Casting an eye over F1’s podcasting exploits

Podcasting is increasingly playing a major role in the broadcasting landscape, as fans look to listen to their favourite stars on the go, whether it is on the tube, on the train, or out on the run. Last year, Formula 1 got in on the act with their own podcast.

Daniel Finley (@DF190587), a regular Motorsport Broadcasting reader, sent in his thoughts on the podcast so far…

At the end of June 2018, a teaser trailer for an upcoming podcast appeared across Formula 1’s social media platforms. The trailer promised to give you insights into what the drivers, team bosses and other stars get up to ‘Beyond the Grid’. The trailer included snippets from interviews with Lewis Hamilton and Gerhard Berger.

A few days later, Formula 1 published the first episode, as presenter Tom Clarkson interviewed Hamilton in a 54-minute piece. The tagline “F1 has given me a life – but it’s also broken me” was centre of attention.

This week saw the publication of episode 38 (an interview with James Allison), and with the first anniversary fast approaching, now feels like a good time to provide a review.

A different medium, the same rewards
Podcasting in general is a very popular media outlet. Just last week at the Digital Content NewFronts conference, it was revealed that the New York Times podcast ‘The Daily’ reaches two million listeners per day, an astonishing statistic. Public data on the number of subscriptions and listeners is difficult to come by.

The top ten sports podcasts in the UK on iTunes contains mainly football based podcasts. At the time of writing ‘Beyond the Grid‘ was ranked the 11th most popular show in the sports category which does suggest that it is doing well, with an average rating of 4.9 out of 5.

Interestingly, Beyond the Grid is not the highest ranked F1 podcast currently: that honour goes to Whisper Films for Channel 4’s F1 podcast ‘On the Marbles‘, which is currently 9th in the charts after just four episodes.

There are of course other long-running F1 podcasts available. BBC Radio 5 Live have published a podcast, ‘Chequered Flag Formula 1‘, for over a decade. Their offering includes a preview and review of a race weekend, which is useful if I have not been able to follow full weekend, but for me of limited benefit most of the time.

The 5 Live team does offer some special episodes but these are sporadic. Recent special episodes have included a debate on the newly created W Series, and a discussion with Bernie Ecclestone.

Of the 37 Beyond the Grid episodes so far, nine have featured current F1 drivers, with five featuring current team bosses. The rest feature past F1 drivers, old team bosses and other F1 celebrities, including a particularly special episode with a certain legendary commentator.

In true podcasting form, episodes are available free of charge through popular podcast applications. There are, of course, some adverts often at the beginning, middle and end of the episode that Clarkson reads out featuring sponsors Bose. While they may break up the flow of the podcast it is a small price to pay for a free product (and there is always the fast forward button).

Each episode last around an hour, giving enough time to chat to the guest in detail. Clarkson conducts each interview in a professional but relaxed manner, and is well prepared for each guest. It is clear that he knows each guest well, often referring to the first time he met the guest, helping to build-up rapport between Clarkson and the listener.

The highlights so far
I have thoroughly enjoyed every episode to date, they are informative and provide some great anecdotes that are not often heard. Some highlights for me include:

  • Episode 7 with Christian Horner included a guest appearance from Geri, Horner’s wife, and was recorded the day after Daniel Riccardo’s announcement that he would be moving to Renault.
  • Episode 20 with Claire Williams provided a fantastic insight into her early years around F1, getting to know the drivers as they stayed at the family home, as well as her current role in F1.
  • Episode 22 with Emerson Fittipaldi was an emotional listen, as Fittipaldi described his time with Ayrton Senna.
  • Episode 23 with Rob Smedley, in particular when he was discussing the 2008 title loss.
  • Episodes 27 and 28 were special episodes with Ross Brawn and Sabine Kehm respectively, to celebrate the 50th birthday of Michael Schumacher. Both episodes provided great stories from their times with Michael.

My absolute favourite to date is episode 34 with the legendary Murray Walker, to celebrate the 1,000th F1 race. If you are only going to listen to one episode then this is the one. His knowledge and passion for F1 remains, and the final two minutes of the podcast are enough to make the hairs on your neck stand up.

