3.6 million watch Mercedes self-destruct

A shocking Spanish Grand Prix, which saw both Mercedes collide into one another and Max Verstappen win his first race, peaked with 3.6 million, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race, broadcast on Channel 4 from 12:00 to 15:30, averaged 1.93m (22.6%), peaking with 2.70m (28.8%) at 13:05. Sky Sports F1’s coverage, across the same time slot, averaged 559k (6.4%), peaking with 883k (9.4%) also as the race started. Year-on-year comparisons for Sky are difficult as the channel aired the race exclusively live last season.

The combined audience of 2.49 million follows the pattern we have seen so far in 2016: smashing Channel 4’s own slot averages but down compared with 2015. The drop of 30.2 percent is what we have come accustomed to in recent races. It is the lowest audience for the Spanish Grand Prix since 2006. As referenced earlier, Sky’s and Channel 4’s peak audience happened at the same time, hence the combined peak of 3.58m (38.3%) occurred too at 13:05.

The viewing figures as the race progressed followed the exact same trajectory as Bahrain, but on a much more significant scale. At 13:05, 3.6 million were watching. This dropped to 3.4 million at 13:20, 3.2 million at 13:30, 3.0 million at 13:40, hitting a low of 2.86m (32.5%) at 14:10. Audiences picked up slightly in the last five laps, with Verstappen’s victory being watched by 3.37m (35.0%) at 14:40. I think it should be pointed out that whilst the raw figures may look low, the shares are excellent and comparable to some BBC live races from last season.

The drop throughout the mid-phase of the race might surprise readers given the lack of competition. The first point I would make is that some viewers who were watching live would have simply moved on (or out) as Lewis Hamilton retired. Unfortunately, as good as yesterday’s race was, some viewers would not have been interested in the four-way battle at the front. Secondly, if you’re not watching live, having the Mercedes drivers’ crash at turn four would have meant chase playing through the remainder of the Grand Prix to catch some of the other exciting moments instead of perhaps sticking more rigorously to it.

Live coverage of Channel 4’s qualifying programme, which aired from 12:00 to 14:30, averaged 1.01m (15.2%). Their programme peaked with 1.67m (22.6%) at 13:55 as Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position. Sky Sports F1’s programme averaged a further 302k (4.6%) from 12:00 to 14:30, peaking with 520k (7.2%) at 13:35 at the end of Q2.

The combined average of 1.31 million viewers is the lowest for the Spanish Grand Prix qualifying session since 2006. It is the lowest number for a qualifying session so far this season, and the lowest since the 2008 European Grand Prix. The previous lowest number this season was Russia, which averaged 1.44 million viewers. Year-on-year, the audience was down 49.4 percent.

I think the combined peak tells a different story. The combined peak of 2.16m (29.1%) came at 13:55. As with the race, the numbers are low but the shares are very good, showing that the total TV audience was poor on Saturday due to the nice weather that the UK is currently having. It does, however, also show that no one chose to time shift the qualifying session otherwise the peak would have been higher.

The peak is the lowest for Spain since 2009, but actually higher than China earlier this season. What we’re seeing here is that the numbers are down across the board, but are being dragged down further by fewer people choosing to watch both Channel 4’s and Sky Sports’ build-up programming in comparison to previous years.

Between 2011 and 2015, there was a gap of around 25 percent between average and peak (2.5m vs 3.2m for example), showing that a proportionally high number liked watching the supplementary material. This past weekend for qualifying, that number was 65 percent (1.31m vs 2.16m). Inevitably programme lengths play an effect, but the difference is far, far greater than historically, a sign of the weather playing its parts as viewers choose to watch the main action as opposed to watching that and the supplementary material around it.

The 2015 Spanish Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.


Formula E learns how to go viral with #LeapOfFaith

There were two major social media highlights of the past few months for me, one of which showed how to go viral, whilst the other really showed the personality of two popular drivers away from the racing circuit.

