A look back at ‘Senna Week’

Senna Week‘ was a great example, perhaps one of the best examples, of what a dedicated Formula 1 channel should do. Not all of the programming was of top quality, but as a week taken in isolation, it was fantastic to see some effort go into the Sky Sports F1 schedule on each night. I think it was the first time this has happened since the channel launched.

Arguably, the best programme that was broadcast during ‘Senna Week’ was the one that aired first. The Last Team Mate seen Damon Hill and David Brabham travel back to Imola to relieve that fateful weekend twenty years ago. After watching the programme, and in the context of the later programmes, I was surprised that this started the week. Overall, I found the documentary a brilliant, yet very poignant watch. More importantly, I was happy that it reflected both on Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger. I will admit to being surprised though at the fact that it covered the entire 1994 season, I was expecting it to stop at the immediate aftermath. I’m not sure whether that added or detracted from the programme, it perhaps slightly took away from the main focus of attention, although this is purely a personal view point. If Sky wanted to cover the wider 1994 season (which was touched upon but never fully explored), perhaps a series of episodes covering the year should have been commissioned separately to the ‘Senna Week’ strand.

Nevertheless, The Last Team Mate was still by far the best produced show of the week and it showed. The next show up with the Journalists Special with Simon Lazenby, Maurice Hamilton, David Tremayne and Murray Walker. The issue upfront here was that, at an hour in length (45 minutes excluding commercials), that it would be difficult to cover Senna’s career in detail. Saying that, the editing guys did the best job they could in the circumstances, albeit a longer extended version turned up on Sky On Demand later (I’m unsure why this didn’t air on the channel). I was refreshed to hear the three journalists focus on Senna’s flaws as both a driver and character instead of looking through rose tinted glasses as can happen in these types of shows. One of them summed it up best by saying that they wished we just got to know him a lot more outside of the race track, as the only time any of them got to see Senna was when he was constantly under pressure, scrambling for the last tenth here and there.

Echoes of the Past and Ted’s Senna Notebook formed the middle part of the week, at 15 minutes and 30 minutes respectively. Both were good in their own right, Nigel Roebuck with his own unique reflections, whilst Kravitz walked around the McLaren Technology Centre, looking at each of Senna’s McLaren cars individually. Alongside The Last Team Mate, the other programme which I thought was top notch was the Roland Ratzenberger tribute programme. With contributions from Adam Cooper, David Brabham and Humphrey Corbett. I felt it was important more than anything to have a programme dedicated to Ratzenberger, and I’m very glad they did.

Aside from The F1 Show, the remaining three new programmes were Prost on Senna, A Winning Partnership and F1 Legends focussing on Senna. I probably should have expected two of those three to be re-edits of what had already aired during the respective F1 Legends episodes, which was disappointing. Prost on Senna was taken entirely from the interview Prost had with Steve Rider and there was not much new content during the F1 Legends episodes. A Winning Partnership was a Ron Dennis interview conducted by Tom Clarkson for the media at McLaren Technology Centre. If it was me doing the scheduling, the programmes with the most effort in should have gone as close to the anniversaries as possible. Clearly The Last Team Mate had the most work put into it, so why it ended up starting the week and premièring on a Saturday, I don’t know. I’m not saying it was bad that those three programmes were rehashes, just that it was underwhelming. On reflection, The Last Team Mate and the Journalists Special should have aired as close to the anniversaries as possible given that both programmes featured mostly new material, with the F1 Legends and Prost programmes starting the week. It was somewhat confusing that another two programmes turned up during the Spanish Grand Prix weekend with little fanfare.

Over on BBC, and it has to be said that whilst TV chose not to do anything in terms of programming, they did air a fantastic tribute with Eddie Jordan voicing it over at the start of the Spanish Grand Prix Qualifying session with contributions from personalities such as Gerhard Berger and Pat Symonds. The fifteen minute tribute was BBC’s VT guys at their absolute best, and they deserve to be given a pat on the back. I really wish that they were given the tools to produce a one hour tribute to Senna and Ratzenberger. I really do, sadly for reasons probably beyond the BBC F1 TV’s direct control, that didn’t happen, which is a real shame. 5 Live however did pay tribute to Senna and Ratzenberger, with a 90 minute live broadcast, fronted by Jennie Gow alongside Simon Taylor, Maurice Hamilton and James Allen. During the show, we heard Simon Taylor’s original 5 Live commentary from Imola 1994. Having heard Walker’s shout as Senna crashed, it was fascinating to hear directly from Taylor and Hamilton on how 5 Live handled the entire situation. I enjoyed listening to the show, which is still available as a podcast until the beginning of June.

