Looking back at W Series’ inaugural race

The W Series kicked off in style in Hockenheim, with Jamie Chadwick winning the inaugural race. But how did the championship fare on the broadcasting side? We analyse their opening act…

Broadcasting rights
The championship, which aims to increase female participation in motor sport, is supporting the DTM touring car championship based in Germany. Announced publicly in October 2018, series organisers have spent the past few months whittling down the number of racers to eighteen.

From a broadcasting perspective, the arrangement with DTM means that W Series plays ‘second fiddle’, in the same way that Formula Two does to Formula 1, for example. Most of Formula 1’s support events are tangibly related to the main attraction, whereas W Series has no significant relation to DTM other than the fact that they are on the same bill.

It is like Porsche Supercup’s relationship with F1. Porsche drivers are highly unlikely to progress to F1, and it is unlikely, although possible that W Series drivers will progress to DTM. Like anything though, W Series needs to fit somewhere. The arrangement may not be long lasting, as Reuters are reporting that some races may end up on the F1 support bill sooner rather than later…

Nevertheless, having W Series race play out in front of an empty Hockenheim race crowd is far from ideal. I am no expert on DTM’s attendance figures, but it does not look good from W Series’ perspective, one of the perils of running races on Saturday. Over the border in the UK, the British Touring Car Championship regularly attracts a solid fanbase around the country.

2019 W Series Race 1 - cars.png
The W Series cars in action. In this shot, Beitske Visser, Fabienne Wohlwend and Sarah Moore are battling in the purple/pear cars, with Esmee Hawkey in the background in the red/white car.

Very few broadcasters worldwide have signed up to W Series so far, despite their CEO Catherine Bond-Muir claiming in an interview with Crash.net in January that there was “extraordinary” interest in the series, and that they had rejected a deal with an (unnamed) free-to-air broadcaster in the UK.

In the end, the championship did announce a deal with a free-to-air broadcaster, in the form of Channel 4 just two weeks before the series started. Whether the Channel 4 deal came together late, or the parties opted to announce it late, is unclear.

If anything, W Series has struggled to bring television deals to fruition. Hopefully now that the first race has taken place, and the series is a genuine real entity, the tide will turn in their favour.

Organisers have opened Facebook and Twitter for fans to watch the championship where no broadcast partner is in place. This proved to be the first frustration for UK fans, as the qualifying feed was geo-blocked due to their arrangement with Channel 4 (even though the broadcaster, as expected, did not air qualifying live).

Slick presentation from Whisper Films
Anyone who has watched Whisper Films’ Formula 1 coverage on Channel 4 generally knows what they are getting.

Channel 4 aired a sub-set of the World Feed content, with Whisper catering to all parties. The TV friendly feed featured break bumpers, with those watching on social media getting an in-depth qualifying round-up and additional interviews during the TV breaks. Once the friendly feed went off the air after the podium celebrations, the World Feed remained on-air for an additional 15 minutes of post-race interviews.

The ad-breaks on Channel 4 did feel slightly jarring (two breaks in twenty minutes), a minor complaint considering the race aired uninterrupted. Nevertheless, all handled the whole ad-break situation better than other entities have in the past (see: Channel 5 and Formula E), resulting in a polished show overall.

Lee McKenzie steered the ship as presenter, guiding the show along. Ted Kravitz brought over his esteemed style in the form of #TedTalksWSeries, also interviewing the stars of the show during Saturday’s race coverage.

On commentary was Claire Cottingham and David Coulthard, a line-up met with mixed reaction across social media during the race. Prior to Formula E’s launch in 2014, series organisers held a closed door ‘test race’ at Donington, helping to iron out bugs, ensuring that the broadcast, including commentary, flowed.

W Series never held a ‘test race,’ the first opportunity for Cottingham and Coulthard to work together in anger was last weekend. Commentary teams do not gel overnight, and it is even more difficult to gel when everything is brand new. The commentary was not great, but I also feel we need to give them time before criticising the pairing at the first opportunity.

If anything, there were problems elsewhere in the W Series system that impacted on Cottingham and Coulthard’s commentary…

Questionable race coverage
One of the downsides of being on the DTM support bill is that W Series has the same camera angles as DTM’s World Feed. Whisper Films had little to no say over those positions.

WIGE Media, who have produced DTM’s World Feed for many years, are no longer producing the feed this season, however the team behind the DTM feed is fundamentally the same. Whisper Films may be producing W Series, but the ex-WIGE team is directing the output, creating a half-way house scenario.

I understand that the production behind the live W Series content came together late in the day, which impacted the quality of the show. Fundamentally, the race itself felt like I could have been watching a national Formula 3 event, on a shoe-string budget, because of the quality of the race broadcast.

2019 W Series Race 1 - helicopter.png
The helicopter angle at the start. Whilst the angle missed Chadwick running wide, it did capture the white-purple car of Megan Gilkes (pictured here on the inside towards the hairpin), slamming into the side of Emma Kimilainen in the red-white car.

