Formula E is in search of a commentator to lead their coverage on a full-time basis after parting ways with Jack Nicholls, Motorsport Broadcasting has learnt.
Nicholls, who has been part of Formula E since its inaugural race in 2014, will not commentate on the remaining seven rounds of the 2022-23 season.
Veteran motor sport commentator Ben Edwards will cover the vacant commentary position for the remainder of the season, starting with the Jakarta race weekend, which takes place on Saturday 3th and Sunday 4th June.
The electric series has confirmed this news through a statement issued on their website, following a request for comment made by Motorsport Broadcasting.
Note: Below section added on May 31st. Motorsport Broadcasting understands that multiple complaints were raised to Formula E about Nicholls.
As a result, Nicholls has been off-site since the Cape Town E-Prix in February, with commentary for the last three Formula E race weekends produced from London.
In parallel, the series launched an investigation into the complaint, the outcome of which was conclusive, leading to his departure for “inappropriate behaviour.”
Multiple sources close to the situation have contacted this writer in recent days, confirming the above. The news was first reported publicly by The Times, with further details included, including quotes from Formula E and Nicholls.
The Times report that the series received three complaints, claiming that they had been touched inappropriately by Nicholls.
Formula E has not yet responded to a further request for comment from Motorsport Broadcasting.
In a statement to The Times, they said “Formula E can confirm that an investigation was carried out in response to complaints of inappropriate behaviour received about Jack Nicholls.”
“Following this investigation, Jack Nicholls’s contract to provide race commentary was terminated.”
Speaking to The Times, Nicholls said “Although disappointed with the decision, I respect it and accept why it was taken.”
“I want to take full responsibility for what I did and apologise unreservedly for a couple of isolated incidents that has made those concerned feel uncomfortable. I never meant any harm and I am committed to making amends and to be more mindful of my behaviour in future.”
A surprise change
Changes in broadcasting personnel during a motor racing season are rare, especially for high-profile roles, which is what makes the Formula E’s decision surprising for fans of the series.
Formula E began in September 2014 with the Beijing E-Prix, won by Lucas di Grassi, although the dramatic last-lap accident between Nico Prost and Nick Heidfeld made headlines.
Nicholls has been there from the beginning, and his iconic “And we go green!” calls at the start of each E-Prix quickly became synonymous with Formula E’s broadcasts.
Four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti joined Nicholls, and the two quickly formed a successful commentary partnership, with Nicki Shields providing additional analysis from the pit lane.
This role was Nicholls’ breakthrough into the limelight, leading to his involvement with the BBC’s 5 Live Formula 1 line-up.
While Martin Haven substituted for Nicholls on a handful of occasions, Nicholls remained the lead commentator for Formula E, providing commentary on the series’ highs and lows.
Franchitti’s decision to reduce his commitments to Formula E in the off-season affected the commentary line-up, resulting in a rotating roster that included Karun Chandhok and Oliver Askew partnering with Nicholls.
Nicholls has been off-site since the Cape Town E-Prix in February, with commentary for the last three race weekends produced from London. Formula E has not disclosed the reason for Nicholls’ departure, however it is unrelated to the recent senior leadership reshuffle within the organisation.
Edwards joins the Formula E presentation team for the remainder of the season after his stint with Formula 1, where he commentated on F1’s over-the-top platform last season.
Prior to that, Edwards has worked with Channel 4 on their F1 coverage as well as ITV, Sky Sports, and Eurosport, spanning a career of four decades.
“I am very excited to get back behind the mic with Formula E as the on-track action this season is a commentator’s dream,” said Edwards.
“The championship is more competitive than ever and I get to bring that to life for viewers around the world. I’m delighted to be joining the team and calling the action in Jakarta.”
Other changes to Formula E’s on-air team
Nicholls’ departure from Formula E is one of three changes for Jakarta, as Nicki Shields and Vernon Kay are also absent.
In Kay’s case, he is no longer part of Formula E’s full-time on-air team, as he focuses on his new role at BBC Radio 2.
These changes mean that, for the first time ever in Jakarta, none of the original ‘Formula E trio’ (Nicholls, Franchitti, or Shields) will be present during the series’ television coverage.
Pit lane reporter Radzi Chinyanganya presents coverage from Jakarta, with Saunders Carmichael-Brown stepping into Chinyanganya’s role in the pit lane. Nelson Piquet Jr., Oliver Askew, and Kelvin van der Linde will also provide analysis of the action.
Karun Chandhok partners with Edwards in the commentary booth, as the Jakarta weekend marks rounds 10 and 11 of the current season.
Jakarta was a hit with fans domestically last year, attracting over 13 million viewers, and series organisers will be hoping for a similar response this time around.
Update on May 27th – Nicholls will not fulfil his commitments with the BBC’s 5 Live F1 team for the remainder of the Monaco Grand Prix weekend in a decision taken by Nicholls rather than the broadcaster, I understand.
Tom Gaymor will replace Nicholls for the final practice session, with Harry Benjamin stepping in qualifying and the race, commentating alongside Jolyon Palmer and Rosanna Tennant.
Formula 1 will produce television coverage of the Monaco Grand Prix for the first time this year, ending the local hosts’ control over the race, Motorsport Broadcasting has learnt.
Previously, the local station Tele Monte Carlo produced coverage of the blue-ribbon event, but now F1 will control the broadcasting aspects of the event, including the World Feed.
This change means that F1 will produce the World Feed for every race during a given season, which is the first time this has happened.
2023 marks the first year of a three-year deal between Formula 1 and the Automobile Club of Monaco (ACM) for the championship to race around the principality.
End of an era for local hosts
In the 1990s, local broadcasters produced Grand Prix events. For example, free-to-air broadcasters ITV, RTL, and Rai produced the British, German, and Italian rounds respectively, with the local hosts placing emphasis on the home drivers.
The quality of the broadcasts varied from week to week. While broadcasters like ITV produced coverage that would fit well with today’s standards, other broadcasters offered inferior coverage.
Simultaneously, F1 developed its in-house capability at Biggin Hill, introducing the F1 Digital+ service in 1996.
