Happy 8th Birthday!

In a parallel universe, Formula 1 is gearing up for its first European race of the 2020 season, returning to the iconic Zandvoort circuit after a frantic four fly away races, whilst MotoGP also prepares to head back to Europe.

Unfortunately, we live in unusual times, whereby motor sport is on indefinite hold, as COVID-19 takes hold on everything we know normal.

Today marks Motorsport Broadcasting’s eighth birthday, although it does not feel like a joyous occasion currently.

There is ‘glue’ that holds every sporting site together: the knowledge that, as one sporting occasion passes, another is fast approaching. For every review, there is also a preview.

The ‘glue’ that holds those sites, and this site, has all but disappeared in recent weeks, with Esports and archive material dominating the pages. In turn, the number of visitors has also sharply fallen.

And, as much as I enjoy watching the F1 and IndyCar Esports events, writing about it does not enthuse me as much, especially on a regular basis.

For every day that passes, lets hold onto the fact that we are one day closer to the lights going green once again. We do not know when, and we do not know where. But that day will come, for F1, for IndyCar, for MotoGP, or closer to home for BTCC.

On the broadcasting front, the COVID-19 pandemic raises questions at every level, for every rights holder and every sporting federation as to the long-term validity of those contracts, and whether entities may need to renegotiate them, or declare them void.

No one knows the answers, but be sure that Motorsport Broadcasting will report on any changes as and when they occur.

Highlights from the past year
Over the past year since the site turned seven, Motorsport Broadcasting did take the opportunity to sniff around a few paddocks, so in the downtime, here are a few highlights worth revisiting.

  • BlackBook Motorsport Forum – This writer attended the annual event last August, with leading figures from across the industry in attendance.
    • I caught up with F1’s Director of Marketing and Communications Ellie Norman for a chat, as well as getting the low-down from the panel on the challenge that faces motor sport in the over-the-top arena.
  • Preparing for the future – Two championships gave Motorsport Broadcasting an insight into the future.
  • W Series adventures – A few weeks earlier, I headed down to Brands Hatch, to find out how the series had embedded itself into the DTM setup, also taking time to chat to presenter Lee McKenzie on the art of broadcasting.

To everyone reading this: stay safe, both physically and mentally, and hopefully it will not be long before we can talk about motor sport broadcasting at full steam once again.

Owner and Editor of Motorsport Broadcasting

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In conversation with Stuart Higgs

During the down time, Motorsport Broadcasting is taking the opportunity to review content that never made it past the drawing board due to time constraints.

Back in 2017, this writer went behind the scenes at a British Superbikes event at Silverstone. As well as looking around the outside broadcast (OB) truck, I spoke to the brains behind British Superbikes, Series and Race Director Stuart Higgs (@StuartHiggs).

Although I published snippets at the time, I never published the full 40-minute extract. Some snippets are no longer relevant, but many of the topics discussed at length are still applicable to the present day, discussing broadcasting and beyond.

To begin with, me and Stuart chat about the hurdles British Superbikes has faced over the past 25 years…

We relaunched British Superbikes in 1996, and it’s gone through several evolutions of promoter and organiser since, most recently 2008, when MSV acquired the commercial rights. I’ve been involved in the championship for most of the twenty-year period beforehand.

2008 saw a convergence of promoter, circuit, and organisational entities all into one group, which really changed the commercial and media landscape because it allowed us to be unfettered in terms of our deal making capability and the ability to promote the championship.

Back in 1996, the circuits all got together to form an organisation called the Motorcycle Circuit Racing Control Board (MCRCB), and that gifted itself by negotiation, the promotional and organisational rights for British championship level motorbike racing in the UK on permanent circuits.

Previously it was left to individual promoters, all run under the regulation body the ACU, but 1996 was the moment when it all changed. We had a single promoter and organiser, led by Robert Fearnall at Two Four Sports, who operated Donington.

This was around the same time I think that Superbikes was making a splash on free-to-air television, which must have helped the championship.

