graphic.png
Riding on-board with Lewis Hamilton during the 2018 Hungarian Grand Prix, with the new Halo graphic present. On the left indicates the amount of braking input he currently has, the right indicates throttle input. The speed in kilometers per hour along with the gear is represented in the centre of the frame, whilst a yellow line below depicts the amount of RPM.

Depending on who you ask on social media, the display is either cool, or tacky. I can see why some might consider it messy, but again you must remember that Formula 1 is catering the virtual display towards a newer generation of fan. I like it, it is different, but for very good reason. There are a lot of things FOM can do moving forward to improve the display: what we are seeing now is only the bare bones of what is possible.

On the other end of the virtual spectrum has been another trend of what is known as ‘sponsor activation’, notably from Heineken and Amazon.

Heineken’s stars make an impact
In my view, Heineken’s advertising activation is having an impact on Formula 1’s World Feed. Fans watching both the Canadian and Austrian rounds this year will have noticed Heineken’s ‘stars’ appearing across the World Feed at various vantage points.

I do not have a problem with Heineken activating their advertising efforts, but I do have a problem with the tackiness of the virtual stars. For a world-class sport, it looks and feels like an amateur hour effort. It detracts from the overall spectacle, and arguably is one of the worst examples of virtual advertising in Formula 1 to date.

As an experiment, I mocked up what the Heineken star would look like in MotoGP, were Heineken ever to turn their attention to MotoGP. The replies on Twitter from those involved in MotoGP speak for themselves.

The virtual track side graphics have not stopped with Heineken. During the British Grand Prix, Formula 1 overlaid their virtual logo track side with the word ‘Hammer Time’ following a pit stop from Lewis Hamilton. The virtual ‘messages’ to drivers continued in full force during the Hungarian Grand Prix, although the execution was better so not to detract from the on-track action.

2018 Canadian GP - three stars.png
The Canadian Grand Prix saw the first appearance of Heineken’s ‘stars’ into the World Feed. Here, a Ferrari car passes through the turn two hairpin, the shot framed to include the three virtual stars at the top of the grandstand.

A further negative trend comes in the form of five ‘beeps’ at the start of each race. The beeps have blighted not only the F1 broadcasts, but also Formula Two, GP3 and Porsche Supercup races. FOM are experimenting in this area, with some races featuring excruciatingly loud beeps, and others featuring no beeps at all (possibly because the sound of the cars masks the beeps).

When you add all of these up, and account for them as a collective, the overall direction of the Grand Prix suffers because of it. Imagine you are a director, who wants to pick the best angles and battles for the World Feed. However, as a director, I need to feature specific shots to get a specific trackside graphic into the frame, for example the Heineken star.

You can see how the two will not always match up, and could lead to FOM missing something critical (thankfully, yet to happen). “Put up or shut up” might be the only way forward to accepting virtual graphics and advertising activation, as both are likely to continue at a faster pace of knots in the future.

Whilst Formula 1’s direction may be compromised slightly by virtual advertising, one thing that has improved vastly compared with previous seasons are the camera angles FOM have used.

The return of Formula 1 to Paul Ricard saw a variety of camera angles which helped portray the speed of the cars, whilst FOM used drones to give a different perspective on the infield section during the Austrian Grand Prix. To FOM’s credit, they are experimenting with angles, seeing what works, and what does not.

Formula 1 expands new media footprint
Wherever you look on social media, Formula 1 is constantly expanding its footprint, with weekly additions.

With Tom Clarkson at the helm, the sport has moved into the podcast space. As host of Beyond the Grid, Clarkson has interviewed a range of stars, such as four-time champion Lewis Hamilton and current Sky Sports commentator Martin Brundle. If you have an hour of your spare time, or even on your train journey home, I encourage you to listen to these. The tone is different to the paddock interviews you hear during the weekend, giving you an insight into the people behind the helmets.

As anticipated pre-season, Formula 1’s live post-race show on Twitter has also got off the ground, with Will Buxton fronting it. I have not yet watched their output, simply because Sky Sports and Channel 4 gives me what I need post-race. After watching F1 for three or four hours, watching a further show on Twitter does not appeal to me. Controversial perhaps, but a live interactive show outside of race weekends to fully digest the weekend’s events might be better. Others who live elsewhere in the world without expansive post-race coverage might disagree.