#LeapOfFaith takes off…
To reach a new, diverse audience, you have to take creative risks. You have to be prepared to try out new things. If the audience is not receptive to said ‘new things’, you simply move in a different direction and add it to your ‘lessons learnt’ list. It gives you an idea of what works and what doesn’t. Formula E’s latest stunt was designed to go viral, and it did exactly that.

The stunt, filmed around the time of the Mexican ePrix in early March, saw Damien Walters backflip over a Formula E car travelling at speed. As of writing, the main video on Formula E’s YouTube channel has had over 5 million hits. When you combine that with Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms, the combined reach of the video will be in excess of 10 million hits, an excellent achievement for Formula E’s digital media team. It shows that thinking outside of the box does work, and can bring attention to their channels, which I feel is a lesson that all in the world of motor sport can learn, including Formula 1.

However, here is the crux for why I don’t think you will see F1’s digital media team do videos like that, and it is not because they are not creative or anything of that sort. How many people will have watched the #LeapOfFaith and thought “I must check out some of Formula E’s other videos” or “I might watch Formula E next weekend”? I’d hazard a guess and say that it was less than 1 percent. Instead, for the vast majority of those that stumbled across the video, they probably thought it was “cool” and moved on.

I’m not trying to undermine the idea behind the video by saying that, because I thought it was awesome, but I do not see it significantly affecting Formula E’s growth. Mind you, every little helps and every opportunity to grab a new viewer is a good opportunity and I applaud Formula E for producing #LeapOfFath.

…Formula 1 drivers show off personality with fun and Q&A sessions…
There have been a few examples recently where personality has been on show in the world of Formula 1. Aside from Fernando Alonso’s live on-screen jibe at Johnny Herbert during Sky Sports F1’s Bahrain Grand Prix practice coverage, the Chinese Grand Prix saw a heated back and forth debate between Sebastian Vettel and Daniil Kvyat over the driving standard of the latter at the start of the race. The debates have been intertwined with fun and Q&A sessions along the way.

Probably the best show of personality this season away from the race track comes from Felipe Massa and Daniel Ricciardo. Back at Massa’s home in Monte Carlo, his son and Ricciardo engaged in a go-karting race. In what was a close run contest from start to finish, with plenty of nail-biting moments, it was the youngster who won by the smallest of margins. The fun and games between Massa and Ricciardo was live streamed on Facebook. Like #LeapOfFaith above, this too went viral amassing nearly 5 million views. Of course, one was designed to go viral whereas the other was some fun between two mates. But we need videos like that, they are memorable and for good reason too.


On the more scripted side, Sky Sports F1 have been engaging in some fan question and answer sessions, so far with Lewis Hamilton and Rio Haryanto (the former also doing a Twitter Q&A in recent weeks). Including all play backs, these two have had 270,000 and 60,000 views respectively. This is a wider Sky Sports strategy to conduct question and answer sessions on social media as opposed, which is how these two have come about. You only need to look at the swathe of videos that Sky Sports upload to Facebook to realise that. I would be surprised if Formula One Management (FOM) have got involved in either of these Q&A sessions. Scripted or not, from a fan perspective, it has been great to see personalities on-show so far during 2016, something I hope continues throughout the year.

…but what hasn’t gone viral?
There have been many fantastic and dramatic moments so far in the 2016 Formula One season. Alongside the aforementioned Vettel vs Kvyat squabble in China, we had Fernando Alonso’s horrifying crash in Australia and the major turn one accident in Russia. There’s been a lot of pin-points so far this year that could have gone ‘viral’. You can produce the greatest videos in the world, but there is no substitute for current action as that inevitably drives traffic. Formula 1 has probably lost out in excess of 15 to 20 million views across Facebook, Twitter and YouTube so far in 2016, I daresay more than that.