BBC Grandstand really propelled two wheels back into the living rooms, and it followed what happened a couple of years previously with British Touring Cars. It was a nice, snappy 30-minute programmes, with three or four million people watching on a Saturday afternoon. It was the rebirth, and as everyone saw, attendances went up, sponsors like Cadbury, Old Spice and Red Bull came in for the first time, it was the sea change moment.

That brings us up to 1999, when the group of circuits all thought that, given the success so far, they would take touring car and superbike and become this huge motor sport promoting entity.

That all dovetailed at the same time with a company called Octagon, who were owners of the circuits that are now MSV. Octagon acquired the Formula 1 British Grand Prix rights that were going to Brands Hatch, which never happened, and it was a bit of a mess.

Octagon eventually flogged all the circuits to Jonathan Palmer (MSV) in early 2004, and we as a championship were looking for a home. Robert Fearnall negotiated with Dorna, agreeing that they would handle BSB’s commercial rights. And then we created an organising body which would run the sporting side of the championship, led by myself.

Was the partnership successful between yourselves and Dorna?

It was, but the next challenge was a battle between Dorna and ourselves, as the sporting and promoter of the championship, and some of the circuits, now with Jonathan Palmer at the helm, where we’d do a deal with a sponsor, for example Monster, but a track may have a deal with Red Bull for example.

As a championship, we would say “we must have a clean circuit, no billboards,” and they’d say “well we’ve sold this bridge to Vauxhall,” it was constant loggerheads.

It became clear that Dorna was not in it for the long-term, for them it was a good way to get into superbikes, by pumping some investment into a superbike product that was not World Superbikes at the time.

Domestically in the end, I was working on one side and Palmer was very interested in BSB, so we got together, and everything went across to MSV. Suddenly, the handcuffs were off, which leads us to where we are today.

Jonathan [Palmer] as the promoter realised, what I always believed, that you needed the championship rights to prevail, which made the venues wake up and blossom as well.

It allowed us to make long-term deals commercially, long-term television deals, and if you have long-term television deals then you can go to sponsors with confidence. If you can say to a sponsor “this is our current broadcast footprint and circuit attendance,” you can say to a potential partner this is what it is going to in the next five years and immediately people start to think.

That’s where the stability has come from, and obviously we will work on behalf of the teams to help procure their commercial partners and just to support them where we can. It’s a nice position to be in.

Dorna are now starting to invest in support series around the world, the British Talent Cup [started in 2018] which is only a good thing for motorcycle racing in this country.

They acknowledge the UK has been a critical market, one of the most knowledgeable fan bases in the world, and they want to develop further opportunities for the young riders. The series will ride across Dorna’s championship events in the UK, which is World Superbikes and MotoGP, and some races with us, we’re happy with that.

Having the world’s foremost two-wheel motor sport promoter, and having the UK’s biggest venue operator and again promoter all working on the same page is a very interesting development.

Let us move on to a hypothetical scenario for a moment. I am a motor sport fan, who lives in the UK, but never been to a British Superbikes event. What is the draw?

You’re spoilt for choice for what you spend your money on, so value for money is the key here. There’s no other comparable premier sport in the UK that has the value for money for what you see on a day, the access you have to it and the people. We are a national or international level event, priced at a national or even regional sport level.

It’s a spectacle, it’s escapism from the regulated world. I think people appreciate motorcycle racing more when you understand the human side of it as well. The most important thing is the access between the spectator and the rider, and vice versa, that’s one reason I got involved in racing, I idolised Barry Sheene.

I always want to present our championship in a way where, whether people come for the first time or repeated times, they still get that feeling of seeing their heroes. The show can attract you, but like any sport, you enjoy it more when your heart is racing and you have someone to support.

Behind the scenes in the BSB OB truck: the monitor wall
Behind the scenes in the BSB OB truck: the key roles and responsibilities

Looking at the schedule here at Silverstone, there’s loads of action on from early in the morning to late in the afternoon.

Track time is key.

I think the diversity of what is on show, from kids on Moto3 bikes through to one brand series we have like Ducati, many races we also have the sidecar series, which is one of the biggest in the world.

