Just over three months ago, Nico Rosberg won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to finish the 2015 Formula One season. Meanwhile, in the pit lane both BBC and Sky Sports went off the air to conclude another year of racing. Unbeknown to the viewing public at the time, that race would also mark the end of BBC’s television coverage.
Fast-forward to March, and in just a few days, a new era of Formula 1 broadcasting begins in the United Kingdom. Enter Channel 4. A mix of new and old will greet viewers when their first programme hits the air on Saturday 19th March. Whilst commentary will continue to be provided by David Coulthard and Ben Edwards, Steve Jones is the new face at the front of Channel 4’s coverage.
Karun Chandhok and Lee McKenzie will be patrolling the pit lane. Both of them will be in Melbourne, the latter finishing her Six Nations Rugby commitments with the BBC this weekend. Coulthard, Edwards, Jones and Chandhok will be part of Channel 4’s team for round one, alongside (presumably) one or two of the pundits that the corporation have announced. Who that will be out of Channel 4’s range of analysts, we don’t yet know.
Their qualifying highlights programme is 105 minutes long, with the race programme a whopping two and a half hours long. The main reason for the extended length is commercial breaks. As I’ve discussed before, Channel 4 will be taking breaks as usual meaning that the length of the highlights programming will be longer than their predecessor. Based on previous years, the highlights edit will consist of around 65 to 70 minutes of action. Factor in adverts, and this increases to around 85 to 91 minutes of air-time (of which 20 minutes is adverts), which is the length of your typical Formula 1 race.
In other words, this will feel like an ITV F1 programme from back in 2008. The slot length for the race indicates that the race edit will start at exactly 14:00 and finish around 15:25/15:30. In my opinion, the only edits Channel 4 will make are to trim 5 minutes of action every time they wish to take an ad-break, giving an ‘as live’ feel to it. Qualifying is different: there will have to be edits within the individual sessions that will be noticeable to the viewer. Qualifying has three natural commercial break points and it makes little sense to force an ad-break in half way through a session. So, expect the qualifying session itself to be a bit more ‘sliced’ than the race edit…. which in itself may be a tricky task under the new format.
“It’ll make it that little bit harder to make sure that drivers and teams optimise the performance of their cars to get the best lap time out of it. The good thing about it is that the grid we’re going to get left with won’t be quite as refined and that means we’re going to have a few of the better drivers further back and there will be more action in the race as they gradually carve their way to the front.” – Jonathan Palmer, commenting on the then-new format during the 1996 Australian Grand Prix Qualifying session for BBC TV. Some things don’t change…
In terms of supplementary programme, Channel 4 have a special with Guy Martin as well as an extended 5-minute preview entitled Fast and Furious. Over on Sky, there are several significant changes to their portfolio. The F1 Show during each race weekend has been reduced to 30-minutes and I believe those episodes will no longer be live. Furthermore, the studio editions of The F1 Show have been axed, with the F1 Midweek Report being renamed to the F1 Report. The F1 Report will be airing on a weekly basis, with Natalie Pinkham presenting and Marc Priestley featuring as a regular guest. For Australia at least, every session will be simulcast on Sky Sports 1, continuing a trend that started last season.
Sky’s F1 team is similar to previous years. Simon Lazenby presents all the action alongside pundits including Damon Hill, Anthony Davidson and Johnny Herbert. Martin Brundle and David Croft will be commentating on all 21 races, with Ted Kravitz roaming the pit lane. Rachel Brookes and Craig Slater are primarily covering the action for Sky Sports News, but expect the former to turn up frequently on the channel during 2016 whilst Pinkham is on maternity leave. The only difference for Sky is that Bruno Senna, who was part of their team, has moved over to Channel 4. I don’t think Sky are bringing in anyone else, but I imagine the likes of Paul di Resta will appear in their programming as the year progresses.
For the first time since 2002, we have three broadcasters covering Formula 1 in the UK. Back then, it was Sky (through F1 Digital+), ITV and BBC. Now, it is Sky, Channel 4 and the BBC. Yes, the BBC are still covering Formula 1, but from 2016 through radio only. Independent of BBC dropping Formula 1 from television, the corporation also decided to replace James Allen with Jack Nicholls as lead commentator for their radio coverage. Nicholls will commentate on 20 of the 21 rounds, the exception being Austria, which clashes with the London ePrix II. Nicholls will be joined on commentary throughout the season by Allan McNish and Mark Gallagher, with Tom Clarkson and Jennie Gow down in pit lane.
Even if the on-track action does not live up to the hype, it promises to be a fascinating year off-track as Channel 4 embed themselves within the paddock and try to challenge the opposition. The thrills and spills start in Australia, and as usual the full schedule can be found below.
19/03 – 12:30 to 14:15 – Qualifying Highlights
20/03 – 13:30 to 16:00 – Race Highlights
17/03 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Speed with Guy Martin
18/03 – 21:00 to 21:05 – Fast and Furious
Sky Sports F1
18/03 – 01:00 to 03:20 – Practice 1 (also Sky Sports 1)
18/03 – 05:15 to 07:30 – Practice 2 (also Sky Sports 1)
19/03 – 02:45 to 04:15 – Practice 3 (also Sky Sports 1)
19/03 – 05:00 to 07:45 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports 1)
20/03 – 03:30 to 08:15 – Race
=> 03:30 – Track Parade (also Sky Sports 1)
=> 04:00 – Pit Lane Live (also Sky Sports 1)
=> 04:30 – Race (also Sky Sports 1)
=> 07:30 – Paddock Live
16/03 – 20:30 to 21:00 – Report: Australia Preview
17/03 – 04:00 to 04:30 – Driver Press Conference
17/03 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut: Australia
18/03 – 07:30 to 08:00 – Team Press Conference
18/03 – 08:00 to 08:30 – The F1 Show
23/03 – 20:30 to 21:00 – Report: Australia Review
BBC Radio F1
17/03 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
18/03 – 01:25 to 03:05 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
18/03 – 05:25 to 07:05 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
19/03 – 02:55 to 04:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
19/03 – 05:55 to 07:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
20/03 – 04:00 to 07:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)
As always, if anything changes, I will update this post. Given the size of the above text, MotoGP’s schedule for Qatar will follow early next week.
Update on March 16th – Mark Webber is part of Channel 4’s team for the Australian Grand Prix.
Update on March 18th at 08:10 – Correction to the main body, The F1 Show is indeed live.