I think Sky could learn a lot with Senna Week. Going forward, I think it would be great if we had more themed weeks in the future. Whilst Sky have been showing Classic F1 races, there have been no themes so far this season. I’ve said before how Sky should utilise what they can show regarding classic races, however, a ‘Williams Week’ or ‘McLaren Week’ would be much better than what we currently have where the classic races flip flop between decades for no apparent reason. Okay, they can’t show an unlimited amount of races, but there’s nothing stopping them creating a McLaren edition of F1 Legends, to give an example looking back on their time in F1. I’m not sure it would work, but it is worth a try. Like I said at the start of the piece though, as a dedicated channel, I was very glad to see them dedicate the entire week to Senna and Ratzenberger. Alongside the BBC piece that I have linked above, I’d strongly recommend The Last Team Mate and Remembering Ratzenberger if you haven’t already watched them.

Scheduling: The 2014 Monaco Grand Prix

Formula 1 next weekend heads to the glitz and glamour of Monte Carlo for the Monaco Grand Prix! Always a fan-favourite, the race will air exclusively live on Sky Sports F1 with extended highlights on BBC One later that evening. If you wish to skip straight to the schedule, as usual, click the links below…

Monday 19th May
Wednesday 21st May
Thursday 22nd May
Friday 23rd May
Saturday 24th May
Sunday 25th May
Wednesday 28th May
Classic F1

Whilst Sky Sports F1’s pre-Monaco schedule is perhaps not as extensive as last year, the channel does have highlights of the Historic Grand Prix from Monaco (also on ITV4), which took place last weekend along with the usual selection of classic races. As is the usual Monaco tradition, Thursday is practice day. The only on-track action on Friday is GP2, which hopefully is less dramatic than last year’s start shambles! There are two editions of The F1 Show, now traditional for Sky at Monaco.

Like last year, I am surprised that BBC did not opt to take Monaco, however, their first two choices were Britain and the final race meaning that the third race was always going to be an American-timezone race, which turned out to be Canada. So Sky were always going to pick up Monaco. Over on BT Sport, and I’m happy to say that they are pushing the boat further out for live coverage of the Indianapolis 500. Preceding the event will be a Motorsport Tonight Special, as always fronted by Abi Griffiths with studio guests including motor sport commentator Ben Evans.

Fans therefore have a choice of watching the Monaco post-race stuff on Sky or the Indy 500 build-up on BT Sport, a good choice! During the race itself, the plan is for BT to take a split screen approach, with studio discussion during the ad-breaks in America. Again, this is great news and reminiscent of what Sky Sports did for years with the IndyCar coverage. One imagines Keith Huewen will turn up somewhere, hopefully he does being Sky’s presenter for many years. Below are all the scheduling details you need:

Monday 19th May
20:00 to 21:00 – Monaco Historic Grand Prix 2014 (Sky Sports F1)
– repeated on Tuesday 20th May at 20:00 on ITV4

Wednesday 21st May
14:00 to 14:45 – F1: Driver Press Conference (Sky Sports F1)
23:45 to 00:00 – F1: Gear up for Monaco (Sky Sports F1)

Thursday 22nd May
08:45 to 11:00 – F1: Practice 1 (Sky Sports F1)
08:55 to 10:35 – F1: Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
11:00 to 11:50 – GP2: Practice (Sky Sports F1)
12:45 to 15:00 – F1: Practice 2 (Sky Sports F1)
15:10 to 16:00 – GP2: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1)
16:00 to 16:45 – F1: Team Press Conference (Sky Sports F1)
17:00 to 18:00 – The F1 Show (Sky Sports F1)
20:00 to 21:00 – F1: Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Friday 23rd May
10:05 to 11:35 – GP2: Race 1 (Sky Sports F1)
17:00 to 18:00 – The F1 Show (Sky Sports F1)
18:45 to 19:00 – Inside F1 (BBC News Channel)

