Channel 4's F1 race edit to switch to 'Extended Highlights' format for 2020

Viewers watching Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage in 2020 will receive more of the action than last year, Motorsport Broadcasting can exclusively reveal.

As part of a new arrangement with Sky Sports, Channel 4 aired Formula 1 in highlights form in 2019, with the British Grand Prix also airing live. Both parties agreed to extend the partnership last Autumn, taking the agreement through to the end of 2022.

The highlights deal allowed Channel 4 to cover 50 percent of the race during their edit, a decrease on the amount stipulated in the 2012 to 2018 broadcasting contract between Formula 1, Sky, and their free-to-air partner at that time.

However, Motorsport Broadcasting can confirm that Channel 4 and Sky have loosened at least two elements of the free-to-air contract for 2020.

This season, fans watching via Channel 4 will now see 70 percent of the racing action, increasing the race edit from 45 minutes to around 60 minutes (depending on race). The change brings Channel 4’s 2020 agreement closer to the 2012 to 2018 contract – at least in terms of the race edit.

The extension means that Channel 4’s race day show, produced by Whisper, will be 150 minutes in length for 2020 instead of 120 minutes, a similar amount compared with 2016 to 2018 for Channel 4 (including commercials).

In addition, Motorsport Broadcasting understands that both qualifying and the race day show can now begin two and a half hours after the chequered flag has fallen instead of three hours. Highlights for most European races will therefore air from 18:30 to 21:00, instead of 19:00 to 21:00 as they did last year.

The two races likely to prove troublesome this year are the United States and Mexican Grand Prix, which both begin at 19:10 UK time. Expect highlights to change to 22:30 to 01:00 this season, unless Sky gives Channel 4 any additional leeway on this front.

As of writing, there is no confirmation on the status of the additional restrictions that Sky imposed on Channel 4 prior to the 2019 season, such as the restriction of Channel 4 personnel on the grid or within the interview pen.

Overall, this is good news for fans watching Formula 1 via free-to-air television, and another sign that the relationship between Sky and Channel 4 is strong.

Both broadcasters expected to retain current line-ups
Although neither broadcaster has yet to confirm their on-air team, Motorsport Broadcasting expects both to field a similar line-up, with no upheaval like last year.

Ben Edwards is expected to return as Channel 4’s lead commentator, joined by personalities such as David Coulthard and Billy Monger throughout the course of the season.

Barring a change of direction, Sky are retaining Ted Kravitz for 2020, although the number of races Kravitz will be with Sky for is unclear. The likes of David Croft, Martin Brundle and Simon Lazenby are staying part of Sky’s line-up.

Meanwhile, newly announced W Series lead commentator Alex Jacques returns as commentator for Formula Two, Formula Three and Formula 1’s Pit Lane Channel this year.

Testing begins on Wednesday 19th February, with the season itself getting underway in Melbourne on Sunday 15th March, both of which are airing live on Sky Sports.

A correction was made to this article on January 19th. Although the United States Grand Prix begins an hour later local time, timezone differences / daylight savings mean that there is no difference to the UK race time and Channel 4’s highlights should therefore start half an hour earlier. My apologies for this error.

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World Rally Championship highlights to return to ITV4 in "multi-year" deal

Highlights of the World Rally Championship will return to ITV4 in a “multi-year” deal, securing the free-to-air future of the series, Motorsport Broadcasting can confirm.

The series aired in highlights form on ITV4 from 2013 to 2015, before moving to Channel 5 in 2016, with an audience of around 300,000 viewers enjoying the rallying action on the network.

Although good for rallying, the average audience on Channel 5 for WRC was below the slot average, with question marks hanging over the free-to-air rights prior to the 2019 season.

Free-to-air viewers missed action from the 2019 Monte Carlo Rally as a result, however a deal was struck to keep WRC on the Channel 5 network from round two onwards, this time on sister network 5Spike.

Now, organisers have confirmed to this site that the series will return to ITV4 this season, with highlights airing predominantly on Tuesday evenings at 20:00.

