The F1 Show to return in March 2014

The F1 Show will return on Friday 7th March, Sky have confirmed today.

This surprises me considering it returned in mid February for testing in 2013. My guess is that this means that there are no plans for live testing coverage (although FOM would need to give them the go ahead), or there will completely separate pre season programming.

Also, I do think the show needs to desperately get off Friday’s for non-race weeks, but it doesn’t appear like that is happening anytime soon.

BBC and Sky announce 2014 picks

BBC Sport and Sky Sports have confirmed the 2014 F1 calendar picks this morning. The picks are as follows:

2014 Schedule Details
March 16th – Australia (Melbourne) – Sky
March 30th – Malaysia (Sepang) – BBC and Sky
April 6th – Bahrain (Sakhir) – Sky
April 20th – China (Shanghai) – Sky
May 11th – Spain (Barcelona) – BBC and Sky
May 25th – Monaco (Monaco) – Sky
June 8th – Canada (Montreal) – BBC and Sky
June 22nd – Austria (Red Bull Ring) – Sky
July 6th – Britain (Silverstone) – BBC and Sky
July 20th – Germany (Hockenheim) – Sky
July 27th – Hungary (Budapest) – Sky
August 24th – Belgium (Spa) – BBC and Sky
September 7th – Italy (Monza) – BBC and Sky
September 21st – Singapore (Marina Bay) – Sky
October 5th – Japan (Suzuka) – BBC and Sky
October 12th – Russia (Sochi) – BBC and Sky
November 2nd – USA (Circuit of the Americas) – Sky
November 9th – Brazil (Interlagos) – Sky
November 23rd – Abu Dhabi (Yas Marina) – BBC and Sky

As of writing, there has been no formal announcement on either the BBC and Sky line-ups for the new season. The Executive Producer for Sky Sports F1, Martin Turner said: “The rule changes mean 2014 is the most eagerly awaited season in years and only on Sky Sports F1 can viewers enjoy the full story live. From the first corner in Australia to the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi, we’ll be there offering our viewers unrivalled live coverage and analysis. Our ten exclusively live races include several of the season’s key grands prix including three of the first four, two of the final three and of course, Monaco, the most glamorous weekend on the calendar. We can’t wait.”

BBC’s Head of F1, Ben Gallop added: “It has been another great year for F1 on the BBC. We’re now very much looking forward to 2014 and feel we have a strong package for our TV coverage. This format of both live and highlights is attracting a wide range of viewers and we hope to see even more people tuning in next year to experience the magic of Formula 1.”

For 2013, the surprise was that BBC were not screening Monaco, this year it has to be Brazil. For those unfamiliar, the pick order goes as follows:

– BBC pick 1, 2 and 3
– Sky pick 4, 5 and 6
– BBC pick 7
– Sky pick 8

Sadly, I only got nine correct in my predictions, but hey ho! The first three picks for BBC are pretty certain to be Britain, Abu Dhabi and Canada. Picking Canada over Brazil surprises me, so one assumes that BBC are thinking that 2014 may be another Vettel walkover. Also, as noted previously, Britain will be on BBC Two due to Wimbledon. Sky will have jumped on Australia again, and also Brazil exclusively for the very first time. A fascinating question is what is going to happen to Brazil’s highlights show. Technically, it is not daytime, and it is not primetime. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Brazil highlights turn up at about 20:00 or 21:00 on BBC Two, which may well have been BBC’s thinking here, in that a highlights show at that time is better than 22:30.

Sky’s third pick? I’d say Monaco. Why? History tells us BBC will not pick USA, as the timeslot is completely unfavourable to them for live coverage, so Sky would have taken Monaco knowing that BBC would be avoiding USA. For anyone thinking “USA is the same as Canada for timeslot”, that is indeed correct but Canada is in the Summer and USA would be against the biggest shows in television, big difference. BBC would then snap up Malaysia, Sky would take USA, as discussed. Belgium is next for BBC, at which point it appears Sky considered A.N. Other higher priority than Italy, I assume that race being Austria. From there things would have alternated, but that is how I suspect the first ten picks ended up.