It’s keeping the racing industry going, it’s a churn of riders at all levels, teams of different standards. It’s very important to be able to showcase that to fans watching trackside.

Finances are always a concern irrespective of what level of motor sport you participate in. Are things more stable for British Superbikes under MSV?

Motor sport is still an expensive past time no matter how many cost controls you try and put in. There’s the crash damage cost, the human cost which can’t be reduced that much, and then you get external variables which affects people’s budgets.

Our aim has always been to have an international-level championship performing on a geographical base that’s national, with a bit overseas like Assen. We operate in a small geographical space, but our broadcast footprint is global which means we can offer a unique proposition for teams and investors.

Teams and investors in the championship can pay a fee equivalent to the level of operation but it gets this incredible visibility and reach. If it costs £500,000 to run a decent, mid-range superbike team and you can get the budget to cover that, the money you’re asking of people will still deliver a return that’s probably better than someone investing five times as much on the world stage.

For those who don’t know, British Superbikes has something called the ‘Showdown.’ Talk to us a little bit about the idea behind it.

All sports over the last 30 years have had slight format changes, even in football, you used to get two points for a win, now you get three points for a win. Cricket has gone from sort of test matches to one-day games over the years.

We took a hard look at the end of ’09, after Leon Camier dominated and wrapped the series up by the end of August at Cadwell, and the last three races were like non-events. He won the series on merit, but the reality is people don’t generally win sport on the first day.

There must be a way to make the championship decided on the final day of the competition. I don’t think it’s a bad thing if there is a bit of artificiality injected into it because ultimately it is about entertainment.

April to October is a very long time to maintain the story, particularly when you’re competing against loads of other sports. The Ryder Cup for example can capitulate an entire audience because, you’re not worried about what happened last week, you don’t care about next week, it is one weekend.

Motor sport has championships which go on for a very long time. 24 riders, 12 teams in a championship, you know in a traditional format who your top two or three are going to be before the season.

At the start of our season, 75% of the teams believe they can get to the top six at this stage of the season, which is the reason for doing it. It is not just about the guy at the top of the championship any more, there is all the subplots going into Showdown.

The more talking points you create, the more interest you get. The more interest you get, the more sponsors, awareness, controversy, and even for the people that hate it, I say “good! I’m glad you hate it, because you’re talking about it, and that’s great!”

This weekend [last weekend at Silverstone before Showdown in 2017], we’ve got nine people mathematically chasing six places, and that’s played out over three races, so yes, it elevates this round, then we reset ready for the Showdown.

Some people used to say “well rounds three and four, they don’t count,” well actually they do, because all those podiums are very meaningful to what the outcome will be.

It’s got an artificial element to it, but it makes us stand out from the crowd. WSB are tying themselves up in knots trying to wrestle with their current situation having two dominant teams, they have the reverse grid format, which is all right, it’s just not that radical, and yet they got the uproar for it anyway.

On the UK TV front, how are things looking? Currently you’re with Eurosport and ITV4 in a long-term deal [until the end of 2020].

The longer the television deal, the more stability you get, it works for all parties. Eurosport have been very good to us, we’ve been very good for them.

We joined Eurosport at a time when they were not taken very seriously, and then Discovery took them over. Their presentation standards have massively improved, they will acknowledge that at the start, the EPG and the pictures that you were watching would not always match up! Now, they have some serious rights, the US Open tennis, the Olympics, and we are a big part of their platform.

We took a load of crap at the end of 2007 when it was obvious that ITV didn’t want non-flagship sport on ITV1, they just really wanted football and the odd boxing match. After 2007, I thought Eurosport would do a better job than ITV4, and we’ll back it up with a free-to-air partner, which in the first year was Channel 4. By the end of that year, ITV realised that we were important and we formed part of their ITV4 portfolio, just at the digital cut-over time with Freeview.

Although we’re a long way away from 2020, are you already talking to Eurosport about what the future holds?

We’re talking now to our current partner, understanding what things are in the pipeline for them, and equally they will be asking questions of us in terms of the direction of the championship. It’s keeping it fresh, and bear in mind that people like Eurosport are not just broadcasters, but they have their own event rights as well.

