The problem with standalone weekends

This past weekend, the GP3 Series held a standalone weekend at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia. Although it sounds like a relatively new concept, it has been done many times before, most notably with GP2 in Portugal in 2009 and in Bahrain several times.

But why? I put that as a question, because I struggle to understand the rationale behind standalone weekends. The GP3 weeekend was promoted as ‘#AllEyesOnUs’ and was free for people to attend. Despite that, the grandstands all around the circuit were empty. For any motor sport event, I find that a sad sight. On GP3’s behalf, bad scheduling is one factor. As Simon Hill noted in commentary, there was motor racing in Jerez and Barcelona – MotoGP was at the latter. You don’t go to a country, hold a race in that country if it already has big motor sport events scheduled for that weekend. You could argue that the event was free so the series organisers would not have made any profit anyway, but it does not make for good reading when you publicise an event for free, yet still very few people bother to turn up.

Some creativity from organisers was needed to get more people along. Why not have a Formula 1 track demo in between the two races to get more people into the venue? The event may as well have been in Bahrain and we wouldn’t have noticed any difference. Even though GP3 is essentially the third tier of motor sport, I would have thought publicising it for free would get people along. I do think on the whole, having the race at Valencia was a bad move, as a circuit it does not bring out the best in single seater racing thanks to the nature of the track. As a fan, you can see the entire circuit from the majority of the grandstands, but the circuit really is only good for motorbikes where there are plenty of opportunities to overtake.

Unfortunately, the ‘standalone problem’ is not immune to GP3, I remember vividly back to the days of A1 Grand Prix where some venues struggled to fill grandstands (Lausitzring, anyone?). GP3 runs alongside the Formula 1 calendar in Europe, and as a result sticks to their schedule. The benefit of that is that GP3 plays out in front of Formula 1’s crowds and is also shown during the Formula 1 weekend – meaning that it can benefit as a result. I know that I am more likely to watch the feeder series live if they are immediately before and after a Formula 1 event than any other weeks of the year. I suspect therefore that a lot of people who would normally watch the feeder series around Europe did not realise that there was an event last weekend, and I also think less networks shown last weekend’s race as a result. In essence, there were, to quote the hashtag not many eyes on them.

This event suffered from bad planning and organisation in my opinion. Standalone events can work though, as GP2 proved in 2009 at Portimao in Portugal where the attendance was healthy. Portimao is also unique because of its elevation changes, which is a rarity on modern day circuits. Instead GP3 went for the unchallenging Valencia circuit with not much to offer for single seater racing. Had, for sake of argument, last weekend’s standalone been held in the UK, I imagine the attendance would have been significantly higher. I assume that to hold a standalone weekend, the FIA Circuit Grade needs to be 1, 1T or 2. I don’t know how many circuits fall under that category within the UK.

Would I have expected GP3 to sell out Valencia this weekend? Absolutely not. But I would have expected there to have been a few grandstands relatively full. Overall, I do think the idea of standalone weekends is a good one, but in the case of GP3, the standalone weekend this past weekend was badly executed.

Looking back at BBC’s Canadian Grand Prix weekend

With the Canadian Grand Prix being broadcast live on both BBC and Sky, viewers had a choice of which channel they wished to watch. Throughout the weekend I mostly channel hopped between each channel for the build-up and round-up after each session, but stuck with BBC for the majority of the sessions. As I have outlined before, personally I find Ben Edwards and David Coulthard a better commentary duo than David Croft and Martin Brundle, but at the same point that is my own personal taste than the overriding consensus from F1 fans.

For Practice 1, BBC had Ben Edwards and Susi Wolff in the commentary box. Unfortunately, I’m not keen on Wolff, because most of her exploits seem to be PR driven rather than talent driven, so I’m afraid here I switched to Sky Sports F1. If you are to have a woman in the commentary box, it should be someone who has proven themselves within a fairly high level of motor sport, take Alice Powell. Powell was in GP3 performed solidly throughout the season, but was unable to find the budget. In comparison, Wolff spent seven seasons in DTM and only scored four points. The only reason she is in the Formula 1 paddock, in my opinion, is because she is married to Toto. I’m unsure why I am meant to take her opinion seriously in the commentary box when she has not got anywhere near to the top. If a woman does make it to F1, I hope it is on talent alone, and not a PR driven exercise as it appears to be with Wolff, as a recent BBC documentary portrayed her as. Danica Patrick says hello…

Also, it was disappointing to see that only the last 45 minutes of Practice 1 were on BBC Two, but I suspect that was out of BBC F1’s hands. On the other hand, however, they were granted 30 minutes of air-time after Practice 2 on BBC Three. The time was well used, with Suzi Perry and Gary Anderson walking up and down the paddock discussing the day along with the latest technical developments and interviewing Christian Horner and Jacques Villeneuve. You may argue that Sky Sports also had half an hour of air-time after Practice Two, but with their broadcast you had ad breaks along with the usual ‘off the air six minutes early’, so for me, BBC won hands down here. As an extra plus, the benefit of being on BBC Three is that the channel brings a younger demographic to the show, which may have benefited the F1 and brought a slightly different audience to practice.

