For all stakeholders across motor sport, the restart of sport since the COVID-19 pandemic has meant a change in the ways of working, as everyone adapts to the current landscape – inside and outside of broadcasting.
So far, project restart has gone remarkably well, with no flare ups causing significant disruption to major championships.
Many have taken the decision, voluntarily or not, to remain away from the paddock, reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission for everyone involved.
One broadcaster, BT Sport has remained off-site for their MotoGP coverage, instead opting to base themselves at the home of Moto2 engine supplier Triumph.
Now in their seventh season covering the championship and with the team settled into their temporary home, Motorsport Broadcasting took a trip up to Hinckley in Leicestershire to see how things were shaping up…
The three ‘bases’
Luckily for me, Hinckley is only a short drive from where I live, so getting to Triumph was not a problem, but upon arrival to BT’s new base, two things are immediately clear.
Firstly, BT really have taken over museum element of the Triumph building; and secondly, those working on the production in Hinckley take social distancing seriously.
As mentioned by Series Editor Kevin Brown in our chat last month, only the key people who need to be in Hinckley are on location, again to reduce the potential risk.
The Triumph team consists of the on-air presentation line-up, key technicians across sound and vision to fix emerging issues, as well as an Assistant Producer who doubles up as a COVID-19 supervisor, ensuring all present follow the guidelines whilst off-air.
The bulk of the production team remains down in London, with some working remotely, all communicating with those on-site in Triumph to help bring the show to life.
|Hinckley (Triumph HQ)||London|
|5 x Presenters / Commentators||1 x Series Editor / COVID-19 supervisor|
|1 x Sound / Tech Supervisor||1 x Director|
|2 x Sound Assistant||1 x Vision Mixer|
|2 x Camera Operator||1 x Sound Supervisor|
|1 x Assistant Producer / COVID-19 supervisor||1 x Assistant Producer / EVS Operator|
|1 x Vision Guarantee||1 x Script Supervisor|
|1 x Uplink Engineer||1 x Resource Manager|
|1 x Generator / Electrician||1 x Broadcast Engineer|
|1 x Sound Guarantee|
|1 x Media Systems Engineer|
|Remote||On-Site (Dorna staff)|
|1 x Production Manager||1 x Floor Producer|
|1 x Junior Production Manager||1 x RF Cameraman|
|1 x VT Co-Ordinator||1 x Sound Technician|
|1 x Assistant Producer|
|1 x Graphics Operator|
|1 x Digital Producer|
|2 x Editors|
Despite the drawbacks of not being on-site, the consensus from many, including MotoGP lead commentator Keith Huewen, is that the Triumph setup has worked.
“I have to say that, at first you do think, ‘ugh I’ve got to do it back in the UK’ rather than being at trackside,” he tells me.
“Am I going to miss the information that I need to commentate? Normally you’re walking down pit lane, you’re bumping into people; you run the track and you bump into mechanics and crew chiefs.”
“You come here [to Triumph] for the first time with some trepidation, am I going to be stunted in what I can put out.”
“But, the answer to that is not really, because you have personal links to the track, you have links to the officials, you use the phone to get in touch with them and find out what’s going on.”
From a facilities perspective, Huewen believes there is ‘no better facility’ than Triumph’s base, Huewen chatting to me in the Hinckley sunshine prior to MotoGP qualifying.
“The commentary booths are brilliant; sound and vision are all good for us. So, from a technical point of view, it couldn’t be better. In my view, there is no better facility than the one we’re working out of here,” he adds.
The Triumph layout and how it has benefited the team…
Split across two floors, the main studio and touch screen is located on the ground floor in the main museum area, the back drop perfect for BT’s MotoGP programming.
A plethora of cables, laptops and generators sprawl the floor, all necessary for getting the show to air, a collaborative effort between BT Sport, MotoGP commercial rights holder Dorna, production partner North One Television and technology provider Timeline Television.
Also, on show was plenty LED lighting and four state of the art 4K Ultra HD cameras, three for the main studio set and one for the touch screen further round the museum.
BT used both the video wall behind the main studio and the touch screen to great effect: conducting interviews with those in the paddock throughout the opening weekends, the set up unintentionally providing benefits to BT’s output.