Overall, I’d say Sky edges it for the picks, thanks to having Australia, Monaco and Brazil all exclusively live. It is a tale of two halves though, and I do feel a bit sorry for BBC as they are in reality forced to take Abu Dhabi despite it being one of the worst circuits on the entire calendar which has allowed Sky to take Brazil.

BBC F1’s output: The 2013 Verdict

The first two parts of the 2013 verdict looked at and analysed the BBC and Sky Sports F1 teams, suggesting possible improvements in both areas. Parts three and four switches the focus from the personnel to the programming.

Part 3 will look at BBC’s Formula 1 programming. The new deal from 2012 onwards has meant a reduction in what the BBC serves up. Unsurprisingly, some parts of the programming have been affected since, both due to that but also due to personnel changes as I will look at in this piece.

Practice
The look of practice changed significantly on the BBC this year. From 2009 to 2011, BBC shown every practice session live via its Red Button service. This halved from 2012 with the revised contract, but the raw coverage was the same. The broadcaster was simply taking the Formula One Management (FOM) World Feed from the five minute sting to five minutes after the session with Radio 5 Live’s commentary. For 2013, that changed thanks in part to the significant reductions to the Red Button, which meant that practice was heading to BBC Two.

At the time, they touted this as ’40 extra hours of network output’, whilst technically true, of course the raw hours they were showing was not increasing, merely changing stations. It did make me wonder how many people were completely oblivious to them showing practice between 2009 and 2012 behind the Red Button! In any case, the change to BBC Two meant that it had to become a proper programme, start titles, end titles with proper presentation from Suzi Perry and A.N. Other (mostly Gary Anderson).

I guess this was okay for what it was, although I was somewhat wondering what the point was when sometimes they only had five minute intro and outro. I can understand having a proper programme if they had more air-time, as they did after the session in Canada, one great example where they had half an hour on BBC Three. I imagine they will continue with proper presentation in 2014, but hopefully they manage to get five or ten more minutes post-session to go with that, instead of rushing off the air.

Inside F1
One of the minor parts of BBC’s Formula 1 coverage since 2009 has been the ‘Inside F1’ show. The show has typically aired on the BBC News Channel on Friday’s and Saturday’s at 18:45 during race weekends. It has more recently been fronted by Lee McKenzie on location. Normally, every Formula 1 show has some kind of purpose. Considering its timing, you would say Inside F1 simply aims to wrap up the on-track action for Friday and Saturday respectively. Which is, fair enough, considering its fifteen minute slot. The utter confusion for me comes with one word: Why? And more importantly: Who?.

Why is BBC’s F1 team still filming this show, and secondly, who is this show actually aimed at? The main purpose appears to be that it is only there to fill air-time on the BBC News Channel. Again, it comes to the question of why Formula 1’s target audience would be watching at the time. The answer is that they simply would not be. It does follow after Sportsday, but I’m not sure what it achieves. Yeah, its a harmless show in nature, but it could be much better. BBC Three, 19:00, 30 minutes. Why not? It makes a fair bit more sense than the BBC News Channel in my view.

The BBC Three programming, instead of Inside F1, could bring a different demographic towards Formula 1, which is needed to try and reverse the difficult ratings patch as of late. In effect, I’m saying scrap Inside F1, and bring in a new show. Make it a hybrid Friday review with a different slant. The other option (for Saturday’s) is to have a BBC One tea-time show for live races, which could work in a similar way to Murray and Martin’s ITV F1 Specials in the late 1990’s. Either way, BBC need to be open to new ideas, and a new F1 show to cater to a different demographic is an interesting perspective.

Pre-Session
One of the points that has largely remained the same since 2009 is the length of both the Qualifying and the Race build-ups. For live races, this has consistently been between 50 and 60 minutes irrespective of location. I’ll begin though with the highlights, as the format is largely formulaic: a quick intro, Qualifying wrap up, maybe an interview feature, grid interviews and then onto the race. It doesn’t need to be anything more for the highlights show, and given the programme length of between 90 and 120 minutes there is not much room for manoeuvre anyway.