Unfortunately, the delay to the start of Practice 3 meant that the first half an hour of their BBC Two broadcast was a bit of a mess. I know that the practice sessions are now on BBC Two for the live races rather than behind the Red Button – therefore there is need for presentation before and after the session, but I didn’t understand the need to go back down to the paddock to have Perry and Wolff filling for twenty minutes without any obvious direction. It would have been simpler to have stuck with Edwards and Anderson in the commentary box, running through some tweets and answering viewers questions. Moving onto Qualifying, and I felt that the build-up with Perry, David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan flowed well and was one of their better broadcasts that I had seen this season. Yes, there was inevitably focus on ‘testgate’, but this shouldn’t really be much of a surprise as this was BBC’s first proper show since Monaco – whereas Sky have had two editions of The F1 Show in between. The highlight for me though was Tom Clarkson’s interview was Robert Kubica. Clarkson’s interview was the first time a British broadcaster had gone out and properly interviewed Kubica since his rallying crash at the beginning of 2011. Very pleasing to see Kubica doing what he does best, and I do hope one day he makes it back up to single seater racing.

Whilst the build-up was great, BBC’s commitment lacked significantly afterwards. I understand that other shows may take priority, but on a day when BBC One’s prime time line-up was inevitably going to be beaten by Britain’s Got Talent quite convincingly, would there have been any harm in scheduling a ten minute extension? I personally, don’t think so. Even a little mini forum online after Qualifying would have sufficed here, to take us until 19:30. BBC’s Race programme began with a not so serious VT, as they took a look back at the previous ‘Wall of Champion’ victims, accompanied by a member of the BBC F1 team leaning up against the wall and a song with the words “its my wall”. Not serious in its nature, but it got the point across perfectly, that the wall can end your race in the blink of an eye. I enjoyed this.

Admittedly with BBC’s pre-race broadcast half the length of Sky’s, I channel hopped until the race start as some of the content did overlap, but I enjoyed the piece with Lewis Hamilton and Stirling Moss, filmed at Silverstone. I stuck with Sky after the race, but for the purposes of this blog I caught up with BBC’s Forum on Tuesday after the race had long concluded. Despite the sporadic nature of it, I again thought it worked well, although there was some confusion at times with regards what and where they were supposed to be going next! Yes, it was rough around the edges and by no means a perfect broadcast, but that is the nature of live television. The only real criticism I feel is of Perry reading a tweet out and then dismissing it half way through, but this only happened in one case. Overall, I did enjoy the forum. Was it as analytical as Sky’s post-race? Probably not, but I did enjoy seeing Anderson join Perry, Jordan and Coulthard at the end to round off the weekend. I also don’t think you should expect it to be as analytical as Sky’s, after all BBC’s broadcast is trying to cater for more casual viewers.

I thought on the whole their programmes were an enjoyable watch over the weekend, and a step up from the programmes they produced earlier this season. The fact that they are showing practice on terrestrial television definitely has its advantages, and it is good to see that they are exploiting it, whilst Perry, Jordan and Coulthard are gelling more and more as each race go by.

Scheduling: The 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans

The Monaco Grand Prix. The Indianapolis 500. But can either of them beat the 24 Hours of Le Mans? It’s that time of the year again, as the eyes of the motor sport world look down on a small patch of land in the north west of France. The race takes place on a weekend when neither Formula 1 or MotoGP has a race, which makes it truly the spectacle it should be.

After working with the Audi team last year, Martin Haven will be back in the booth for Eurosport, as noted on his Twitter. Expect the usual voices, such as Liz Halliday alongside Haven for the event. Below are all the scheduling details you need:

Monday 17th June
19:00 to 19:30 – 24 Minutes (Eurosport)

Tuesday 18th June
19:00 to 19:30 – 24 Minutes (Eurosport)
21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Wednesday 19th June
16:30 to 17:00 – 24 Minutes (Eurosport 2)
17:00 to 19:00 – Live Practice (Eurosport 2)
20:30 to 21:00 – Live 24 Minutes (Eurosport)
21:00 to 23:00 – Live Qualifying (Eurosport)

Thursday 20th June
18:00 to 20:00 – Live Qualifying (Eurosport)
20:00 to 21:00 – Live 24 Minutes (Eurosport)
21:00 to 23:00 – Live Qualifying (Eurosport)

Friday 21st June
21:30 to 22:00 – 24 Minutes (Eurosport)