“I’m doing interviews with people actually a bit easier than when you’re at the racetrack because [Dorna are] bringing them to our position [within the paddock], whereas normally I’m chasing round for like three hours at the end of the day trying to find people to interview,” resident interviewer Gavin Emmett tells me.
“The riders have been accommodating on the other end of things by going to a position, and they can’t see me, even though I can see them and they can hear me, so having a fairly relaxed, normal conversation with them has been good.”
“The team managers are normally tied up with meetings on Sunday’s, whereas now they’ve been able to speak to Suzi [Perry] directly in the couple of hours before a race, which is really handy. I’m pleasantly surprised at how well it has all gone.”
Historically, journalists and broadcasters have conducted post-session MotoGP media interviews from the comfort of the teams’ motorhomes, but Emmett believes that the COVID-19 pandemic may result in permanent changes within the paddock.
When asked by Motorsport Broadcasting, Emmett noted that the introduction of a ‘media pen,’ akin to the current Formula 1 set-up following qualifying and the race, would only be a positive for the two-wheeled community.
“Having a mix zone has worked for us, and I think it would work for the teams and the riders, because they know that they come there, they do their thing and that’s it, done, and they don’t need to go to different places, different times.”
“I think it’s a great idea. Teams are bringing their backdrops to the mix zone and putting them in, understandably they want the sponsor logos displayed. I hope it’s something we continue in the future because it does help everybody. It helps us know what the lights, the sound, everything is going to look like.”
The touch screen has proved its worth for BT already in 2020, Neil Hodgson using it to analyse the horrifying accidents during the Austrian Grand Prix weekend, illustrating how close MotoGP came to multiple fatalities that weekend.
At the other end of the ground floor in Triumph’s canteen area is the sound booth, whilst upstairs are BT’s four commentary booths, all separated by Perspex screens.
If anything, the commentary set up works better than your traditional on-site circuit set up. All four of BT’s commentators have their own monitors, giving them more space to work within than at a normal race weekend.
Thanks to the close relationship between the BT Sport team and many of MotoGP’s riders, the team has still been able to relay critical information about the riders back to the viewer at home.
Huewen, who retired from racing and started his broadcasting career thirty years ago, knows many of the current riders’ relatives. In some other cases, the working relationship between the rider and broadcaster is so close that the riders themselves message the BT team directly!
“Before the start of the [Czech Republic Grand Prix FP3] session this morning John McPhee sent Michael [Laverty] a voice message saying ‘we’ve been banned for the first 10 minutes the session, we’ve just found out.'”
“That was him sat in the garage, sending the information back to Michael from the garage in the little voice note, and that’s great,” Emmett says.
“He probably wouldn’t have done that if we were there! He’s aware ‘Oh, you know, I need to let you guys know because you’re going to be commentating on this session’ and the fans also wanting to know what happened, well this is what happened.”
The only inconvenience for Emmett from a commentary perspective comes when teamed with Laverty, the two positioned the furthest away from one another, however in the grand scheme of things it is a minor issue (as Hodgson was keen to point out to me in a friendly manner, he rarely looks at his co-commentator anyway…).
Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic is (hopefully) temporary, many of the techniques BT Sport and other broadcasters have utilised over the past four months will remain a permanent fixture in the years to come, as broadcasting transitions to a remote, environmentally friendly, model.
The plan for BT Sport was to begin looking at MotoGP remote production this year, although clearly COVID accelerated their plans further than they anticipated.
With no fans and fewer personnel on-site, Hodgson believes that there is little incentive for the team to head back overseas whilst the paddock is ‘still empty.’ In the longer term, however, Huewen believes on-site presence remains ‘critical’ to BT’s output.
“My view is that trackside presence is critical,” Huewen says.
“At the moment, we can manage as we are, but this is a short-term thing. Is a long-term solution to production? No.”
“Dorna are helping us massively from trackside, facilitating the interviews. Moving forward, I think for the impromptu paddock views, meetings and information, you’ve got to be there on-site.”
The two-wheel series takes a break until September 13th, with nine rounds in eleven weekends to bring the 2020 season to a conclusion. The current plan is for BT to remain at Triumph for the next three races, but the broadcaster is reviewing plans on a regular basis.
There may not be many things guaranteed in 2020, but with Marc Marquez out injured, 2020 will certainly see a new MotoGP champion. Quartararo? Dovizioso? Miller? Binder? Your guess is as good as mine.
It really is all to play for in this strangest of years…