Take a look at MotoGP’s social media video portfolio on Facebook and YouTube. We’re talking short-form bite-size content: around 20 seconds long on Facebook and one to two minutes on YouTube. The reason for the lack of 2016 Formula 1 video content on FOM’s social media channels is the current television broadcasting contracts as we all know, but it just illustrates the potential reach that Formula 1 is losing hand over fist on a now bi-weekly basis.

Elsewhere, the lack of an on-screen hashtag still confuses and bemuses me, both in equal measure. I’m surprised Formula E still hasn’t successfully embedded it into their graphics set. So simple, but proving to be a challenge at the same time. Formula E have also launched a new website, which is designed for best use on phone or tablet device. It feels slim line, and is extremely different to say the Formula 1 and MotoGP websites. As a desktop user, I personally prefer the F1 and MotoGP sites, both of which look more professional than the Formula E site. Round the edges, the Formula E website does not look as smooth either, but this should improve over time as bugs are ironed out.

Scheduling: The 2016 Spanish Grand Prix

Round five of the 2016 Formula One season marks a return to more familiar territory with the Spanish Grand Prix from the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. With it, the support races return during the weekend: GP2, GP3 and the Porsche Supercup.

Spain marks Channel 4’s second live Grand Prix and as part of their rotating punditry line-up, the weekend sees the debut of four-time world champion Alain Prost. Prost will be alongside Susie Wolff who makes her second appearance this season.

Elsewhere, I would expect Alex Jacques to return as GP2 and GP3 commentator for his second season. This has not yet been officially confirmed, but I have not seen any information to the contrary making the rounds. I will update this post if I hear anything (the same applies for co-commentator).

Outside of Formula 1, it is the Historic Grand Prix in Monaco, which is being covered live on Motors TV. The only two races that are not being covered are the post-1966 Formula 1 cars in action, because Motors TV is showing the Blancpain Endurance Series instead. In previous years, Sky Sports F1 has aired highlights from the historic weekend, but there is nothing currently in their schedules for the forthcoming weeks.

Also of interest is the World Superbikes from Sepang. The weekend is the first major event that is utilising the revised final corner, which will be used later this year in Formula 1. Below are all the scheduling details you need.

Channel 4 F1
13/05 – 08:55 to 10:35 – Practice 1
13/05 – 12:55 to 14:35 – Practice 2
14/05 – 09:55 to 11:05 – Practice 3
14/05 – 12:00 to 14:30 – Qualifying
15/05 – 12:00 to 15:35 – Race
15/05 – 23:00 to 00:10 – Highlights

Sky Sports F1
13/05 – 08:45 to 11:00 – Practice 1
13/05 – 12:45 to 14:50 – Practice 2
14/05 – 09:45 to 11:15 – Practice 3
14/05 – 12:00 to 14:35 – Qualifying
15/05 – 11:30 to 16:15 – Race
=> 11:30 – Track Parade
=> 12:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 12:30 – Race
=> 15:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
11/05 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Preview
12/05 – 14:00 to 14:30 – Driver Press Conference
12/05 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut
13/05 – 15:30 to 16:00 – Team Press Conference
13/05 – 16:00 to 16:30 – The F1 Show
18/05 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
13/05 – 08:55 to 10:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
14/05 – 09:55 to 11:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
14/05 – 12:55 to 14:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
15/05 – 13:00 to 15:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Blancpain Endurance Series – Silverstone (Motors TV)
15/05 – 14:30 to 18:30 – Race

Formula 3 Europe – Pau (BT Sport Europe)
14/05 – 10:00 to 11:00 – Race 1
14/05 – 14:30 to 15:45 – Race 2
15/05 – 14:00 to 15:15 – Race 3

GP2 Series – Spain (Sky Sports F1)
13/05 – 11:00 to 11:50 – Practice
13/05 – 14:50 to 15:30 – Qualifying
14/05 – 14:35 to 16:05 – Race 1
15/05 – 09:30 to 10:45 – Race 2

