Scheduling: The 2020 Santiago E-Prix

After a two-month gap since Saudi Arabia, Formula E roars back into action in South America for the Santiago E-Prix.

The Santiago race was under some jeopardy prior to the festive period, with social unrest taking place elsewhere in Chile, however the race is understood to be going ahead as planned.

In a surprise move, practice airs live for the first time on the BBC, in addition to qualifying and the race. Motorsport Broadcasting is working to confirm if this is a one-off arrangement, or permanent for the remainder of the season.

Discovery’s Eurosport platform is also covering qualifying and the race, albeit the former airs on tape-delay; with Quest airing late-night highlights.

Fans wanting to watch shakedown will need to venture to Formula E’s social media pages for Santiago.

On a Formula E related note, Motorsport Broadcasting would like to send best wishes and positive vibes over to legendary commentator Bob Varsha, who has commentated on Formula E, Formula 1, and IndyCar, amongst other championships in his illustrious career.

RACER confirmed earlier this month that Varsha is battling a rare and aggressive form of prostate cancer. Fans wishing to help support Varsha and his family at this time can do so over on a GoFundMe page that has been set up.

Formula E – Santiago
Shakedown, Practice and Qualifying air live on YouTube
18/01 – 10:55 to 11:55 – Practice 1 (BBC’s digital platforms)
18/01 – 13:10 to 13:55 – Practice 2 (BBC’s digital platforms)
18/01 – Qualifying
=> 14:45 to 16:15 (BBC online)
=> 18:05 to 18:45 (Eurosport 2)
18/01 – Race
=> 18:00 to 20:30 (BBC’s digital platforms)
=> 18:45 to 20:00 (Eurosport 2)
19/01 – 00:00 to 01:00 – Highlights (Quest)

As always, I will amend the schedule if details change.

Update on January 16th – Speaking to this site, Formula E says that it intends to air as “many sessions as possible live across the BBC this season,” with practice airing on the network where possible.


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Alex Jacques joins W Series broadcast team for 2020 season

Alex Jacques will be W Series lead commentator for the 2020 season which begins in May, the series has confirmed.

Jacques, who took over as Formula Two lead commentator at the beginning of 2015, replaces Claire Cottingham in the commentary booth. In making the announcement, series organisers say that they have “made a conscious effort to fulfil its mission of continuing to develop emerging talent on and off track.”

Cottingham was commentator throughout the first season of the all-female series, commentating alongside the likes of David Coulthard and Allan McNish.

Motorsport Broadcasting understands that the decision to replace Cottingham was made by W Series themselves, as opposed to Whisper, who produce coverage of the series.

“I’ve followed W Series with great interest throughout its first season, 2019, and I’ve been extremely impressed by what I’ve seen, so much so that when I received the call inviting me to become its lead commentator, it was a very easy decision to make,” Jacques said.

“But, in addition to the spectacle and appeal of W Series, I’m truly delighted to be taking this opportunity to make a positive impact on a sport and industry that I’ve come to love and respect.”

Speaking to Motorsport Broadcasting at the Autosport Show, W Series’ CEO Catherine Bond-Muir defended the decision to replace Cottingham with Jacques.

“Now we’ve had one season, I think we’re much better placed to go out and get the best lead commentator in the world, and we believe that Alex is one of them,” she said.

“He’s young, incredibly enthusiastic and has got a fantastic voice. I think it’s a real feather in our cap that we can get a commentator of that quality.”

“From the beginning, I was very keen to get as many women involved at all. But what we must remember is that we are a business that promotes women in motor sport,” Bond-Muir continued.

“David [Coulthard] said ‘you’ve got to see this guy Matt Bishop’, but I had no interest in having a male as communications director, because in quite a sexist thought in my head, I thought ‘at least we should have the comms director being female’. In hindsight, Matt was so much better than anyone else.”

“I had an early problem with having so many men involved, but actually what we needed to have, are the people who are the best in the business in their roles in order to complete all of our aims.”

“What’s quite important is that we don’t positively discriminate against men too,” she added. “We are an equal opportunities employer, but I do understand the point that you make. I think Claire is fantastic, she’s a great friend of ours.”

