On location with BT Sport’s MotoGP team at Triumph’s HQ

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.

BT Sport Triumph - main studio.jpg
The view that presenter Suzi Perry sees when presenting BT Sport’s MotoGP coverage from Triumph HQ.

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.”

BT Sport Triumph - touch screen.jpg
BT Sport’s touch screen set up at Triumph HQ.

“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…).

Post-COVID
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…


Contribute to the running costs of Motorsport Broadcasting by donating via PayPal

Formula E’s Sebastian Tiffert on Driver’s Eye, TV coverage, localised content and more…

The next two weeks are arguably the most frantic in Formula E’s six-year history. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, championship organisers have opted to wrap up the 2019-20 season with six races taking place over eight days at Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport.

Finishing a championship on a warm Thursday during the holiday season in August is never ideal from an audience perspective, although Formula E have attempted to make the best out of a bad situation: all six races start on the edge of primetime in Europe to try to attract a bigger audience.

As the championship grows, so does its reputation and standing in motor sport. The Berlin finale ends season six for the electric series, a remarkable feat considering it very nearly went under half way through season one.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, Motorsport Broadcasting caught up with Formula E’s Head of Content Sebastian Tiffert on how the championship has moved forward in recent times.

Celebrating the drivers
Tiffert’s first interactions with Formula E occurred through his previous role, where he was Eurosport’s Global Director of Motorsports.

Although not part of the paddock family on a race-by-race basis, his role allowed him to indirectly influence Formula E’s direction of travel from a marketing perspective.

“Prior to the start of season four, I attended a broadcaster workshop, which was really interesting,” Tiffert says.

“In there, we all collectively agreed on the fact that, because this was the flag I was waving at the time at Eurosport internally, that we need to get away from celebrating the championship or the cars, but we need to celebrate and build the profiles of the drivers, because they are the real heroes everybody can refer to.”

Sebastian Tiffert - Formula E Head of Content.png
Sebastian Tiffert – Head of Content at Formula E.

Tiffert cites the fact that Formula 1 fans do not remember Ayrton Senna as a driver of an individual team, but rather as an F1 driver, because of his supreme driving ability.

“I want fans to remember our drivers as Formula E drivers. What we are really focussing on, and what I was talking about when I was at Eurosport already, is how can we lift the profile of the drivers as that’s how we can build a fanbase and following.”

“One of the goals we have is to be able to elevate the profiles of the drivers, not in an artificial way, but rather in a way to explain to the fans how difficult it is what they do, because what they do is incredible.”

“They multi process everything at the same time, telling the engineers the regen, energy management, battery temperature, all whilst fighting for position and dealing with Fanboost,” Tiffert tells me.

“If you’ve watched the races so far this season, this is where we try to place the emphasis. The drivers have incredible skill, and this is something we want to put in front of everybody to make people realise that they are incredible.”

The road before Tiffert arrived on the Formula E scene was bumpy: they ditched their YouTube show Voltage half way through the 2018-19 season after just six races, one reason perhaps why their content teams have since been centralised into one division.

Released during lockdown, feature-length documentary And We Go Green helped shine a light on some of Formula E’s leading stars, although only 35,000 views so far on YouTube suggests that the film did not cut through in the way that Formula E were hoping for.

> Free-to-air “the right way forward” for Formula E in the short to medium-term

The overall intent is correct and we should applaud them because it is a well-made documentary, and broadcasters worldwide did air the film, however the timing of the release was perhaps not ideal due to the pandemic, plus the film focused on events that happened two years prior.

The release of And We Go Green is only one part of Formula E’s wider strategy to focus on the stars of the show.

Formula E have “humanised” their website, stripping back some of the more corporate assets and focusing more on original content, tailoring the content based on the readers location.

“We’re putting out much more original content on the website as well in different languages,” Tiffert says. “I believe in us needing local language content which relates to the local fan.”

“A French fan of Jean Eric Vergne won’t be very interested in the fact that someone else won the race, but he would rather know why JEV didn’t win the race.”

“The Champions League final between Liverpool and Bayern Munich. Liverpool fans are very much interested in their half of their story, and the same goes for Bayern fans.”

“It’s more complicated for us because we have so many nationalities racing, but doing it like this allows us to engage with the fans in a better way,” he believes.

Tiffert happy with TV coverage, Driver’s Eye a success to date
Formula E’s television coverage continues to be a joint venture between Aurora Media Worldwide and North One TV, which Tiffert says gives the best of both worlds.

“We’re very happy working with them and the partnership is very unique, allowing us to bring innovations like Driver’s Eye, Attack Mode and Fanboost, and then presenting it in a way to make it clear to people what has happened on the circuit.”