At the same time, it’s trying to work out where the media landscape is going. The maturing sports fans of 2020/2021 are 14-15 years old now in terms of new audience. I’ve got a twelve-year-old daughter, and she doesn’t watch television, not interested. She’s busy watching things on YouTube or talking on social media. The critical thing for all sports is how to engage and make your product more engaging, more understanding.

Television is the most important visibility platform that we have and it will be for the foreseeable future. It’s building the content around that; it’s integrating between social media and other delivery platforms. Some sports are massively advanced in that, you’re seeing it appear in weird places like Twitter or Facebook.

It’s how everyone fits into that, there’s expectation now from people that you click on something and you see it, which conflicts with the pay-TV model where you pay to view it. The whole monetisation of sport, content, and broadcasting, I don’t believe anyone has the right answer. There’s a number of theories, you’ve just got to get through it and see what works for your audience.

My thanks go to Stuart Higgs for spending the time with me on the above piece. Interview was conducted in 2017 prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

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“Beyond my wildest dreams” – Laura Winter on her F1 call-up and broadcasting career so far…

Laura Winter (@LauraCWinter) is a sports broadcaster, event host and journalist. “The new girl in the paddock”, she is a relatively fresh face in the world of motorsport.

In 2019, Laura presented four rounds of the World Rallycross Championship, before making her debut in the world of F1 at the fateful Belgian GP. Once the season gets underway, she will be presenting F1 once again, as well as Speedway Grand Prix and Speedway of Nations.

In a guest article for Motorsport Broadcasting, Laura recalls her broadcasting journey so far…

My earliest memories of F1 are far from ordinary. My younger brother Will first spiked my interest, with toy car F1 races that dominated playtime in our home. The races snaked from the lounge, down the hallway, into the dining room, before doubling back. The start and finish line were the sofa closest to our patio doors.

Forget Silverstone, forget the ITV television coverage. The championship really reached fever pitch in a suburban detached house in Cheltenham, as drivers from the late 90s and early 2000s would come together for Will’s all-star weekend Grand Prix.

Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher would usually win. Occasionally Rubens Barichello would sneak a race. David Coulthard, racing in a toy McLaren car that failed to get good traction on the thick carpets, only won a few, my brother wanting to ensure his toy championship was “realistic.” Giancarlo Fisichello, Johnny Herbert, Eddie Irvine, and Mika Hakkinen also lined up on the grid, although the qualification system is still unclear.

Each driver would have the same car for each race – obviously – and the odds were strangely somewhat stacked against Hill. His car would veer wildly to the left so Will, who usually wanted the British driver to win, would have to point him to the right when launching him forwards so he stayed “on track.”

The races were at times unpredictable and highly dramatic – like any good toy car race should be. One Grand Prix famously saw just five cars finish. The commentary team (my brother) went WILD for that one. I’d have to take extra care walking around the house, stepping over the twisting line of cars so as not to disturb the race.

Despite this early exposure to top class motorsport, as a child I was obsessed with swimming, and Olympic sport. I swam competitively, mornings and evenings before and after school, and raced at the weekends, from the age of seven to 19, before taking up rowing at university.

My career in sports media began in rowing, and I soon began riding a road bike too, as my interest swung to cycling. As both a sports journalist and sports broadcaster, my early experiences were mostly in rugby, rowing, cycling, netball, tennis, and swimming. Motorsport didn’t really feature. But that changed in 2019.

I was asked to present four rounds of the World Rallycross Championship. I jumped at the opportunity, never one to shy away from a challenge, or a new sport, before frantically googling, “what is rallycross.” I approached my first event – Barcelona RX – with trepidation. Keep it simple and be yourself, I told myself.

I needn’t have worried. The IMG broadcast team were some of the best I have ever worked with, and lead commentator Andrew Coley firmly took me under his wing and showed me the sport he loved. I quickly fell in love too. I truly hope that came across on camera during what was one of the most exciting seasons of Rallycross for years.

