Next year marks twenty years since Formula Two joined its bigger brother on the European tour. Back in 1999, the leading Formula 1 feeder series was known as International Formula 3000 and featured future Formula 1 names such as Nick Heidfeld and Enrique Bernoldi.
Formula 3000 evolved into the GP2 Series in 2005, before GP2 itself became Formula Two in 2017. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg achieved glory in both GP2 and Formula 1, whilst a further seven GP2 champions progressed to the elite of motor sport.
Despite playing host to the future of motor racing, the feeder system has never quite received the level of attention one would expect, from both Formula One Management (FOM) and broadcasters alike, especially when compared to how the MotoGP system works. However, the tide is shifting…
The current UK broadcasting picture
As part of the package created to entice fans in the run up to the 2012 season, Sky Sports created a dedicated Formula 1 channel, also encompassing the GP2 and GP3 feeder series. GP2 had previously aired on ITV4, Setanta and Eurosport.
But Sky’s contribution to both championships has been historically lacklustre, with little promotion. There have been one-off features with drivers, in addition to segments during the studio based F1 Show in the early years, but nothing consistent across the course of a season since.
Sky’s attitude has changed very little towards the feeder championships, and has arguably got worse as 2018 has progressed. Under Scott Young’s leadership, Sky added colour to their Formula Two coverage, with a pre-recorded introduction to each session from Simon Lazenby.
The broadcaster has also given the series more prominence via their social media channels and website, as well as recording features with the British stars currently racing in Formula Two.
However, the inexcusable decision to prioritise The F1 Show over Formula Two at both Hungary and Russia was a major blot in their copybook, and shows where priorities lie for certain elements of Sky’s production team. Fans pay to watch racing cars, not talking heads. Yes, Sky may have improved the social media aspect, but I cannot defend the scheduling decisions in any way. I worry that this could continue into 2019…
ITV4’s coverage of GP2 in 2008 remains the pinnacle from a feeder series perspective. Back then, ITV4 aired around 15 minutes of build-up and post-race reaction for Saturday’s feature races, featuring pre-recorded interviews and analysis, with Charlie Webster presenting and David Croft on commentary.
Unfortunately, with the wider Formula 1 rights changes at the time, ITV4’s coverage lasted one season. Although their coverage had some flaws from the outset presentation wise, ITV showed what broadcasters could attempt, rather than something that comes across as being token at times.
The current Formula One Management picture
Whilst we talk about the lack of promotion Sky Sports have given the feeder championships over the years, Sky do not take all the blame, as the same statements apply for Formula One Management.
Formula Two has historically had a very small social media footprint, with Bernie Ecclestone’s FOM giving both championships little attention. If you think F1’s social media span was poor, multiply that by a hundred or thousand for the feeder championships.
The problem was getting worse with each passing year, but the tide is shifting. The takeover of Formula 1 by Liberty Media resulted in a social media overhaul. F1 benefited last year, with Formula Two starting to see rewards this season.
Formula 1 now regularly cross-references their sister series across social media, and since the Summer break, videos have been uploaded to F1’s YouTube channel from each Formula Two race weekend.
The duel between future British stars Lando Norris and George Russell in Monza came at a perfect time for FOM, with Norris announced as one of McLaren’s 2019 drivers just days later. Their battle has since had nearly a quarter of million views on Formula 1’s YouTube channel, an excellent number for the series.
Rosanna Tennant and Will Buxton now contribute to the World Feed, with Tennant in pit-lane, and Buxton providing the top three interviews from parc ferme, resulting in a neat, all-rounded feed for broadcasters to pick up. Alex Jacques continues to lead the commentary team, with his and Davide Valsecchi’s enthusiastic commentary perfectly appropriate for Formula Two.
One un-referenced championship is the GP3 Series, which serves as the feeder series to Formula Two. GP3 has yet to receive the same level of attention as its bigger brother, as GP3 is being merged with the Formula Three European Championship to form International Formula 3 in 2019.
As always, there is work to do to continue to boost the profile of Formula Two, but that will come in time when all parties are on the same page…
Scheduling a major problem, but there are workarounds
However, there is a fundamental problem which is, in my view, stifling potential growth opportunities for the feeder championships. The best comparison is with MotoGP. Formula 1 has Formula Two and the GP3 Series as its feeder categories; MotoGP has Moto2 and Moto3 as its support acts.
On Sunday’s, the gap between the end of Moto2 and the start of the MotoGP race is just under an hour, compared to a three-hour gap between Formula Two ending and Formula 1 starting. Think about how that not only impacts bums in seats at home, but also the amount of people watching in the grandstand, and the perception it gives those on the outside.
From the inside, MotoGP feels like a product that encompasses Moto2 and Moto3 as its little brothers, which cannot be said for Formula 1. This is a problem that Liberty Media have inherited, although whether Formula 1 considers this a problem internally is a different question entirely. Some may argue that it is better the Formula 1 way.