It’s the live programmes where all of their energy goes into. Starting with the positives, the quality of their VT’s are unmatched. From a technical standpoint, the team still produce some jaw dropping VT’s, whether it is a particular race retrospective, or throwing some old McLaren’s around Silverstone. It is great to see too that there is still a bunch of talented people behind the camera and that the BBC and Sky deal did not rip the production team apart. In front of the camera, the show has still been good.

Good, but not great. Partially, this has not really been their fault in the latter half of the season with stories drying up. Nevertheless, it hasn’t quite felt ‘must watch’ for me at several stages this season. Assuming we have a championship battle, and with Suzi Perry in her second season, I do think things will rebound. I’ll allude to this a bit in the Sky piece too, but broadcasters’ thrive with a championship battle with stories bouncing from pillar to post and possible angles to take. When that disappears, so does possible content. Hopefully 2014 is a more competitive year for all concerned.

Post-Session
The only real negative for me comes with BBC’s post-session coverage. From 2009 to 2011 we had a high quality forum, which was generally very highly regarded. Quality dipped in 2012, but appears to have plunged for 2013. This is not an issue for highlights show, but for the live races it is a major issue. For those that didn’t watch, between 2009 and 2011 the forum consisted of a hybrid of chit chat and good, solid in-depth analysis. This did vary a bit from sitting down outside with guests, or inside a motor home, or later on walking along.

Changing presenters does not help thanks to the very nature of the forum, but what has not helped at all for BBC is that this is where Sky have made the biggest strides, particularly this year. And it is one area where I feel Sky are now actually better than the BBC. BBC mastered the forum from 2009 to 2011 and it is quite sad to see it go downhill. Does it still have its good, great TV moments? Of course. But it appears to be just a few people wandering around now, meaning that the entire feel of the forum has changed for the worse since a few years ago.

Thankfully, for BBC, this is a simple fix. All they need to do is to watch a tape of a 2013 forum and compare it to a 2010 forum and analyse where things have changed, and more importantly, do they think the changes are for the better. Personally, I don’t think the changes have been for the better and Sky’s improvements in their post-race show just highlight it further for me. I hope the forum does get back on track, because when it is good, it is easily the best piece of Formula 1 television during a race weekend. Let’s get the house back in order, please.

2013 has been a year of stability for the broadcaster, although the change of presenter has been highlighted significantly. Don’t get me wrong, the BBC is still one of the best, if not the best Formula 1 broadcasters in the world. I hope 2014 sees some programming changes and tweaks in order to improve the product further. I fear that BBC risk falling into the trap of complacency and resting on the laurels. 2014 looks set to be an exciting Formula 1 season on and off track, and I hope BBC’s coverage reflects that after what has been a solid, but unspectacular 2013.

The Sky Sports F1 Team: The 2013 Verdict

Sometimes, they say that the second year is tougher than the first. In broadcasting, I think the reverse is true. The first year is for building the blocks and the second year is for expanding and cementing those blocks. Sky Sports F1’s second year was largely more successful than the first, as I will analyse in this piece and also the programming piece later on. Sky’s team was assembled at the beginning of 2012 as two presenters, one commentator, five ex-drivers and two pit lane reporters.

Whilst they did indeed build the blocks in 2012, the off-season seen two blocks disappear. Like BBC, the Sky team encountered several changes. Here is how the team changed between 2012 and 2013:

In
– Anna Woolhouse (now presents Midweek Report, although she is not a ‘formal’ part of the team)

Out
– Allan McNish (moved to 5 Live F1)
– Georgie Thompson (moved to pastures new in America)

Thompson’s departure came as a massive surprise to most considering it was only announced (on a blog, nonetheless) four weeks before the start of the season! Nothing official was ever released concerning her departure, it was all rather odd. Anyway, as it turned out, some things are for the better, and Thompson leaving ended up fitting into that category.

