Setting up a new motor racing championship is inherently difficult. From the cars, to the drivers, to the media, to the television production and beyond, the amount of effort involved means that inevitably, not everything will go according to plan.
Last weekend, the inaugural W Series season ended at Brands Hatch, with Jamie Chadwick winning the championship trophy and a cool $500,000 to go with it.
Off track, how well has the series embedded itself into the DTM paddock? Motorsport Broadcasting roamed Brands Hatch to find out…
The existing DTM setup
On a logistical level, W Series slotted into the gap left by the FIA Formula Three Championship as the leading support series on the DTM bill, taking place at six of DTM’s nine race weekends.
DTM is the German equivalent of the British Touring Car Championship, except unlike the BTCC, the DTM championship travels around Europe, with four of this year’s nine race weekends taking place outside of Germany.
Now in its twentieth season, the DTM production setup features four different entities.
- TV Skyline – outside broadcaster
- DTM Productions / ITR – production and editorial
- Wige – graphics and timing
- Riedel – RF on-board cameras and team radio
W Series could have taken the existing DTM facilities, without additional wrap-around coverage.
In this scenario, broadcasters would have had to add their own bespoke content if they wanted additional colour – making W Series less valuable to prospective broadcasters. Producing a plain World Feed for W Series makes little sense.
The aim of W Series is to increase women participation in motor sport and, to get the message out, organisers needed a high-quality television product in place. That is not to say that the DTM product is not good, but the ambitions of both are different.
How well has the arrangement worked?
W Series organisers brought in Whisper and Timeline to work on the championship, playing the same roles as DTM Productions and TV Skyline respectively. The additions mean that space in the television compound is tighter than ever, but manageable nevertheless.
The role of Whisper and Timeline covers all wrap-around content, but does not cover the race itself, which remains in the control of DTM’s own providers. During W Series’ first season, Whisper and Timeline produced a live programme for broadcasters to air.
Speaking to me during the final W Series race of the inaugural season, Whisper’s Senior Producer Harry Allen is happy with how the relationship between all parties has unfolded.
“As Formula E have found out, setting up a race from scratch and directing the whole race yourself is a pretty massive undertaking, and I think the relationship with DTM is a really neat, tidy and high-quality way of dealing with that situation,” Allen told me.
“We could have attempted to go our own way and have six races set-up all by us, all of the circuit infrastructure, everything, but that’s a massive expense,” Allen added.
“Being able to be a support series on DTM, but then present that on Channel 4 and round the world as a W Series programme is great. We make sure that we mention DTM, we don’t try to hide that we’re operating on a DTM weekend.”
Whisper’s in-house graphics arm Chapter 3 Graphics designed the W Series graphic suite, which fans saw during the wrap-around coverage. However, communication was required between Whisper and Wige (DTM’s graphics provider), to ensure that the race graphics aligned with the outer offering.
Allen, who has worked with the BBC in the past on their sports offering, points this out as one of the successes from his perspective.
“We designed the graphics pack which they’ve [Wige] integrated into their system. It all works so that when we come on-air with our graphics, they look the same as their graphics,” he said.
“It’s been pretty seamless with all the partners. DTM, ITR, TV Skyline, Wige, Riedel, Timeline, and our guys. It’s a massive operation, and it’s all worked pretty well I think, we haven’t had any major issues.”
What the team are producing
For Brands Hatch on race day, alongside the qualifying feed, Whisper produced a 195-minute World Feed from 14:15 to 17:30. That might confuse some readers given that Channel 4 were on-air from 14:30 to 16:30.
Although the ‘core’ World Feed is for those two hours, beforehand a variety of features are played out from 14:15 to 14:30, for any broadcasters that have opted to do something different (for example: a studio-based show with their own presenters).
Similarly, all the post-race interviews are played out following the conclusion of the main W Series programme for broadcasters that wish to use them later. The structure of the pre-race build-up allowed worldwide broadcasters to opt-in to the show at two different junctions, giving them flexibility from a scheduling perspective.
In addition, the pre-race paddock segments air on a slight tape-delay. Due to the nature of the support series, cars are already making their way to the grid by the time the show begins to air, making it more logical to pre-record the paddock segments before the drivers’ get into their machinery.
Lee McKenzie steered both the pre and post-race build-up, with David Coulthard and Ted Kravitz providing additional input. Kravitz’s Notebook also played a key role in W Series’ social media output.
