Motorsport Broadcasting: Your 2018 Verdict

The 2018 Formula One season has ended, and with it, brings down the curtain on the motor racing year.

On-track, it has been a year of generally good racing wherever you look. Whilst neither the F1 or MotoGP seasons went down the wire, the racing in both has been worth watching on many occasions this year.

Off the track, there have been many developments on the broadcasting front. Traditionally, the end of season verdict has stuck to the UK F1 view point, but we live in a motor sport world far greater than both the UK and F1, and with that in mind it makes sense to expand the scope of the verdict to encompass all elements of broadcasting.

Whether it has been the launch of F1 TV, or World Rally Championship’s All Live service, there has been plenty of movement in the online arena. Liberty Media have made their mark on Formula 1’s graphics set, whilst closer to home, 2018 was the last year of Channel 4’s current F1 contract, the broadcaster remaining in a reduced capacity, for 2019 at least.

Now, we want your opinion. Has something irritated you with this year’s motor sport coverage? Have I missed a revolution that this site should be covering? And what would you like to be different about the motor sport broadcasting scene in 2019? Are you planning to watch a new series next season?

As always, the best thoughts and views will form a new article closer to the festive period.


Formula Two and Sky Sports F1: embedding one into the other

Next year marks twenty years since Formula Two joined its bigger brother on the European tour. Back in 1999, the leading Formula 1 feeder series was known as International Formula 3000 and featured future Formula 1 names such as Nick Heidfeld and Enrique Bernoldi.

Formula 3000 evolved into the GP2 Series in 2005, before GP2 itself became Formula Two in 2017. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg achieved glory in both GP2 and Formula 1, whilst a further seven GP2 champions progressed to the elite of motor sport.

Despite playing host to the future of motor racing, the feeder system has never quite received the level of attention one would expect, from both Formula One Management (FOM) and broadcasters alike, especially when compared to how the MotoGP system works. However, the tide is shifting…

The current UK broadcasting picture
As part of the package created to entice fans in the run up to the 2012 season, Sky Sports created a dedicated Formula 1 channel, also encompassing the GP2 and GP3 feeder series. GP2 had previously aired on ITV4, Setanta and Eurosport.

But Sky’s contribution to both championships has been historically lacklustre, with little promotion. There have been one-off features with drivers, in addition to segments during the studio based F1 Show in the early years, but nothing consistent across the course of a season since.

Sky’s attitude has changed very little towards the feeder championships, and has arguably got worse as 2018 has progressed. Under Scott Young’s leadership, Sky added colour to their Formula Two coverage, with a pre-recorded introduction to each session from Simon Lazenby.

The broadcaster has also given the series more prominence via their social media channels and website, as well as recording features with the British stars currently racing in Formula Two.

However, the inexcusable decision to prioritise The F1 Show over Formula Two at both Hungary and Russia was a major blot in their copybook, and shows where priorities lie for certain elements of Sky’s production team. Fans pay to watch racing cars, not talking heads. Yes, Sky may have improved the social media aspect, but I cannot defend the scheduling decisions in any way. I worry that this could continue into 2019…

ITV4’s coverage of GP2 in 2008 remains the pinnacle from a feeder series perspective. Back then, ITV4 aired around 15 minutes of build-up and post-race reaction for Saturday’s feature races, featuring pre-recorded interviews and analysis, with Charlie Webster presenting and David Croft on commentary.

Unfortunately, with the wider Formula 1 rights changes at the time, ITV4’s coverage lasted one season. Although their coverage had some flaws from the outset presentation wise, ITV showed what broadcasters could attempt, rather than something that comes across as being token at times.

The current Formula One Management picture
Whilst we talk about the lack of promotion Sky Sports have given the feeder championships over the years, Sky do not take all the blame, as the same statements apply for Formula One Management.

Formula Two has historically had a very small social media footprint, with Bernie Ecclestone’s FOM giving both championships little attention. If you think F1’s social media span was poor, multiply that by a hundred or thousand for the feeder championships.

The problem was getting worse with each passing year, but the tide is shifting. The takeover of Formula 1 by Liberty Media resulted in a social media overhaul. F1 benefited last year, with Formula Two starting to see rewards this season.

Formula Two and GP3 scheduling in 2018
A problem for any broadcaster wishing to cover the feeder championships: inconsistent scheduling throughout the race weekend, with start times fluctuating rapidly week-by-week.

Formula 1 now regularly cross-references their sister series across social media, and since the Summer break, videos have been uploaded to F1’s YouTube channel from each Formula Two race weekend.

The duel between future British stars Lando Norris and George Russell in Monza came at a perfect time for FOM, with Norris announced as one of McLaren’s 2019 drivers just days later. Their battle has since had nearly a quarter of million views on Formula 1’s YouTube channel, an excellent number for the series.

Rosanna Tennant and Will Buxton now contribute to the World Feed, with Tennant in pit-lane, and Buxton providing the top three interviews from parc ferme, resulting in a neat, all-rounded feed for broadcasters to pick up. Alex Jacques continues to lead the commentary team, with his and Davide Valsecchi’s enthusiastic commentary perfectly appropriate for Formula Two.

One un-referenced championship is the GP3 Series, which serves as the feeder series to Formula Two. GP3 has yet to receive the same level of attention as its bigger brother, as GP3 is being merged with the Formula Three European Championship to form International Formula 3 in 2019.

As always, there is work to do to continue to boost the profile of Formula Two, but that will come in time when all parties are on the same page…

Scheduling a major problem, but there are workarounds
However, there is a fundamental problem which is, in my view, stifling potential growth opportunities for the feeder championships. The best comparison is with MotoGP. Formula 1 has Formula Two and the GP3 Series as its feeder categories; MotoGP has Moto2 and Moto3 as its support acts.