Anthony Davidson – @AntDavidson
– main racing activities in endurance racing
– 24 F1 races spanning eight years
– joined 5 Live F1 in 2004, before moving to Sky in 2012

One of the highlights of BBC’s Formula 1 coverage between 2009 and 2011 was the Red Button service used for practice sessions, with commentary from Anthony Davidson and David Croft. The two were universally praised by fans due to their relaxed and interactive style with viewers texting and tweeting their thoughts. Moving onto the present day, and Davidson can also be found standing at a Sky Pad, although in 2012 things were slightly…. different. In 2012, Sky had Davidson and Georgie Thompson stand at the Sky Pad, in a portacabin. The analysis was great, but the location was awful, the two may as well have been in London!

As it turns out, Thompson was not off to London, but off to America. Before the start of the season, I said Davidson would struggle going solo. How wrong was I. Combined with the Sky Pad moving outside, it is one of the biggest improvements to Sky’s coverage year-on-year. Moving it to outside allows them to do more things, which I’ll discuss more in the later pieces. As for Davidson, he has gelled in brilliantly with the team more so this year, it felt last year like he was hidden away because of the Sky Pad location. I suspect he will reduce his commitments for 2014 with good reason, as he now has a new born to take care of!

Damon Hill
– won the 1996 Formula 1 championship
– retired in 1999 after Brabham, Williams, Arrows and Jordan stints
– sole year at F1 Digital+ in 2002, returning to broadcasting in 2012 with Sky

It is not often that people go ten years without appearing in broadcasting, but in the case of Damon Hill, that happened. Of course, he has been ITV F1 commentator sporadically when Martin Brundle was on holiday, but being announced as Sky Sports F1 pundit for 2012 would be his first permanent role since 2002. At the start of last season, Hill was not great to put it lightly. Him and Simon Lazenby were wooden to watch and it was bordering on the cringeworthy. Thankfully, things did improve and with the help of Johnny Herbert, Hill loosened up as a pundit.

2013 has been better for Hill, thanks to Herbert alongside him and also the general rule that the second year tends to be better than the first. In terms of his role, it has not been that much different for him, the commitment level has remained the same. There have been some races where Hill has not travelled to, which is a good thing as Hill is better in small doses. Will he stay for 2014? I think he will, but it is worth bearing in mind that his son Josh retired from motor racing back in July, so Damon may take the opportunity to step back his commitments further for the time being.

David Croft – @CroftyF1
– began broadcasting career at BBC in 1995
– climbed up the latter to 5 Live F1 from 2006 onwards….
– …before moving with Davidson to Sky in 2012

Moving with Anthony Davidson to Sky Sports F1 from BBC Radio 5 Live was always the most logical move for Croft once BBC had reduced their coverage. I did enjoy Croft’s commentary with 5 Live as I alluded to above, his and Davidson’s practice ramblings was sometimes the highlight on an F1 weekend. Whilst I still do like Croft’s commentary, for me, he is still what puts him and Brundle below Ben Edwards and David Coulthard. The first point is with Sky self promotion, which sadly is beyond his control, but very tedious nevertheless considering most viewers know about said services, yes Sky Race Control, I’m looking at you!

There are other issues, though. I said in the BBC piece that I liked Edwards because he makes the hairs on the neck stand up, and it doesn’t feel forced. With Croft, the opposite is true. Every time the race ends, and every time an overtaking move happens (DRS assisted or not) it feels like he needs to shout for whatever reason, maybe because it sounds good in VT’s after, who knows. But to the viewer watching it live, it doesn’t come across as good, it is forced. I know Croft does a lot of fantastic things off the microphone, #AskCrofty for one, I like those, but inevitably he will be judged on his commentary. Good, but no Edwards, in my view.

Johnny Herbert – @JohnnyHerbertF1
– began his Formula 1 career in 1989 after breaking both legs
– recorded three Grand Prix victories before retiring in 2000
– first race with Sky Sports F1 at the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix

The first few races on Sky Sports F1 in 2012 from a presentation stand point were not the best. It needed a more ‘bubbly’ personality, shall we say, to enter the fray. Enter Johnny Herbert, who became part of the team from the Chinese Grand Prix. Whether that was always the intention I don’t know, but it was a much needed addition to the team which was a wooden, as I noted in Hill’s section above. It is also interesting to note that, despite retiring in 2000, his role with Sky is the first time that he has appeared on the F1 broadcasting scene, having never previously held a role with BBC or ITV.