In my opinion the podcast is a very welcome addition to the overall broadcasting offering by Formula 1, under Liberty Media. I would certainly have no hesitation of recommending the podcast to new and long-time followers of F1.

I look (and listen) on with interest to see how the podcast will develop. Clearly there are several current drivers and team bosses who have not been interviewed yet, which are obvious future candidates for Clarkson to chat to.

I personally would love to see the podcast extended to include some people who are not normally heard/seen from F1. Perhaps a pit lane mechanic, a member of the hospitality side within a F1 team, or who knows maybe even an interview with Chase Carey.

In the meantime, go ahead and give the podcast a listen.

Fancy contributing to Motorsport Broadcasting? Head over here for further details…

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Looking back at W Series’ inaugural race

The W Series kicked off in style in Hockenheim, with Jamie Chadwick winning the inaugural race. But how did the championship fare on the broadcasting side? We analyse their opening act…

Broadcasting rights
The championship, which aims to increase female participation in motor sport, is supporting the DTM touring car championship based in Germany. Announced publicly in October 2018, series organisers have spent the past few months whittling down the number of racers to eighteen.

From a broadcasting perspective, the arrangement with DTM means that W Series plays ‘second fiddle’, in the same way that Formula Two does to Formula 1, for example. Most of Formula 1’s support events are tangibly related to the main attraction, whereas W Series has no significant relation to DTM other than the fact that they are on the same bill.

It is like Porsche Supercup’s relationship with F1. Porsche drivers are highly unlikely to progress to F1, and it is unlikely, although possible that W Series drivers will progress to DTM. Like anything though, W Series needs to fit somewhere. The arrangement may not be long lasting, as Reuters are reporting that some races may end up on the F1 support bill sooner rather than later…

Nevertheless, having W Series race play out in front of an empty Hockenheim race crowd is far from ideal. I am no expert on DTM’s attendance figures, but it does not look good from W Series’ perspective, one of the perils of running races on Saturday. Over the border in the UK, the British Touring Car Championship regularly attracts a solid fanbase around the country.

2019 W Series Race 1 - cars.png
The W Series cars in action. In this shot, Beitske Visser, Fabienne Wohlwend and Sarah Moore are battling in the purple/pear cars, with Esmee Hawkey in the background in the red/white car.

Very few broadcasters worldwide have signed up to W Series so far, despite their CEO Catherine Bond-Muir claiming in an interview with Crash.net in January that there was “extraordinary” interest in the series, and that they had rejected a deal with an (unnamed) free-to-air broadcaster in the UK.

In the end, the championship did announce a deal with a free-to-air broadcaster, in the form of Channel 4 just two weeks before the series started. Whether the Channel 4 deal came together late, or the parties opted to announce it late, is unclear.

If anything, W Series has struggled to bring television deals to fruition. Hopefully now that the first race has taken place, and the series is a genuine real entity, the tide will turn in their favour.

Organisers have opened Facebook and Twitter for fans to watch the championship where no broadcast partner is in place. This proved to be the first frustration for UK fans, as the qualifying feed was geo-blocked due to their arrangement with Channel 4 (even though the broadcaster, as expected, did not air qualifying live).

Slick presentation from Whisper Films
Anyone who has watched Whisper Films’ Formula 1 coverage on Channel 4 generally knows what they are getting.

Channel 4 aired a sub-set of the World Feed content, with Whisper catering to all parties. The TV friendly feed featured break bumpers, with those watching on social media getting an in-depth qualifying round-up and additional interviews during the TV breaks. Once the friendly feed went off the air after the podium celebrations, the World Feed remained on-air for an additional 15 minutes of post-race interviews.

The ad-breaks on Channel 4 did feel slightly jarring (two breaks in twenty minutes), a minor complaint considering the race aired uninterrupted. Nevertheless, all handled the whole ad-break situation better than other entities have in the past (see: Channel 5 and Formula E), resulting in a polished show overall.

Lee McKenzie steered the ship as presenter, guiding the show along. Ted Kravitz brought over his esteemed style in the form of #TedTalksWSeries, also interviewing the stars of the show during Saturday’s race coverage.

