Scheduling: The 2018 Italian Grand Prix

Formula 1 heads straight from the Ardennes forest to Italy, for round 14 of the championship.

Channel 4 are showing highlights of the Monza round, with live coverage on Sky Sports F1 throughout the weekend. For those that like the added extras on Sky, you will be pleased to know the Sky Race Control from Italy onwards will be available on all devices as opposed to just the iPad.

On the personnel front, Nico Rosberg returns to Sky’s team for this weekend. Over on radio, the BBC have a half-hour special focusing on Fernando Alonso’s career on Friday evening. Into the weekend, they have truncated coverage of the race weekend, due to cricket action between England and India, and tennis action from the US Open.

Although an air-time is unconfirmed, expect Jennie Gow’s documentary featuring Billy Monger and Alex Zanardi to air on the BBC News Channel over the weekend. The documentary called Human Endeavour premieres on BBC World News at 13:30 local time next Saturday, so expect it to appear on BBC iPlayer shortly afterwards.

Elsewhere on the motor racing spectrum, the IndyCar Series heads into the final phase of its season, with the penultimate race at Portland taking place on Sunday evening.

Channel 4 F1
01/09 – 17:00 to 18:30 – Qualifying Highlights
02/09 – 18:45 to 21:00 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
31/08 – 09:45 to 11:50 – Practice 1
31/08 – 13:45 to 15:50 – Practice 2
01/09 – 10:45 to 12:15 – Practice 3
01/09 – 13:00 to 15:40 – Qualifying
=> 13:00 – Pre-Show
=> 13:55 – Qualifying
02/09 – 12:30 to 17:10 – Race
=> 12:30 – Pit Lane Live
=> 13:30 – On the Grid
=> 14:05 – Race
=> 16:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
30/08 – 14:00 to 14:30 – Driver Press Conference
30/08 – 17:00 to 17:30 – Welcome to the Weekend
01/09 – 16:55 to 17:30 – The F1 Show

BBC Radio F1
30/08 – 21:30 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
31/08 – 21:30 to 22:00 – Fernando Alonso Special (BBC Radio 5 Live)
02/09 – 14:00 to 16:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Blancpain GT Sprint Series – Hungary (BT Sport/ESPN)
01/09 – 13:15 to 15:00 – Race 1
02/09 – 13:45 to 15:45 – Race 2

Euroformula – Silverstone
01/09 – 14:00 to 15:00 – Race 1 (BT Sport 3)
02/09 – 12:30 to 13:30 – Race 2 (BT Sport 1)

Formula Renault Eurocup – Hungary (BT Sport/ESPN)
01/09 – 15:00 to 16:00 – Race 1
02/09 – 12:30 to 13:45 – Race 2

Formula Two – Italy (Sky Sports F1)
31/08 – 11:50 to 12:45 – Practice
31/08 – 15:50 to 16:30 – Qualifying
01/09 – 15:40 to 16:55 – Race 1
02/09 – 09:50 to 10:55 – Race 2

GP3 Series – Italy (Sky Sports F1)
31/08 – 16:45 to 17:25 – Qualifying
01/09 – 09:25 to 10:20 – Race 1
02/09 – 08:35 to 09:20 – Race 2

IndyCar Series – Portland (BT Sport 2)
02/09 – 19:30 to 22:00 – Race

International GT Open – Silverstone
01/09 – 15:00 to 16:45 – Race 1 (BT Sport 3)
02/09 – 13:30 to 15:00 – Race 2 (BT Sport X2)

Porsche Supercup – Italy
02/09 – Race
=> 11:00 to 12:00 (Eurosport 2)
=> 11:05 to 11:50 (Sky Sports F1)

The schedule above will be updated if anything changes.


Belgian Grand Prix records highest peak audience in five years

Formula 1 benefited from poor weather across the United Kingdom last Sunday, with excellent audience figures for the Belgian Grand Prix, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race aired on Channel 4 from 13:00 to 16:30, with 2.15m (18.4%) watching, an increase of around half a million viewers on last year’s audience of 1.65m (19.6%) across a shorter 190-minute time slot. It is the highest Belgium figure for the free-to-air component of the audience since 2015, when BBC One’s broadcast averaged 2.44m (22.3%).