As with Channel 5’s previous deal, ITV4 will also air live coverage of the Power Stage from the Wales Rally GB and daily highlights of that event.

All Live to remain on BT Sport platform
WRC’s existing arrangements with pay-TV broadcaster BT Sport remain the same, with live coverage and event highlights airing across BT’s linear channels.

In addition, as in 2019, BT will again show every stage live via their Red Button service, the broadcaster taking WRC’s All Live service.

WRC’s over-the-top All Live platform returns for a third season with the Monte Carlo Rally from Thursday 23rd January, priced at £7.69 per month, or £76.97 across the year based on current conversion figures.

Coverage of the Wales Rally GB remains on S4C, whilst Red Bull TV will continue to air highlights and live coverage of one Saturday stage from each event.

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F1 unveils first-ever Strategic Plan

Formula 1 has today unveiled its first-ever strategic plan, giving fans an insight on what the future holds for the series ahead of its 70th year.

The slide deck builds upon what Liberty Media have achieved during their first three years as guardians of the sport.

The plan, released as part of F1’s Corporate Strategy, covers all aspects of the sport at a high level, broken into six pillars:

  • Race
  • Engage
  • Perform
  • Sustain
  • Collaborate
  • Empower

On the broadcasting side, Formula 1 makes it clear the direction that the sport is heading in, with a strong focus on bringing in younger fans through an expansion of F1’s Esports Championship, and through engaging with influencers.

F1 also references ‘exciting new formats’ on the sporting side, but does not offer any specifics on what this would entail. An attempt to bring in reverse-grid qualifying races for three races in 2020 failed to gain the required approval of all F1’s teams.

Interestingly, the slide deck makes no reference to free-to-air or pay television. Instead, the sport says it will ‘reach the broadest audience on relevant linear and digital platforms,’ suggesting that the distribution model will remain different on a country-by-country basis moving forward.

As anticipated, F1 intends to grow their over-the-top platform to, in their words, ‘super-serve hardcore fans.’ Over-the-top is not new, or a surprise, but it is fascinating to see F1 reference this in a public-facing document, something that was unthinkable five years ago.

Elsewhere, F1 mentions the desire to ‘multi-feed’ through a ‘more cloud-based sports broadcasting platform, showing where they see the future to be from an innovation perspective. 5G gets a mention in the slide-deck, with F1 hoping that will enable a ‘hyper-connected car, fan and paddock.’

Sustainability is a key theme throughout the slide deck, with F1 wanting to ‘minimise the amount of equipment and people sent to each race,’ building their facility further at Biggin Hill to support in this mission.

Other key areas on the broadcasting front include sharing content and talent, as well as generally increasing the awareness of Formula 1 through promotional opportunities.

F1 does not offer any timescales on the period that the Strategic Plan covers, but given some of the ambitions that the sport covers, I suspect it covers the next five years, with a view to look beyond that in many of the areas.

At the start of the month, F1 unveiled an amended logo to celebrate 70 years of F1, with activities planned throughout the year to celebrate the milestone.

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Scheduling: The 2020 Santiago E-Prix

After a two-month gap since Saudi Arabia, Formula E roars back into action in South America for the Santiago E-Prix.

The Santiago race was under some jeopardy prior to the festive period, with social unrest taking place elsewhere in Chile, however the race is understood to be going ahead as planned.

In a surprise move, practice airs live for the first time on the BBC, in addition to qualifying and the race. Motorsport Broadcasting is working to confirm if this is a one-off arrangement, or permanent for the remainder of the season.

Discovery’s Eurosport platform is also covering qualifying and the race, albeit the former airs on tape-delay; with Quest airing late-night highlights.

Fans wanting to watch shakedown will need to venture to Formula E’s social media pages for Santiago.

On a Formula E related note, Motorsport Broadcasting would like to send best wishes and positive vibes over to legendary commentator Bob Varsha, who has commentated on Formula E, Formula 1, and IndyCar, amongst other championships in his illustrious career.