On commentary was Claire Cottingham and David Coulthard, a line-up met with mixed reaction across social media during the race. Prior to Formula E’s launch in 2014, series organisers held a closed door ‘test race’ at Donington, helping to iron out bugs, ensuring that the broadcast, including commentary, flowed.

W Series never held a ‘test race,’ the first opportunity for Cottingham and Coulthard to work together in anger was last weekend. Commentary teams do not gel overnight, and it is even more difficult to gel when everything is brand new. The commentary was not great, but I also feel we need to give them time before criticising the pairing at the first opportunity.

If anything, there were problems elsewhere in the W Series system that impacted on Cottingham and Coulthard’s commentary…

Questionable race coverage
One of the downsides of being on the DTM support bill is that W Series has the same camera angles as DTM’s World Feed. Whisper Films had little to no say over those positions.

WIGE Media, who have produced DTM’s World Feed for many years, are no longer producing the feed this season, however the team behind the DTM feed is fundamentally the same. Whisper Films may be producing W Series, but the ex-WIGE team is directing the output, creating a half-way house scenario.

I understand that the production behind the live W Series content came together late in the day, which impacted the quality of the show. Fundamentally, the race itself felt like I could have been watching a national Formula 3 event, on a shoe-string budget, because of the quality of the race broadcast.

2019 W Series Race 1 - helicopter.png
The helicopter angle at the start. Whilst the angle missed Chadwick running wide, it did capture the white-purple car of Megan Gilkes (pictured here on the inside towards the hairpin), slamming into the side of Emma Kimilainen in the red-white car.

Some of the chosen camera angles were questionable, with seemingly heavy reliance on the helicopter. Cutting to a helicopter angle just two corners into the race, resulting in us missing Chadwick (the leader at the time) making a mistake struck me as an incredibly bizarre decision. With only five different liveries too throughout the field, driver identification is likely to be difficult throughout the season.

Other angles looked cool, but out of place on a live race broadcast. If I was watching a documentary on the race after the event, then maybe it would be fine, but not during the race itself. Because of the angles used, the cars did not look fast. I appreciate these are Formula 3-spec machinery, but some camera trickery can make all the difference here to fans at home.

Unfortunately, you cannot hide empty grandstands. But you can inject a bit of energy into the race through sporadic on-board angles to show the amount of input from the drivers, as well as some team radio. Admittedly, the former costs money…

The graphics set did the job, although the colours, whilst on brand, are not the most television friendly in the world. The logo in the bottom right hand corner could be shortened to just W, the stylisation of the logo meaning that the last few letters of ‘Series’ disappeared occasionally!

On the racing front, the action was excellent throughout the field, with clean wheel-to-wheel racing. The opening lap Safety Car spoiled things somewhat, resulting in around 20-minutes of full-speed action before the chequered flag. Hopefully the length of the race changes to 45-minutes next season, but I can see why they have started short.

And arguably, the race quality is the main thing. The production issues, while frustrating, are fixable. To just get to this point without any major hiccups is a result. The team as a collective unit all have one race under their belt, and go into the next round at Zolder with a better idea of what to expect.

Scheduling: The 2019 Spanish Grand Prix / Monaco E-Prix

The European season for Formula 1 starts with a bang, with a ton of action to whet the appetite.

Joining the F1 party is Jenson Button, who is with Sky Sports in Spain for the first of his five races this year. Elsewhere in Sky’s line-up, Ted Kravitz is back on the side-lines until Canada, although Kravitz fans can see him as part of the W Series line-up this year.

Oddly, Sky’s race day schedule reverts to their 2018 format with Paddock Live shortened back down to 40 minutes and not airing (from an EPG perspective) until half past the hour. In the commentary box, expect Martin Brundle and David Coulthard to return to Sky and Channel 4 respectively after their absence in Baku.

Formula Three returns in Spain, the championship succeeding GP3 Series in the third-tier on the F1 support package. Race coverage airs live on Sky Sports F1, although qualifying airs on a small tape-delay following their Friday F1 wrap-up show.

Outside of the F1 circle, the Monaco E-Prix for Formula E is slightly unique: there is no Shakedown, the race starts 30 minutes later than usual and, like F1, the local host takes control with little input from Aurora.