Positioned on the inside of the helmet, the Driver’s Eye camera angle weighs just 2.5 grams and is eight millimetres in diameter, which the FIA says is the first time a championship has used that angle in any of their sanctioned categories.

Tiffert joined Formula E from Eurosport in September 2019, at which point Driver’s Eye was far down the development road, but thanks to his role at Eurosport, Tiffert knew about Driver’s Eye early in 2019.

“It’s been a two-year journey for Formula E, if not longer, from figuring out what the idea is, getting ideas on the drawing board, and then bringing together all stakeholders, including the FIA.”

“Driver’s Eye is integrated into the helmet, so it has to be developed in a way so that it passes all of the homologation tests and obligations with the FIA, not compromising the driver’s safety, which is very important to us of course.”

“And then the next one was the engineering and development part, which was to make the camera that small, that stable and then to have the processors and the software which allows you to control the image from a distance.”

“The normal on-board shots from the car can be spectacular, but it’s very stabilised and it doesn’t move with the car, whereas this one is raw, which is the beauty of this camera, it’s so unique,” he adds.

Formula E’s intention, before COVID-19, was to increase the amount of Driver’s Eye cameras across the field gradually across season six, although Tiffert is keen not to sacrifice the quality for the sake of quantity, in his words “overwhelming” the product.

“We’re discussing all possibilities internally to see how far we can push this, and then time will tell what people are really interested in. But this is great content, an immersive experience where people may in the future only want to see the race from that camera angle.”

After a five-month hiatus, Formula E returns on Wednesday 5th August for the final hurdle of season six, with Vernon Kay leading the show as presenter, whilst Jack Nicholls returns in his role as lead commentator.

Interview was conducted earlier this year prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.


Contribute to the running costs of Motorsport Broadcasting by donating via PayPal

Behind the lens with BT Sport MotoGP as racing resumes

This weekend, MotoGP roars back into life in Jerez, Spain after a four-month back due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Life for all involved in the championship will be radically different as the championship adjusts to the ‘new normal.’

As revealed by Motorsport Broadcasting last month, access to the paddock will be limited to key personnel and major television crews only, with all other journalists remaining off-site.

On the UK front, television broadcaster BT Sport are remaining in the UK, opting to present their programming from Triumph’s Visitor Experience Centre in Hinckley, albeit with all social distancing regulations in place.

Lockdown life for BT
Whilst most of Europe was in lockdown, BT took the opportunity to prepare for the road ahead, presenting 36 hours of MotoGP programming remotely across 11 weeks, and exploiting MotoGP’s rich archive in the process.

Despite the natural challenges surrounding remote broadcasting, arguably the end solution was better than BT could have ever expected in the circumstances, an ‘extreme’ solution as described by Kevin Brown, BT’s MotoGP series editor at production house North One.

“The engineers at BT and our partners at Timeline are brilliant. They’ve been working on remote solutions for a while for sustainability reasons, but those plans were accelerated very, very quickly to make it work,” explained Brown.

“What it meant was that the usual gallery of people working on a TV production was spread around into their homes by using technical solutions to make that happen.”

“I think the best way to describe it is extreme because it hadn’t been done before and it ended up with us being able to make 36 hours of MotoGP programming across 11 weeks, which we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do.”

The channel started off with whittling down MotoGP’s classic races over five weeks, with the 2009 Catalunya battle between Yamaha riders Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo crowned The Greatest Race. Following the initial five episodes was another series of episodes looking at MotoGP’s Greatest Years.

BT Sport MotoGP - Triumph Studio 1.png
Suzi Perry and Neil Hodgson on hand at BT’s main studio location in the Triumph building…

Fans engaged with both programming strands, each generating social media traffic in the process for BT, helping to fill the racing void for motorcycling fans around the country, all done remotely, and with no obvious teething issues from the outset, which Brown says is a “testament to all working on the production,” despite the scale of change involved.

“For all of us, it was a big change to how we’ve done things previously. The presenters had to build and set the kit up themselves remotely, engineering their own television studio essentially! Everybody has had to adapt, and I think with coronavirus, we’ve all had to do different things to get the show up and running,” Brown said.

“It was a very different kind of programme because we were generating the content rather than reacting to it, and there were fewer people working on it. It was a way of using what we know is fantastic archive, but to put a modern spin on it, encouraging viewer engagement. At the time, there was no sport on the television, there was nothing for people to talk about.”

The return of present-day sport
Fast-forward, and MotoGP returns this weekend, however social distancing regulations remain. Having perfected remote broadcasting during lockdown, BT are continuing down that path, for the moment at least, but with the experience from lockdown now in their back pocket.

