The 2014 Formula One Drivers’ Championship battle between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton is, more likely than not, going to be decided at the season decider in Abu Dhabi with five races to go. However, should reliability befall either of them in any of the next two or three races, then the Brazilian Grand Prix could end up being a title decider. Okay, double points makes that unlikely, but let’s assume for the sake of this piece that bad reliability does befall Rosberg and that Hamilton walks into USA and Brazil with one hand on the title. The chances of that happening are low, however it is a possibility.
On the broadcasting side of things, this is the first time that a British driver has been in championship contention since 2010. 2011 and 2013 were walkovers from Sebastian Vettel whilst Vettel battled Fernando Alonso in 2012. It poses some interesting thoughts, when you consider how the final five races are structured in this current landscape:
– October 5th – Japan (Suzuka) – BBC and Sky live
– October 12th – Russia (Sochi) – BBC and Sky live
– November 2nd – USA (Circuit of the Americas) – Sky live; BBC highlights
– November 9th – Brazil (Interlagos) – Sky live; BBC highlights
– November 23rd – Abu Dhabi (Yas Marina) – BBC and Sky live
My first thought is how, on reflection, BBC’s decision to choose Canada over Brazil as a live race may turn out to be an utterly catastrophic move. The pick process begins with BBC choosing three races to broadcast live, and Brazil was not one of them. The problem I see with the way the picks worked out is that you cannot build any momentum whatsoever heading into the season finale. It’s brilliant having all these races in European primetime, but if you’re going to go down the pay-TV road with a 50/50 split, then it wipes out any positive effect that it may well have on viewing figures. Japan and Russia can do brilliantly, but the moment USA comes along, momentum goes as the BBC highlights will be on at 22:30 at night.
I’m going to paint a hypothetical scenario. Heading into the Brazilian Grand Prix, these are the standings, with the Russian, Japan and USA results in brackets:
1. Lewis Hamilton – 302pts (1st/2nd/2nd)
2. Nico Rosberg – 271pts (2nd/DNF/3rd)
Do I think that is going to happen? No. Would I go to the bookies to place a bet on for those results? Absolutely not. But chances are, one of the other will suffer reliability problems before Interlagos. And if Hamilton escapes Texas with a points gap of 25 points or bigger, then there are some fascinating questions. The idea of a British driver winning the championship exclusively live on pay-TV is something I have not mentioned in the two and a half years since I began writing the blog, simply because the possibility has never arose. After the results of Singapore, which swung the championship back into Hamilton’s favour, that possibility has just increased.
A peak audience of 13 million viewers watched Hamilton’s title victory on ITV in 2008, Formula 1’s biggest ever audience in this country. A race, which could end up with a British driver winning the World Championship, is an event of national sporting importance, and one which, in my view, should be screened live on terrestrial television. No ifs. No buts. Brazil could be that race. The Brazilian Grand Prix at the moment is scheduled to be a highlights race, presumably on BBC Two at about 21:00 or 22:00. Whether any room for negotiation could occur would depend on how watertight the contract is, and whether force majeur could be applied. I’m not sure it can in any case: the process for picking races was fair and Sky would quite rightly not be happy if BBC could go and screen a race live that they [Sky] originally picked as an exclusive race for themselves. Such a move would make a mockery of the contract, unless there is a clause that allows BBC to screen any “title deciding races involving a British driver live”.
One thought, and a potential compromise should the Brazilian Grand Prix become a bonafide title decider would be for BBC to begin their highlights programme whilst the race is happening, at about 16:30 UK time, joining the closing laps as live if needs be. Whilst this exact scenario has not happened, jumping into a race halfway through from highlights to live has happened before, as Mark Wilkin, BBC’s F1 producer at the time, noted from the 1990 Mexican Grand Prix: “It became clear while we were playing out the early highlights of the race that the latter stages were going to be really exciting. We had an edit of what had happened so far on a tape that was going to air as the excitement was building live. I felt it was more important to be live for the closing laps than it was to show the highlights of the missing laps. That was when Prost got into, I think, second place. And so the programme jumped forward.”
“The explanation offered by James Hunt was ‘now we can go live’. Modern technology would make it easier to have seamless coverage even in those circumstances but we simply couldn’t shorten anything once it was on air in those days (because it was on a physical tape) so the choice was to miss everything live (and probably incur an overrun) or get live. That meant at least we were live for Mansell’s amazing pass of Gerhard Berger around the outside of Peraltada”, Wilkin continued. Another possibility, if the above was not an option, would be for Sky to simulcast the Brazilian Grand Prix live on Sky1 for those without access to the F1 channel. Cricket and golf fans reading this blog will know what it is like to have events of a national importance behind a pay wall, notably The Ashes and the Ryder Cup.
Personally, as I said at the outset, I don’t think the championship will be won until Abu Dhabi thanks to double points, but if the momentum continues to swing towards Hamilton, both broadcasters better be prepared to make some contingency arrangements, or face criticism, heading into Interlagos…
Update on October 18th – So with both Japan and Russia now gone, Lewis Hamilton has two more wins to his name, with Nico Rosberg having two more second places, meaning that Hamilton has extended his gap to 17 points. Daniel Ricciardo is now effectively out of the title race. For Hamilton to win the championship in Brazil, he needs to leave Interlagos with at least a 50 point gap, meaning he needs at least a 25 point margin coming out of USA for that possibility to occur. Note that exactly a 50 point gap out of Brazil would be good enough, as Rosberg has only four wins to Hamilton’s nine as of writing.
So, what needs to happen in USA for Brazil to potentially become a title winning race for Hamilton?
– Hamilton needs to win and Rosberg to finish in 3rd or lower
– Hamilton needs to finish 2nd and Rosberg to finish in 5th or lower
– Hamilton needs to finish 3rd and Rosberg to finish in 7th or lower
– Hamilton needs to finish 4th and Rosberg to finish in 8th or lower
– Hamilton needs to finish 5th and Rosberg to finish in 9th or lower
– Hamilton needs to finish 6th and Rosberg to finish outside of the points
Anything else, and the championship will definitely go to Abu Dhabi. A retirement for Rosberg in America and all of a sudden the possibility of Hamilton clinching the title in Brazil is a more realistic possibility. We shall have to wait and see what actually does happen.