As Jack Nicholls is on Formula E duty, Jolyon Palmer will be joined by Tom Gaymor on Formula 1 practice duty for BBC Radio 5 Live in the latest commentary merry-go-round. Marc Priestley joins Palmer for qualifying.

Channel 4 F1
11/05 – 19:30 to 21:00 – Qualifying Highlights
12/05 – 19:00 to 21:00 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
10/05 – 09:45 to 11:55 – Practice 1
10/05 – 13:45 to 15:50 – Practice 2 (also Sky Sports Main Event until 15:30)
11/05 – 10:45 to 12:30
=> 10:45 – Practice 3
=> 12:10 – Paddock Walkabout
11/05 – 13:00 to 15:30 – Qualifying
=> 13:00 – Pre-Show
=> 13:55 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports Main Event from 14:30)
12/05 – 12:30 to 17:10 – Race
=> 12:30 – Pit Lane Live
=> 13:30 – On the Grid
=> 14:05 – Race
=> 16:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
09/05 – 14:00 to 14:30 – Drivers’ Press Conference
09/05 – 16:00 to 16:30 – Welcome to the Weekend
10/05 – 16:30 to 17:00 – The Story so Far
11/05 – 16:45 to 17:15 – The F1 Show
15/05 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Midweek Debrief

BBC Radio F1
10/05 – 09:55 to 11:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
11/05 – 14:00 to 15:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live)
12/05 – 13:50 to 16:10 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)

Formula E – Monaco
Also airs live on YouTube
11/05 – 06:15 to 07:30 – Practice 1 (BT Sport/ESPN)
11/05 – 08:45 to 09:45 – Practice 2 (BT Sport/ESPN)
11/05 – 10:30 to 12:00 – Qualifying (BT Sport/ESPN and Eurosport 2*)
11/05 – 15:00 to 17:00 – Race: World Feed
=> live on BBC Red Button
=> live on Quest
=> live on BT Sport/ESPN
=> live on Eurosport 2

Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup – Silverstone (Eurosport 2)
Also airs live on YouTube
12/05 – 16:30 to 18:30 – Race Finish

Formula Two – Spain (Sky Sports F1)
10/05 – 11:55 to 12:45 – Practice
10/05 – 15:50 to 16:30 – Qualifying
11/05 – 15:30 to 16:45 – Race 1
12/05 – 10:20 to 11:20 – Race 2

Formula Three – Spain (Sky Sports F1)
10/05 – 17:00 to 17:30 – Qualifying Tape-Delay
11/05 – 09:15 to 10:00 – Race 1
12/05 – 09:15 to 10:00 – Race 2

IndyCar Series – IndyCar Grand Prix (Sky Sports F1)
10/05 – 21:30 to 23:00 – Qualifying
11/05 – 20:00 to 23:00 – Race

Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy Series – Monaco (BT Sport/ESPN)
11/05 – 10:00 to 10:45 – Qualifying
11/05 – 17:30 to 18:30 – Race [TBC]

Porsche Supercup – Spain (Sky Sports F1)
12/05 – 11:40 to 12:20 – Race

World Rally Championship – Chile (All Live – BT Sport Extra [TBC])
Also airs live on WRCPlus.com (£)
To be confirmed

World Rally Championship – Chile
To be confirmed

World Superbikes – Imola
Also airs live on World Superbikes‘ Video Pass (£)
10/05 – 09:25 onwards (Eurosport 2)
=> 09:25 to 10:25 – SBK: Practice 1
=> 13:55 to 14:55 – SBK: Practice 2
=> 14:55 to 15:55 – SSP: Practice 2
11/05 – 09:30 to 14:15 – Qualifying and Race 1 (Eurosport 2)
12/05 – 09:30 to 15:15 – Support and Race 2 (Eurosport 2)
14/05 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

World Touring Car Cup – Slovakia
10/05 – 17:00 to 18:00 – Qualifying (Eurosport 2)
12/05 – 09:30 to 11:00 – Race 1 (Eurosport)
12/05 – 15:15 to 16:30 – Race 3 (Eurosport)

The scheduling information will be updated if timings change.

Last updated on May 8th.