GP3 Series – Spain (Sky Sports F1)
14/05 – 08:45 to 09:20 – Qualifying
14/05 – 16:15 to 17:15 – Race 1
15/05 – 08:20 to 09:20 – Race 2

Historic Grand Prix of Monaco (Motors TV)
14/05 – 07:25 to 10:35 – Qualifying
=> 07:25 – 1966 to 1972 Formula 1
=> 08:05 – 1973 to 1976 Formula 1
=> 08:55 – 1958 to 1960 Formula Junior
=> 09:45 – Parade for Pre-War
14/05 – 13:25 to 17:20 – Qualifying
=> 13:25 – Pre-1961 Formula 1 and Formula 2
=> 14:05 – 1961 to 1965 Formula 1 (1500cc)
=> 14:55 – 1952 to 1955 Sports Racing
=> 15:45 – 1966 to 1972 Formula 1
=> 16:35 – 1973 to 1976 Formula 1
15/05 – 07:50 to 12:05 – Races
=> 07:50 – 1958 to 1960 Formula Junior
=> 08:50 – Pre-1961 Formula 1 and Formula 2
=> 09:55 – 1961 to 1965 Formula 1 (1500cc)
=> 11:05 – Parade for Pre-War
15/05 – 12:50 to 13:50 – Race – 1952 to 1955 Sports Racing

IndyCar Series – Indianapolis (BT Sport//ESPN)
14/05 – 20:30 to 23:00 – Race

Porsche Supercup – Spain (British Eurosport 2)
15/05 – 10:30 to 11:30 – Race

Speedway Grand Prix – Poland (BT Sport 1)
14/05 – 17:45 to 21:15 – Races

World Superbikes – Malaysia (British Eurosport 2)
14/05 – 06:15 to 10:15 – Qualifying and Race 1
15/05 – 07:00 to 10:30 – Support Races and Race 2

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

Updated on May 7th.

Motor racing prepares for the future with technical enhancements

As the 2017 Formula One season starts to take shape with the sport’s stakeholders thrashing out the technical regulations, on the broadcasting side movement continues to be made in both Formula 1 and beyond.

Changes are coming…
There will be two significant changes in 2017 for viewers watching Formula 1. For the first time ever, Formula 1 will be broadcast in 4k resolution (Ultra HD) from 2017. The news was announced at the time of Sky’s new rights deal back in March. It is not the first time a motor sport event has been broadcast in 4k: BT Sport aired the British MotoGP last season in ultra HD. The 2017 announcement with relation to Formula 1 has not yet been mentioned via any of Formula One Management’s (FOM) outlets, namely their website or social media channels.

Despite this, as the Sky press release mentioned every race will air live in 4K next year. It will be interesting to see how much demand there is for 4K content. FOM’s current circuit cameras are configured for 4K, meaning that there will be only World Feed. In comparison, BT Sport usually have two commentary teams for the events they air in ultra HD, the British MotoGP was one example of this last year.

2016 Russian GP - Magnussen on-board
On-board with Renault’s Kevin Magnussen at the 2016 Russian Grand Prix. Just how different may the t-cam angle look in 2017?

The second major change that will be noticed worldwide is the change to the T-camera. Probably the most well-known and used on-board camera, the introduction of a cockpit protection system (Halo, Aeroscreen or something else) means that the perspective this camera gives will be radically different. Unfortunately, we did not see any on-board cameras from Daniel Ricciardo’s car during his Aeroscreen demonstration during practice one at the Russian Grand Prix, but I’m hopeful we will see on-board shots in forthcoming races.

An Aeroscreen like solution does provide opportunities to bring in new camera angles. The most logical one is a camera looking back towards the driver, which should be closer than ever before. If you wanted to be clever, you could have a camera embedded within the Aeroscreen that rotates around the top rim. I’m sure there’s many more, but if Aeroscreen was made mandatory, there certainly are a lot of ways that FOM could try to use the system to get closer to the driver in the future.