On Sunday’s, the gap between the end of Moto2 and the start of the MotoGP race is just under an hour, compared to a three-hour gap between Formula Two ending and Formula 1 starting. Think about how that not only impacts bums in seats at home, but also the amount of people watching in the grandstand, and the perception it gives those on the outside.

From the inside, MotoGP feels like a product that encompasses Moto2 and Moto3 as its little brothers, which cannot be said for Formula 1. This is a problem that Liberty Media have inherited, although whether Formula 1 considers this a problem internally is a different question entirely. Some may argue that it is better the Formula 1 way.

Sky Sports F1 – Mock-Up Schedule
10:30 to 12:15 – LIVE F1: Practice 3
12:15 to 13:00 – REPLAY F2: Qualifying
13:00 to 15:25 – LIVE F1: Qualifying
15:25 to 17:00 – LIVE F2: Race 1
17:00 to 18:00 – LIVE: From the Paddock
18:00 to 18:30 – Ted’s Qualifying Notebook

Formula One Management’s scheduling of the feeder championships is inconsistent throughout the season (see table above), which could cause broadcasters problems if they wanted to create a regular schedule moulded around the support categories. The Porsche Supercup disturbs the schedule on a Sunday morning, a situation that is unlikely to change until Porsche’s legacy contract with FOM expires at the end of 2019.

If Porsche is here to stay, something needs to give to allow for a tighter schedule on Sunday, whether that involves shorter races, fewer races, or a complete rejig of the support schedule package. The single-seater support championships cannot remain detached in the long-term from Formula 1.

And, if Liberty Media do not care about Formula Two’s scheduling during a race weekend, why should TV broadcasters dedicate time, resource, and money into providing their own wrap-around coverage to the feeder championships like MotoGP’s broadcasters do?

Sky may have no control over the weekend scheduling, but they absolutely do have control over their own schedule. Sunday is a tougher cookie to crack, but with some work, Sky can integrate Formula Two into their Saturday schedule.

Anyone who visited this site in the early days will know I discussed revamping their schedule in-depth back then, but it is worth a revisit now that Sky now has a new person at the helm.

There are numerous ideas that should be on the table, such as:

  • Airing a replay of Formula Two qualifying between F1’s third practice and qualifying, instead of ‘filler’ material
  • Seamlessly going from F1 qualifying to the Formula Two feature race, instead of treating it as a separate show
  • Airing around 15-minutes of pre-race build-up, with post-race analysis over-spilling into their new 17:00 show
  • Cross-promotion during the F1 qualifying build-up
  • Re-branding The F1 Show fully to integrate the feeder series, allowing for a greater variety of segments

The same principles apply for Friday’s, where Sky should be looking to stay on-air from the start of Formula 1’s first practice session through to the end of GP3 qualifying, using the gaps between sessions to analyse the action and to chat to the drivers at the heart of the action.

If anything, Sky should drop Welcome to the Weekend on Thursday afternoons, whilst the paddock show on a Saturday evening should focus on the personality of the drivers, rather that the personality of the talent presenting the show.

Look to the outside
You only need to look elsewhere in the UK motor racing television spectrum to find two networks who embed their feeder series to the benefit of the overall product. The British Touring Car Championship support programme typically features races such as the Renault UK Clip Cup and Ginetta Juniors, in both single-seater and tin-top action.

ITV4 takes advantage of the BTCC’s rich offering, airing seven hours of coverage on Sundays from 11:00 through to 18:00, as it has done for the past decade. Steve Rider presents from start to finish, ITV providing a package that benefits all within the paddock.

In the pay-TV world, BT Sport airs live coverage of Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP from Friday morning through to Sunday evening, with wrap-around coverage provided by the likes of Suzi Perry and Gavin Emmett.

BT gives ample coverage to the feeder series, providing a clear linkage and harmony between the three championships. Their coverage feels natural, although sensible scheduling from Dorna helps MotoGP’s broadcasters. The broadcaster uses the Friday lunch break to their advantage, with extensive analysis and interviews from voices you rarely hear from.

Sky could use the gap on Friday’s in the same way, using it to speak to Formula Two and GP3 drivers we would never normally hear from. Sky may argue that this goes against the grain of efficiency savings, I would argue that Formula 1’s leading feeder series featuring the stars of tomorrow deserves better treatment off them than what it is currently getting.

The point of embedding the two better means that the feeder series, and its stars, reach a wider audience, which has a positive knock on effect when that star reaches Formula 1. Detaching the two in the long-term results in ‘unknown’ stars making Formula 1, of course, they are known, except the fact that they are in another series elsewhere on Sky’s F1 channel goes unnoticed.

Several years from now, when Lewis Hamilton retires, Norris, Russell and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc will be at the forefront of Sky Sports F1’s coverage. But the journey to build them up, and by proxy the other stars that progress through Formula Two is an everlasting journey, showing why Sky need to intertwine the series through their regular programming rather than treat it as an isolated slate on the side.

Formula Two’s viewing figures on Sky are nothing stellar, and they never have been. “What you put into life is what you get out of it,” is a famous quote and it applies perfectly for this situation. Sky have, proportionally speaking, not given the feeder championships much attention, so have received very little in return.

If Sky start to give Formula Two a chance to show its worth, and try to embed the series into its weekend schedule, they might just get something good out the other end, with higher viewing figures their reward. But, for that to happen, they need to make the first step and try it in anger…

“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…