The operation provided an enhanced multi-view service, with F1 producing the action during every race weekend, while their free-to-air counterparts offered a limited number of on-board cameras and subpar camera angles in comparison.
Although F1 ended its pay-TV operation after the 2002 season, they learned valuable lessons from the experiment. Recognising the benefits that the pay-TV product brought, the series began to centralise the World Feed production in-house and remove local control.
Viewers at home saw the benefits of the change: the quality of F1’s broadcasts improved across the calendar, ensuring fans received a consistent product regardless of the race weekend.
The transition from local hosts to in-house production took place throughout the 2000s, with the Japanese Grand Prix being the penultimate race to relinquish the local control in 2011, after the arrangement with Fuji Television ended.
However, Monaco has remained the exception over the past decade.
The benefits of F1 taking control of Monaco
In recent years, fans have criticised the broadcast feed produced by Tele Monte Carlo for the Grand Prix.
One notable incident occurred during the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix, when a replay of Lance Stroll running wide at the Swimming Pool complex interrupted a side-by-side battle between Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly up Beau Rivage to Massenet.
While the overall broadcasting quality of Formula 1 has generally improved over the past decade, the quality of the Monaco broadcast has remained stagnant.
An in-depth piece on this site in 2018 highlighted the issues with TMC’s Monaco Grand Prix broadcasts, which continued to persist even in their post-COVID productions.
Fans can expect new and revised angles that will showcase the speed of the cars, in addition to the existing angles that have become a hallmark of the Monaco offering.
Ten years ago, the landscape of MotoGP for fans in the UK changed when it was announced that the series would be moving behind a paywall to BT Sport for the 2014 season and onwards.
Since then, the premier bike series has undergone changes both on and off the circuit. The stars of yesteryear have retired, making way for a new fresh breed of talented riders at the forefront of the field.
Over the same time period, the way fans consume sports has evolved, with rights holders seeking to attract a more diverse audience across a plethora of different platforms: linear and live, vertical viewing, highlights, YouTube, TikTok, and feeds tailored to the fans of tomorrow.
Some sports have adapted to the changing landscape better than others, while some have found themselves left behind.
Although MotoGP managed to navigate the pandemic successfully, the series is faced with a fresh set of challenges if it is to thrive into the future. As Motorsport Broadcasting explores, the sport needs to stay ahead of the curve and adapt to changing fan expectations and media consumption habits.
Understanding why MotoGP moved to pay television
MotoGP enjoyed a long period of live free-to-air coverage in the UK, with a passionate fan base watching the likes of Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Nicky Hayden, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo through the 2000s.
The MotoGP era we know and love today began in 2002, with coverage of the series airing for UK fans on Channel 5, and a more extensive offering available via Eurosport. Free-to-air coverage moved to the BBC from 2003, initially on a two-year agreement.
At the time, MotoGP joined both the British Superbikes and World Superbikes on the Beeb, making the broadcaster the home of bikes for a short period until both Superbikes championships moved to pastures new.
MotoGP’s presence on the BBC expanded year-on-year, from just three races airing live in 2003 (Donington, Motegi, and Valencia), to every race airing live in 2006 via either the BBC’s Red Button service or BBC Two.
The demise of Sunday Grandstand led to MotoGP coverage airing in a standalone 90-minute slot on BBC Two, with further coverage available on the Red Button.
Suzi Perry, Jennie Gow, and Matt Roberts led the BBC’s on-site team through the years, steering viewers through every twist and turn. Their coverage attracted an audience of around one million viewers per race. Charlie Cox and Steve Parrish provided commentary for every race, giving new fans a gateway into the sport.
For fans who wanted more, Eurosport was the place to be.
The trio of Toby Moody, Julian Ryder, and Randy Mamola rank among this writer’s all-time favourite commentary teams, bringing their own raw style to Eurosport’s offering.
Eurosport’s involvement in MotoGP faded thanks to a deal that granted BBC more exclusivity from 2009, with the broadcaster’s offering increasing to include Moto2 and Moto3 via the Red Button, as well as exclusive coverage of the MotoGP race.
Soon after, the financial crisis hit MotoGP, and Dorna opted to prioritise money over reach, as BT Group’s pay TV proposition, attached with it a significant amount of money, was too good to refuse for Dorna. BT Group was prepared to pay far more than what both the BBC and Eurosport were able to at the time for MotoGP.
Instead of taking a step-change approach to let audiences adjust, like what happened with F1 (forced by the BBC’s and Sky’s hand in the matter or not) from 2012 onwards, Dorna went ‘all-in’ on the pay TV approach in the UK.
The story that this writer has heard on multiple occasions is that, without pay TV money, several outfits further down the grid in Moto2 and Moto3 would have struggled to survive. Put simply, the teams needed the money to keep the show on the road, and in some cases still do.
Since 2014, every race has aired live on BT Sport, with free-to-air highlights airing on either ITV4, Channel 5, or Quest on Monday nights.
Marquez shines on social media
Since moving to BT, MotoGP’s viewership in the UK has declined. Under a quarter of the BBC’s MotoGP audience made the jump, with a typical race attracting 200,000 to 250,000 viewers on average.
The free-to-air highlights package has made up some of the deficit, but even this has shrunk over the past decade, due to changes in broadcasters and scheduling, making it difficult for the casual fan to catch-up with the sport.
On-track factors have impacted the sport too. The stars of yesterday – Rossi, Stoner, Hayden, Pedrosa, Lorenzo – have all retired, with their replacements struggling to break through into the mainstream, partly thanks to the subscription model used in countries like the UK and Spain.
Spanish rider and Repsol Honda star Marc Marquez is the exception. Marquez lit up the track as soon as he entered the sport, and since 2013, Marquez has won 6 of the 10 possible MotoGP championships.
Analysis by Motorsport Broadcasting shows that Marquez is to MotoGP what Lewis Hamilton is to Formula 1 from a social media perspective, across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Marquez has 3.84 times more followers compared to MotoGP’s next best, while Hamilton has 2.92 times more followers than the second most followed F1 driver, showing how their on-track performances have perforated through onto social media.