Formula 1 has used social media to their advantage this season to help explain stewarding decisions. Some fans thought that Lewis Hamilton should have been penalised harsher than a reprimand after a pit lane incident during the changeable German Grand Prix. But F1 used their outlets, and FIA race director Charlie Whiting to help fans understand why Hamilton was not penalised.

2018 Hungarian GP - Charlie Whiting.png
Charlie Whiting explains why Lewis Hamilton did not receive a penalty during the 2018 German Grand Prix.

Elsewhere in the social media space, Formula 1’s teams have brought fans even closer to the action with a special camera embedded inside glasses, showing a day in the life of Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly at the Monaco Grand Prix and a lap with Romain Grosjean at Montreal. There are a lot of very cool things going on in the social media space, but you need to have a keen eye to find them, as not everything is in one place. Blink, and you miss it.

F1 TV’s archive starts to take shape
After an early season delay, Formula One Management finally launched F1 TV to the world in the run up to the Spanish Grand Prix. Although fans in the United Kingdom do not have access to live coverage of this year’s action through F1 TV Pro, fans can access Formula One Management’s rich archive through the entry-level F1 TV Access.

In its first three months, over 100 full races have been added to F1’s over-the-top service. As of writing, there are 13 full races from the 1980s, 21 from the 1990s, with the remainder from 2000 onwards. New additions have stalled in recent weeks, but expect things to pick back up soon. FOM will be constantly analysing user trends, seeing which years are more popular than others, which will drive their internal decisions moving forward.

Although track side adverts promoting F1 TV have been present, the promotion on social media has felt passive rather than aggressive, with little promotion of F1 TV from Formula 1 across its social media channels aside from the generic messages, FOM going for a soft launch approach rather than a big bang.

Even where FOM have posted classic clips on social media, they have failed to link back to their over-the-top service, which feels like a major oversight to me. If the service is to grow, Formula 1 needs to promote it at every opportunity, otherwise they could make a substantial loss in the early years.

And finally, the one thing I have yet to mention throughout this piece is Formula 1’s new theme song. Because, frankly, it is superb. I do think that, in a year or so, it will be a theme that people outside of F1 looking in, will instantly associate with the sport. It is that good, and that is a huge credit to Brian Tyler and all that were involved in the making of the tune.

Now to go away and hum the theme again…

Changing times: Analysing F1’s willingness to work around the World Cup

Formula 1’s audience figures for the French Grand Prix in the United Kingdom did not paint a rosy picture, with low numbers across the board.

Below the surface here, there is a secondary story, and that is F1’s resistance to move out of the way of the World Cup. But, have things always been that way? Before I wrote this piece, I thought the answer was ‘yes’, it feels like F1 has failed to acknowledge the World Cup’s existence this year.

I have analysed all the World Cup tournaments since 2002 to see if the statistics and timings support my theory…

World Cup 2002 – Korea and Japan
Being eight hours ahead of the UK meant that most matches from Korea and Japan in 2002 occurred during the early hours, but that did not stop the disruption to F1’s European season. Back then, the 60-minute qualifying session started at 12:00 UK time.

But for the European Grand Prix, F1 moved qualifying on Saturday 22nd June to 11:15 UK time, avoiding a quarter-final game between Senegal and Turkey, which kicked off at 12:30 UK time.

The change gave broadcasters suitable time to cover the session, with additional post-session analysis (10 minutes the par for the course at this stage for ITV1), before heading off-air.

World Cup 2006 – Germany
Four years later, the tournament from Germany fell during the same period as three F1 races, causing F1’s organisers to make multiple changes to their weekend schedules.

F1 moved both qualifying and the race for the British Grand Prix to avoid a clash with the group stages of the football competition: the qualifying session on Saturday 10th June started 30 minutes earlier at 12:30 UK time on ITV1, to avoid a potential overlap with England versus Paraguay.

The race the following day started even earlier at 12:00 UK time, preventing a clash between the Grand Prix and Serbia and Montenegro’s clash with the Netherlands, which kicked off at 14:00 on BBC One.

