Scheduling: The 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

The longest Formula 1 season in history comes down to this. For the third season in a row, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg battle it out to become Formula One Drivers’ Champion. This year, the battle goes to the wire with Rosberg in front. In between him and his first ever F1 championship is 55 laps of the Yas Marina circuit. It is the first time ever that the GP3, GP2 and F1 titles have gone to the wire in the same season.

The action is live on Sky Sports and Channel 4, with both sides fielding their strongest line-ups. Channel 4 sees the return of Eddie Jordan, Mark Webber and Susie Wolff, whilst Anthony Davidson is back on the Sky Pad. Channel 4’s coverage is specially extended for the weekend as well: alongside two documentaries before the weekend, Lee McKenzie sits down with Mark Webber as his racing career comes to an end. Furthermore, their race day show is a whopping 4 hours and 40 minutes, which is certainly the longest billed time for any F1 programme on free-to-air television that I can remember (excluding any races extended due to wet weather or red flags).

Sky’s race day programme is simulcast on Sky Sports 2, the first time that live F1 action has been shown on that channel. As previously mentioned, Sky are also showing Mario Muth’s Formula 3 documentary centred around the rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Martin Brundle in 1982. Elsewhere, there’s a special Grand Prix show on talkSPORT 2 on Wednesday evening with Rachel Brookes and Johnny Herbert presenting.

Below are all the scheduling details you need, as F1 2016 comes to a close…

Channel 4 F1
25/11 – 08:55 to 10:35 – Practice 1
25/11 – 12:55 to 15:00 – Practice 2
26/11 – 09:55 to 11:25 – Practice 3
26/11 – 11:55 to 14:30 – Qualifying
27/11 – 12:00 to 16:40 – Race

Supplementary Programming
20/11 – 19:00 to 20:00 – 0 to 60mph: Britain’s Fastest Kids
20/11 – 20:00 to 21:00 – The Lost Lotus: Restoring a Race Car
26/11 – 11:25 to 11:55 – Lee McKenzie meets Mark Webber

Sky Sports F1
25/11 – 08:45 to 10:50 – Practice 1 (also Sky Sports 1)
25/11 – 12:45 to 14:50 – Practice 2 (also Sky Sports 1)
26/11 – 09:45 to 11:15 – Practice 3
26/11 – 12:00 to 14:35 – Qualifying
27/11 – 11:30 to 16:15 – Race
=> 11:30 – Track Parade
=> 12:00 – Pit Lane Live (also Sky Sports 2)
=> 12:30 – Race (also Sky Sports 2)
=> 15:30 – Paddock Live (also Sky Sports 2)

Supplementary Programming
23/11 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Preview
24/11 – 11:00 to 11:30 – Driver Press Conference
24/11 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut
25/11 – 16:00 to 16:30 – Team Press Conference
25/11 – 16:30 to 17:00 – The F1 Show
27/11 – 16:15 to 18:15 – Senna vs Brundle
30/11 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
24/11 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
25/11 – 08:55 to 10:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
25/11 – 12:55 to 14:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
26/11 – 12:55 to 14:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
27/11 – 13:00 to 15:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

talkSPORT 2
23/11 – 22:00 to 23:00 – The Grand Prix Show

GP2 Series – Abu Dhabi (Sky Sports F1)
25/11 – 07:15 to 08:05 – Practice
25/11 – 15:10 to 15:45 – Qualifying
26/11 – 14:35 to 16:05 – Race 1
27/11 – 10:15 to 11:30 – Race 2

GP3 Series – Abu Dhabi (Sky Sports F1)
26/11 – 11:10 to 11:45 – Qualifying
26/11 – 08:20 to 09:20 – Race 1
27/11 – 08:55 to 09:55 – Race 2

As always, I will update the schedule if anything changes.

Sky Sports unveils Christmas schedule with new documentaries; Channel 4 announce review show

Sky Sports have unveiled their schedules for the Christmas period, including a plethora of new content on Sky Sports F1.