But this is where the similarities between Marquez and Hamilton, MotoGP and F1, BT Sport and Sky, end. While F1 has built stars around Hamilton, MotoGP has failed to do so.
Across social media, the 2022 MotoGP champion Pecco Bagnaia is the sixth most popular rider on the grid, with 1.83 million followers.
The sixth most followed driver in F1 is Carlos Sainz with 9.5 million followers, and if you look at it from a raw number perspective, 1.83 million followers put Bagnaia alongside Alpha Tauri driver Yuki Tsunoda.
This is no sight on the riders at all, but rather a criticism of those responsible for not maximising its potential in the digital age.
One factor that hindered Dorna was Marquez’s accident as soon as the series returned to action post-COVID. It meant that organisers had to navigate 2020 minus their star, a challenging task considering his dominance. But it also shows the championship’s inability to prepare for such a scenario unfolding.
Perhaps the most significant moments that have captured widespread attention in MotoGP over the last decade are the controversial Sepang 2015 clash between Marquez and Rossi, and the horror accident that unfolded at the Red Bull Ring in 2020.
A decade ago, compared to F1, MotoGP was on the front foot where its television broadcasts and social media presence was concerned, however the tide has turned over the past five years.
What factors have contributed to F1’s success while MotoGP has struggled to gain momentum?
MotoGP Unlimited given the chop
F1’s new owners Liberty Media have prioritised growth across all platforms, with documentaries such as Netflix’s Drive to Survive launching in 2019.
MotoGP responded to Drive to Survive with their own documentary series. MotoGP Unlimited premiered on Amazon Prime in early 2022. But while Drive to Survive was a hit from early on, teething issues and a lukewarm reception plagued MotoGP Unlimited at launch.
The result was that the series failed to break through in the way that either Dorna or Amazon hoped. Sources close to this site have indicated that the series will not be returning.
As one person told me last year, once you have a failed product like MotoGP Unlimited in the market, it becomes a barrier to enter the market again for the next few years.
F1 has benefited from Drive to Survive across all platforms, helping the series to reach a younger, more diverse audience across social media and linear, with record crowds throughout 2022 as race circuits opened following the pandemic.
In the UK, Sky Sports F1 have seized the opportunity, grabbing some of the lucrative Drive to Survive audience. 2022 was their most watched season ever, recording a higher average audience than 2021’s titanic duel between Verstappen and Hamilton.
In comparison, BT Sport’s MotoGP audience figures have stagnated, while analysis from Crash.net reveals that circuit attendances dropped last season compared to pre-pandemic levels.
With F1 clearly on the front foot and in the limelight, MotoGP has found itself very much in F1’s shadow in recent years.
And, while it is not BT Sport’s fault that Dorna have made some missteps, it is their responsibility to look at how they can broaden their own reach, with Dorna’s support where possible.
After fixing some early issues during their infancy, BT’s coverage of MotoGP has been of high quality. Their coverage, produced by North One Television (also responsible for ITV’s F1 coverage and Formula E’s television feed), gives all three tiers of MotoGP extensive coverage.
The BT team is talented and knowledgeable across the board. Gavin Emmett commentates across all three classes, joined by Michael Laverty, Neil Hodgson, and Sylvain Guintoli, with Suzi Perry and Natalie Quirk on presenting duties.
However, the broadcaster enters a time of change, which may have ramifications for the long-term future of their MotoGP programming, and for fans who watch it. BT Sport’s contract with Dorna finishes at the end of 2024, but before then, the landscape will change radically.
BT Sport and Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) agreed to form a 50:50 joint venture last year, and will launch the TNT Sports brand in the UK this Summer. The new TNT brand, led by ex-Sky Sports F1 head Scott Young, will bring down the curtain on both the BT Sport and Eurosport brand names.
On the face of it, this is good news for motor sport fans, as content such as MotoGP, World Superbikes, British Superbikes, the World Endurance Championship and World Rally Championship will in the long term be available through TNT. WBD have yet to announce a pricing strategy for the new venture.
It gives TNT the chance to properly cross-promote their bike properties, something that has already started to happen on both BT and Eurosport ahead of the 2023 season, which should help drive up MotoGP’s viewing figures.
However, one question that Warner Bros. Discovery may ask is whether MotoGP justifies the price tag that BT Sport are currently paying for their investment, considering that their return on investment is low, and viewing figures have failed to move in the past decade.
How do Dorna plan to change the status quo?
Introducing the MotoGP Sprint
Like F1, Dorna has taken steps to make all three days of the race weekend a more attractive proposition for fans and broadcasters alike.
For 2023, a 20-minute sprint race takes place on Saturdays at each of the 21 race weekends, a contrast to F1’s ‘pick and choose’ approach.
While the sprint races have been full of thrills and spills, the distribution method is the same as the feature race for fans in the UK: behind a paywall. If Dorna genuinely wants to attract a new audience, this is not the right approach.
When announcing the decision to add sprint races to the calendar, Dorna said, “The introduction of Sprint Races allows every day of a race weekend to offer fans and broadcasters the best possible experience on track and off, with track action on Friday, Saturday and Sunday focused on maximum spectacle to show off the best of MotoGP.”
“In addition, the new format will provide increased engagement opportunities for fans, broadcasters and media across the event and increase the profile of the MotoGP class without reducing that of Moto2 and Moto3,” they added.
In my view, the sprint races need to be more accessible, whether that is, in the case of the UK, through BT Sport airing the sprints on a ‘free to view’ basis, or streaming via YouTube, Dorna need to think outside of the box rather than sticking with tried and tested methods.
Some may feel that pay broadcasters would not benefit from such a move. However, I would argue that a strong, easily accessible sprint race on Saturdays would entice fans to seek out the main event on Sunday via pay TV, not only benefiting MotoGP but also Moto2 and Moto3.
F1’s pay TV audience has grown in recent years, so why should MotoGP be any different in this regard?
