Analysis: The decline of the F1 season review

The official 2018 Formula One Season Review, produced by Formula One Management might go down as one of the championship’s poorer productions. To casual observers, that statement might seem like an extreme exaggeration, but the 2018 review saw a major shift in the style of the review produced.

Formula One has produced an official season review dating back to the 1980s, then on VHS and more recently on DVD. FOM released the early reviews for the first time on DVD in recent weeks in the run up to the Christmas period.

Inevitably, one can draw comparisons between the quality of the historical reviews, and the 2018 offering. The official season review has gone through many different iterations in differing shapes and sizes.

In the early to mid-1990’s, the likes of Tony Jardine, Matt Lorenzo and even chat show host Jonathan Ross voiced the reviews. They were generally much more colourful than recent offerings, helped by a script that was willing to poke fun at the action every so often.

Since the early 2000’s, Ben Edwards has voiced most of the reviews. Despite his best efforts, the reviews have become formulaic and stale over the years, not helped by the wealth of footage already in the public arena.

The length of the reviews has increased drastically over the years, and whilst an extended edit is sometimes good, the review became a marathon that even the most dedicated fan found difficult to navigate through. Four and a half hours of Mercedes domination is not the best way to spend a Christmas…

For 2018, FOM opted to overhaul the official season review. On the front of it, that sounds like a good thing, with the possibility of a tighter edit and script making for a better programme that set the pulse racing.

However, instead of using a bespoke voiceover, FOM for the first time used live commentary from Sky Sports, with Tom Clarkson providing additional input between each race. Suffice to say that the result was a drastic cut back in the amount of action on offer.

Midfield action ignored
The narrative in 2018 was Lewis Hamilton versus Sebastian Vettel in the Fight for Five, which is obvious throughout the review. By using Sky’s commentary combined with the World Feed pictures (including the full F1 graphics set), FOM omitted vast amounts of action further down the field.

FOM ignored mid-field incidents, such as the clash between Kevin Magnussen and Pierre Gasly in Azerbaijan, as well as Fernando Alonso’s knock with Lance Stroll in America. There is no transition between shots within each race, as the review simply fails to tell the race-by-race story, and why X ended up in front of Y.

The worst edit though goes to the German Grand Prix, which transitioned from a dry to wet race. On any other season review, there would have been something new, an alternative angle, a new spin not captured on the World Feed output (such as Stroll’s excursion), or snippet of team radio that told viewers something revealing that may make the news wires over the festive period. Not here.

2018 German GP - season review edit.png
From one frame to another during FOM’s German Grand Prix edit in the season review. Multiple positions have changed according to the timing tower, but the review does not cover these. Plus, the second frame has a little bit of drizzle…

The Hockenheim circuit is bone dry in one shot, and in the next, the track is wet without any explanation. As a rule of thumb throughout the review, if FOM did not cover the incident on the main World Feed, chances are that it failed to make the official season review as well.

In a sport such as Formula 1, there is always something new to air, irrespective of how well the World Feed captured the action. As much as FOM have improved their offering with more footage now in the public domain, there is always a hidden gem that most fans have not previously seen before, only uncovered long after the event.

On an editorial level, other decisions taken for the season review, such as displaying the top ten grid order but only the top three finishing positions were baffling. It feels like FOM treated the 2018 review as an afterthought, possibly because they see other developments (such as F1 TV) as bigger revenue streams compared to the antiquated season reviews.

F1 2018 “Best Bits”
A season review is something that should cover the entire field, not just the first dozen cars. In my view, the 2018 season review is a “best bits” snapshot that fails to do 2018 justice.

One of the best reviews for me back in the day was 1995, which covered the pre-season driver market shake-up and the 17 races in reasonable detail. The review also covered the midfield action, highlighting the more amusing moments, such as the best spins and wet weather drives, in several fun (but cheesy) VT’s. Having never watched F1 back in 1995, the review did the job for me.

f1 season review lengths
A look at the length of the F1 season reviews. Left: the length of the main feature. Right: the length of the main feature divided by the number of races, to show the average length per race.

Taking Sky’s live commentary in 2018 meant that there were fewer break points for the editors to take, resulting in a poorer edit. The official 1993 season review clocked in at 95 minutes for 16 races.