In terms of opinions, Herbert gives the obvious opinions and doesn’t really say anything surprising, if anything he toes the ‘party line’. Another issue is if things get too light hearted, as has happened on occasion, but has not yet gone overboard, thankfully. Saying that, the Sky team would suffer without him, as he helps hold the show together in my view. I think Herbert will stay with the team for 2014, he is a safe pair of boots and there is no logical reason for them to get rid of him.

Martin Brundle – @MBrundleF1
– veteran Formula 1 career from 1984 to 1996
– part of ITV’s coverage for their entirety, commentating alongside Murray Walker and James Allen
– moved to BBC in 2009, and then hopping over to Sky for 2012

One of my criticisms of Sky in 2012 was the overuse of Martin Brundle. I can understand the reasoning behind it, as he was the face of their pre-season advertising, but throughout last season it felt like they needed to shoe horn Brundle into every segment and session possible. Brundle was present doing pieces to camera during practice in pit lane right the way through to appearing on the post-race show regularly last season. This has been reigned in somewhat during 2013, but it is still a minor issue for me.

Instead of being in pit lane during practice, Brundle now reports from a particular corner during practice. Whilst this is a great addition, it really could do with a camera man being down there with him, although I appreciate that safety is an issue when reporting from track side, which probably prevents Sky from doing this. His grid walks are still as strong as ever, although I think his commentary has dipped from when he was with the BBC. The lack of a championship battle does not help in that respect, but it was noticeable as the season progressed. Hopefully Brundle rebounds where that is concerned in 2014.

Natalie Pinkham – @NataliePinkham
– various roles on way up to F1, including The Wright Stuff
– became BBC Radio 5 Live pit lane reporter from 2011….
– …but the role was only for a season, she was soon heading to Sky

Due to Georgie Thompson choosing to leave Sky Sports at the start of the year, it meant that Natalie Pinkham’s commitments were expanded. Pinkham throughout 2013 presented The F1 Show alongside Ted Kravitz, and for me it is one reason why The F1 Show has dropped in quality compared with 2012. If I had a choice of who to keep in the team for 2013 between Thompson and Pinkham, it would have been Thompson for me purely because she is the better presenter and can be more ‘serious’ than Pinkham.

Pinkham’s role is more or less the same as Lee McKenzie’s on the BBC, except the latter is leagues ahead of the former. When Pinkham does attempt to do something serious, it is difficult to take it seriously, and feels completely out of place. I do wish that Sky chose Rachel Brookes ahead of Pinkham for The F1 Show, but sadly I think that boat has sailed. I wouldn’t mind Pinkham just as a ‘features reporter’ (even if it did mean her taking a, dare I say it, Beverley Turner style role from ITV) as long as it meant that her air-time was reduced significantly as a result. I’m not a big fan of Pinkham, I’m afraid.

Simon Lazenby – @SimonLazenbySky
– presented Sky’s Rugby coverage up to and including 2011
– moved, along with executive producer Martin Turner, to Sky Sports F1
– stayed with the team for 2013

When Sky were first announced as joint right-holders for Formula 1 from 2012, there was no logical person to give the presenting role to, and it was quite obvious early on that the hiring for the role would come from internally. If you are to talk about choices though, I guess you’d be looking at Keith Huewen and Jon Desborough from a motor sport background. Why Sky Sports never went for either of those for the F1 role, we will never know. After that it was almost a free for all, but in the end Simon Lazenby got the role. 2012 was not great for Lazenby, and I said that strong improvements had to come for 2013.

Sky kept him for 2013 (as his only likely successor decided to leave), and happily Lazenby appears more relaxed in the presenting role. It probably helps for him also that there has been a bit of movement at the BBC, with Lazenby now up against Suzi Perry, who herself has not had the strongest of years. Whilst Lazenby has improved, I don’t think he is near the level of Jake Humphrey, who I think the consensus now is that Humphrey is leagues ahead of most of the Sky presenters with his style of presenting (when not in a studio, that is!). Hopefully Lazenby improves further for 2014, should he stay.