Dorna has adjusted their Saturday schedule so that the sprint is the last event of the day. MotoGP’s final practice session and qualifying have both moved to Saturday mornings, which has caused some broadcasters, such as BT, to change how they cover the day.
2022’s Saturday schedule (local time)
2023’s Saturday schedule (local time)
09:00 to 09:40 – Moto3 Practice
08:40 to 09:10 – Moto3 Practice
09:55 to 10:40 – MotoGP Practice
09:25 to 09:55 – Moto2 Practice
10:55 to 11:35 – Moto2 Practice
10:10 to 10:40 – MotoGP Practice
10:55 to 11:30 – MotoGP Qualifying
12:35 to 13:15 – Moto3 Qualifying
13:30 to 14:00 – MotoGP Practice
12:50 to 13:30 – Moto3 Qualifying
14:10 to 14:50 – MotoGP Qualifying
13:45 to 14:25 – Moto2 Qualifying
15:10 to 15:50 – Moto2 Qualifying
15:00 – MotoGP Sprint
Previously, BT began their Saturday presentation offering at 11:00 UK time (12:00 local time), giving them ample time to discuss all three classes, and analyse the crucial qualifying sessions.
Retaining this structure would have resulted in neither the final MotoGP practice session nor qualifying receiving the full ‘bells and whistles’ treatment as in previous years.
For the first round in Portugal, BT made a few adjustments to their MotoGP broadcasts:
Friday – Taking the World Feed commentary instead of producing their own commentary.
Saturday – Extending their presentation offering, coming on-air two hours earlier at 10:00 local time, allowing them to cover MotoGP qualifying through their own presentation team. All three morning practice sessions for the three classes aired via BT Sport 5 (the Red Button for viewers on Sky).
Sunday – Airing the post-race Chequered Flag programme later in the evening as a standalone show instead of following the MotoGP race.
For BT, covering the MotoGP qualifying session in detail is essential, as it determines the starting grid for both Saturday’s sprint and Sunday’s main event.
A longer show means additional preparation time, not just for the production team, but also for those in front of the camera.
Five minutes of television do not happen by magic, and every segment or feature requires resources: a presenter, a camera operator, and someone to edit it all together to make compelling television.
While BT adjusted for Argentina and last weekend in America (notably producing their commentary feed for Friday’s and airing MotoGP practice on the main channel), the broadcaster is at the behest of series organisers who dictate the weekend schedules.
From a fan perspective, MotoGP qualifying feels too early in the weekend. From a broadcaster’s perspective, a difficult-to-fill 80-minute filler gap follows the session.
A better approach would be to move MotoGP qualifying to after the lunch break at 12:00 local time, with Moto3 and Moto2 qualifying following, the two series benefiting from having the main class immediately before it.
Some fans criticised the decision to move Moto3 and Moto2 practice off BT Sport 2 on Saturday mornings, which shows the need to strike a balance between appealing to the hardcore fanatic who wants every session live and the new fan who wants to know more about the stories in the main class.
While sympathising with those who do want to watch practice over additional MotoGP content, the fact is that airing the latter has a better chance of increasing the audience than the former.
A source compared the situation to thinking of it in a “multi-screen way,” giving viewers the choice of what they want to watch, like how Discovery treats other significant events, such as the tennis Australian Open tournament.
A similar problem exists on Sunday’s, but for a completely different reason: the Rider’s Parade would be better after Moto3 and Moto2, to benefit from a higher attendance rather than taking place in front of half empty grandstands.
The need to go further
Aside from the sprint, Dorna has made other changes for 2023, notably the introduction of a new signature theme for the series.
Academy Award nominee and Emmy-winning composer Marco Beltrami is the man behind the MotoGP theme. Beltrami approached MotoGP with his idea, saying that the new theme had to be “something simple, rhythmic, heroic.”
Beethoven inspired Beltrami for the theme. “The first place I looked was Beethoven, his ninth symphony, in the second movement you have a really simple rhythmic motif and I thought maybe that’s the starting place for my theme. That’s basically what I did.”
Comparisons with Formula 1’s opening theme are inevitable: Hollywood composers pitch both, with similar structures throughout both sets of titles.
F1’s theme, composed by Brian Tyler, launched in 2018, with F1 working with third parties on new opening titles each year since. Instead of comparing MotoGP’s first version with F1’s sixth, a better comparison would be to compare with MotoGP’s inaugural effort with F1’s 2018 titles.
The cinematography in MotoGP’s effort is superb, arguably better than some of F1’s recent efforts from a visual perspective. The intro does well to introduce the stars of the show, which is Dorna’s main intention.
Unfortunately, what lets the sequence down is that it is pedestrian, ironically the opposite problem to what F1’s first opening sequence encountered, which introduced the 20 drivers at breakneck speed. Shaving ten seconds off the opening titles would still get the message across to newer viewers watching at home.
When F1 launched their new branding, it came at a time of change for the sport, and the sport’s owners wanted to emphasise that across the screen.
MotoGP is not in such a position: there are no new owners, and what we have on-screen this year is a mix between new and old. New sprint, new theme, same owners, same logo, same graphics, same over-the-top platform.
The latter is a sticking point where Dorna was once ahead of F1 but has fallen behind. The Video Pass service uploads sessions as soon as they have finished and has a rich archive dating back to 1992, which should make it a hot commodity for MotoGP fans.
F1’s direct-to-consumer (DTC) proposition is significantly cheaper than MotoGP. The MotoGP service costs €199.99 across a full season compared to roughly €74.99 (territory dependent) for the F1 equivalent. Meanwhile, MotoGP’s YouTube channel is light years behind F1’s channel.
Does MotoGP need an overhaul that goes far and beyond what current owners Dorna have delivered? Maybe that is what Dan Rossomondo, MotoGP’s new Chief Commercial Officer, will help deliver.
Rossomondo joins Dorna with a wealth of experience, having previously been Senior Vice President of Global Partnerships and Media at the NBA.
“Dan’s vision for the commercial future of MotoGP fits perfectly with our views: fresh ideas, increased reach, and commitment to take the sport to new heights,” said Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO of Dorna Sports.