The style of Kravitz’s Notebook is like his F1 content, Kravitz wrapping up the fortunes of each of the 20 drivers, along with any other snippets that Kravitz has picked up throughout the race weekend. I watched on as Kravitz filmed the pre-race Notebook on Saturday evening, Kravitz beginning the Notebook from Paddock Hill bend (above) before wandering through to the W Village, all timed to near perfection.
On top of the live content and the Notebook, Timeline and Whisper also cut two separate highlights programmes off-site at Timeline’s base in Ealing: one for global broadcasters, and another specifically for US broadcast partners NBC, who air W Series highlights on Wednesday’s on NBCSN.
“We deliver that to NBC by 5pm on a Monday (12pm in US),” Allen tells me. “NBC then have five hours of opportunity to watch it and give feedback, and then on Tuesday we make any changes and then deliver the final product for them.”
“That’s how we service NBC, who are obviously a huge client for W Series.”
W Series’ is Allen’s first motor racing role but that, he says, is a deliberate move from Whisper. “The reason why I am producing this is because one of the key things we’re trying to do is get W Series to a new audience,” he says.
“The production team around us, these guys go to Formula 1 every race [for Channel 4]. I’m trying to create something that is accessible to a different audience, and everyone around me is keeping me in check making sure we hit the motor sport audience. If there’s anything, any time that is not correct then we’ll meet in the middle!”
Cottingham’s “most incredible” journey
Before Hockenheim, Claire Cottingham was a name unfamiliar to motor racing fans worldwide. Now, just over three months later, Cottingham has commentated on all six races of W Series’ first season.
Speaking to me prior to the Brands Hatch season finale, Cottingham reveals her journey, from getting the initial phone call to now.
“Before they gave me the gig, I had to go in and do a test commentary. I went in to commentate on a race, with one of the guys from Whisper,” Cottingham tells me.
“It was just to see how it flowed and things like that. It was an agonising couple of days waiting, and then I got the phone call. It was one of those surreal, unbelievable moments in life!”
“I think it’s about having the right person. It’s not my place to say ‘should it be female’ or whatever. It’s worked out that they picked somebody who knew motor sport, has been in motor sport, and that’s great.”
“It should always be the right person to fit the job, and that’s what they did, they believed I was the right person for the job. Whisper have been brilliant to get the right people in the right places and to give women more of a presence in motor sport. When I got the phone call, I thought ‘I’m in on this mission!’ It’s been the most incredible journey so far,” Cottingham added.
Cottingham, who has previously commentated on Formula Renault 3.5 and Formula Renault Eurocup for BT Sport, spoke about the challenges of working on a new championship, and the hurdles it brings.
“Because it’s a new series, much like when Formula E came out, everyone was learning the technology and learning the racing, it’s very similar,” she says.
“We’ve all learnt from Hockenheim to now, the drivers, the production team, everybody. We’ve all grown with it and I think that’s what’s been really fun, to be part of that family and moving it forward.”
A successful first season for W Series
Cottingham’s commentary can be heard worldwide, including in the UK on Channel 4. Allen is happy with how W Series has been brought to a wide audience in its inaugural, thanks to broadcasters such as Channel 4 backing the series.
“I think we’ve done really well, because we’ve brought a start-up racing series to a pretty wide audience, and I think people know about it,” Allen notes.
“When I speak to my friends who have no interest in motor sport, they’ve heard about it, they’ve read about it in the papers, in the broadsheets, they may have even watched it on Channel 4.”
“The good thing about being on Channel 4 in the UK is that people who are interested in Formula 1 will know about the fact that we’ve got W Series coming up, because at the end of the programme they’ll trail it.”
“If you’re watching the rugby today on Channel 4, we’ve sent them a 30-second VT, which will trail our final programme, and off the back of that the presenter of the rugby will say ‘don’t forget tomorrow to tune in, 2:30 on Channel 4 for the finale on W Series.'”
“Whisper is all about the stories, characters, personalities, entertainment is everything. Sport is entertaining, but my opinion on sport is that has to be easily understandable by everyone, so if you’re sitting down with your daughter or son and they’ve never watched W Series before, they can’t think ‘that was boring’ at the end of the programme, and that’s the key.”
“What we’re doing with this is everything around the racing, even if the racing hasn’t done what you wanted it to, we’ll make sure we sell that sport to the absolute maximum and get the most emotion and entertainment out of it.”