MotoGP returned to Silverstone at the end of August following a year away due to the COVID pandemic, with Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo dominating the race.
For UK broadcaster BT Sport life, in the MotoGP sense, is returning to some sort of normality.
The full team returned to the paddock for the Austrian double header, after spending all of 2020 and half of 2021 presenting coverage off-site back in the UK.
We caught up with BT’s MotoGP series editor Kevin Brown via Zoom during the Silverstone weekend to see how things have been since the team returned to the paddock, and what challenges still lie ahead.
We last spoke earlier in the year, and at that point the team was working remotely. How are things now you are back on site, compared to before COVID?
It’s not an awful lot different. The main thing is that the paddock is not so busy, it’s a very different Silverstone paddock. It’s lovely to see so many fans back in the grandstands, but obviously it’s a very tight and strict paddock bubble that we have to respect and we do respect.
As far as we’re concerned, [MotoGP’s commercial rights holder] Dorna have done a brilliant job to keep the sport running throughout the pandemic, and if it [helps] keep everyone safe, then that’s the main thing for us.
Yeah, and I imagine from your perspective, you have all the relevant contingencies in place if you do need to come back off-site later in the season for whatever reason.
Indeed. If there’s anything that we’ve been extremely pleased with over the last 18 months it is our ability to adapt. I think that every time we think about something we must think about what would happen ‘if’. It has sharpened us up in that respect.
Every time you plan, you make a second plan in case the first plan can’t happen. I don’t think we did that as much in the past, and now it is just constantly making sure you’re one step ahead.
We talked last year about the benefit of having on-air people on site, and this weekend really proves that with the face-to-face interaction with the riders.
We’re getting the benefits of being on site massively. It allows us to follow stories much easier, our commentators can go and talk to people, abiding by paddock rules. You can’t just go into someone’s motorhome and talk to them, you have to wear masks and be super careful, but at the same time the information flow is easier when you’re not having to rely on messages and phone calls.
I think that getting those little pieces of information that enhance a commentary or a presentation are easier when you’re here so certainly for our presenters, I think they are really getting the benefit of being back on-site.
Here at Silverstone, both Jake Dixon and Cal Crutchlow are racing in the main class, and of course it is Valentino Rossi’s last British MotoGP. I imagine you’re pleased that you can be on site to cover Rossi’s last races, and get the Suzi [Perry] interview with him.
I mean from Suzi’s point of view; she’s been there for the whole of [Valentino’s] 26 years. She’s been there from the time that Loris Capirossi used to interpret her questions for him when his English wasn’t very good!
It’s that sort of thing where their careers in MotoGP have kind of run in parallel so I think it’s quite fitting that we’ve been able to do a proper sit-down interview in the BRDC, and it was lovely that Silverstone made the facility available to us.
We had the best part of 40 minutes with him on Thursday, which was lovely because he’s got such a great relationship with the British public. It’s nice to feel like we can do the occasion justice.
[Note from David – the full interview will air on BT Sport soon, scheduling details to be confirmed.]
The BT team has returned to the paddock, but Silverstone also marks the final weekend in one respect for the production team. Just talk me through the changes in that area.
We’re all here [at Silverstone], but from Aragon onwards, we go to a full remote solution. Our presenters and commentators will all go to the track, with a support team of cameras, sound and technical, and then the rest of the production, the gallery, the edits, will be back in Stratford [BT Studios at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park] for the rest of the season. We’re embracing the new technology and moving into the future with it.
We’ve talked before that this was always going to happen at some point, but COVID has accelerated that.
And, we’ve learnt from COVID. We’ve learnt that we’re able to do things without sending so many people around the world and at the moment where travel isn’t so easy, to have the flexibility to have people in the UK as well as on site is fantastic.
I think for us it’s something that we were going to do anyway, but with COVID we’ve just had to get on with it a lot quicker than we otherwise would have done. We very quickly learned that so many things are possible. It feels like we’re just taking another step, every so often.
We went from doing The Greatest Race on people’s phones at people’s homes, to Hinkley at Triumph, then we went to the BT Tower. Then we started sending some people on site, then we’ve all gone back to site just to get us through this little period, and then here we are from the next race we’ll go full remote.
It’s actually felt like a very sensible progression, but it came about by circumstance, it wasn’t a planned move to do it like this. Each time you look at the rules and you look at what’s safe and you look at how best to do the best we can in the circumstances, and this is just where we’ve got to.
There’s a lot of very clever people at BT who are able to engineer it seems almost anything. When we need a solution, they’ve backed us all the way, and found the right way to do it. We’ve worked together, via North One and BT, to get it all right as much as we can and to try and serve the viewers and the subscribers as well as we can.
We had a brilliant championship last year, this year has been terrific too with some brilliant races, the last one in Austria was extraordinary.
It’s just a privilege to be able to cover it. I think we all feel very lucky really and I think we feel lucky that our sport has kept going, and is still going but with fans as well. Fingers crossed it can just keep on progressing back towards something that resembles normality, and we’ll just be covering it in our new way.
Yeah, absolutely. Will you be on site, or in Stratford?
Initially at Stratford. We need to get this bedded down and set up but again there are ways of me not being in Stratford. We know that there are ways of producing the programmes from wherever we want to, and I think that’s quite important.
If there’s a race I feel that I need to be at for editorial reasons, or for meetings, then I can still do my job but I’ll just do it remotely. When so many clever solutions are available to us, we have that flexibility which is terrific.
BT Sport’s coverage of the 2021 MotoGP season continues from Friday 10th September, with live coverage of the Aragon weekend on BT Sport 2.
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