Sky simulcast their programming across their F1 channel and Sky 1 to a weighted total audience of 657k (5.6%). Sky Sports F1’s broadcast averaged 582k (5.0%) from 13:00 to 16:30, with Sky 1’s shorter show from 14:00 averaging 104k (0.9%). It is Sky’s highest audience for Spa on record, beating their previous highest of 617k (6.3%) in 2016.

For both broadcasters, the audience shares are slightly down on previous years, the dip representative of a higher viewing audience due to the poor weather conditions experienced across the United Kingdom. However, the dips are marginal rather than anything profound, showing that F1 grew almost in-line with the total audience increase.

The race started with 4.26m (36.1%) at 14:15 across Channel 4 and Sky. Apart from a ten-minute period from 14:40 to 14:50 where the audience level dropped below four million viewers due to British Touring Car Championship action on ITV4, viewing figures remained north of four million viewers. There was a brief surge to 4.23m (34.8%) as the top of the hour hit, before dipping back towards four million viewers.

An audience of 4.04m (33.0%) watched Sebastian Vettel take victory at 15:30. In a parallel universe, the peak could have been closer to 4.5 million viewers if the action on-track was closer, but it was not to be: the peak occurred at the start of the race.

At the time of the peak, an audience of 3.22m (27.2%) were watching Channel 4’s coverage, with a further 1.04m (8.8%) watching across Sky’s two channels, a split of 76:24. Sky’s peak came later in the afternoon, as 1.06m (8.8%) watched in the five-minute segment from 15:25. The F1 channel peaked with 921k (7.8%) at 14:15, with Sky 1 peaking with 180k (1.5%) at 15:30.

It is easily Sky’s highest peak for Belgium ever, beating their previous best of 969k (9.3%) in 2016. For Channel 4, the same fact is true: their peak audience was only 164,000 viewers lower than the BBC’s peak in 2015 of 3.38m (27.5%).

The combined average audience of 2.80 million viewers is comfortably the best for Belgium since 2015, when 2.91 million viewers watched across BBC One and Sky Sports. Last Sunday’s audience increased by 27.8 percent compared with last year’s average audience figure of 2.19 million viewers.

The peak audience of 4.26 million viewers is the highest for the Belgian Grand Prix since the 2013 running of the event when a peak audience of 4.52m (41.9%) watched, a fantastic number. The peak audience increased year-on-year by 22.2 percent, and compared with 2016 was up by 8.2 percent.

To have a peak audience higher than two BBC years (4.04 million in 2014 and 4.15 million in 2015) is highly unusual, and shows just how good Belgium’s audience figures are in the grand scheme of things. Of course, some of that is down to the weather conditions last Sunday, but increases compared to the past two years are now becoming par for the course for F1 in 2018.

Both Channel 4 and Sky Sports recorded slightly higher numbers for qualifying than twelve months ago.

Channel 4’s live broadcast of qualifying aired from 12:55 to 15:45, to an audience of 940k (12.3%), an increase – just – on last year’s figure of 937k (12.5%). The audience for Sky’s qualifying show followed the same trajectory, averaging 269k (2.5%) compared with 262k (2.5%) last year.

The combined audience of 1.21 million viewers is as a result up marginally on last year’s number of 1.20 million viewers.

The bigger difference comes with the peak figure. The qualifying session peaked with 2.09m (25.5%) at 14:55 across Channel 4 and Sky, an increase compared with last year’s figure of 2.01m (25.1%), and the highest for Belgium since 2015.

A peak of 1.62m (19.8%) watched Channel 4’s programme, an increase of 108,000 viewers compared with last year, but Sky’s peak figure of 468k (5.7%) is down 26,000 viewers.

BTCC performs well, but average for Speed with Guy Martin
Elsewhere, live coverage of the British Touring Car Championship from a rainy Knockhill averaged 216k (2.0%) from 11:00 to 18:15 on ITV4 on Sunday, a good number considering the competition. Race 1 averaged 277k (3.5%) from 11:50, peaking with 320k (3.9%).

The second race of the day clashed with the F1, but still fared well, averaging 220k (1.8%) from 14:25, peaking with 271k (2.2%) as the race was red flagged due to the poor weather conditions. Later, 392k (2.9%) watched Tom Chilton win the third and final race from 17:20, his victory peaking with 405k (2.8%) at 17:50.

Impressively, not once during the F1 did the touring car support programme drop below 100,000 viewers, showing how well the extended show works for ITV4 overall.