“At the helm, I’m confident he will provide existing partners with the best possible results and relationships, and at the same time will work to search out new, like-minded media, marketing and licensing partners.”
“We know Dan can bring a lot to Dorna and our biggest property, MotoGP, and on a personal level we’re also very much looking forward to working with him. We’re very excited to begin this new chapter.”
MotoGP has started 2023 off on the right note. Now, it is for the team at Dorna to continue that work so MotoGP can thrive into the future.
After an extended winter break thanks to the men’s football FIFA World Cup, Formula 1 roars back into action this weekend with the Bahrain Grand Prix, and fans have a plethora of ways to enjoy the action.
23 races take Formula 1 from Bahrain on March 5th through to Abu Dhabi on November 26th, with twists and turns guaranteed. Familiar venues such as Suzuka, Silverstone and Spa combine with newer venues such as Las Vegas, Miami and Zandvoort, giving fans a mixture of the new world and old throughout 2023.
From a broadcasting perspective, the landscape is increasingly fierce for content creators who want to stand out from the chasing pack. There are multiple options for fans consuming the content to choose from across live and highlights, video, and audio, and online or in the traditional newspaper format.
So, what is returning, what has changed over the hibernation period, and who are new kids on the block? Motorsport Broadcasting takes an in-depth look…
Channel 4 to take F1’s in-house commentary
A new year means new graphics on the television front, with F1 promising some incremental changes for 2023.
Speaking recently to SVG Europe, F1’s director of broadcast and media Dean Locke highlighted that fans will see six to eight live helmet cameras during a race weekend, audio upgrades, “new opening titles”, as well as the potential for biometric graphics later in the season, subject to FIA approval.
The sport has revamped their UK TV base, giving broadcasters the choice of hosting their offerings from an augmented reality (AR) studio at Biggin Hill. Locke says that F1 “will host various broadcasters’ commentary here as well, potentially.”
Fans in the UK can watch every session live on Sky Sports. Sky returns as the UK’s main F1 broadcaster, the pay television outlet entering their 12th season covering the series.
Sky will remain involved for the foreseeable future after agreeing a new rights deal late last year, taking them to the end of 2029 in the UK, and to the end of 2027 in multiple other European territories.
Their roster of motor sport programming expands beyond F1, and this year the broadcaster will air Formula Two, Formula Three, IndyCar, as well as the Indy NXT series for the first time.
The latter, previously branded Indy Lights, features current W Series champion Jamie Chadwick, Chadwick making the jump stateside. However, it is unclear whether W Series, minus Chadwick, will happen in 2023 owing to financial issues.
In the off-season, Sky have tweaked their on-air roster, with both Johnny Herbert and Paul di Resta departing. The rest of the team, including the commentary pairing of David Croft and Martin Brundle, remains the same.
Expect Nico Rosberg’s presence on Sky’s coverage to increase this year, as the FIA have relaxed its COVID-19 paddock protocols for 2023. F1 banned Rosberg from the paddock last season due to his COVID vaccination status.
As announced late last year when they renewed their deal with F1, Sky viewers can access all 20 on-board cameras this season in addition to a new ‘Battle Channel‘, giving Sky Q and Sky Glass subscribers a similar level of service to that overseas fans can receive via F1 TV Pro.
All details for Sky Sports F1 unless stated.
Friday 3rd March 11:00 to 13:00 – Practice 1 (also Sky Sports Main Event) 14:45 to 16:20 – Practice 2 (also Sky Sports Main Event) 17:00 to 18:00 – The F1 Show (also Sky Sports Main Event)
Saturday 4th March 11:15 to 12:40 – Practice 3 14:10 to 16:30 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports Main Event from 15:00) 16:30 to 17:00 – Ted’s Qualifying Notebook 19:30 to 21:00 – Qualifying Highlights (Channel 4)
Sunday 5th March 13:30 to 18:30 – Race (also Sky Sports Main Event from 14:00 to 16:00) => 13:30 – Grand Prix Sunday => 14:30 – Race => 17:00 – Chequered Flag => 18:00 – Ted’s Notebook 21:00 to 23:30 – Race Highlights (Channel 4)
The full UK TV schedule for the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix. Updated on 3rd March to reflect the shorter ‘Grand Prix Sunday’ length and longer ‘Race’ length for Sky F1.
Channel 4’s free-to-air highlights package continues this season, with highlights of every race, as well as live coverage of the Silverstone weekend, airing on their main linear outlet.
Their coverage features a change which appears minor to begin with, but is significant underneath the surface. Alex Jacques remains Channel 4’s F1 lead commentator, however Jacques is no longer part of the core Channel 4 team. Confused?
Jacques has moved back to F1’s in-house team in the off-season, and will commentate on every race for F1’s streaming service, F1 TV Pro.
Instead of producing their own bespoke commentary, Motorsport Broadcasting can confirm that Channel 4 will take F1’s in-house commentary this year, Jacques alongside a team that includes ex-IndyCar racer James Hinchcliffe, Jolyon Palmer, and Channel 4 analyst David Coulthard.
The look and feel of Channel 4’s pre- and post-race programming stays the same. For Bahrain, Steve Jones will present alongside Coulthard, Mark Webber, Alice Powell, and Ariana Bravo, while Lee McKenzie, Jamie Chadwick, Billy Monger, and Lawrence Barretto will join them throughout the year.
F1 has announced various rights extensions in the off-season overseas, including in Mexico and Belgium, where the sport will continue to air on FOX Sports Mexico and Play Sports.
Over in Asia, the sport will continue its long-standing partnership with Fuji Television in Japan, with their agreement with DAZN also continuing in the market until the end of 2025.
Fans in India will have access to live action via F1’s over-the-top service for the first time, while beIN SPORTS will cover F1 in ten territories across Asia, including Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
Elsewhere in the motor sport spectrum, 2023 sees the end of the BT Sport brand in the UK. While MotoGP remains live on BT Sport, and both World Superbikes and British Superbikes remain on Eurosport, all three will become part of the TNT Sports brand in the medium term.