I then got a call-up from F1. This was beyond my wildest dreams. I never for a moment thought I would or could be an F1 presenter. Yet, suddenly I was standing in the paddock on day one of the Belgian GP at the iconic Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

What started as a glorious weekend quickly became one of the darkest in motorsport’s history, with the tragic death of Anthoine Hubert in the F2 race on Saturday. I will always remember standing in the pit lane on that awful afternoon, the silence deafening. It became all too apparent that the drivers are truly pushing the limits every time they take to the track. The experience was one I’ll never forget.

There is something about motorsport that is difficult to convey unless you’ve been at the heart of it. It is intoxicating, it is addictive. From the noise of the racing, the smell of the engine and the speed and energy of the pit lane, to the glitz and the glamour of an F1 paddock, it sucks you in and will not let go.

The 2020 F1 season will start, when it is safe to do so. And I cannot wait to get stuck in. See you in the paddock.

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Channel 4 “fully committed” to current F1 deal

Channel 4 say they are still “fully committed” to airing Formula 1 in the UK, as the broadcaster seeks to reduce costs during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Yesterday, the broadcaster outlined “a number of measures” to help them navigate through the forthcoming months, as COVID-19 hits the broadcasting sector, with advertising revenue plummeting.

Included in the measures is Channel 4’s aim to reduce the 2020 programming budget by £150 million, which according to The Guardian represents almost a quarter of their programme budget.

Last September, Channel 4 agreed a deal with Sky Sports to cover Formula 1 highlights, along with live coverage of the British Grand Prix weekend, through to the end of 2022.

Inevitably, COVID-19 brings into question a lot of Channel 4’s existing arrangements, as the broadcaster seeks to cut costs.

However, the broadcaster says that they intend to continue to cover Formula 1 when the action resumes.

Speaking to this site, a Channel 4 spokesperson said, “We remain fully committed to broadcasting Formula 1 as and when the racing begins.”

When the racing does resume, Channel 4 will again be covering F1 in extended highlights form, with Whisper remaining on-board as production partners.

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Esports shine during motor racing’s real-world break

In a guest article for Motorsport Broadcasting, Andrew Young looks at the virtual motor sport scene, after a flurry of events since the cancellation of real-world activities.

In keeping with Motorsport Broadcasting ethos of looking objectively at the broadcasting element of motorsport, I thought we would take some time to look at the virtual replacement and the offerings so far.

It has become increasingly confusing to know what to watch, when and why, as all things Esports and gaming floods the motor sport world during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A history lesson…
Competitive, online racing is not new, and in fact has been around for over 20 years away from the eyes of the wider racing community. Take for instance, Grand Prix Legends, a fiercely difficult game released in 1998 which, internet permitting, you could race others around the world.

Widely considered the first adapters to the online gaming world, Live for Speed followed in 2003, with semi-professional races largely for the German community. The game provided the platform for the first-ever Intel Racing Tour offline series, a collaboration between BMW and Intel during their participation in F1 in 2007.

The biggest platforms, rFactor and iRacing, hit the market in 2005 and 2008 respectively, changing the game. rFactor 2, Assetto Corsa and RaceRoom all followed, with the specific purpose of racing online against others, unlike games that provided accessibility on consoles or computer-controlled competitors (AI), such as TOCA, F1 and Gran Turismo.

Sim competitions are as old as the games itself. Formula Sim Racing, running on rFactor 2 nowadays, crowned their first champion back in 2001, whilst iRacing organisers kickstarted their own World Championship in 2010.

Drivers form teams to help each other set cars up, or indeed run in endurance races where they can swap drivers. Some will simply be engineers, monitoring the rest of the race to decide on strategy and help the drivers or team do the best they can. At the highest level, it is as every bit as professional as the real world it has run in parallel with for so long.

Although some way behind the likes of Fortnite, League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive in the popularity stakes, online racing has gained momentum in recent years, thanks to an increase in broadcast quality led by the likes of the Gran Turismo Tour, helping bring sim racing into the mainstream fold.