Saturday 24th May
09:45 to 11:15 – F1: Practice 3 (Sky Sports F1)
09:55 to 11:05 – F1: Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
12:00 to 15:00 – F1: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1)
12:55 to 14:05 – F1: Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
15:00 to 16:00 – GP2: Race 2 (Sky Sports F1)
16:10 to 17:10 – GP Heroes: James Hunt (Sky Sports F1)
17:25 to 18:40 – F1: Qualifying Highlights (BBC One)
19:45 to 20:00 – Inside F1 (BBC News Channel)

Sunday 25th May
10:00 to 11:00 – Formula Renault 3.5 (BT Sport 1)
11:30 to 16:15 – F1: Race (Sky Sports F1)
=> 11:30 – Track Parade
=> 12:00 – Race
=> 15:30 – Paddock Live
13:00 to 15:00 – F1: Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)
15:30 to 16:30 – Motorsport Tonight Special (BT Sport 2)
16:30 to 21:00 – Indianapolis 500 (BT Sport 2)
17:05 to 18:35 – F1: Race Highlights (BBC One)

Wednesday 28th May
20:30 to 21:00 – Midweek Report (Sky Sports F1)

Classic F1 on Sky Sports F1
19/05 – 21:00 to 21:40 – 1982 Monaco Grand Prix Highlights
20/05 – 21:00 to 21:45 – 1988 Monaco Grand Prix Highlights
21/05 – 21:00 to 21:45 – 1989 Monaco Grand Prix Highlights
22/05 – 21:00 to 21:40 – 1993 Monaco Grand Prix Highlights
23/05 – 21:00 to 21:45 – 1984 Monaco Grand Prix Highlights
24/05 – 21:00 to 22:00 – 1992 Monaco Grand Prix Highlights
25/05 – 16:15 to 17:15 – 1977 Season Review
25/05 – 21:00 to 21:40 – 1983 Monaco Grand Prix Highlights
26/05 – 21:00 to 23:30 – 2011 Hungarian Grand Prix
27/05 – 21:00 to 22:00 – 1996 German Grand Prix Highlights
28/05 – 21:00 to 21:30 – 1990 Australian Grand Prix Highlights
29/05 – 21:00 to 23:45 – 1999 Malaysian Grand Prix
30/05 – 21:00 to 21:30 – 1987 Australian Grand Prix Highlights

As always if anything changes, I’ll update the above details.

Melanie Sykes’s BT Sport MotoGP status

To clear up the Melanie Sykes situation regarding her presenting BT Sport’s MotoGP coverage.

I e-mailed BT Sport’s press office yesterday asking about her status, and I quote: “Can you confirm whether Melanie Sykes has been dropped as BT Sport’s MotoGP presenter?” Their response to this blog was: “Mel isn’t presenting this weekend due to personal circumstances. Chris [Hollins] is presenting [yesterday] and Craig Doyle [today].”

After a few tweets, I read nothing into it, ‘personal circumstances’ being the key phrase. Which is why I didn’t blog about it, it has no place for discussion in the public domain. I don’t do tabloid reporting, it is not for me to start discussing what ‘personal circumstances’ may or may not mean. It has no place on this blog. The other key phrase was ‘this weekend’, in other words she will be back presenting for them.

This morning, Mat Oxley has tweeted saying “Anyone noticed that Melanie Sykes ain’t there in the BT Sport studio? Parting of the ways, apparently.” That changes things substantially. I also cannot remember a previous occasion where a presenter has decided to leave a quarter of the way through the season. BT did not elaborate on their comment yesterday when I put Oxley’s tweet to them.

I’ll update this post if I hear anything more.

Update on May 28th – Craig Doyle tweeted yesterday with an image to the Isle of Man TT schedule for the week. The image had some hand writing next to the side of Sunday stating ‘Mugello GP’, which clearly indicates that he is (at least as of that tweet) presenting BT’s coverage this Sunday. Whilst Jon in the comments picked it up, the tweet has since been deleted.