TNT Sports becomes the new name for BT Sport from July, with Eurosport merging into the brand “sometime into the future” following the announcement of a joint venture between BT Group and Warner Bros. Discovery last year.
The F1 Academy series launches in April; however, details of broadcasting arrangements are unknown as of writing.
Plenty on offer in the podcasting world
The BBC remains F1’s radio rights holders in the UK, with every race airing across either BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra or the BBC Sport website.
Thursday 2nd March 20:00 to 21:00 – Season Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
Friday 3rd March 11:25 to 12:45 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra) 13:30 to 14:00 – Bahrain Grand Prix Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live) 14:55 to 16:15 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
Saturday 4th March 11:25 to 12:45 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra) 14:55 to 16:15 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
Sunday 5th March 14:45 to 17:30 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
The full UK radio schedule for the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix.
Rosanna Tennant leads their offering for the start of 2023 season following Jennie Gow’s serious stroke at the end of December. Writing on Twitter last week, Gow said “I’m gutted not to be well enough to return to the paddock and to bring you all the excitement.”
“My recovery is progressing well – considering eight weeks ago I wasn’t able to move fully or speak at all!” Motorsport Broadcasting wishes Gow well on her recovery.
Jack Nicholls and Harry Benjamin will share the lead commentator microphone on 5 Live, alongside a roster of talent including Formula E driver Sam Bird, Chadwick and Palmer. Supplementing the BBC’s main race offering will be their Chequered Flag podcast, presented by the 5 Live team.
Joining 5 Live in the motor sport space this year is talkSPORT, who have launched a one-hour weekly show in collaboration with Formula E.
Presented by Jon Jackson, On Track airs on talkSPORT 2 on Tuesday afternoons, focusing not only on the electric series, but also on other championships, including F1 and MotoGP.
Where original audio and podcast content is concerned, the BBC’s and talkSPORT’s offering is only the beginning in a vast landscape this season.
Sky have launched their own podcast, with new episodes premiering every Tuesday. Presented by Matt Baker, The Sky Sports F1 Podcast replaces Any Driven Monday, which will not return to Sky’s YouTube channel after a single season on air.
The Race Media have refreshed their WTF1 brand in the winter break, with two of the brand’s key players, Tom Bellingham and Matt Gallagher moving to pastures new.
The two have been largely responsible for the brand’s growth over the past decade, taking the brand from start-up to major player in the motor sport landscape. Instead, the two opted to create P1 with Matt & Tommy, a brand that they have full creative control over.
Content creators Andre Harrison, Hannah Atkinson, Ciaran Oakes, and Charley Williams have joined WTF1 ahead of the new season, with Jack Nicholls’ hosting WTF1’s s flagship Internet’s Best Reactions YouTube series.
“I believe the new team we have assembled gives us the best opportunity to keep the brand relevant and cater to the next generation of Formula 1 fans,” said The Race Media founder and COO Andrew van de Burgt.
Another new addition to the podcasting world this season is The Fast and The Curious, with a few recognisable faces to a non-F1 audience. BBC Radio 1 presenter Greg James hosts the podcast alongside Betty Glover and Christian Hewgill.
The show’s creators says that the podcast is “die-hard fans as well as those who are curious to learn more about the fascinating F1 world and the characters that inhabit it,” with guests in the opening episodes including Mercedes driver George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, and new Williams rookie Logan Sergeant.
And, if that was not enough, ex-Sky F1 pundit Herbert and Monger have launched the Lift the Lid podcast, while Whisper have launched a podcast with Coulthard and Eddie Jordan.
Lift the Lid has been “brought together through a love of F1 and their joint experience of life-changing crashes,” the two “join forces to give a unique drivers-eye-view on all the hottest topics from up and down the F1 grid each week!”
The Athletic joins the F1 media pack
A big addition on the writing front for 2023 is The Athletic, who have snapped up journalists Luke Smith from Autosport and Madeline Coleman from Sports Illustrated to kick start their coverage.
Introducing their F1 offering, The Athletic’s Managing Editor for F1, Alex Davies said “Our coverage will build on The Athletic’s mission of going beyond the chyron delivering scores and stats to the bottom of your TV screen.”
“From each racetrack around the world, we’ll dive deep into the personalities, technology, strategy, business, politics, culture and miscellanea of F1,” Davies added.
“Whether you’re new to F1 or a Serious Fan, we’ll get you up to speed by telling you not just who won, but how and what it means. Not just fighting words, but the roots of the rivalries. Not just how to tune into a race, but how to watch it like a pro.”
Davies highlights Drive to Survive as a factor in The Athletic beginning its F1 coverage, which has already been recommissioned for season six covering the 2023 season.
Autosport and The Race remain on the starting grid both in the written media and podcasting world, the latter now firmly embedded into the paddock and heading into their fourth season covering the sport.
Other faces to follow across social media in 2023 include Auto Motor und Sport’s Tobi Grüner and technical expert Albert Fabrega, the two breaking stories before the UK contingent of journalists.
AMuS’s most recent exclusive concerns the future of the AlphaTauri team, with owners Red Bull considering to put the team up for sale, a suggestion later denied by the team.
If journalists or broadcasters are not your thing, there is the other option of going DTT: direct-to-team. Expect plenty of content across the ten teams’ and 20 drivers social media channels this year, bringing fans closer to the action.
While Drive to Survive and broadcasters, such as Sky, aim to give all the grid ample coverage, some teams receive the short straw last season.
A tweet posted a few weeks ago by Williams suggested that they were releasing a behind the scenes documentary series focusing on their 2022 season, however Williams have since deleted the tweet.
Whether it is Red Bull’s Behind the Charge series or McLaren’s Unboxed, there is plenty of content to engage fans throughout 2023 across the different platforms.
Are Red Bull set to dominate 2023?
Audience figures stayed stable in 2022, with F1’s commercial rights holder Liberty Media reporting a cumulative audience of 1.54 billion viewers, resulting in an average per race worldwide of 70 million viewers.
Other metrics reported by Liberty indicate that F1 remains on the rise, with strong attendances following the COVID-19 pandemic and a 23% rise in the number of social media followers.