“Having someone of Alex’s calibre, who is really in demand, the fact that he is so keen to get involved in W Series I think is a great feather in our cap.”

W Series plan to make further announcements about their on-air team soon. Last year, Lee McKenzie presented the World Feed output, with Ted Kravitz reporting from pit lane.

One mooted suggestion is that a female could partner Jacques in the commentary box, continuing the gender split.

The all-female series clashes with the Italian round of the Formula Two season, meaning that Jacques will miss one of the two events. I understand that Jacques is continuing with his Formula 1 commitments for the 2020 season, covering the Pit Lane Channel, Formula Two and Formula Three.

Organisers of the championship have also confirmed that Whisper are remaining on-board as production partners for a second season, but no news is yet available regarding the status of the series on Channel 4 in the UK.


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Motorsport Broadcasting: Your 2019 Verdict Revealed

As always following the Formula 1 season finale, Motorsport Broadcasting asks readers for their opinion on all things broadcasting, and 2019 was no different.

Thanks to all of you who commented on the article after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December. There were a range of opinions on offer, varying from Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage through to podcasting.

With the Formula 1 television model in the UK changing from the start of the 2019 season, fans sought to find new ways to consume their favourite sport. Matthew Restaino was one of several readers who looked outside of the traditional box.

I’ve started consuming F1 in different ways. I subscribe to at least four F1 podcasts: Box of Neutrals, Missed Apex, Back of the Grid and For F1’s Sake, and listen on a weekly basis. I also watch the six minute YouTube packages of qualifying and the races plus the little best on board videos.

Matthew was not the only commenter who has ventured into the podcast space, with davidd93 referencing Whisper’s On the Marbles podcast and the WTF1 podcast, both of which he enjoyed. Davidd93 also makes the prediction that Lando Norris is going to shine on social media moving forward, taking the opportunity to praise McLaren’s YouTube output.

Other championships also benefited from the change of F1 broadcasting arrangements, as rosswilliamquinn explained.

I watched the whole W Series and Formula E because it was accessible to me, despite not being too big a fan of Vernon Kay, I tolerated him.

Whilst readers gave Channel 4 and Sky’s F1 coverage both praise and criticism, they were less kind when it came to Formula 1’s race direction.

Some of the direction has been abominable. That’s not the fault of the broadcaster but the stories have sometimes been missed to see Lewis driving in clean air. – rosswilliamquinn

There has been actioned missed (sometimes until a couple of days after the race), which is really baffling and frustrating at times, it happened too often. The race director seemed to have a vendetta against [Carlos] Sainz this year, saw little of him but he was such a standout performer this year. – davidd93

The directing was nothing short of appalling this year. Twice – at Silverstone and Monza – the director cut to the crowd whilst we were in the middle of something happening. To be fair to him, Crofty managed to smooth over the Silverstone one very well. – Rhys Benjamin

A sub-plot to the poor direction was the fact that Sky’s commentary now feels and very much acts like the official F1 commentary feed, a view echoed by Rhys Benjamin, who recalls the days when the UK commentary team would actively criticise the race direction, something that rarely happens nowadays.

Elsewhere in the FOM spectrum, the F1 Insights graphics divided opinion. Thomas Pitts saw the additions as “positives” overall, an opinion not shared by Rhys Benjamin.

The general verdict from readers was that Channel 4’s coverage had declined in quality, but given the change of broadcasting arrangements, this was also seen as not a surprise.

The Channel 4 coverage has come across very much as being run because the rules of the game say it must be run. We know the coverage, bar Silverstone, has all been pre-recorded. Exciting moments have been lost and the highlights transition between sections of the races hasn’t always been coherent and clear. [..] Yes, I accept that because it’s highlights there will be stuff to cut out, but there was so much cut from Brazil it was ridiculous. – seanbarlow

The C4 coverage has not been as good this year, but I’m confident this is to do with the restrictions placed on them by Sky, so not their fault. Really like their coverage though taking the restrictions into account. – davidd93

Over on Sky, Thomas Pitts believes that their wrap-around coverage has improved, but did mention the lack of promotion for the remainder of the channel’s offering, a recurring theme through several comments.