– The Brabham Boys looks back at the Brabham Formula 1 team. This was filmed over the Brazilian Grand Prix weekend, and will feature Herbie Blash, Charlie Whiting, Bernie Ecclestone, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet and Martin Brundle. The Brabham Boys is currently set to premiere on Saturday 3rd December at 14:00 (repeated near to the Christmas period).
– The F1 Report team review the season in a one-hour special that will air on Wednesday 7th December at 20:00.
Nico The Brave reflects on the shock retirement of the current champion, with an extended interview and analysis from Martin Brundle, Damon Hill and Ted Kravitz. The special will air on Thursday 8th December at 20:00.
– The Journalists Special makes a return (guests to be confirmed), and will air on Wednesday 14th December from 20:00 to 21:00.
– Bernie Meets Brundle is a 30-minute special with the F1 supremo chatting to Martin Brundle. This is an extension of the feature airing over the Brazilian and Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekends. I’m pleased in particular to see this given that there are bound to be snippets that were not included in the race weekend cuts. The premiere date is currently Friday 16th December at 20:00.
– Sky’s 2016 F1 Season Review is a one-hour special looking at the year gone by. This doesn’t appear to be a studio based show looking at the programme description. The premiere date is currently Saturday 17th December at 11:30.
– James Hunt: 40 Years On is a 30-minute special looking back at his 1976 championship winning year. The programme premieres on Saturday 17th December at 21:00. I suspect this might be bits from different segments cut together, but again it is nice to see it in one long piece.

Alongside this, the channel will also be airing highlights from the AUTOSPORT Awards whilst Mario Muth’s Senna vs Brundle documentary will be shown following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Anyone who follows this site regularly will know that one of my biggest criticisms of Sky is their failure in the past year or two to produce long-form original programme. The Christmas schedule above is a pleasant surprise and hopefully a sign of things to come as the channel heads towards 2017.

Channel 4 will be airing their own 95 minute review called Nico vs Lewis on Sunday 18th December from 12:30. Steve Jones, Mark Webber and David Coulthard present from the Mercedes F1 headquarters in Brackley. At this stage, the schedules should be locked into place, but there could be reviews pushed back due to the sudden retirement of Nico Rosberg.

Updated on November 25th to reflect The Brabham Boys being brought forward. Updated further on December 2nd with Channel 4’s details. Updated on December 5th with details of Sky’s Rosberg special. Updated on December 14th revising length of Bernie Meets Brundle.

Formula E best of the rest as MotoGP season comes to an end

The 2016 MotoGP season ended on Sunday live on BT Sport, but was beaten by Formula E’s second round of its new season in Morocco, overnight viewing figures show.

Formula E continues solid start on Channel 5
Live coverage of the Marrakesh ePrix aired on Channel 5 from 15:30 on Saturday (12th November). The two-hour programme averaged 281k (2.1%), peaking with 443k (3.3%) at 16:40. Bearing in mind that Formula E was resoundingly beaten on ITV4 whenever it clashed with Formula 1, this is a solid number.

The Marrakesh event also holds the feat of being one of the most watched races so far in Formula E’s history, only behind the London ePrix and the inaugural Beijing ePrix. This shows that their deal with Channel 5 is already paying off, and helping the championship reach a larger audience than it could on ITV4. Formula E at the moment needs to take baby steps on Channel 5, to try to increase the audience.

However, Formula E’s numbers were lower than Channel 5’s slot average which might be concerning for the network. Formula E’s deal with Channel 5 is two years long, so there is time to improve numbers. The large calendar gaps won’t help, but hopefully Formula E can maintain a positive trajectory when it returns in February.

MotoGP bows out lower than 2015, but up on 2014
The 2016 MotoGP season has done as well as you would probably expect, given the way Marc Marquez wrapped up the championship several races early. Live coverage of the Valencian MotoGP averaged 107k (1.2%) from 09:30 to 14:15 on BT Sport 2. The MotoGP segment itself from 12:30 to 14:00 averaged 176k (1.8%), peaking with 234k. Unsurprisingly, overnight viewing figures are down around 45 percent on last year’s record high audiences for Valencia.

Across the season as a whole, the pattern is repeated year-on-year. BT Sport’s MotoGP race day programmes in 2016 averaged 114k (1.9%), compared with 132k (2.3%) in 2015 and 90k (1.4%) in 2014. The MotoGP portion of BT’s programming from 12:30 to 14:00 or equivalent averaged 181k (3.1%), compared with 212k (3.6%) in 2015 and 139k (2.0%) in 2014. Cal Crutchlow’s maiden victory in the Czech Republic peaked with a strong 282k, up 13.5 percent on 2015. The highest peak audience of 2016 went to Austin, which peaked with 325k.