Saturday 22nd June
08:00 to 09:00 – Live Warm Up (Eurosport)
09:00 to 10:00 – Live Legends Race (Eurosport)
13:15 to 13:45 – Live 24 Minutes (Eurosport)
21:00 to 21:30 – Live 24 Minutes (Eurosport)
– for details of the race itself, see below

Sunday 23rd June
08:00 to 08:30 – Live 24 Minutes (Eurosport)
14:15 to 14:30 – Live 24 Minutes (Eurosport)

The race itself beginning on the Saturday…
13:45 to 21:00 – Eurosport
21:00 to 21:30 – Eurosport 2
21:30 to 08:00 – Eurosport
08:00 to 08:30 – Eurosport 2
08:30 to 14:15 – Eurosport

Sky Sports F1 – Top 10 ratings (week ending 2nd June, 2013)

Very glad to say that we actually have some official ratings this week. So, without further ado, here are the ratings from BARB:

1 – 43k – The F1 Show (Friday, 20:00)
2 – 23k – The F1 Show (Saturday, 08:00)
3 – 20k – 1991 Canadian Grand Prix Highlights (Sunday, 20:00)
4 – 16k – Monaco Grand Prix Highlights (Wednesday, 21:44)
5 – 15k – The F1 Show (Sunday, 11:00)
6 – 14k – Monaco Grand Prix Replay (Monday, 19:00)
7 – 13k – The F1 Show (Saturday, 17:00)
8 – 12k – Monaco Grand Prix Highlights (Tuesday, 20:00)
9 – 9k – Legends (Friday, 19:00)
10 – 8k – Porsche Supercup: Monaco (Sunday, 20:47)

One of the best set of ratings we’ve seen for a non race week in a while. The channel reached 553,000 viewers, which is the best for a non race week since the post Malaysia week back in March.

One point of note though is how the F1 Midweek Report does not make the top ten, meaning that its figures remain under 10,000 viewers.

Elsewhere, the Isle of Man TT filled most of ITV4’s top 10 with figures of 349,000, 329,000, 368,000, 482,000 and 710,000 respectively – figures are up on the same week last year.

Canadian Grand Prix ratings improve around Europe

After being overshadowed by Euro 2012 last year, ratings for the Canadian Grand Prix rose around Europe this past weekend, overnight ratings show. The first important thing I believe is worth noting is that this year the Canadian Grand Prix was more in prime time than previous years, with the race beginning at 19:00 UK time and 20:00 European time, right in the heart of prime time, meaning that audiences could be maximised.

This was most evident in Spain, where the Canadian Grand Prix soared to its highest rating since at least 2007. The race this past Sunday had a race average of 5.69 million viewers (33.5 percent share). This was up half a million on 2012 and over a million viewers higher than 2008, 2010 and 2011.

Canadian Grand Prix ratings in Spain
2008 – 2.72m (22.4%) pre-race; 4.52m (35.3%); 3.42m (25.1%) post-race
2010 – 1.75m (13.5%) pre-race; 4.57m (34.5%); 2.99m (23.5%) post-race
2011 – 1.54m (13.1%) pre-race; 3.59m (24.5%); 2.01m (10.8%) post-race
2012 – ?.??m (??.?%) pre-race; 5.10m (33.5%) race; 2.09m (12.5%) pre-race
2013 – 2.47m (19.1%) pre-race; 5.69m (35.3%) race; 4.70m (24.5%) post-race

Italy was another country to see high ratings. The race in Italy had 7.72 million viewers (31.9 percent share) on Rai 1 with a further 1.04 million viewers on Sky Sport F1, Italy adopting the same model as seen in the United Kingdom from this season onwards. In comparison, the World Superbikes in the daytime from Portugal averaged 1.08 million viewers, a 6 percent share. F1’s figures were up on 2011 and 2012, albeit only marginally an increase on 2012.

Canadian Grand Prix ratings in Italy
2011 – 6.70m (32.8%)
2012 – 5.67m (25.7%) and 7.93m (32.4%)*
2013 – 7.72m (31.8%) and 1.04m

* race switched channels halfway through due to Euro 2012

Whilst the picture was good in Spain and Italy, the picture was not as rosy in Germany. Despite Sebastian Vettel winning comfortably, viewing figures were down on 2010 and 2011. Yes, they were up on 2012, but this was to be expected as the 2012 race went up against Euro 2012 competition. Quotenmeter notes how the race on Sunday, which averaged 5.79 million across RTL and Sky Sport F1, was down in the target demographics, noting how “RTL will rejoice when the F1 moves to the afternoons again”. Ouch…

Canadian Grand Prix ratings in Germany
2010 – 6.67m (29.2%)
2011 – 6.76m (34.4%)
2012 – 4.93m and 0.34m (1.0%)
2013 – 5.38m and 0.41m (1.3%)

All of the German ratings are from the same website so I assume that the comparison is like-to-like. Either way, it is interesting to see the ratings around Europe, and Canada is normally a good indicator as to how things are fairing due to its timeslot.