…say hello to drones and virtual reality…
Before the 2017 season gets underway though, there is at least one new innovation we will see in Formula 1 this year. According to Joe Saward, the Italian Grand Prix will play host to drones, with the hope that it will “create better coverage”. I’m intrigued to see how this goes, although there are some very obvious safety aspects to take into account, as Saward himself mentions in the link above.

Elsewhere, 360 degree videos and virtual reality is the thing doing the rounds at the moment, in both Formula 1 and Formula E. 360 degree videos are not new though, and in fact have been around for several years, dating back to at least 2012. Nevertheless, Formula E has managed to get the jump on Formula 1 by offering 360 degree highlights of races from a selection of on-board camera angles. To my knowledge, we have not yet had 360 degree videos during an F1 race weekend, the closest we have come so far is this video from Sky’s virtual reality studio that was released in March.

Alongside Formula E’s 360-degree movement is the announcement that was made in March that the series has teamed up with Virtually Live, with the intention to broadcast races live in virtual reality in the near future. Virtually Live’s CEO Tom Impallomeni said: “Formula E aims to represent a vision for the future of the motor industry, serving as a framework for R&D around the electric vehicle, while Virtually Live is building a revolutionary, immersive virtual reality technology allowing everyone to experience the magic of live sports and events from anywhere in the world.”

…FOM and Dorna roll out new graphics
There have been some subtle graphical changes rolled out this season so far from FOM. Ignoring the elimination qualifying ‘countdown’ graphic that we will hopefully never see again, the main changes are around pit stops and tyre choices. The pit stop graphic is the most effective change, with added detail compared with 2015. There is more emphasis on tyre choices, which are embedded within the pit stop strip, as well as the stint length that the tyre lasted.

2015 vs 2016 F1 pit graphics.png
A comparison of Formula One Management’s 2015 (top) and 2016 (bottom) pit stops graphics.

The tyre graphics as a whole have been tweaked out of necessity for the new tyre rules for the 2016 Formula One season. With three tyre compounds available, it means six possible options are available (new and used). FOM use a filled-in tyre to show that it is a new tyre at the start of the stint. An unfilled tyre, like the graphic above shows, means that some laps had already been completed on that tyre before the current stint started – in the case above with Hamilton, this would have been during qualifying.

I understand why FOM may have wanted to add the new and used aspect to the graphics, but, is the graphic useful if it has to be explained to casual viewers at every race? I’m not so certain. After a few laps a tyre is no longer new. This feels like over complexity to a degree. I like the graphic, I just wonder whether it was necessary though in the first place.

ESPN have taken a page out of FOM’s book with their new IndyCar graphics for the 2016 season. The graphics, only available to domestic viewers when ESPN are covering the action live, can be seen here. The graphic set uses a similar layout to historical IndyCar graphics but with a modern, flat look, bearing similarities to the graphics Formula 1 introduced at the beginning of 2015.

Brundle to miss European Grand Prix weekend

For the first time since they entered the sport in 2012, Sky Sports F1 will be without Martin Brundle for a race weekend.

Brundle has confirmed that he will be racing in the new LMP3 support race during the 24 Hours of Le Mans weekend. The race takes place on Saturday 18th June, the same day as qualifying for the 2016 European (Baku) Grand Prix. Sky have confirmed to this site that Brundle will be missing the whole weekend.

It is the first race he has missed since the 2008 Hungarian Grand Prix when James Allen and Anthony Davidson voiced the race for ITV. Sky have also said to this site that their European Grand Prix co-commentator will come from their existing range of talent, meaning that it is likely to be one of either Damon Hill, Paul di Resta or Johnny Herbert alongside David Croft.

Don’t expect the co-commentator to be confirmed in the form of a press release before the race weekend. One thing is for certain: Sky’s team will be significantly weaker without Brundle during the Baku weekend.