The South African round that year, and the 2018 Australian race, had an edit of around 3 minutes and 40 seconds for the racing action (excluding qualifying). Yet, the tighter edit for South Africa 1993, combined with the distinctive voice over from Ross, allowed for eleven snippets of action, compared with just six for Australia 2018, including start and finish.

And 1993 was one of the shortest of reviews of its time, meaning that the comparison is a generous one. The statistics show that each 2018 weekend had six and a half minutes of action in the review, the shortest since 1996, and fourth shortest since 1990.

Although the length of the season review is like 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000, the additional races in 2018 means that fans get fewer minutes per race than the late 1990’s. The bulky top 10 run down of qualifying and padding compared to the reviews of yesteryear means that 2018 is, in my view, at the back of the pack.

The fact that FOM opted to use Sky’s live commentary in their season review instead of another broadcaster is irrelevant, the criticism would have remained. Using live commentary in a season review situation does not work, and resulted in a much poorer product.

The season ending in late November probably does not help the season review’s cause, as FOM and Duke Video race to get the review out and on the shelves before Christmas. The main review is 136 minutes long, and would have benefited with an additional 45 minutes added to the main review, but the core problem remains the way that FOM have produced the season review.

I hope the style of the review changes again for 2019, because in my view the 2018 style has left Formula 1 fans, including myself, short-changed.

Maybe, we need to wait until February or March for the proper 2018 review. Enter, Netflix

5 thoughts on “Analysis: The decline of the F1 season review

  1. Did you have a pre-release review copy, because my Amazon UK pre-order still shows a “This title will be released on January 21, 2019.”

  2. Once every 2 weeks is fine but to hear ben edwards shriek the winners victory 21 times in a row is enough to make me give up watching f1 forever so I never look forward to any C4 recap show.
    Clive james dry wit was ok years ago and gave the review a fresh dimension.

  3. I’ve yet to buy the 2018 blu ray and I’m now quite hesitant to get it, but I’m sure the completionist in me will still want to get it seen as I have every review from 1989 onwards (from VHS to DVD and then to Blu Ray) ! Have to agree, the 1995 review was one of the best for its time and still holds up tremendously well ! You’re right that run times for some recent reviews were overlong and could of been slimmed down and maybe the overall presentation needed a shakeup but not this much of a shake up ! Personally some of my favourite reviews were from 1997 – 2002 as these were the ones that used the PPV F1 Digital + footage ! Buying those videos back in the day and then knowing that it was going to feature footage I hadn’t seen before was such a thrill. Thank you for reviewing this and giving us some insight into the latest season review 🏁

  4. I find this a really interesting thread. And a glance at the Amazon reviews highlights the problem. Speaking as someone that hasn’t seen any of the videos, I wonder if it’s perhaps political. Duke Video will be in a relationship with F1, if F1 aren’t giving them the pictures (or are charging too much for them) this would be the result.

    Normally non ‘contributing’ Broadcasters for big events (say BBC TV and F1 or the BBC and Wimbledon *outside* the Wimbledon fortnight – or ITV and Wimbledon anytime, etc etc) will be tied to a certain number of seconds they can use per day per broadcast for a period of time after the event. With eye watering penalties for a transgression.

    Therefore images in a ‘best of’ or ‘review’ can be in short supply or very expensive if they aren’t supported by the powers at be at the sport. It seems wholly illogical that Duke Video would deliberately make a product that would be so eaisly panned by enthusiasts. Not good business and, while I don’t know them, they don’t seem that kind of set up. Which brings us back to F1 and them not playing nice.

    … or Sky?

    Could it be that Sky, in this post 2018 season, when I assume they are now in charge, has pushed to use its footage – and perhaps substantially less of it? That the video uses the Sky commentators promotes the Sky package and the lack of footage might give Sky more audience for its own offerings?

    So, my suspicion is that the cutting down of the races is a political decision. To what end I’ve not a clue. This is the new contract period, are the videos being phased out, or changing format, or supply model, or something else?

    Of course at this point I could apply one of my favorite maxims: Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. These people could be doing just what the whopping 64 odd percent of Amazon reviewers who gave the DVD one star suggest: ripping enthusiasts off.

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