Formula Two and Sky Sports F1: embedding one into the other

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 Two and GP3 scheduling in 2018
A problem for any broadcaster wishing to cover the feeder championships: inconsistent scheduling throughout the race weekend, with start times fluctuating rapidly week-by-week.

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…


Russian Grand Prix struggles to bring in the viewers

Lewis Hamilton’s victory at the Russian Grand Prix struggled compared to the first two-thirds of the 2018 season so far, overnight viewing figures suggest.

Comparisons with previous years should be taken at face value and in the context of the slot the race was in. In 2014 and 2015, the race occurred in October, before moving to an April slot for the 2016 running. Now, the Grand Prix moves back to late-September.

In addition, last year’s race aired live on Channel 4, whereas this year the broadcaster aired highlights, as they did in 2016.

Sky Sports F1’s live coverage of the Grand Prix averaged 490k (6.0%) from 11:00 to 14:30, their highest average for Russia since 2015. An average of 490,000 viewers in isolation looks low compared to other races this season, but is a reasonable number for Russia.

Nevertheless, it is Sky’s third lowest average of 2018, only ahead of Australia and Austria. In 2016, Sky’s coverage from Sochi averaged 470k (4.9%), with last year’s shared coverage bringing in 447k (4.5%).

For whatever reason, the Sochi race has never traditionally brought the punters in, whether it is because viewers know the race track is poor, or whether it has been simply unlucky with other competition.

One reason Russia may be unusually low is because of its start time, which caught viewers out again this year, as Sky’s audience increased throughout the race. The race started at 12:15 with 778k (10.3%), climbing past 800k at 12:35 and peaking with 918k (10.2%) at 13:35.

The peak audience of 918k is Sky’s second highest ever for Russia, only behind 2014 which peaked with 985k (8.2%) when BBC One also aired live coverage. This year, the competition was the bi-annual Ryder Cup golf tournament, which will have taken some viewers away from the Grand Prix.

Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor left Channel 4’s highlights programme picking up the scraps on Sunday evening. An audience of just 1.82m (9.1%) tuned into their show from 18:45 to 21:00, the broadcaster’s lowest F1 race day number since Austria in July.

Channel 4’s broadcast peaked with 2.32m (12.1%) at 19:15, just before the dancing started on BBC One. There might be an argument here that Channel 4 should have scheduled the F1 from 16:45 to 19:30, which the current contract allows them the privilege of doing so. Saying that, the qualifying number throws this train of thought into the river…

The combined average audience of 2.31 million viewers is the lowest for Russia on record, down 4.1 percent and 2.4 percent on 2016 and 2017’s average audiences. Whilst not a good number, the audience figure is not abnormal for Russia, either. The combined peak audience of 3.24 million viewers is also a low for Russia, a decrease of 0.2 percent and 5.8 percent on 2016 and 2017 respectively.

In a year where viewing figures have continued to decline on the whole for qualifying, the pattern continued in Russia.

Live coverage of qualifying on Sky Sports F1 averaged 232k (3.6%) from 12:00 to 14:35, an increase on last year’s figure of 197k (2.6%) when Channel 4 also aired the action live, but down on their 2016 audience of 275k (3.6%).

Channel 4’s highlights programme from 16:30 to 18:30 averaged a low 867k (7.5%), one of their lowest ever audiences for qualifying. Sporting competition was tough for them last Saturday, facing both the Ryder Cup on Sky Sports F1 and coverage of Chelsea versus Liverpool on BT Sport.

Sky’s programme peaked with 472k (6.8%) as Valtteri Bottas clinched pole, with Channel 4’s show peaking with 1.35m (10.7%) later in the afternoon.

The combined audience of 1.10 million viewers is the lowest ever for Russia, and the lowest for qualifying since the Canadian Grand Prix in June.

Formula 1 was lucky to have a close championship race, throughout the Summer months, keeping audiences engaged during the latter stages of the World Cup and through into Belgium and Italy.

Now, as Hamilton drives off into the distance, the wheels appear to be falling off the wagon, and not for the first time either. Time will tell as to whether viewing figures can recover for the final hurdle towards Abu Dhabi.

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

Scheduling: The 2018 Japanese Grand Prix / Thailand MotoGP

Lewis Hamilton and Marc Marquez look to take another leap towards their respective championships as Formula 1 and MotoGP head east this weekend. For MotoGP, this year marks their first visit to Thailand, whilst Formula 1’s drivers tackle the Suzuka International Circuit in Japan.

The Japanese F1 round is live on free-to-air television for the first time since 2015, with Channel 4 covering all the action. In addition, both Lee McKenzie and Susie Wolff return to Channel 4’s line-up.

