My trip to Silverstone to see round one of the FIA World Endurance Championship meant that I would not be watching the Chinese Grand Prix live. Its the first time I have missed a Formula 1 race since the 2008 Australian Grand Prix, back when the season opener took place in the early hours of the morning, and when I was slightly younger! But, as I said in my piece linked above, I didn’t mind. Having never been to a race beforehand, watching motor sport in the flesh beat anything motor sport related on the TV, including Formula 1. The decision was clearly the right one.
Going to Silverstone allowed me to sample Formula 1 in a different way and also allowed me to open my eyes a bit more. Normally, it would be a matter of watching Sky or BBC live and watching the BBC re-run for the highlights races. Instead, this past Sunday consisted of me listening to BBC Radio 5 Live’s coverage and watching the BBC highlights later on. I watched the Sky build-up at home whilst getting ready, leaving at 07:45 in time for BBC’s radio coverage. Jack Nicholls, Jennie Gow and Giedo van der Garde assumed control. I don’t think I heard Eric Silbermann, but I may be wrong. If I said that I was listening to it 100 percent I would be lying, too busy concentrating on the road in front and chatting meant that I was dipping in and out. But from what I heard, Nicholls sounded confident and assured on the microphone, and pointed out the key things at the start quickly without getting in a muddle.
More importantly, it was nice hearing a new, younger voice commentating on Formula 1, Nicholls becoming the youngest lead commentator for Formula 1 in this country ever. With no traffic at all on the M1 motorway, we arrived at Silverstone about half way through the F1 race, meaning that I didn’t hear the latter half of the 5 Live commentary, but what I heard from the early laps sounded good. In a shocking and surprising development, aside from a few message checking, I managed to avoid social media for the entire day, meaning that when I got home at 19:30, BBC iPlayer was waiting for me with Formula 1 highlights already on there ready for me to watch! Well… not quite.
The highlights did not appear on iPlayer until exactly 21:00. I admit to being a bit confused by this. BBC don’t air the highlights live, it is a recorded broadcast, so surely the broadcast should have been on iPlayer soon after the BBC One broadcast finished at 16:30? A four and a half hour gap between the end of the show and it appearing on iPlayer, especially for a highlights show, is strange, and not the first time the F1 shows have appeared on iPlayer late. It makes me wonder if BBC can only make the highlights shows available on iPlayer X hours after the race has finished, depending on time zone of the race. A bit frustrating but at least I didn’t need to wait until Monday morning.
I chose to record Sky Sports F1’s live coverage in the morning, allowing me to watch it on Monday morning (Sunday night not an option there with the TV being watched by others!). Other Sky related methods, including Sky On Demand via Sky Go were unavailable, their rights don’t allow them to broadcast full races On Demand for some reason. Anyway, BBC’s highlights show was okay, the race coverage itself was good. The edit, about 85 minutes in a 120 minute slot seemed a bit lopsided, unless there were very slight edits, it appeared to me that they showed the entirety of the first 35 or so laps, and then they started taking chunks out of the last quarter of the race. But, from their edit I didn’t feel like I had missed anything. I know that BBC’s schedules do not allow this, but I think that there needs to be some flexibility in the length that BBC can have for a highlights programme, the fact that China had a longer edit than Bahrain is criminal, but its luck of the draw, I guess.
One thing that I did think in comparison to previous years, and again I may be wrong but these are just my thoughts, it appeared to me that the race edit was actually longer than usual, with less analysis. I remember before 2012 we were promised a forum for even highlights races, yet they rarely appeared, and then disappeared completely. In China’s case, there was no chance of a forum happening, given that the race was mundane, but for Bahrain? You could easily make an argument for sticking a half an hour forum online on Monday morning. Why they no longer do that for highlights races, I don’t know. I always point to the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix forum, again a highlights race, as one of the best half an hour segments of F1 television that there is. Despite the fact that highlights programming is never a substitute for a live programming, I didn’t feel any incentive to watch Sky’s programme on Monday. I guess the point I’m making is that, had the race been live on the BBC, that would have been my first point call, but as it wasn’t, and Sky do not have full races On Demand, I opted for BBC’s highlights.
On Sunday, for the Chinese Grand Prix at least, F1 lost a ‘live programme’ viewer and gained a ‘highlights propgramme’ viewer. Is that good? I don’t think it is. But the fact is, as Formula 1’s viewing figures are slipping, in this country at least, live viewers are slowly being sipped into the highlights category. You can rinse and repeat that situation across the country, and replace ‘going to WEC’ with ‘going to BTCC’ or many other things. If Formula 1 is losing fans, what has to happen is that those fans must transition to other forms of motor sport, two wheels or four. For some people in this country Formula 1 is motor sport. That couldn’t be any more further from the truth, as I think my experience at Silverstone last weekend highlighted. You can attribute the blame game for that statement at many different doors, but that’s outside the realms of this blog piece, although I have mentioned some parts on this subject before. I’d argue that WEC, BTCC, even MotoGP should capitalise on Formula 1 slipping in this country. Sadly, at the moment I don’t see that happening.
I’ll be posting year-on-year viewing figure comparisons on this blog later this week where Formula 1 is concerned, and the picture does not look good.