Inevitably following the events of early-2019, readers made comment on Ted Kravitz and Karun Chandhok. The general impression was that readers were thankful that Kravitz remained with Sky, if only in a reduced capacity, and that Chandhok was a needed boost to Sky’s team.

Ted not being there for every round was a disappointment but better than the alternative or having no Ted at all. Karun, while ok, doesn’t seem to have the depth of knowledge that Ted does. – Thomas Pitts

Karun Chandhok has been a good addition to Sky’s broadcasting team, it’s nice to get a new face to ‘mix it up’ as it was starting to get quite stale on Sky in recent years. [..] Even if a race is boring the Notebook never is. I’m so glad Ted Kravitz was part of Sky’s coverage in 2019, if we had lost him it would have been so much worse. – Alessio Dimaria

Other comments on the Sky front included a note from seanbarlow lamenting the lack of promotion for the pre-season Now TV offer (F1 Season Pass), with Sean and Alessio Dimaria also believing Sky would benefit from trimming their pre-race build-up, now 100 minutes long end-to-end.

There were 19 thoughts in total, so the above only represents a snapshot of what readers were talking about during December on Motorsport Broadcasting.


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New publication The Race to enter the motor sport landscape

A new motor sport media entity is to launch ahead of the 2020 season, Motorsport Broadcasting can reveal.

Earlier this week, @wearetherace appeared on Twitter, stating that the outlet would soon be operating, followed shortly be the creation of pages across Facebook and Instagram.

Investigation by Motorsport Broadcasting shows that the concept has been in development for several months. ‘The Race Media Limited‘ was officially created on September 30th, 2019, with Darren Cox listed on Companies House as company director.

Heavily involved with eSports in recent years, Cox has been in and around the motor sport industry for over twenty years. I understand that Andrew van de Burgt is heavily involved in the project, having left Autosport as Editor-in-Chief at the end of September.

The publication has signed up former MCN journalist Simon Patterson to cover the MotoGP action on two wheels, whilst several former Autosport journalists are expected to also be joining The Race, with official announcements due shortly.

Comparisons between The Race and traditional motor sport website, such as Autosport and MCN only go so far though. I understand that The Race is following The Athletic‘s path, with long-form content.

The Athletic, which focusses on a variety of sports, launched in 2016, moving into the UK-space last Summer. However, it is unknown as of writing if The Race will be subscription only, like The Athletic.


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Technical issues plight F1 TV, but platform shows signs of improvement

As we welcome in a new decade, F1 TV and FOM aficionado FOMWatch (@FOMWatch) has been looking at how F1’s in-house streaming service F1 TV has been faring from its 2018 launch to the present day.

At the start of 2018, F1 announced that it would launch an in-house streaming service in time for the 2018 season, entitled F1 TV. Developed in collaboration with third-party companies (including NBC Sports’ Playmaker Media, iStreamPlanet, CSG, Ostmodern and Tata), the platform ultimately launched just in time for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Offering all that years’ F1 sessions live and on-demand, showing the World Feed and all 20 drivers onboards with exclusive live team radio, the service also allowed viewers access to an ever-increasing selection of historic full races and highlights, dating back to 1981, the year in which FOM (or FOCA as it was known back then) first gained a slice of Formula 1’s commercial rights.

Lastly, F1 TV includes access to the live timing features on formula1.com and the F1 App, originally part of the ‘F1 Access’ live timing subscription offered since 2015.

Users in certain countries can sign up to a premium tier, called F1 TV Pro. Restricted due to broadcasting rights currently in place, the tier has both the live action and their respective replays, archive races and live timing features.

A cheaper tier, branded as F1 TV Access, has everything aside from the live streaming and replays of live streams is available in significantly more countries, including the UK.

In 2019, F1 brought three additional content feeds to F1 TV:

  • The Pit Lane Channel (introduced in 2012, and for 2019 featuring exclusive F1 TV commentary from support race commentator Alex Jacques)
  • the Driver Tracker channel (introduced in 2010)
  • the Data Channel (introduced in 2016)

In addition, F1 streamed F2, F3 and the Porsche Supercup sessions live in full via the platform for the first time (with World Feed commentary from Alex Jacques). In 2018, only highlights of the support races were available to watch after the race.