It should not be a surprise to see 2015 with higher viewing figures: the season went down to the wire and would have hooked the attention of a broader range of viewers. On the other hand, 2016 was much more exciting than 2014 for MotoGP with nine different winners. I think the viewing figures are about where I would expect for BT. Not amazing, but not poor by any stretch of the imagination. As always, viewing figures do not include BT Sport’s app, nor MotoGP’s Video Pass which will make up a small portion of the difference year-on-year.

ITV4’s highlights programme continued to drop compared with 2014 and 2015. Their highlights programme, which aired on Monday nights, averaged 285k (1.4%) according to overnight viewing figures, compared with 306k (1.5%) in 2015 and 344k (1.7%) in 2014. A drop of 7 percent is smaller than the 11 percent drop experienced between 2014 and 2015. I don’t have the numbers to hand, but I believe ITV4’s viewing share is down as a whole, which may explain why MotoGP has followed that trend.

The combined UK audience for MotoGP is made up of BT’s MotoGP portion (90 minutes or equivalent) plus ITV4’s highlights. The total of 466k is a record low, down on both 2014 and 2015, which is slightly disappointing. I do think audiences would improve if ITV4’s highlights programme was better placed, or aired on the Sunday evening for European races, but I doubt BT would allow that. The same goes for BT with MotoGP as it does for Sky with Formula 1: both need to find ways to make their channels more accessible to the wider public, as pay TV audiences have stagnated. TV does make up a smaller piece of the pie than in previous years, but it is still an incredibly important piece of the jigsaw. 

1.1 million watch marathon Brazilian Grand Prix on Sky

An average audience of 1.1 million viewers watched the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sky Sports yesterday, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race, broadcast across Sky Sports 1 and F1 from 15:00 to 20:00, averaged 1.12m (6.7%). Sky Sports F1’s programme averaged 648k (3.9%), with Sky Sports 1 adding a further 477k (2.8%), the split being 58:42 in the dedicated channel’s favour. Compared with 2014, which was also broadcast exclusively live on Sky, the average is up by 118,000 however it should be noted that 2014’s broadcast was not simulcast on Sky Sports 1.

The race started with 1.34m (10.1%) at 16:10, increasing to 1.49m (10.1%) at the time of the first red flag at 16:45. Audiences dipped, peaked and then dipped again during the two red flags going from 1.1 million to 1.5 million and back down to 1.2 million in the space of 45 minutes. When the race eventually did restart at 18:05, an audience of 1.43m (7.3%) were watching. The audience increased steadily to hit 1.75m (8.1%) at the time of the chequered flag. USA 2014 therefore remains Sky’s most watched race.

Sky’s Formula 1 audience did not grow in line with the total TV audience, meaning that the Grand Prix was not attracting casual viewers. That does not mean that the race wasn’t exciting, it may mean that the race was not accessible enough. If you are not a regular Sky Sports watcher, you’re unlikely to tune into the race. It feels like casual viewers are not attracted to Sky’s F1 coverage. Why is a peak of 1.7 million viewers ‘their roof’ for Formula 1 with very little opposition? That’s not great. Looking at the breakdown, the first red flag period cost Sky a lot of viewers, but was exasperated by the second period.

Channel 4’s highlights programme averaged 1.42m (10.6%) from 22:00 to 00:05. Not a great number influenced by several factors. Humans, which aired directly before Formula 1’s highlights programme, is turning into a flop in the overnight viewing figures. Last night, Humans averaged just 1.01m (4.0%), which is clearly before Channel 4’s own expectations. Highlights might have done better at 21:00, but then it would have been directly against I’m a Celebrity on ITV, which averaged a whopping 10.66m (44.3%). So, it was a no-win situation.

The combined audience for Brazil of 2.55 million viewers is the lowest on record for Brazil, down 35 percent on the previous low of 3.93 million viewers recorded in 2013. That shouldn’t be a surprise, but disappointing nevertheless for a race that can, has done in the past, brought in extraordinary figures for Formula 1. Let’s hope Abu Dhabi lives up to the hype.

Live coverage of the qualifying session on Sky Sports F1 averaged 344k (2.6%) from 15:00 to 17:45. Channel 4’s highlights programme added a further 1.32m (6.2%) from 20:00 to 21:30, bringing the combined average audience to 1.66 million viewers, the lowest since 2006 for a Brazil qualifying session.

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

News round-up: Whisper Films win award; Channel 4 to air motor racing documentaries

It has been a little quiet lately, but there have been a few snippets worth reporting on, as Whisper Films have picked up awards for their Formula 1 coverage and FOM have made small innovations to their TV product.