On Monday evening, a new episode of Speed with Guy Martin, averaged 1.54m (7.9%) on Channel 4 from 21:00 to 22:30, the lowest number so far for Martin’s F1 themed specials.

The show faced tough competition from BBC One’s new drama Bodyguard, as well as Monday Night Football action on Sky Sports between Tottenham and Manchester United.

The 2017 Belgian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

Behind the scenes with BT Sport’s MotoGP production team: planning

From Qatar to Valencia, from Friday morning to Sunday evening, BT Sport cover every session of the MotoGP season exclusively live. Their coverage encompasses both the main championship as well as the feeder Moto2 and Moto3 championships.

North One Television have produced BT Sport’s coverage since it started in 2014, and in this two-part series, I went behind the scenes with them at last weekend’s British Grand Prix to find out how their programming has evolved…

Kevin Brown has been involved in BT’s MotoGP coverage since its inception, and moved into the Series Editor role following the 2017 season. In his role, Brown has the final say on what goes out on-screen.

“My role is to develop the programmes and to make the coverage as good as it can be,” says Brown, who sat down with me on the Thursday of the Silverstone weekend. “It involves working with our on-screen talent to get the best out of them. BT own the rights, it’s their coverage, and I do it for them. If they have feedback then they certainly give it to me.”

Whilst North One are not responsible for MotoGP’s World Feed, that being in the hands of commercial rights holder Dorna, they are responsible for all of BT Sport’s pre-race build-up and post-race analysis, as well as providing their own commentary over the top of the MotoGP feed.

BT’s coverage of a race weekend consists of around eight hours per day, totalling 25 hours. Although the broadcaster does not go on-air until 15 minutes before Friday practice, planning for the weekend starts the moment the previous race ends.

“You can’t turn up at a live outside sports broadcast event unprepared otherwise you’ll get caught out,” explains Brown. “Immediately following the previous race, you start to think about what the upcoming stories are. There’s a lot of contact between myself, the on-screen guys, and the producers. We spend a lot of time talking between races, it must drive our families mad!”

2018 British MotoGP - BT on Friday.jpg
During the Friday lunch break at Silverstone, the BT Sport team of Gavin Emmett, Michael Laverty and James Toseland interview British GP2 rider Josh Owens, a series that runs alongside the British Superbikes championship.

The team starts to arrive to a race weekend on the Wednesday, but it is Thursday when the action steps up a gear. A production meeting on Thursday morning sets the scene for the weekend ahead, before all the key interviews take place in the afternoon.

That sounds easy enough, except the interviews take place in a very short period at the respective motor homes. Broadcasters cannot attend every media scrum, they pick which ones to attend depending on where the stories are within the paddock. It also depends on what questions the broadcaster may want to ask the rider.

The key topic prior to the Silverstone weekend was the new surface that could cause riders issues (little did we know at the time, the poor condition of the track led to the cancellation of all three races on Sunday). For North One as the production company for a UK broadcaster, the priority is the British riders, Cal Crutchlow leading the way. Thursday morning threw a curve ball, a positive one, as Crutchlow signed with LCR Honda for an additional year until the end of 2020.

“We usually have an extended sit-down interview set up with Cal before the British round, but his news changes the emphasis of the interview as it would have been slightly different otherwise,” explains Brown. “We have to be able to respond and adapt quickly to emerging stories.” Thursday is also an opportunity to film any features with riders, typically a track guide, and to ensure all the systems are working as expected, ironing out any loose ends that crop up.

Gavin Emmett leads the ship on Fridays, presenting BT’s coverage of practice, encompassing Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP. However, whilst the race track is silent during the lunch break, BT Sport remains live on-air during the 75-minute gap, using the break to their advantage.

2018 British MotoGP - Emmett and Rossi
Gavin Emmett interviews Valentino Rossi in the Silverstone media centre following Thursday’s press conference.

“Not many people know about it, but for those that do, it is something we’ve built on this year, by staying live during the break,” notes Emmett. “We take our time over that break, bringing everyone up to speed with what’s been happening and what’s going on.” Here at Silverstone, Emmett and Neil Hodgson used the gap to analyse Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo’s last-lap battle during the Austrian Grand Prix, an excellent use of the down-time over the lunch break.

Suzi Perry takes over hosting duties for Saturday and Sunday, whilst Emmett juggles different roles depending on the series that is on-track. “For Moto3, I am up here in the commentary box, and in parc ferme for MotoGP grabbing those interviews.”

