Gone are the days of Sky being the new kids on the block. 2017 marked Sky Sports’ sixth season covering Formula 1. Simon Lazenby again led the presentation team, alongside the likes of David Croft, Ted Kravitz and Martin Brundle, a situation that has remained status quo since 2012. But, has Sky’s coverage improved since their early years?
Regular readers of this site will know that I have been critical of Sky’s Formula 1 coverage historically past from time to time. Like everything in life, you have your difficult periods, the times where you need to regroup and refocus. Sky launched their F1 channel at the beginning of 2012, but efficiency savings have restricted what the channel can offer in recent years. Sky axed the studio editions of The F1 Show, whilst F1 Legends is currently on a hiatus.
The savings inevitably have had a downstream effect on the weekend product that Sky’s F1 team could offer to viewers. However, the latter half of 2017 saw a notable uptick in the quality of Sky’s broadcasts, with emphasis on taking viewers behind the scenes, with a fresher punditry line-up complimenting their coverage.
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The reasons for the quality increase are likely two-fold. As noted recently, there have been changes at the top of the Sky F1 hierarchy, with their Executive Producer Martin Turner retiring. In situations like this, new creative talent rises to the top and fresh ideas generally come to the forefront, which may be the case here. That is not to dismiss the excellent work that happened previously, merely to acknowledge that changes at a senior level influences those further down the food chain.
In addition, Liberty Media’s takeover of Formula 1 may have loosened the red tape where broadcasters are concerned. It is unusual that, in year six of Sky’s coverage, a burst of creativity emerged. The impact of Liberty’s takeover means that broadcasters can be more creative in their overall output, and the viewer wins as a result.
Following the Summer break, Sky teamed up with Sauber, filming their every move from Spa Francorchamps to Monza between the Belgium and Italian races. The aim was to show how Formula 1’s teams transport equipment between races. Billed as ‘The Race Between Races’, a short VT aired during Sky’s weekend output, whilst a feature-length 30-minute episode aired prior to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
But that was not all from Sky: they also went behind the scenes with the FIA Medical Team in Singapore, inside the FIA stewards room in Japan, and then dived into the Formula One Management (FOM) production truck during the Mexican Grand Prix weekend. It felt as if someone had given Sky the magic keys, and they took advantage immediately.
Yet, the problem with some of their features is the “so what?” test, otherwise known as the memorability test. Sky’s pieces varied in quality: the Sauber segment and the medical team piece both hit the mark. The latter deserves more than a few words, because it is an element rarely covered by broadcasters. Sky righted this wrong, with a brilliant piece of television that made you fully appreciate the job that the medical team performs week in, week out.
In comparison, the stewards room and the FOM production truck pieces were not as memorable, and felt rushed in comparison. A few years ago, Formula E uploaded a fantastic piece to their YouTube channel showing how a TV recce works. At eight minutes in length, an equivalent F1 piece might not be appropriate as one cut in a television broadcast, but it would work split across two different shows, something Sky should have considered doing with the production truck piece.
The Sauber piece stands out alongside Guy Martin’s Pit Stop Challenge in terms of quality. Martin’s documentary, which aired on Channel 4, was enough to breathe outside the of the confines of the usual race day coverage. A lesson for Sky is that their pieces should go into ample detail, and not scrape over the surface to fit a given time limit. The BBC used to do this on occasion, with Top Gear style pieces, but it is something that we have lost somewhat with F1 now on commercial television.
Rosberg’s punditry allows for new perspective
Sky’s coverage took on a new element during the Japanese Grand Prix weekend when 2016 Drivers’ Champion Nico Rosberg appeared as a pundit during their qualifying and race day programming.
When Sky first announced this, I was worried that the hype would be unfulfilled, with only short appearances on-screen. As it turned out, Rosberg went the extra mile than what you may expect, appearing as a fully fledged member of Sky’s line-up alongside Lazenby, Brundle and Anthony Davidson. Japan was arguably Sky’s strongest team of 2017 as a result, and Rosberg’s contributions did not disappoint.
A bit of variety never hurts broadcasting, and that was the case here. Rosberg was keen to give his expertise and opinion on current events, whilst also reflecting on his own title challenges prior to last season. His rapport with the current Formula 1 line-up was evident throughout the weekend live interviews, notably with Red Bull drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, only strengthening Sky’s coverage more.
My only minor criticism is that Sky did not manage to get Rosberg behind the scenes in the Mercedes garage, maybe interviewing one or two of the people who Rosberg worked with during this time there. As much as I would like to see Rosberg return, RTL have snapped him up instead for 2018, which is unfortunate from a UK broadcasting perspective, but brilliant for RTL and the German audience.
Pat Symonds was also a fresh face with Sky for 2017, appearing sporadically throughout the season. Fresh off his stint with Williams as technical director, Symonds helped strengthen Sky’s output throughout the year. Symonds assisted with Sky Pad analysis alongside Ted Kravitz, ensuring that Sky was the place to be for technical coverage.
One person who was not with Sky as much as in previous years was Johnny Herbert. Eagle eyed readers will have spotted him working with FOM, both during the race build-up and around their Esports output towards the end of 2017. Unconfirmed, but Herbert may well end up with FOM a little bit more than just ‘occasionally’ in 2018.
Overall, I think Sky have made encouraging strides in the latter half of 2017, with new voices appearing, and exposing areas previously hidden. But, some areas remain formulaic (such as the usage of ‘Coming Up’ trailers), and need to change for 2018. Nevertheless, I am hopeful the wave of creativity from Sky continues into 2018. If there was ever a year to try to hook new viewers into their broadcasts, 2018 is the year….