Technical issues plight service
Despite improvements for 2019, F1 TV has not been without its problems, some of which remain. A common complaint from users over on Twitter and Reddit surrounds the reliability of the service, with the service falling to handle high demand during live races, resulting in F1 issuing refunds to subscribers, and F1 CEO Chase Carey admitting that 2018 was a “beta” year for the service.

The quality of the streams itself is below that of othher streaming platforms. While F1 streams live sessions at full HD resolution (1080p), the frame rate on F1 TV is only 25 frames per second (fps). In the Ultra HD era, F1 shoots and broadcasts in 50fps (and prior to that, at the equivalent 25i – both of which equate to 50fps after de-interlacing), and that is what F1 airs on television.

Because of the reduced frame rate, the F1 TV stream looks jerky and less smooth, reducing the sense of speed in comparison to its television counterpart. F1 TV was hoping to have 50fps playback introduced in time for the 2019 season, but this has still yet to be introduced.

Considering other sports streaming services such as BBC online, Eurosport Player, Tennis TV, and Now TV (from Sky), and F1 themselves on their YouTube channel have all introduced 50fps support on their own streaming services, it is a shame that F1 TV is lagging behind in this respect, especially as F1 is a fast-paced sport that would benefit from these changes.

2019 Brazilian GP - F1 TV.png
The F1 angles that fans have access to via F1 TV’s premium tier service. Here, the Pit Lane channel shows two alternative angles of Lewis Hamilton and Pierre Gasly at the Brazilian Grand Prix. Note the list of drivers down the right hand side: clicking on their three-letter abbreviation takes you straight to their on-board camera.

Finally, another criticism is the way F1 TV mixes together the World Feed and the commentary of its broadcast partners. Some broadcasters, such as Sky, frequently cut away from the World Feed during practice to show their own content from reporters down in pit lane.

In contrast, F1 TV shows a single ‘vanilla’ World Feed channel, which does not include the bespoke broadcaster content. When this happens, fans watching via F1 TV will hear the commentary team talking about another topic that the broadcaster is airing exclusively for their audience.

A solution to this would be to either use cutaway-friendly commentators (such as BBC Radio’s commentary team for example), or to instead stream different versions of the World Feed specifically tailored to each broadcaster, to show their cutaways in-vision.

Content improving with more distinctive material
Despite these criticisms, F1 TV has slowly been improving if only at least in terms of its actual content.

The exclusive commentary on the Pit Lane channel provided by Alex Jacques is very informative, making full use of the multi-screen layout of the feed to show alternate angles, replays, and onboard footage, all which Jacques can commentate on.

Fans and pundits alike have criticised F1’s main feed output in recent years for showing too many replays, or not showing enough midfield action, whereas this is ultimately often shown first on one of the picture-in-picture windows on the Pit Lane channel.

In addition, while there have been regular on-demand videos such as session highlights and Paddock Pass posted since the 2018 launch, the amount of exclusive and in-depth on-demand content available to subscribers (most via F1 TV’s lower-level tier) has increased from just one in 2018 to much more in 2019.

A 50-minute documentary on Michael Schumacher and exclusive long-form interviews with Charles Leclerc and Jody Scheckter were some of 2019’s highlights, whilst Formula Two documentary series ‘Chasing the Dream’ starts 2020 on a high-note for the over-the-top platform.

Subscribers to F1 TV Pro also have access to the Weekend Debrief series (produced by FOM and aired on Sky Sports F1 in the UK), as well as Tech Talk feature show for each race in 2019.

F1 has greatly improved the archive content available to all F1 TV subscribers, with all from 1981 to 2017 having at least a ten-minute highlights reel, if not a full race, extended highlights, or season review clip. Now, F1 appears to be going in reverse chronological order, uploading full season’s worth of races from 2017 and earlier, having reached 2009 at the time of writing.

In conclusion, while F1 TV has matured in terms of what is available on the service, it still has a long way to go in terms of reliability, stability, and availability, particularly in terms of its mobile apps. Hopefully FOM will allocate more resources and personnel to ensure that the platform can continue to grow moving forward.

How have you found the performance of F1’s over-the-top service? What would you change to the platform, if anything? Have your say in the comments below.

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