Fernando Alonso’s testing and rookie orientation day in preparation for the Indianapolis 500 later this month has drawn attention from far and wide. His orientation day has also reignited the debate about whether there is value in covering testing live.
From the outset, the circumstances around Alonso’s IndyCar appearance are unique, in a situation unlikely to be repeated. A peak of around 72,000 devices watched Alonso’s orientation via YouTube, with the stream provided by the IndyCar Series consistently above 40,000 devices.
Furthermore, IndyCar streamed the event via Facebook to a reach of 800,000 users. Other forms of motor racing, such as Formula E, have struggled to break through live streaming barriers on YouTube. The numbers recorded for Alonso’s orientation are staggering, especially considering that this was a weekday event.
There is a great deal motor racing can learn from this, not just Formula 1 but also other forms of the sport. Watching cars drive around a track, essentially collecting data, for hours at a time may seem like a useless activity for much of the population to watch.
The actual process of testing doesn’t have the intensity. It is much more difficult to understand because different people are doing different things. Testing highlights are really interesting, live coverage of testing is really, really boring. – MotoGP journalist David Emmett speaking to me last year.
Dorna broadcasts MotoGP testing live from Valencia post-season and Sepang pre-season via their app, combining ‘as live’ footage with studio discussion. Sky Sports F1 aired Formula 1 testing live in 2013, although this was shoe-horned around the 3D gimmick that never went any further.
The argument against live testing is that the cost is too high and the expected audience is too low. Setting up a full camera crew at say Barcelona requires a lot more people than the Indianapolis oval. For Dorna, cameras are already in Valencia following their season finale a few days earlier, so it makes logistical sense to cover the post-season test in an in-depth format.
Alonso’s Indy 500 test is the first time that testing, in any form, has aired live via outlets such as YouTube and Facebook in this live and raw form. Firstly, I absolutely applaud IndyCar and those involved from McLaren through to NBC for making this happen. The stream today allowed new fans to appreciate the demands of oval racing.
Discussions between Alonso and his mechanics were broadcast, with an openness displayed throughout. In comparison, during Formula 1 testing, the prying media have no access to drivers’ conversations with mechanics. To broadcast F1 testing in the same way as Alonso’s IndyCar test would require a significant culture change for teams up and down the pit lane.
Imagine Lewis Hamilton testing new parts on his Mercedes, and then openly giving feedback on camera in front of his mechanics instead of behind closed doors, with microphones picking up his every word. Whilst fascinating to those watching, the information provided would also be golden to his rivals.
Broadcasting testing live via social media would help viewers and fans of the sport appreciate the intrinsic nature of testing. It may bring new fans to the sport, if they stumble across live testing and become captivated by the nature of it, in the same way fans were captivated by the stream today.
Whilst I do not want to see every minute of testing live (a few hours at most each afternoon would suffice), the extremely positive reaction to IndyCar’s live stream ahead of the Indianapolis 500 may serve as a catalyst for change. How Liberty Media can implement that into Formula 1 might need a little bit of persuading from a variety of parties…