Early signs from testing suggest that Red Bull are the outfit to beat this year, as Max Verstappen looks to clinch his third consecutive Drivers’ Championship. Nevertheless, F1 will be hoping for a closer championship battle this year to keep the audience engaged through the 23 races.
Can Red Bull remain at the front, or will Ferrari, Mercedes and even Aston Martin pose a threat this season? Will it be Verstappen celebrating at the end of 2023, or are we looking at Verstappen vs Hamilton, round 2?
Teams at the front of the Formula 1 grid are eight times more likely to appear during Sky Sports’ coverage of the sport compared to those in the midfield and beyond, new research from Motorsport Broadcasting shows.
The research focuses on the areas of Sky’s offering which are prepared in advance. This includes their build-up to each qualifying, sprint, and race session during 2022, encompassing paddock interviews, driver analysis via the Sky Pad and feature-length segments.
The main aim of the research is to understand what level of coverage that the broadcaster actively gives to each Grand Prix team. A gap in coverage between those at the front and the rear would be unsurprising and has existed for decades, however, the level of disparity from a UK perspective is currently unknown.
Excluded from the research are the ‘glamour’ VTs before and after a commercial break, ad-hoc analysis from within the paddock, post-race analysis, and Sky’s supplementary programming, including The F1 Show and Any Driven Monday given their lower audience.
While Sky primarily serves its audience at home, English-speaking countries, including the US, Canada, and Australia, take their UK offering.
Leclerc and Horner lead the field
There were two men during 2022 that featured predominantly during Sky’s pre-session output: Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.
Out of all the content last season that Motorsport Broadcasting attributed to a given driver, Leclerc featured in 13.7% of it.
Leclerc’s fortunes at the front of Sky’s field were in stark contrast to team mate Carlos Sainz, who was part of just 4.9% of their driver offering, the biggest disparity on the grid during 2022.
Sky focussed on Leclerc through the majority of his 2022 campaign with analysis of his pole position laps, before his championship challenge ended, while Sainz comparatively speaking struggled to get a look in.
However, Sky did air one of the most insightful pieces of the year with Sainz, taking a behind the scenes look at his preparation for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix with trainer Rupert Manwaring also involved.
From an airtime perspective, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton pipped Red Bull driver Max Verstappen by 0.04 percentage points, the two coming in on 11.60% and 11.56% respectively. Hamilton beat team mate George Russell by 1.6%, while Verstappen beat Sergio Perez more convincingly.
Percentage of content featured in during 2022
Nyck de Vries
A look at the percentage of driver-related content that Motorsport Broadcasting attributed to each driver. Note: Motorsport Broadcasting has counted all Nyck de Vries’s interviews as Williams for the purpose of this analysis.
Like Sainz, Perez received inferior treatment compared to his championship challenging team mate, with Sky opting to feature Perez at his home race in Mexico along with a segment off-site earlier in the season in Canada following his Monaco victory.
Outside of the leading six drivers, Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel was best of the rest ahead of another veteran in Fernando Alonso, the two drivers beating their younger team mates.
The difference between Vettel and team mate Lance Stroll was far more pronounced than the duel at Alpine, the difference between the two drivers the third biggest in the field. Sky featured Vettel in 5.2% of driver content compared to 0.7% for Stroll.
At the other end of the leader board, Williams driver Nicholas Latifi did not feature in a single interview during Sky’s pre-sessions build-ups in 2022.
A surprising entry down also at the bottom is Valtteri Bottas, with both Alfa Romeo drivers rarely featured. If it was not for Zhou Guanyu’s crash at the British Grand Prix, which Sky followed up with an extended segment at the next round in Austria, it is likely Zhou would have joined Bottas at the back.
Out of all the content last season that Motorsport Broadcasting attributed to a given team member (excluding drivers), Red Bull boss Horner featured in a whopping 33.7% of it, almost double his nearest rival. Horner featured more in Sky’s build-ups than 19 of the 20 drivers during 2022.
Percentage of content featured in during 2022
A look at the percentage of team personnel related content that Motorsport Broadcasting attributed to each team member. Note: As Felipe Drugovich was in Aston Martin gear during his interviews, Motorsport Broadcasting has classified Drugovich as a member of the Aston Martin team for the purpose of this analysis.
In comparison, Sky aired 18.2% and 7.7% of team content related to Mercedes lead Toto Wolff and then-Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto. Pipping Binotto into third was someone who has risen in popularity thanks to Netflix’s Drive to Survive: Haas boss Guenther Steiner.
Sky eight times more likely to feature top three teams than bottom three teams
If a large disparity between the top and bottom teams exists on track, a similar (but not as large), exists off the track as well.
Analysis from Motorsport Broadcasting suggests that Sky were eight times more likely to feature the top teams compared to the bottom teams during the 2022 season. Again, this largely consists of material pre-prepared by the production team, such as an extended interview off site.
But all the interviews add up, showing that it is much easier for fans to get to know and understand the livelihoods of the personnel at the front of the field compared to the rear, even with hours of air time to fill across a season.
Red Bull and Mercedes led the way from a team perspective, this metric encompassing the drivers and key team personnel, such as team principals and technical directors.
The Milton Keynes based outfit led their Brackley rivals by just under a percentage point, with Red Bull on 21.8% and the Silver Arrows on 20.9%. Sainz’s weak showing, combined with Binotto trailing Wolff and Horner, meant that Ferrari slipped behind their rivals, sitting on 16.6%.
Most talked about during…
Percentage of content featured in during 2022
Post-Brazil fallout and one year on from Abu Dhabi 2021
Pre-season interviews with both drivers
Interview with Charles Leclerc at home Grand Prix
Interview with Daniel Ricciardo addressing rumours about his future
Special grid walk and one year on from Ocon’s Hungary 2021 victory
Feature reflecting on Sebastian Vettel’s career
Interviews following good result in season opener
Sky Pad track guide with Alex Albon
Interview with Pierre Gasly following 2023 announcement
Interview with Zhou Guanyu following Silverstone accident
A look at the percentage of team related content that Motorsport Broadcasting attributed to each team.