RACER confirmed earlier this month that Varsha is battling a rare and aggressive form of prostate cancer. Fans wishing to help support Varsha and his family at this time can do so over on a GoFundMe page that has been set up.

Formula E – Santiago
Shakedown, Practice and Qualifying air live on YouTube
18/01 – 10:55 to 11:55 – Practice 1 (BBC’s digital platforms)
18/01 – 13:10 to 13:55 – Practice 2 (BBC’s digital platforms)
18/01 – Qualifying
=> 14:45 to 16:15 (BBC online)
=> 18:05 to 18:45 (Eurosport 2)
18/01 – Race
=> 18:00 to 20:30 (BBC’s digital platforms)
=> 18:45 to 20:00 (Eurosport 2)
19/01 – 00:00 to 01:00 – Highlights (Quest)

As always, I will amend the schedule if details change.

Update on January 16th – Speaking to this site, Formula E says that it intends to air as “many sessions as possible live across the BBC this season,” with practice airing on the network where possible.

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Alex Jacques joins W Series broadcast team for 2020 season

Alex Jacques will be W Series lead commentator for the 2020 season which begins in May, the series has confirmed.

Jacques, who took over as Formula Two lead commentator at the beginning of 2015, replaces Claire Cottingham in the commentary booth. In making the announcement, series organisers say that they have “made a conscious effort to fulfil its mission of continuing to develop emerging talent on and off track.”

Cottingham was commentator throughout the first season of the all-female series, commentating alongside the likes of David Coulthard and Allan McNish.

Motorsport Broadcasting understands that the decision to replace Cottingham was made by W Series themselves, as opposed to Whisper, who produce coverage of the series.

“I’ve followed W Series with great interest throughout its first season, 2019, and I’ve been extremely impressed by what I’ve seen, so much so that when I received the call inviting me to become its lead commentator, it was a very easy decision to make,” Jacques said.

“But, in addition to the spectacle and appeal of W Series, I’m truly delighted to be taking this opportunity to make a positive impact on a sport and industry that I’ve come to love and respect.”

Speaking to Motorsport Broadcasting at the Autosport Show, W Series’ CEO Catherine Bond-Muir defended the decision to replace Cottingham with Jacques.

“Now we’ve had one season, I think we’re much better placed to go out and get the best lead commentator in the world, and we believe that Alex is one of them,” she said.

“He’s young, incredibly enthusiastic and has got a fantastic voice. I think it’s a real feather in our cap that we can get a commentator of that quality.”

“From the beginning, I was very keen to get as many women involved at all. But what we must remember is that we are a business that promotes women in motor sport,” Bond-Muir continued.

“David [Coulthard] said ‘you’ve got to see this guy Matt Bishop’, but I had no interest in having a male as communications director, because in quite a sexist thought in my head, I thought ‘at least we should have the comms director being female’. In hindsight, Matt was so much better than anyone else.”

“I had an early problem with having so many men involved, but actually what we needed to have, are the people who are the best in the business in their roles in order to complete all of our aims.”

“What’s quite important is that we don’t positively discriminate against men too,” she added. “We are an equal opportunities employer, but I do understand the point that you make. I think Claire is fantastic, she’s a great friend of ours.”

“Having someone of Alex’s calibre, who is really in demand, the fact that he is so keen to get involved in W Series I think is a great feather in our cap.”

W Series plan to make further announcements about their on-air team soon. Last year, Lee McKenzie presented the World Feed output, with Ted Kravitz reporting from pit lane.

One mooted suggestion is that a female could partner Jacques in the commentary box, continuing the gender split.

The all-female series clashes with the Italian round of the Formula Two season, meaning that Jacques will miss one of the two events. I understand that Jacques is continuing with his Formula 1 commitments for the 2020 season, covering the Pit Lane Channel, Formula Two and Formula Three.

Organisers of the championship have also confirmed that Whisper are remaining on-board as production partners for a second season, but no news is yet available regarding the status of the series on Channel 4 in the UK.

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