W Series announces presentation team

W Series have announced their on-air presentation team for the inaugural season.

The championship will air live on Channel 4 beginning this Saturday from Hockenheim, with Whisper Films producing, in a similar relationship to Channel 4’s F1 coverage. However. Whisper is producing the complete World Feed for broadcasters, including Channel 4 to take.

Lee McKenzie presents the World Feed output. McKenzie has been reporting on Formula 1 for the BBC and more recently Channel 4 since 2009. “It’s a huge pleasure to be involved at the start of W Series,” McKenzie said.

“I’ve covered almost every series of motorsport and to be involved in one that could also change the face of the sport as we know it is really exciting.”

Sky’s F1 pit lane reporter Ted Kravitz joins McKenzie in pit lane. Sky reduced Kravitz’s commitments for 2019 after the broadcaster u-turned on a decision to axe him from their offering.

“It’s rare that a brand-new motorsport series comes along that captures the imagination and interest in the way that W Series has,” Kravitz said. “I’m really looking forward to telling the stories of all these drivers and joining the W Series team of new and familiar faces.”

Claire Cottingham and David Coulthard are the two personalities in the commentary box. Coulthard is a familiar voice to Channel 4, but Cottingham is a name that readers may not be unfamiliar with.

“I’m thrilled to be part of this incredible and ground-breaking team, being one of the first female commentators in motorsport,” Cottingham added. “It’s an absolute dream come true to be involved in such a historic series, which supports women in fulfilling their potential.”

“I can’t wait to see W Series grow and watch the drivers excel in a sport that I love so much.”

A fantastic line-up
To succeed as a championship, W Series needs to have the right people leading the way, in all different disciplines. A great championship needs a top-tier presentation team, with a calibre of voices that are recognisable to a wider audience.

W Series also needed a range of voices, with both males and females as part of their on-air team. Thanks to the range of contacts that the team of Whisper Films have, the team have managed to achieve just that.

Whisper have leaned on their Formula 1 line-up, with Coulthard and McKenzie both part of the team. Both voices have been part of Formula 1’s free-to-air offering for a decade.

It would feel odd in my view to watch a women’s racing series with a male only commentary team. Although unknown, Cottingham has significant commentating experience, most recently with Formula E on their radio coverage alongside Tom Gaymor and Marc Priestley. Arguably, this is Cottingham’s biggest role to date.

As if the trio already mentioned were not good enough, W Series have also brought in the “legend” (Catherine Bond Muir’s words, not mine) that is Kravitz. The idea of Sky’s F1 pit lane reporter appearing on a rival station is unusual – none of Sky’s other F1 personnel fall into this boat.

But of course, this is no ordinary time as readers who have followed the Kravitz situation in recent months will know about. W Series have quite rightly gained from Sky’s poor decision making.

If the quality of the racing is as good as the on-air team this season, fans watching should be in for a treat.

Happy 7th Birthday!

Today, this site turns seven, something I never imagined when I first started blogging in 2012.

Until February, the site was known as The F1 Broadcasting Blog, reflecting the content in its earlier days. Now covering a variety of motor sports, Motorsport Broadcasting felt like a more appropriate name. My only regret, as with anything in life, was that I did not start writing even earlier!

I am thrilled with how the site has progressed since its inception. Motorsport Broadcasting has received nearly three million hits since 2012, with visitors from over 200 countries, and interactions from many inside and outside of the industry.

During the past twelve months, I have revealed many stories, including the inside line on Channel 4’s F1 2019 deal; the change of BBC 5 Live’s F1 production contract, and the full story behind the Ted Kravitz / Sky Sports saga, amongst other smaller snippets.

When I started the site, the main purpose was for me to write my thoughts on paper, I did not expect seven years later to be breaking industry stories, showing how much the site has grown and matured in that period.

For me, it is not just about being first with the news. It is also about bringing you, the reader, behind the lens into what makes the broadcasting side of the sport tick week in, week out. Motorsport Broadcasting aims to be distinctive in its voice, with each story unique.

On the human side, I have met many people inside and outside the industry through running this site, some of whom I now call friends, you know who you are.