Getting a group of people together to put on a race from a single venue is one thing, and as shiny and impressive as that may sound, COVID-19 has taken the organisation involved to another level. The pandemic has forced organisers to live stream competitions with racers from across the world. A very big challenge, but for some, the norm…

With COVID-19 forcing the cancellation of real-world races, the pandemic is forcing fans and championships alike to delve deeper into this virtual world.

The Race gets off the line on top
First out of the blocks was new publication The Race. The outlet, backed by Torque Esports, reacted to the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix by getting sim and real-world racers together on rFactor 2 (rF2).

So many real-world drivers and teams are familiar with the feel of rF2 (as used by teams) meaning that this was a wise choice by Torque. BBC’s 5 Live F1 commentary duo Jack Nicholls and Jolyon Palmer flew straight in from Melbourne to add star quality to the broadcast and, despite commentating from “a stranger’s bedroom,” sounded as though they were on 5 Live.

The entry list pulled in Max Verstappen, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jimmy Broadbent and the race coverage felt professional, with fantastic GFX and replays. Readers not versed in sim racing may wonder why I added ‘Jimmer’ to that list, but with 425,000 followers on YouTube, Jimmy is probably the most famous sim racer out there.

His numbers are staggering considering he only has made 1,500 videos, but Jimmy broadcasts fantastically well, which is the appeal of his channel in high-stake situations. His channel also offers a unique behind the scenes look, which Nicki Thiim and now famously Lando Norris both replicate. The ‘bloke in shed’ vibe gives Broadbent fantastic appeal and a second screen option which can be hugely addictive to watch.

While The Race totally nailed their first offering, Veloce Esports in comparison stumbled. The group replicated what so many people outside of sim racing believe sim racing to be, mates having a laugh with no care for professionalism.

This should have been the stream for F1 fans, but with the first 30 minutes littered with connection, sound, and picture issues, it was very much a miss. They may have had the numbers, thanks to Norris, Broadbent and randomly Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid footballer), and because they chose to use F1 (the business connections placed them on the F1 channels), but it was a mess.

We can excuse Veloce, while many of their individual athletes stream their online battles, this was a separate undertaking, but they did not have the equipment to cope and their ‘in-house’ presenting team struggled.

On the same weekend as all the above, iRacing eSports Network ran one of their special events ’12 hours of Sebring’ – a full replication of the famous event, a precursor to the actual race happening the weekend after.

iRacing broadcasts are stunning to watch, with immersive cameras, replays and GFX. At times however, the commentary suffers from inferior quality and, at high octane moments, a lack of discipline as to who reacts and leads the moment. Such is the number of events they do, and the commentators they have, the quality varies.

F1 joins the party with ‘Virtual Grand Prix’
One week later, IMSA streamed their Super Saturday offering, with the Radio Show Limited (better known as Radio Le Mans) commentary team at their disposal, a clear step up from previously. Having BMW Motorsport heavily promote and support it with real engineers working with real drivers helped a lot. The event was exclusive to IMSA competitors, which helped the immersion.

The Race stepped up as well. A studio to show Nicholls’ and Palmer’s faces made it feel super slick and additional real-world drivers took part. Oddly, Verstappen withdrew late on, and a lack of buzz meant that audience figures were down, even if the product was more refined.

Nicholls also popped up again on F1’s official first attempt at filling the void, with their Virtual Grand Prix, partnering Alex Jacques on commentary. Veloce’s event preceded F1’s, in the same way Formula Two precedes F1 in real-life: same track, bigger stars.

The quality of racing in the Virtual Grand Prix fell into two camps: entertaining, or a joke. To take online racing seriously you first need the participants to take it seriously and Johnny Herbert cutting the first corner set the tone for a chaotic race comparable to Destruction Derby.

Unfortunately, the one-dimensional commentary worked as much as it did not, and similarly incorporating shots of the drivers in their rigs gave a small flavour of where some of the guys were situated, although it was out-of-sync. With the largest audience by far, F1 failed to impress on the big stage.

If the first two weekends were busy, the third weekend proved that oversaturation could hit Esports sooner than imagined. IndyCar, MotoGP, NASCAR, and SRO joined Veloce, F1 and The Race on the Esports stage, all trying to get a slice of the (smaller than real-life racing) pie.