Sky Sports F1 – Mock-Up Schedule
10:30 to 12:15 – LIVE F1: Practice 3
12:15 to 13:00 – REPLAY F2: Qualifying
13:00 to 15:25 – LIVE F1: Qualifying
15:25 to 17:00 – LIVE F2: Race 1
17:00 to 18:00 – LIVE: From the Paddock
18:00 to 18:30 – Ted’s Qualifying Notebook
Formula One Management’s scheduling of the feeder championships is inconsistent throughout the season (see table above), which could cause broadcasters problems if they wanted to create a regular schedule moulded around the support categories. The Porsche Supercup disturbs the schedule on a Sunday morning, a situation that is unlikely to change until Porsche’s legacy contract with FOM expires at the end of 2019.
If Porsche is here to stay, something needs to give to allow for a tighter schedule on Sunday, whether that involves shorter races, fewer races, or a complete rejig of the support schedule package. The single-seater support championships cannot remain detached in the long-term from Formula 1.
And, if Liberty Media do not care about Formula Two’s scheduling during a race weekend, why should TV broadcasters dedicate time, resource, and money into providing their own wrap-around coverage to the feeder championships like MotoGP’s broadcasters do?
Sky may have no control over the weekend scheduling, but they absolutely do have control over their own schedule. Sunday is a tougher cookie to crack, but with some work, Sky can integrate Formula Two into their Saturday schedule.
Anyone who visited this site in the early days will know I discussed revamping their schedule in-depth back then, but it is worth a revisit now that Sky now has a new person at the helm.
There are numerous ideas that should be on the table, such as:
- Airing a replay of Formula Two qualifying between F1’s third practice and qualifying, instead of ‘filler’ material
- Seamlessly going from F1 qualifying to the Formula Two feature race, instead of treating it as a separate show
- Airing around 15-minutes of pre-race build-up, with post-race analysis over-spilling into their new 17:00 show
- Cross-promotion during the F1 qualifying build-up
- Re-branding The F1 Show fully to integrate the feeder series, allowing for a greater variety of segments
The same principles apply for Friday’s, where Sky should be looking to stay on-air from the start of Formula 1’s first practice session through to the end of GP3 qualifying, using the gaps between sessions to analyse the action and to chat to the drivers at the heart of the action.
If anything, Sky should drop Welcome to the Weekend on Thursday afternoons, whilst the paddock show on a Saturday evening should focus on the personality of the drivers, rather that the personality of the talent presenting the show.
Look to the outside
You only need to look elsewhere in the UK motor racing television spectrum to find two networks who embed their feeder series to the benefit of the overall product. The British Touring Car Championship support programme typically features races such as the Renault UK Clip Cup and Ginetta Juniors, in both single-seater and tin-top action.
ITV4 takes advantage of the BTCC’s rich offering, airing seven hours of coverage on Sundays from 11:00 through to 18:00, as it has done for the past decade. Steve Rider presents from start to finish, ITV providing a package that benefits all within the paddock.
In the pay-TV world, BT Sport airs live coverage of Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP from Friday morning through to Sunday evening, with wrap-around coverage provided by the likes of Suzi Perry and Gavin Emmett.
BT gives ample coverage to the feeder series, providing a clear linkage and harmony between the three championships. Their coverage feels natural, although sensible scheduling from Dorna helps MotoGP’s broadcasters. The broadcaster uses the Friday lunch break to their advantage, with extensive analysis and interviews from voices you rarely hear from.
Sky could use the gap on Friday’s in the same way, using it to speak to Formula Two and GP3 drivers we would never normally hear from. Sky may argue that this goes against the grain of efficiency savings, I would argue that Formula 1’s leading feeder series featuring the stars of tomorrow deserves better treatment off them than what it is currently getting.
The point of embedding the two better means that the feeder series, and its stars, reach a wider audience, which has a positive knock on effect when that star reaches Formula 1. Detaching the two in the long-term results in ‘unknown’ stars making Formula 1, of course, they are known, except the fact that they are in another series elsewhere on Sky’s F1 channel goes unnoticed.
Several years from now, when Lewis Hamilton retires, Norris, Russell and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc will be at the forefront of Sky Sports F1’s coverage. But the journey to build them up, and by proxy the other stars that progress through Formula Two is an everlasting journey, showing why Sky need to intertwine the series through their regular programming rather than treat it as an isolated slate on the side.
Formula Two’s viewing figures on Sky are nothing stellar, and they never have been. “What you put into life is what you get out of it,” is a famous quote and it applies perfectly for this situation. Sky have, proportionally speaking, not given the feeder championships much attention, so have received very little in return.
If Sky start to give Formula Two a chance to show its worth, and try to embed the series into its weekend schedule, they might just get something good out the other end, with higher viewing figures their reward. But, for that to happen, they need to make the first step and try it in anger…