Formula 1 will broadcast the first pre-season test of 2019 live, one of the championship’s main broadcasters has confirmed.
The test, which takes place from Monday 18th February to Thursday 21st February in Barcelona, will air live via F1 TV’s premium tier service in its entirety. For UK fans however, coverage will air exclusively live on Sky Sports F1, but only the afternoon element.
Across the four days, F1 TV Pro will cover the full test, with every second of on-track action covered. In comparison, Sky are airing twenty hours of coverage, with their broadcast running from 13:00 to 18:00 each afternoon. For the first four hours of Sky’s programme, on-track action will be the centre of attention, with special guests throughout the coverage.
Following the conclusion of each day an hour-long review show, Welcome to F1 2019, will air from 17:00 to 18:00 on both Sky F1 and F1 TV Pro. As of writing, it is unclear whether the on-air team will consist of purely Sky personnel, or whether the coverage will be a hybrid of Sky and FOM personnel. Sky’s newest recruit Karun Chandhok will be involved in coverage.
Given the different lengths, with Sky on-air much later than the World Feed, it is possible that Sky’s programme will be completely bespoke. Formula One Management (FOM) are providing a feed for the first test, however sources close to the situation say that this is a one-off move to inform future decision-making, hence why both Sky’s and FOM’s article contains no reference to the second Barcelona test.
Most extensive coverage of F1 testing ever
The foray back into the live testing scene means that the first Barcelona test will be the most extensive for a Formula 1 test ever. But it is not the first-time F1 testing has aired live.
In 2013, live coverage of the second Barcelona test aired on Sky Sports F1, although it was designed to promote Sky’s 3D offering, and was largely a Sky production. Nevertheless, the broadcaster provided two and a half hours of live action each day, half the amount that Sky are airing this year.
Back then, combined over the live airing and the repeat showing, audience figures peaked with just over 100,000 viewers, a good number for pre-season testing and on a similar ballpark to GP2 (as it was then), GP3 and IndyCar, although that excludes devices such as Sky Go. Numbers may suffer this time round, with no weekend action to draw fans in.
One of the great things about Sky’s live coverage in 2013 that I mentioned at the time was hearing from new voices from down within the pit lane, back then it was Marc Priestley getting some on-air screen time alongside Ted Kravitz.
Airing testing live gives Sky an opportunity to experiment, see what works and what does not, which should inform their main coverage this year. The same applies for FOM, testing may be an appropriate time to test a new graphic or camera angle to see what gets a good reaction on social media, and again what does not.
The main industry argument for not airing testing: it is dull. Airing eight hours of on-track action each day would make for terrible television, and I agree with that view-point. However, the ‘2013 model’ which Sky ran with, airing the last two hours live, interspersed with the best bits from earlier in the day, worked extremely well in my view.
Although I will be watching with interest what the ‘2019 model’ has to offer, my initial gut feeling is that five hours per day is a little too much. Three hours at a push maybe, but five hours may become repetitive fast, especially if rain hits any of the four days. But who knows, maybe five hours is the optimal amount, we shall see.
How much analysis FOM and Sky can get out of the product will be intriguing to see, considering how restrictive teams tend to be at each of the F1 tests.
MotoGP have covered testing live in some format for years, so this is not new for motor sport. The post-season test from Valencia has aired live for several years, with full World Feed treatment, helped by the fact that all their facilities are already on site from the final race weekend a few days earlier.
The championship gives the pre-season Sepang test coverage from their hub in Spain, with pre-recorded bike shots from the track interspersed within the studio chatter, purely on the grounds of cost. Clearly, they feel there is a small audience for it, but not enough to justify sending the full crew to Sepang for the test.
Inevitably, the whole testing argument boils down to cost. If the metrics simply do not add up, then there is little point continuing with the experiment, which will determine whether FOM push ahead with airing testing live again beyond 2019.
Update on January 23rd – I have modified portions of the article as F1 has today confirmed that the entirety of the first test will air live on F1 TV Pro, with Sky airing the afternoon element only.
Whilst F1 TV Pro is the most logical place for testing in full, I do think FOM would have been wiser to air some of the test for free via social media and YouTube, because I do not see subscriptions to F1 TV Pro spiking, just to watch testing. Relatively speaking though, it should be a hit with existing subscribers.
FOM’s release also covers those countries receiving F1 TV Pro for the first time in 2019, including Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Sweden.