Some of the chosen camera angles were questionable, with seemingly heavy reliance on the helicopter. Cutting to a helicopter angle just two corners into the race, resulting in us missing Chadwick (the leader at the time) making a mistake struck me as an incredibly bizarre decision. With only five different liveries too throughout the field, driver identification is likely to be difficult throughout the season.

Other angles looked cool, but out of place on a live race broadcast. If I was watching a documentary on the race after the event, then maybe it would be fine, but not during the race itself. Because of the angles used, the cars did not look fast. I appreciate these are Formula 3-spec machinery, but some camera trickery can make all the difference here to fans at home.

Unfortunately, you cannot hide empty grandstands. But you can inject a bit of energy into the race through sporadic on-board angles to show the amount of input from the drivers, as well as some team radio. Admittedly, the former costs money…

The graphics set did the job, although the colours, whilst on brand, are not the most television friendly in the world. The logo in the bottom right hand corner could be shortened to just W, the stylisation of the logo meaning that the last few letters of ‘Series’ disappeared occasionally!

On the racing front, the action was excellent throughout the field, with clean wheel-to-wheel racing. The opening lap Safety Car spoiled things somewhat, resulting in around 20-minutes of full-speed action before the chequered flag. Hopefully the length of the race changes to 45-minutes next season, but I can see why they have started short.

And arguably, the race quality is the main thing. The production issues, while frustrating, are fixable. To just get to this point without any major hiccups is a result. The team as a collective unit all have one race under their belt, and go into the next round at Zolder with a better idea of what to expect.

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8 thoughts on “Looking back at W Series’ inaugural race

  1. Yeah i agree with the comments on the commentary. It did strike me that they didn’t have a lot of practice and Cottingham did something that a lot of new/nervous commentators which is talk too much and repeat herself a lot. One of the things that the best commentators learn is that they don’t have to be speaking every second and to let the action speak for itself at times. Hopefully with more experience / practice Cottingham will get there.

  2. There were a few commentary niggles that I had. The first being Cottingham’s introduction before the lights went out – clear nervousness there (historic/history etc used 4 times in short succession). The second being Coulthard’s patronising comment before the Safety Car restart. I went back to quote it directly: “You can see very smart Sarah Moore holding the pack back from the Safety Car getting a bit of space. That is brilliant to see. She’s understanding how to, to try and, you know, make sure she’s not backed into that Safety Car.” I’m not sure he’d make that comment anywhere else.

    As for the racing. I’m not sure it was good. It was clean but it was processional in places. It just felt to me like it lacked a bit of spark and passion.

  3. Hi David – I agree with your comments, but thought you’d missed a couple of errors:

    1) In the paddock, before the racing started, there was some very confusing commentary that had a loud echo in the background. In addition, I think I did hear two people speaking at the same time (not intentional).

    2) It was very difficult to follow the timing gaps during the race. Occasionally they would show the gap alongside the ‘tower’ on the left of the screen, but this was rare. There were also some timing gaps shown between 2 or 3 drivers at the bottom of the screen.

    I wish the organisers and broadcasters all the very best – the potential for some good television is excellent. I like the fact that all the cars are identical, and drivers swapping cars and mechanics at each race to ensure equal machinery. Tim

  4. Well I like Lee and DC and Ted, I though it was ok.
    Lee did appear to be competing with herself over the PA system.
    I guess the same people do the subtitles as for F1, as they again blotted out the top four positions on the leader board. What is the matter with these people, doe they never look at their work?
    Ted was used very sparingly, his role could be expanded considerably, I gather he is completely wasted in a very minor role on Sky F1 now.
    No timing information at all on Channel 4 but maybe they do not have car transponders in the W series.

  5. The article and other comments sum up my feelings well – good but some room for improvement.

    One thing that the series could do better, which would help the commentators, is work on the looks of the car. It was difficult to identify the individual drivers – too many blue cars, too many white cars, too many green cars etc. Given there are no large sponsors on the cars, they need drivers names written large on the rear wings, and large car numbers. The pictures would do more of the talking themselves if these small but very important details were more easily visible. The on screen graphics during the race would be helped if they had pictures of the drivers – unfortunately like many viewers I was watching many of these talented drivers compete for the first time, and I have no idea what they look like, which makes it harder for me as a viewer to connect with them. The series can do some small and simple things to help with promoting all their stars, which is going to help the 17 drivers who finish the season having not won the $500,000 prize.

  6. The drivers did well on Saturday considering the conditions earlier during qualifying and their lack of practice in the cars. If F1 had 18 new drivers at the first race of the season, they’d not do much better. Come the next race, I’ll certainly be looking out for the 2 dark horses who did so well, Marta Garcia and Miki Koyama.

    It was no surprise that the broadcast was a mixed bag, that’s why I’ve never had much interest in DTM. As others have said, ad infinitum, race promoters need to watch their own broadcasts, from start to finish, they might learn how bad it is.

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