2006 British GP - World Cup ITV
Gabby Logan does a live link to Steve Rider at Silverstone during ITV’s coverage of their first game at the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

A rare occasion followed during the weekend of the 24th June, when ITV simulcast the Canadian Grand Prix on ITV4. Formula 1’s broadcasters who aired both the football and the Grand Prix faced multiple problems heading into the weekend, and the following weekend with the US Grand Prix.

The knockout games on both weekends kicked off at 16:00 UK time. With qualifying and the race starting at 18:00 UK time, it meant that extra time on either weekend would result in a clash with the F1. England versus Ecuador on Sunday clashed with ITV’s Canadian race build-up but did not go into extra time. Nevertheless, the clash caused significant damage to ITV’s audience figures.

A secondary problem, and the reason for the ITV4 simulcast, was that ITV selected Portugal versus the Netherlands as their live game, which kicked off at 20:00. Clearly the timings were far too tight, with ITV opting for the simulcast so post-race analysis could continue on ITV4. Cutting it tight, indeed…

The qualifying session from Indianapolis on Saturday 1st July did clash partially, even if it was not by design: England versus Portugal went into extra time, clashing with F1 qualifying. For UK viewers it did not really matter, ITV in that era aired qualifying for the North American races on a tape delay late at night.

World Cup 2010 – South Africa
Although three races in 2010 fell into the same period as the World Cup, Formula One Management did an excellent job to avoid direct clashes.

The Canadian Grand Prix occurred on the opening weekend of the tournament. BBC moved live coverage of qualifying, which started at 18:00 UK time on Saturday 13th June, to BBC Two, primarily so Doctor Who could air in its primetime BBC One slot before England versus USA started on ITV at 19:30.

BBC One – Sunday 13th June 2010
16:05 – F1: Canadian Grand Prix Live (race start: 17:00)
19:15 – BBC News

ITV – Sunday 13th June 2010
14:20 – World Cup 2010 Live (match start: 15:00)
17:00 – Midsomer Murders (R)
18:30 – ITV News
19:00 – World Cup 2010 Live (match start: 19:30)

The Montreal race remained on BBC One where it mopped up the floating football audience, becoming the most watched show on BBC One on that day. Starting at 12:00 local time (17:00 UK time), the race started minutes after Serbia’s game with Ghana finished on ITV yet finished before Germany’s tie with Australia started at 19:30. To F1’s advantage, the games in 2010 were spread out across the day better than compared with 2018.

Two weeks later, it was heartbreak for England against Germany on Sunday 27th June. The match kicked off at 15:00, with a risk of overlap between the game and the European Grand Prix, which started at 13:00 UK time. As a result, the BBC moved the F1 to BBC Two, primarily so that they could run an extended build-up, but in the end the two events did not overlap.

Silverstone hosted the British Grand Prix on the same day as the World Cup final, the F1 race serving to be a great warm-up act for the main event to follow later in the evening.

World Cup 2014 – Brazil
With F1 in Europe, no clashes occurred between the football competition in 2014 and the Grand Prix.

World Cup 2018 – Russia
Up until this point, F1 under its previous ownership had done its best to avoid World Cup clashes. Placing a triple header though in the middle of the World Cup was asking for trouble.

During the French Grand Prix weekend, World Cup fixtures kicked off at 13:00, 16:00 and 19:00 UK time, leaving around a 75-minute gap between each game. An F1 race lasts around 90 minutes, meaning a clash of some kind was inevitable. In the end, Liberty Media opted to start qualifying at 15:00 UK time, the closing seconds clashing with South Korea game against Mexico.

As predicted last December, F1 pushed the race back to 15:10 to avoid a clash with England versus Panama, but by moving the race, the latter half of the Grand Prix clashed with Japan versus Senegal. Like in 2006 with England versus Ecuador, F1’s audience figures for the build-up suffered, it was a lose-lose situation for the sport.

Even if the teams are unknown, the dates are known years in advance, and Liberty Media should have had this weekend at the top of their ‘to avoid’ list. Things do not get better for the sport in the next two weeks.