“What people don’t realise is when you’re not on-air, while Moto2 is on, I’m doing interviews with the MotoGP riders as they’ve just finished their session. It’s pretty much the same on Sunday. You are non-stop, but that’s what it takes.”

But Emmett is happy to be covering multiple classes is his BT role. “At the end of the day Moto2 and Moto3 are World Championships. The names may have changed, but they are the pinnacle of the light weight and middle weight classes.” Of course, what the above does not consider is rain delays, which the MotoGP pit lane encountered frequently during the Silverstone weekend.

“The on-screen chemistry that our team have is as good as any time that I have worked with. What you see on-screen is genuine, and it continues off-screen as well. We get in the car to go home, and if there has been a debate on TV about a nudge on-track, that continues afterwards into dinner!

“It’s not just about the sport, it’s about our personal lives, we all care about each other and I think that is really important, and that applies for the whole crew. We’ve got cameramen who are ex-speedway riders, their opinion is relevant. There’s no one who feels that another person’s opinion is not good enough. We all listen to each other. It’s an important dynamic, but it’s one that I think we have perfected.” – Kevin Brown

In between delivering the core elements of the weekend, Brown emphasises that the team is continuously striving to improve.

“I spend most of the time between races on the phone or in the WhatsApp group, where we’re all chucking in thoughts and ideas. Some of them make it, some of them don’t, but it’s nice that we all have the ideas. We all care about the product we’re putting on-air.”

As part of an ongoing effort to bring the sport closer to the fans, an additional hour of MotoGP programming aired on BT Sport during last weekend’s British Grand Prix as a trial. New for this season, ‘In Case You Missed It’ has been BT’s Friday evening wrap-up show, but for Silverstone, BT aired the show live for the first-time directly from the Woodlands campsite.

“For me, it is all about taking people to an event they can’t go to, that’s always the important thing,” says Brown, who was also part of the North One team who produced ITV’s Formula 1 coverage.

“It’s easy to get a bit blasé about going to another race track, and another, and another, but there are thousands of people out there who would give their right arm to go to Brno or the Sachsenring. It’s really important to capture the flavour of the event.”

“Here at Silverstone, one of the things we can do is get them in the campsite and see that there’s 10,000 people in there, who are giving up their time, spending their money to be a part of what the British Grand Prix is.”

In part two, we take a look at how BT’s coverage of MotoGP has evolved since 2014, and what the future may hold…

Hamilton continues to surge on social media

Four-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton continues to remain far above the remainder of the Formula 1 field on social media, analysis of the three major platforms show.

At regular intervals during the year, this site crunches the number of followers each Formula 1 driver and team, along with key championships has across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Hamilton leads the way
As has been the case for many years, Hamilton leads at the front of the field, growing his reach faster than all his rivals. With a cumulative audience of 16.30 million followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Hamilton now has nearly 10 million more followers than his nearest championship contender.

To show the scale of Hamilton’s reach, the drivers placed from 2nd to 5th in the social media standings bring in a combined following of 16.43 million followers. In social media terms, Fernando Alonso, Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen, and Sergio Perez equal Hamilton, showing how the Brit on social media transcends the motor sport audience, and why F1 needs to tap into said audience.

Formula 1’s loss is likely to be IndyCar’s gain where Alonso is concerned in 2019, presenting the American series with an excellent opportunity to capitalise on Alonso’s broad reach in the same way they did with last year’s Indianapolis 500. From 2019, Verstappen will be Formula 1’s next big thing on social media behind Hamilton and Ricciardo. But both Red Bull drivers are currently no match for Hamilton on social media.

Social media - 2018-08 - F1 drivers gain
In the first half of 2018, Hamilton gained 1.29 million followers across the three main platforms, whilst Ricciardo and Verstappen gained 499,000 and 368,000 followers respectively. Currently, Verstappen’s contingent of fans is no match for Hamilton on Instagram, which is where most of Hamilton’s increase lies.

The further down the field you look, the slimmer the pickings get. As an example, Valtteri Bottas’ social media accounts gained 185,000 additional followers during the first half of 2018, which is a small number in the social media sphere. Considering millions of viewers worldwide watch these drivers every two weeks, are the gains considered poor, or expected now that social media is mature?

Following a poor start to the 2018 season, Williams driver Lance Stroll deleted his Instagram account in June, reducing his social media reach from 179,000 followers to 42,000 followers. The reality is though that Stroll never used his two active social media accounts. His Twitter was last updated in February 2017, whilst his team updated his Facebook last November.