Whisper Films win award
Whisper Films’ Formula 1 production has earned the respect of plaudits, coming away from the AIB (Association for International Broadcasting) Awards as victor in the Sport category. Specifically, their production of Channel 4’s Spanish Grand Prix was commended. The judging panel said that their coverage, specifically surrounding the Spanish Grand Prix, had “translated to a great experience for the viewer.”

Outside of their Channel 4 coverage, Whisper have continued to produce Formula 1 documentaries this year, notably a 30-minute documentary covering Mercedes following the Spanish Grand Prix entitled ‘Two Weeks to Win’ and a 60-minute documentary for Red Bull’s TV station looking at the history of the pit stop in motor racing. Sky Sports aired the Mercedes documentary a few weeks ago, but it demonstrates how much content Whisper is producing now.

Winning the Channel 4 production contract showed that Whisper meant business, and they have since recruited people from Sky and BBC to bolster their team. Like I’ve said before, I hope Whisper produces Sky’s Formula 1 coverage from 2019 onwards, simply because their team is bringing together the best from multiple different sides.

Channel 4 to air three motor racing documentaries in Abu Dhabi build-up
Whilst Whisper Films produce Channel 4’s main Formula 1 programming, two other production companies have produced two new documentaries that will air on Channel 4 in the lead up to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. ‘0 to 60mph: Britain’s Fastest Kids’, produced by Finestripe Productions, tracks three families as their youngsters chase their Formula 1 dream.

Meanwhile, Philip Glenister and Ant Anstead try to restore the Lotus Elite, which was designed by Colin Chapman. The documentary builds up to the Tourist Trophy classic car event at Silverstone, where Glenister and Anstead hope to race the restored Lotus Elite. The show, entitled ‘The Lost Lotus: Restoring a Race Car’, is produced by Love Productions.

The two 60-minute documentaries will air back to back from 19:00 on Sunday 20th November on Channel 4. A third programme, an in-depth interview with Mark Webber, will air on Saturday 26th November at 11:25 between the Abu Dhabi practice and qualifying sessions.

FOM evolutions on offer in Mexico
There were a few new graphics on offer during the Mexican Grand Prix weekend. Notably, new graphics were shown during the formation lap tracking the gap between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg as the 2016 season has progressed. During the race, graphics were used in replay segments to identify cars easier for the various turn one incidents.

Alongside this, FOM have experimented with having guests speaking to drivers’ during the formation lap and warm down lap. Following the Japanese Grand Prix qualifying session, Johnny Herbert spoke to Nico Rosberg over the radio whilst Juan Montoya chatted to Esteban Guttierez prior to the Mexican Grand Prix.

It is nice to see Formula One Management (FOM) making changes and refining their offering. As always though with FOM it feels that they experiment with something only to ditch it a few weeks later. Innovations such as line comparison and thermal cameras for whatever reason were dropped a long time ago, yet virtual advertising is kept.

I mention line comparison in light of the recent addition to Dorna’s MotoGP coverage. The Malaysian MotoGP saw a brilliant comparison aired between four of MotoGP’s leading riders at the turn 15 hairpin, showing the different apex’s that are taken. Unlike FOM, Dorna (most of the time) keep and run with their innovations whereas FOM haphazardly drop them for no apparent reason.

As I’ve mentioned previously, FOM’s entire product and direction needs a strategic re-think in order to bring some of the ‘rawness’ back to Formula 1, it feels like their television coverage has stagnated in recent years, a trend which needs to be reversed. Team radio helps, as Sebastian Vettel demonstrated in Mexico but that is only one piece of the wider puzzle.

Meanwhile over at Sky
We should see Sky Sports’ Christmas schedule filter through soon. With a lot of attention on Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill with their recent book releases, it was interesting to note that a 60-minute documentary was actually planned on Herbert in 2014 but shelved. This filtered through to Sky’s Christmas schedules that year but never materialised. Whilst incredibly disappointing, this leads me onto the next point about Hill.

Twitter users would have seen a lot of coverage on Hill returning to the Williams FW18 at Silverstone. Nothing has been confirmed yet, but I really hope that this forms part of a wider 1996 one-hour long programme instead of a five-minute snippet. I think it will be the latter, but Sky need to commit to Formula 1 more given that they are taking the sport on exclusively from 2019, and with that in mind I hope Sky to deliver on a longer edit for the Hill segment.