The latter seconds of both the Austrian and British Grand Prix qualifying sessions will clash with a World Cup game. The former on Saturday 30th June will see a slight clash with France versus Argentina, whilst Silverstone’s qualifying session clashing with the opening seconds of a quarter-final clash.

Lastly, the second half of the Austrian Grand Prix will clash with Spain’s round of 16 clash with Russia. What is interesting is that the majority of the clashes could have been avoided had the sessions started at the same time they did in 2017, before Liberty Media tweaked the weekend schedule.

So, when we see the headline “F1 hits new audience low”, we should also remember that an F1 race before 2018 had never faced a World Cup game the 21st century. When Bernie Ecclestone was at the helm, he was sensible enough to move qualifying or the race a couple of hours here or there, avoiding even the slightest potential of a clash, because he knew it would harm the sports audience in the affected territories.

Another element to this is that Formula 1 has significantly more pay-TV contracts now than it did in the mid-2000s, meaning that the number of broadcasters airing both F1 and the World Cup may have decreased, resulting in less pressure towards Formula One Management to change its time slots.

I love Formula 1 and motor racing but I, like millions of others, also enjoy the spectacle that is the World Cup. Even if you do not follow club football, the World Cup has the power to reach cross sections of the population that many other sporting platforms fail to reach. Expecting F1 to come out unscathed from any kind of clash is somewhat naive.

In my opinion, Liberty Media are failing to see the global sporting picture, and where F1 fits in. The World Cup is a once in four years event, and they must be prepared to work around events such as that if F1 is to sustain a healthy audience throughout the course of the season. Liberty Media’s stubbornness is likely to cost the sport millions of viewers worldwide over the forthcoming weeks.

F1 session times have been sourced from FORIX. TV scheduling details have been sourced from Overnights.tv’s programme search.

Analysis: Let’s talk about TMC

Typically, sporting events take place in confined spaces, such as football, tennis, and cricket. Motor racing in unique in its nature, it is unlike any other sport. Vehicles, on both two and four wheels, race around a large perimeter under timed conditions in the name of sport.

The latter is a greater logistical challenge than the former, on all fronts, including broadcasting the event.

In stadium-based sports, it is near impossible for the television director to miss the key action. The trajectory of the football determines what the director does next, a rule that applies for every single football match irrespective of whether it is the biggest game in the world, or the local Sunday league game down the road.

When you break it down like that, directing the UEFA Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid is no different to directing the League 2 play-off final between Exeter and Coventry (notwithstanding the commercial requirements for both events). Both contain largely the same parameters.

A freelancer could direct a football match one week and a three-hour tennis game the next, without having specialist knowledge of either event.

In contrast, motor racing requires cameras at every corner to track the cars or bikes around the circuit. A director needs specialist knowledge of the track, the series, and the battles likely to emerge, which is an attribute you are unlikely to learn overnight.

“With motor sport, once you’ve gone around one corner, the cameras have got to be ready to pick up on the next corner, and so on,” explains Richard Coventry, who is British Superbikes’ television director.

“If someone makes a mistake, or goes to the wrong bike, then we’ve got to correct it and pick up further down the line. Motor sport is more difficult I would say to cover than field sport, although on a football match you can have upwards of twenty cameras, but you wouldn’t use them all in the same way.”

“In football, you could stay on the same shot for three or four minutes, it’s impossible to do that at a motor racing circuit unless you place a camera high-up at Knockhill!”

From local hosts to centralisation
Formula 1 races were produced by the local television broadcaster of the time up until the mid-2000’s.

The BBC directed the British Grand Prix until 1996, with ITV taking over from 1997. The direction varied dramatically from race to race. ITV were ahead of its time, others focused on the home town stars further down the field, and some simply struggled to cope with the ever-changing F1 world.

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Looking towards Mercedes driver Valterri Bottas from the new camera position towards the end of Monaco’s tunnel.

Standards improved as Formula One Management wrestled control away from local broadcasters, giving fans a consistent view of the product throughout the year. The Japanese Grand Prix was the penultimate race to fall out of local control, Fuji Television last produced the race in 2011. One race though has remained with the local broadcaster: the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix.

Tele Monte Carlo continues to produce the Monaco round of the championship, meaning that the level of expertise on-hand is lower than at the other twenty races in the calendar. This has always been an issue but has become exasperated in recent years as FOM have centralised production.