Update on May 30thIt’s official. Sykes and BT have parted company.

HD version of Sky Sports F1 coming to Virgin Media

Sky Sports F1 will be available in high definition to Virgin Media subscribers for the first time, it has been confirmed. In a joint press release with Sky, the cable company said that, alongside their current Sky offerings, they “will also offer its TV customers Sky Sports 3 HD, Sky Sports 4 HD, and Sky Sports F1 HD, with Sky Sports News HD and Sky News HD to follow.”

A date has yet to be confirmed although I imagine it will happen in the next month or two. Jeremy Darroch, Chief Executive, Sky, said: “We’re pleased to have extended our partnership with Virgin Media, which increases the reach of our content and reinforces our broadly-based approach to growth. This agreement builds on our long-standing relationship with Virgin Media, enabling us to deliver our great channels to even more homes across the UK and opening up additional sources of revenue.”

Tom Mockridge, Virgin Media’s Chief Executive Officer, added: “We are excited our customers will be able to watch even more great TV from Sky on more devices as a result of the most extensive agreement ever signed between Virgin Media and Sky. This promises to be a fantastic summer of entertainment and our customers, whether at home or on the go, will get to enjoy Sky’s range of channels for years to come as a result of our investment.”

It looks like the extra HD channels will be free to Sky Premium HD subscribers. It’s very good news for Virgin Media subscribers, and about time, in my opinion.

Update on July 16th – Sky Sports F1 HD was added to the Virgin Media line-up yesterday. Here is the press release from earlier this week.

Spanish Grand Prix reverses bad fortunes

The Spanish Grand Prix reversed Formula 1’s recent poor viewership numbers in the UK, unofficial overnight viewing figures showed.

Live coverage on BBC One averaged 3.44m (28.7%) from 12:15 to 15:15 whilst the action on Sky Sports F1 averaged 642k (5.5%) from 12:00 to 15:30. Both numbers are up on the respective 2013 figures but slightly down on 2012. In 2012, 3.49m watched on BBC One and 680k on Sky Sports F1 for the equivalent slot. 2013 had 3.29m (29%) on BBC One and 444k (3.7%) on Sky Sports F1, again the equivalent slot number for Sky.

The combined figure of 4.08m is therefore up on 2013’s 3.73m but down on 2012’s 4.17m. Looking further back and it is up on 2010 albeit some way down on 2011’s 4.7m. In the grand scheme of things, it is a good rating for Spain. 2011 was an anomaly, in that it was extremely high thanks to Lewis Hamilton mirroring Sebastian Vettel’s every move in the last twenty laps. The rating is near identical to the Malaysian Grand Prix number, perhaps no coincidence I feel that the two races above four million viewers so far this season are the same two that have been live on BBC One.

Elsewhere, the track parade segment on Sky Sports F1 averaged 125k (1.7%), with their 45 minute Paddock Live show averaging 110k (0.8%).

The Qualifying session on Saturday fared brilliantly, with ratings hitting their highest heights since at least the late 1990s. An average of 2.25m (24.0%) watched on BBC One from 12:20 to 14:15, whilst an extra 414k (4.5%) tuned into Sky Sports F1 from 12:00 to 14:35. Fascinatingly, BBC’s number is actually down by 59k, with Sky Sports up by 118k, in other words, Sky recorded a 40 percent increase year-on-year (I incorrectly said 30 percent over on Twitter). It is also worth noting that those numbers exclude any other viewers who chose to watch the coverage on Sky1.

Sky’s number is up on both 2012 and 2013, BBC’s number is up on 2012 but down on 2013. Overall, the combined figure of 2.66m is the highest for a Spanish Grand Prix Qualifying session for many years, since at least the early ITV days. The previous highest was 2.65m in 2010 for BBC’s coverage, albeit the slot length was much shorter due to the General Election coverage. For the data junkies, that’s 2,660,900 in 2014 excluding Sky1 and 2,647,700 in 2011! The red flag might have had a part to be with the session taking up a larger proportion of the programme.

From a ratings point of view, Sky have more to smile about than BBC I feel, however it is nice to be able to finally report some positive F1 ratings news.

The 2013 Spanish Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.