Red Bull featured in Sky’s offering in all but one round. Sky barely featured them during their British Grand Prix build-up coverage, an indirect result of the Silverstone round airing live on free-to-air television on Channel 4.
Sky focussed on Mercedes from the outset, the broadcaster filming pre-season segments with both drivers, while an extended feature in Australia sought to understand the team’s struggles in more detail. Up until Abu Dhabi were Mercedes the team that Sky had focused on the most throughout 2022.
But while the top three teams equated for 59.3% of air time when focusing on teams only, the bottom three teams made up just 6.9% of the share.
It is a massive difference, considering the swathe of air time that Sky has on offer through each of the 22 race weekends.
To put the percentages into time perspective, Motorsport Broadcasting associated 10 minutes of content to Alfa Romeo compared with 2 hours and 40 minutes of content to Red Bull. The gulf between the two would likely be even larger if the analysis covered general paddock discussion between Sky’s pool of analysts.
The story of Sky’s coverage offering evolved as the season progressed. Ferrari’s presence halved in the second half of the season, while Aston Martin were three times more likely to feature later in the season compared to the beginning.
McLaren have historically been popular with British F1 fans, and 2022 was no exception. In addition, the Daniel Ricciardo rumours that swirled round the team meant they received a disproportionate amount of air time on Sky during their build-up programming last year.
The Woking outfit earned 6.8% of the points on offer in 2022, but Sky showed the team for 13.2% of the available air time that Motorsport Broadcasting attributed to teams, the biggest positive difference for a single squad.
The ‘non-team’ angle to Sky’s offering revealed
One aspect not covered until this point are those who do not work for a specific team, yet played a significant role in Sky’s Formula 1 coverage in 2022. Enter Stefano Domenicali, Felipe Massa, and James Corden.
Domenicali became F1 CEO in 2020, and has since regularly appeared on Sky to discuss the latest political events. Off the back of events at the end of 2021, Sky sat down with Domenicali at the season opener in Bahrain, the segment taking up a portion of their qualifying build-up.
Combining this feature with various grid and paddock interviews meant that Sky featured Domenicali in their build-ups more than 8 drivers, and more than all but two team principals.
Working for F1 in an official capacity as part of their digital team meant that Sky interviewed Massa during six separate race weekends. Massa was one of many ex F1 drivers featured last year, a list that included names such as Emerson Fittipaldi (encompassing a special Lotus 72 feature), Sir Jackie Stewart, Jean Alesi, and Flavio Briatore.
During the 2022 season, Sky spent as much time interviewing Aston Martin personnel as they did speaking to celebrities in the paddock or on the grid. Sky interviewed at least 45 celebrities, with James Corden and Tom Brady leading the way thanks to their contribution to Sky’s Miami Grand Prix coverage.
Impressionist Conor Moore rounded out the top three, Moore playing his part in one of the best segments of the year on Sky, Moore doing his best impression of Carlos Sainz on the Sky Pad, before the real Sainz interrupted during their US Grand Prix offering.
Teams Not Featured
A look at how the teams featured in each build-up session on Sky during 2022. Note: Sky reduced their coverage of the Italian Grand Prix due to the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
Miami, Britain, and Austin led the way from a celebrity perspective, while fans yearning for a celebrity free zone got their wish on six occasions during 2022, with no celebrities in sight in Imola, Azerbaijan, France, Hungary, Italy, or Japan.
The inaugural Miami race was a major outlier for Sky, with only six drivers getting any attention during the qualifying and race build-up. The broadcaster opted to give fans a behind the scenes look at the event, with segments at the Beach Club, a guide to the city and celebrity interviews prioritised.
In comparison, Sky featured all ten teams and 15 of the 20 drivers in both Singapore and Brazil, aided by a rain delay and a Sprint weekend respectively. Kevin Magnussen’s shock pole position in Brazil for Haas helped give the broadcaster a different angle later in the season.
Where are we now?
The analysis from Motorsport Broadcasting shows a clear gulf between the top and bottom teams during 2022.
While the jump is great for fans, what is not clear is whether the added exposure has led to a more equitable balance across the grid. The analysis would suggest that this has not happened, at least a decade on since Sky began airing F1.
In other news, Paul di Resta and Johnny Herbert will not be part of Sky’s line-up for the upcoming 2023 season. In a statement to Mirror Sport, the broadcaster confirmed that the remainder of their 2022 talent pool would remain with them for 2023.
Over 22 races, around 17 hours of feature-based content aired, encompassing grid walk interviews, Sky Pad driver segments and off-site interviews, during Sky’s build-up coverage.
The coronavirus pandemic has limited the possibilities for Sky in recent years, but the wider paddock was back to a near-normal situation in 2022.
Sky aired many features covering F1, both past and present, but did not cover the British contingent in either F2, F3 or the W Series, such as rising F3 star Oliver Bearman, despite having the broadcasting rights to all three series (it is possible that segments aired on The F1 Show, outside of the scope of this analysis).
One could argue that with 22 races now on the F1 calendar, there is no excuse not to feature every F1 driver in-depth during their race day programming.
As nice as it was to hear from Leclerc last season, hearing from the same driver during the track parade, in the paddock, on the grid and then in pit lane immediately before lights out becomes repetitive.
Mixing up the voices we hear on air would be no bad thing, but broadcasters would rightly say that teams at the front of the field bring the casual fan to their programming. A segment with Leclerc an hour before lights out is likely to bring more viewers than, for example, a segment with Stroll at the other end of the pit lane.
There is no denying though that, unless an incident occurs at the tail end of the field that requires follow-up analysis, they are for the most part neglected and pushed to the side.
Arguably, from a broadcasting perspective, the teams at the back of the grid would lose the most should an 11th team join F1.
The broadcasters airing F1 would still focus on the front, but anyone from the midfield downwards would find themselves increasingly squeezed if a new outfit joined the grid, unless they began to progress to the front.
For now, ten teams and twenty drivers enter the fight, both on the track and off it, heading into the 2023 season.