Over on Sky, Martin Brundle continues his absence, returning in Austin next time out. On the scheduling front, Sky are simulcasting their F1 coverage across both Sky Sports Main Event and Sky 1 at various points during the weekend.

With the F1 race from Suzuka starting at 06:10 UK time, and the MotoGP race from Buriram starting at 08:00 UK time, any delay or red flag situation to the F1 will see it overspill into MotoGP’s time slot, there really is very little room to manoeuvre.

The World Rally Championship returns to Wales, and with it does extended coverage on Channel 5. In previous years, Channel 4 aired the Power Stage live as well as daily highlights from the first two days. The latter continues, but the former airs on tape-delay at lunchtime, as the Power Stage this year starts at 08:00.

Elsewhere, fans of the Australian Supercars series will be disappointed to learn that, following the demise of’s television network, the Bathurst 1000 will not air live in the UK, with no sign of it appearing elsewhere.

Channel 4 F1
05/10 – 01:55 to 03:35 – Practice 1
05/10 – 05:55 to 07:35 – Practice 2
06/10 – 03:45 to 05:10 – Practice 3
06/10 – 06:00 to 08:35 – Qualifying
06/10 – 10:30 to 12:30 – Qualifying Replay
07/10 – 05:00 to 09:30 – Race
=> 05:00 – Build-Up
=> 06:00 – Race
=> 08:30 – Reaction
07/10 – 12:30 to 15:15 – Race Replay

Sky Sports F1
05/10 – 01:45 to 03:50 – Practice 1
05/10 – 05:45 to 07:50 – Practice 2 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
06/10 – 03:45 to 05:15 – Practice 3 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
06/10 – 06:00 to 08:30 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports Main Event and Sky One)
=> 06:00 – Pre-Show
=> 06:55 – Qualifying
07/10 – 04:30 to 09:10 – Race
=> 04:30 – Pit Lane Live
=> 05:30 – On the Grid (also Sky One)
=> 06:05 – Race (also Sky Sports Main Event and Sky One)
=> 08:30 – Paddock Live (also Sky Sports Main Event and Sky One)

Supplementary Programming
04/10 – 07:00 to 07:30 – Driver Press Conference
04/10 – 10:00 to 10:30 – Welcome to the Weekend
06/10 – 08:30 to 09:00 – The F1 Show (also Sky Sports Main Event)
10/10 – 19:00 to 21:00 – F1 eSports Pro Series (also Sky Sports Mix)

BBC Radio F1
04/10 – 20:30 to 21:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
05/10 – 01:55 to 03:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
05/10 – 05:55 to 07:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
06/10 – 03:55 to 05:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
06/10 – 06:55 to 08:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
07/10 – 06:00 to 08:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

MotoGP – Thailand (BT Sport 2)
05/10 – 02:45 to 10:15 – Practice 1 and 2
06/10 – 03:00 to 10:15
=> 03:00 – Practice 3
=> 06:00 – Qualifying
07/10 – 02:30 to 10:00
=> 02:30 – Warm Ups
=> 04:15 – Moto3
=> 06:00 – Moto2
=> 07:30 – MotoGP
=> 09:00 – Chequered Flag

MotoGP – Thailand (Channel 5)
09/10 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights

Asia Talent Cup – Thailand (BT Sport 2)
06/10 – 10:15 to 11:15 – Race 1

Speedway Grand Prix – Poland (BT Sport 3)
06/10 – 17:45 to 21:15 – Races

World Rally Championship – Britain
Every stage live via
05/10 – Day 1 Highlights
=> 00:00 to 00:30 (BT Sport 3)
=> 00:20 to 00:45 (Channel 5)
06/10 – 12:00 to 13:00 – Live: Stage 14 (BT Sport 2)
06/10 – Day 2 Highlights
=> 22:45 to 23:15 (BT Sport 2)
=> 00:05 to 00:35 (Channel 5)
07/10 – 08:00 to 09:30 – Live: Stage 19 [Power Stage] (BT Sport/ESPN)
07/10 – 12:00 to 13:30 – Delayed: Stage [Power Stage] (Channel 5)
07/10 – 12:00 to 13:00 – Live: Stage 23 (BT Sport 2)
07/10 – 23:00 to 23:30 – Day 3 Highlights (BT Sport 1)
08/10 – 00:00 to 01:00 – Highlights (Channel 5)

The schedule above will be updated if anything changes.

Update on October 7th – A few points for future reference on Channel 5’s WRC coverage. Their daily highlights on Friday and Saturday night ended up airing in a Saturday and Sunday morning slot respectively. Furthermore, Sunday’s programme was live, covering Stage 23 (when it eventually started) as opposed to delayed coverage of the Power Stage.