Is it no coincidence that some consider Monaco to be one of the worst races in the calendar for action? Without turning this into a piece about the racing: yes, Monaco does not feature as much overtaking as other races on the calendar, due to the nature of the street circuit, which has been the case for years.

But, when fans have called as race ‘boring’, you need to ask what draws them to that conclusion. Formula 1 attracts in excess 50 million viewers worldwide per race, all of them watching the same World Feed. Fans can only judge the race based upon the angles the producer chooses to air.

We assume that the production team have chosen the best angles, based on the expertise of those around them. Most of the time, FOM does the job well, because they have the experts there. TMC however do not cover the sport throughout the year in the same way FOM does, and therefore do not have as many experts on-hand.

For all the criticism I do give FOM, their direction generally feels well-defined, whereas TMC’s product throughout the years during the Monaco Grand Prix weekend is rough around the edges.

On their Fan Voice site (login required), FOM have outlined how the split between them and TMC works. TMC are responsible for “directing the world feed, choosing where the cameras and microphones are, selecting which subject to follow, doing all the replays.”

In turn, FOM are responsible for “onboard cameras and all [of the] trackside infrastructure are our bag, as is all the official timing, the graphics.” The site also talks about the barriers this presents, such as the inevitable language barrier.

The Monaco problem
The problems for TMC encompass the entire weekend. Starting with practice and qualifying, TMC missed crucial laps, with Daniel Ricciardo’s initial lap record omitted from the World Feed, commentators having to refer to the timing screens to try to build the excitement level.

Following qualifying, it was clear where the two main storylines sat heading into the race. The first: would Ricciardo hold on to claim the victory that slipped away from him in 2016; and secondly, how far would Ricciardo’s team-mate Max Verstappen climb through the field?

From the very first lap, the trajectory of the direction went south. The timing graphics displayed a yellow flag symbol, indicating danger, following a collision between a Force India car and Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley.

2018 Monaco GP - hairpin exit.png
Daniel Ricciardo tackles Monaco’s Loews hairpin. This shot is fine, but the camera angles before and after are the same long distance shots as yester-year, with a focus on the surrounding advertising.

The symbol remained on-screen for the duration of the first lap, but TMC did not switch away from the leading contingent (although team radio from Hartley was played into coverage). At any other event, FOM would have jumped on-board with Hartley to show the viewers the extent of the damage, but not here. TMC’s World Feed output also did not capture the damage initially, FOM choosing to show this footage on its pit lane channel following its absence from the main feed.

It felt like the director was reluctant to switch attention away from the front-runners and towards Verstappen, failing to capture his moves on Ericsson and Hartley live. The on-screen timing graphics falling over at several points during the Grand Prix did not help, although it is unclear whether the blame here lies with FOM or TMC. But either way, it added to the poor presentation of the race, as a fan, I found it frankly frustrating to watch.

The timing pages should guide the production team towards the next on-track action, but TMC were seemingly not using this as a basis, something that became increasingly apparent in the latter stages as they failed to show how the likes of Esteban Ocon closed on the front-runners with relative ease. TMC failed to portray the sense of jeopardy that Monaco is meant to present.

On a brighter note, TMC were on-board Charles Leclerc’s Sauber as his brakes failed, smashing into Hartley’s Toro Rosso; whilst the introduction of a camera angle towards the end of the tunnel provided fantastic shots throughout the race weekend.

However, the ‘now available for live’ camera on the inside of Loews hairpin, was poor. The actual camera angle is good, but in the context of the camera angles before and after, switching from a camera angle with a car predominately in shot, to another predominately on advertising was jarring.

A good motor racing director can turn an average race into something watchable and engaging. A bad director on the other hand can persuade viewers to turn off an average race, and there is no doubt in my mind that TMC leans into the latter category.

Compared with motor racing, there are less variables with directing a football or tennis game, which makes the job of directing a motor race more critical than other sporting events.

If Liberty Media wants Monaco to receive a better rapport from fans watching the show, one step it desperately needs to take is to wrestle control off TMC, and to bring control of the Monaco World Feed in-house.