Ted Kravitz – @TedKravitz
– began with ITV in 1997, moving in front of the camera in 2002
– jumped to the BBC in 2009, with commitments improving significantly
– moved to Sky for 2012

They always say ‘leave the best to last’. Not deliberately, but in this piece, Kravitz is the last of the main individuals on the Sky Sports F1 team. And in my view, the best. Kravitz was a main part of BBC’s output from 2009 to 2011 and with more air-time, Sky seemed the logical home for him considering his Notebook’s, which have been even better in 2013 – and expanded with testing and Saturday’s covered too. An always amusing moment is when he fails to stick inside his allotted time, on multiple occasions running 5, 10 or sometimes 15 minutes over his scheduled slot!

The Notebook has definitely the highlight of 2013 from a broadcasting standpoint for me, whether it is Kravitz wandering around Suzuka’s amusement rides or giving us a behind the scenes look at Sky’s operations as he did late in the season. Alongside the Notebook, Kravitz roves up and down pit lane, whilst also presenting The F1 Show. For reasons I’ve noted briefly above and I will note later on, it has declined in quality, although the reasons for it are out of Kravitz’s control. I’m hoping Kravitz’s Notebook’s are back in force from February with F1 testing again!

Others
If you haven’t watched much of Sky Sports F1’s coverage outside of race weekends then you will probably have not heard of Anna Woolhouse. Woolhouse is the presenter of the Midweek Report. An interesting story is that it was initially online only and filmed against a green screen, with a shoe string budget. Only a few weeks later was it noted how pointless an online only show was when you have an entire channel! So, from China, the programme had its first airing on Sky Sports F1. And since then, at times the programme has been better than The F1 Show! I’ll explain more in the next few parts, for me, the choice of guests on occasion is infinitely better. As a presenter, Woolhouse does a fine job, but there is not much more to add here.

Over on Sky Sports News (where Woolhouse also is!), is Craig Slater and Rachel Brookes. Nothing has changed here, except that Sky Sports F1 now tends to use more Sky Sports News interviews which is a good thing, as it makes complete sense for F1 and News to share resources. It made no sense to me why BBC TV and Radio were initially completely independent of one another in 2009, that soon changed where TV people started appearing in Radio’s coverage of practice. My only wish is that Brookes is more prominent on the channel, preferably replacing Pinkham, but that doesn’t appear to be happening yet.

As a unit, if I was to compare the two teams directly and ignoring the programming outside of it, the BBC for me have the edge due to their team being more all rounded than Sky. Sky throw their eggs all in one basket with former drivers whereas with BBC you have an ex team boss and an ex technical director, neither of which Sky have. I do think the Sky team is much improved on 2012, but it will always have the ‘imbalance’ problem for me until they get in another non-driver to add some balance to the programming.

ITV4 extends World Rally Championship rights

ITV Sport have extended the rights to the World Rally Championship, this blog can confirm. The broadcaster will screen every round of the championship via highlights form on ITV4 in 2014.

An ITV spokeswoman informed The F1 Broadcasting Blog: “I can confirm that we will be showing the highlights in 2014.” After many barren years in the UK, this is more good news for the championship which is attempting to rebuild its profile in this country. ITV first secured the 2013 rights back in March after the first few rounds were left without a broadcaster, which shows just how far the series profile plummeted.

According to unofficial overnight viewing figures, television ratings have ranged from 70,000 viewers to 200,000 viewers. The final round of the season, the Wales Rally GB averaged 110,000 (0.6%). While obviously this is a land away from its peak – you have to start somewhere, and being on ITV4 means that the profile is automatically significantly higher than other multichannel’s of this world.

Furthermore, I have reached out to ITV asking if there are any plans to screen any of the championship live. I will post a response underneath if and when I receive confirmation. In the meantime, a list of non-exhaustive broadcasting contracts for 2014 can be found here.

Update on December 16th – ITV have further commented: “I can confirm we will only be showing the highlights of the World Rally Championships. There will unfortunately be no live coverage by ITV.”

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