The Race introduced a Legends event, in old cars, which was genius, just ask Jimmer who has been doing this for a while on his channel. Unfortunately, social isolation forced Nicholls and Palmer to commentate on the races from their own houses, which created minor technical issues. The pace of the broadcast resulted in a lot of studio chat, both pre-races and in between the heats.

The introduction of Esports personality Sadokist was a welcome addition, although the quality of the direction decreased compared to previous weeks. It just felt like everyone cared a little bit less, with this The Race’s third event in successive weeks.

Veloce switched to iRacing from F1 for the first time. Their partnership with sim racing experts Motorsport Games helped them understand other platforms, also replacing some of the ‘Veloce Athletes’ with a field of real-world racers. The on-screen line-up remained the same as previous weeks, meaning that, even with The Race’s own issues, Veloce’s product was still not as polished as The Race.

IndyCar shows all how to master the game…
A new king soon emerged in the form of IndyCar: a full grid of real-world drivers, combined with an awesome broadcast made for a great night of entertainment. NASCAR did the same the previous week, also on iRacing, but was unavailable to this writer.

IndyCar’s broadcast felt realistic to real-life: the same commentary line-up, a pre-race prayer and national anthem, and within eight minutes, the cars were off the line.

Lead commentator Leigh Diffey and the remainder of the crew treated sim racing with respect rather than a second-tier inferior product. On-screen interviews with retired drivers featured throughout, a nice addition to the broadcast.

It did not go quite as far as NASCAR showing drivers in their rigs, but ultimately it felt like a very slick production, one thinks F1 could learn a lot from the iRacing broadcasts. iRacing has benefited hugely in the US with both NASCAR and IndyCar Esports airing on linear TV.

SRO was next to step-up, using the visually stunning Assetto Corsa Competizione. Turn away, and it would be easy to think that you were watching a real event at Monza. It looked stunning. The racing was spellbinding and, coupled with the graphics, was immersive, but without the basics (such as replays), some of the storytelling disappeared.

…only to go live behind a pay wall one week later
After a successful opening weekend, IndyCar returned one week later at the start of April live on NBC for fans in the US and Sky Sports for fans in the UK. However, there was no live YouTube stream in sight, instead, IndyCar only uploaded a stream post-race to their social channels (see above).

VLN and the Porsche Supercup entered the fray to kickstart April, the latter aired on Eurosport, a first for sim racing. Both broadcasts were professional and clean, following the same iRacing model of broadcast.

The Race once again did their thing, needing to tweak the format due to competitor numbers, as well as getting some great competitors on-board. The addition of a proper functioning ‘on-board’ camera in Jenson Button’s house a treat. The Race refined their post-race visual interviews, however their numbers were again poor, by far their lowest of the four weekends so far.

Guess where the most entertainment came from? Testing! Yup, Saturday evening entertainment was joining 140,000 others with Jimmy Broadbent in a practice lobby with six Formula 1 drivers practicing in the virtual world, all having banter and a laugh with one another. “Can we just do this race on our own, it would be way more fun,” was one quote from Red Bull racer Alex Albon.

The F1 stream increased in quality massively compared to the first outing two weeks earlier, with more real-world drivers involved and much better wheel-to-wheel racing. However, continuing to host on-site from their Fulham studios with Alex Jacques, Jack Nicholls, Tom Deacon and Matt Gallagher is an extremely poor decision considering the lockdown restrictions currently in force in the UK.

Although Charles Leclerc winning generated some good PR, the evening was not without its faults. The F1 2019 game kicked Norris out before the race even started, leading to an amusing phone call from Verstappen, broadcast over Norris’s Twitch stream. “You should throw the game in the bin, that’s why I will never join that,” Verstappen said to Norris. Ouch…

With COVID-19 expected to last a while and F1 toying with cancelling July events, Esports is our new norm, for the moment, and providing us all with a lot of entertainment in this difficult hour. Here is hoping we don’t get overwhelmed by it all just yet…

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