Meanwhile, since joining Instagram at the end of last year, Kimi Raikkonen has amassed nearly one million followers. The Iceman’s reach of 833,000 followers places him tenth in the overall list of drivers, despite having no presence on either Facebook or Twitter! Raikkonen is the fifth most popular driver on the image sharing platform, only behind Hamilton, Alonso, Verstappen and Ricciardo.

Red Bull closes the gap on Mercedes
In the first half of 2018, Mercedes’ following across social media increased from 14.83 million across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to 15.03 million followers. Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren in comparison increased their following by around 900,000 followers.

The metrics suggest that Mercedes are close to hitting their roof, and struggling to attract new followers, even though the content produced is fantastic. There is a real possibility that, based on current growth figures, Red Bull will become the number one team on social media, at least based on the number of followers, within the next twelve months.

The perceived two-tier Formula 1 goes far beyond the race track, and into the social media metrics. Beyond the top four teams, the growth for the mid-field teams resembles a barren wasteland, with the remaining six teams attracting an average growth figure of 133,000 followers.

For a team nearer to the foot of the table, it is proving to be very difficult to make waves outside of the typical Formula 1 social media circles. Ask yourself this: how many teams go ‘the extra mile’ to produce something relevant to a general sporting audience as opposed to the motor racing fan who might already be following them?

Currently, Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, and McLaren are the big Formula 1 brands, although it will be interesting to see if Renault usurp McLaren on that front in 2019 with Ricciardo joining the Enstone outfit.

Roborace crashes
On the championship front, Roborace’s combined following has dropped by 15 percent over the course of the first half of 2018. From 2.82 million followers across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram last November, Roborace now has 2.37 million followers as of the end of July.

Social media - 2018-08 - percentage gain

The drop for the autonomous series, which has yet to begin, is a result of social media sites clamping down on suspicious accounts. Twitter has taken action recently to remove locked accounts from account follower numbers. Roborace has been prominent in this space in recent years, with their number of followers spiking at different times.

Further down the pecking order, Formula E has experienced a strong first half of 2018, culminating in the latter stages of its fourth season. The electric series has increased its combined audience from 584,000 followers to 893,000 followers, an increase of 52.9 percent.

IndyCar, the World Endurance Championship and Formula Two also recorded percentage increases of over 10 percent, but in the case of the latter, that equated to an increase of just 34,000 followers across the first half of 2018. Both Formula Two and their feeder GP3 have low numbers on Facebook, with 51,000 and 17,000 followers respectively.

Out in front, MotoGP continues to lead the way with a combined 21 million followers across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, although F1 has closed the gap, with a cumulative following now of 14.66 million.

Two out, one in as Sky refresh supplementary F1 shows

Sky Sports have refreshed their Formula 1 line-up over the 2018 Summer break, by removing two shows from their schedules and adding a new show.

The new programme, Welcome to the Weekend is a 30-minute live show that will air on Thursday’s during each race weekend. Natalie Pinkham presents to begin with, the show wrapping up all the stories from Thursday’s driver interviews.

However, the addition of Welcome to the Weekend comes at the same time as Sky axing two shows from their schedules. Welcome to the Weekend replaces the 15-minute Paddock Uncut broadcast, which served a similar purpose on Thursday evenings.

Sky have also axed The F1 Report from their weekly schedules. The studio-based magazine show, which started life as the Midweek Report in 2013, aired on Wednesday evenings for thirty minutes following each race weekend.

The show began in an online-only format presented by Anna Woolhouse, before moving onto the main channel shortly afterwards. Sky dropped the ‘Midweek’ branding at the start of 2016, airing each week as a result of the axing of the studio-based version of The F1 Show at that time.

Now, half way through the 2018 season, Sky have discontinued The F1 Report, the last episode airing following the German Grand Prix on Wednesday 25th July.

Although Sky have yet to respond to a request for comment from this site, I suspect the main driver behind this is that both Paddock Uncut and The F1 Report did not rate well across their platforms, resulting in Sky choosing to try something different. Of course, Scott Young now leads Sky’s F1 output, so Young is likely to have influenced the decision.

The change means that, when Sky go off the air at the end of their race day programme, the next time new and original content will air on Sky Sports F1 will in some cases be eleven days later, with Welcome to the Weekend the following race.