Normally when I write one of these pieces I write about the ‘top ten’ articles from a hits perspective. Instead, I want to reflect on some of the key milestones for me on a personal level since the site launched:

April 2012 – Site launches, with the blogging equivalent of ‘Hello World!‘ The timing of the launch was no coincidence, I finished my first year of University at the same time meaning that I had many hours to spare!

September 2012 – During the first year of the site, the volume of articles per month was high, I did have a ‘throwing at the wall and seeing what sticks’ mentality (the quality of some of the pieces I produced I will happily admit were abysmal, too). In May 2012, the site’s first full month, I posted 36 articles which is frankly absurd looking back.

Ted Kravitz was the first person from the F1 paddock to start following the site publicly, but it was not until then-BBC F1 presenter Jake Humphrey shared one of my articles on Twitter did it become apparent that people were reading what I was writing.

Yes, the site had ‘F1’ in the title which may have helped it gain traction, but Humphrey sharing the article was completely unexpected.

October 2014 to June 2015 – Fast-forward and the site began to break some F1 stories, such as Gary Anderson and Georgie Thompson leaving the BBC and Sky’s F1 teams respectively. Away from the site, 2014 into 2015 was a critical time for me: the final year of University, resulting in a first-class honours in BSc Computing.

Since May 2015, I have been working full-time in a data-led role. That brought its own challenges, juggling full-time work with an ever-growing website. But it was a challenge I relished; I absolutely was unwilling to throw away at this point three years of hard work.

Compared to the early days, the site content has changed somewhat: from bite-sized ‘snippet’ stories to in-depth, probing analysis.

March 2016 – By this stage, the site had built up a significant following, and remained F1 orientated, with a bit of other stuff on the side. But March 2016 was the turning point as it was the first I attended in a press capacity: Channel 4’s Formula 1 launch.

I remember that day like it was yesterday, from the early train journey, through to the morning launch, sitting opposite Autosport’s Jonathan Noble at the launch, someone who I respect immensely, and then chatting in-detail to the Channel 4 team.

From a personal and professional perspective, this felt like a perfect day. Everyone has their own personal barriers to overcome, for whatever reason, and I can safely say that on March 8th, 2016, I overcame some of mine.

September 2016 – And six months after the Channel 4 launch, I was heading to a race track in a professional capacity. Silverstone the destination, for the first of three MotoGP visits. The first visit always holds a special place in the heart. It was that weekend that made me admire and appreciate the work that broadcast teams do week in, week out on the road.

Since that first visit, I have stepped into several different paddocks, as well as three visits to the Autosport Show, interviewing journalists, commentators, reporters, producers, and editors to get a better understanding of what it takes to bring this wonderful sport to viewers worldwide.

The first weekend was amazing, to the degree that by the end of it I felt like an emotional wreck. It sounds cliched, but the worries of the days before the 2016 event were eliminated on day one. The paddock just felt like… home.

October 2018 – Another personal obstacle overcome. A little further from home, this time, saying hello to the World Rally Championship!

Deeside is in the middle of nowhere (or at least that is what it felt like), but the five-hour round trip was worthwhile. Without wanting to compare one paddock to another, the rallying production team on that day welcomed me with open arms.

As a result, I was able to talk to a variety of voices that help make All Live the product that it is today. The output was three different analytical pieces (1, 2, 3), going behind the scenes looking at the different elements of the rallying production.

The best thing about each conversation is that every single one is different. Each person has their own unique perspective on the industry that only they can communicate to you, and it has been a pleasure to listen to it all. And best of all, there are far more to come.

February 2019 – From The F1 Broadcasting Blog to Motorsport Broadcasting, I unveiled the next iteration of what is to come moving forward. I am still doing the full-time day job alongside writing content for this site, but I thoroughly enjoy both. If anything, writing content on here has helped me during my day-job, and vice-versa.

Like anyone though, I have made mistakes, or written articles in haste during the seven-year period. No one is perfect, we live and we learn for the next time a similar situation comes around.

As I have grown figuratively speaking throughout the seven years, this site has grown as well. To those who have given advice along the journey so far: thank you.

Whatever the next twelve months bring, keep it Motorsport Broadcasting.

Thanks,
Dave
Owner and Editor of Motorsport Broadcasting