Although the BT’s presentation team of Suzi Perry, Gavin Emmett, Keith Huewen, Michael Laverty, and Neil Hodgson are presenting the coverage from Triumph’s Hinckley base, the production aspect of the coverage continues to be remote.

Triumph is a relevant base for BT Sport’s MotoGP coverage, given their involvement with MotoGP as Moto2’s core engine supplier.

A skeleton crew will be present in Hinckley, three people will be based at Timeline’s production facility in London, with nine people working from home.

“The learning that we were able to do over the 11 weeks of those two series’ has stood us in good stead for this because we were able to use this remote setup,” Brown tells me.

“We couldn’t put the nine people who are working from home in a gallery because there wouldn’t be a gallery big enough to cater for social distancing. We’re trying to make it as close as possible to our normal production, but without putting anybody’s safety at risk.”

“The main thing is, we all want to make programming, we all want to see sport back again, but the overriding thing has to be that we keep people safe.”

Safety is key for BT, and to that effect the crew will be in different places across Triumph’s base, with the touch pad located in a different area of the building compared to the main socially distanced set. Floor markings identify which direction the presentation team must walk in throughout the weekend.

Similarly, Perspex screens will separate the four commentary booths, with each desk two meters long, allowing for BT to continue their usual policy of rotating their commentary team with each session.

“It’s all been set up so they don’t share lip mics, they won’t have the same talkback keys, they won’t have the same computer screens, all of those things have been carefully considered,” explains Brown, who himself will be based down in London for the duration of the weekend.

“The Perspex screen though means that they will still be able to see each other and obviously because the interaction between the commentators is quite crucial, we felt that was an important thing to be able to do.”

Only one of the pundits will be with Perry in the main studio area, and similarly only one person will be directing the touch screen at any given time.

Brown praises Dorna co-operation
The touch screen will allow Emmett to interview riders throughout the weekend, including post-race, and Brown praises the co-operation with MotoGP’s commercial rights holder Dorna during this period.

BT Sport MotoGP - Triumph Studio 2.png
…whilst Gavin Emmett takes control of the touch screen.

“I always feel the job of a sports production is to take people to an event they can’t go to, and right now they really can’t go to the event, so I think it becomes even more important for us to try to get people closer to what’s going on.”

“Not being in the paddock is always going to be a disadvantage, however Dorna have been brilliant throughout. They understand that we’re not going to be travelling and they’ve done their best to help us with that.”

“The riders and the teams have been briefed that when they do their interviews with us, they will have headphones and a mic which will allow them to interact with our studio. It means that, although we’re not there, we’re hopefully able to bring people closer by having the key characters still interacting with our presentation,” Brown says.

Although this period has been tough for everyone, Brown says that BT have learnt a lot.

“What I think we’ve learnt over lockdown is that we can be agile enough to adapt in the circumstances, and I think that’s something BT can be really proud of.”

“We were able to continue making MotoGP programmes when there wasn’t any MotoGP, and we were able to continue doing it when there wasn’t any access to any TV studios. I think that’s shown a lot of agility and a lot of resourcefulness, just to keep motorbike racing on the telly, which in the end is what people want to watch,” he tells me.

For at least the next five races, Triumph will be the home of BT Sport’s MotoGP coverage. Beyond that, is anyone’s guess. For now, let us enjoy the ride as MotoGP accelerates back off the start line.


Contribute to the running costs of Motorsport Broadcasting by donating via PayPal

Behind the scenes with RTL F1 presenter Florian König

In a guest article for Motorsport Broadcasting, Edmund Wareham reports in from overseas, giving the low-down on a recent insightful podcast featuring RTL’s F1 presenter Florian König, as well as his own thoughts on RTL’s F1 offering in Germany…

One of the few benefits of the current crisis is that those who would normally be crisscrossing the world with the F1 circus now have the time on their hands to discuss their experience in the paddock. The good folk of Starting Grid, a German F1 podcast, were recently able to sit down with Florian König, the moderator of RTL’s F1 coverage, and chat for almost two hours about his time behind the microphone.

Starting Grid is a podcast on the meinsportpodcast.de platform, moderated by Kevin Scheuren and Ole Waschkau, in partnership with Christian Nimmervoll, chief editor of Motorsport-Total.com and Formel1.de. I can highly recommend the podcast for anyone who speaks German (and even those who are learning!), not least for the in-depth way in which they tackle topics.

British viewers may well be familiar with RTL’s F1 coverage through Kai Ebel, the channel’s pit lane reporter and interviewer, who has conducted podium interviews and whose sartorial choices rival that of Eddie Jordan. Florian König is presumably less well known in the UK but vital for what he describes as the “well-oiled machine” that is RTL’s coverage.

I thought it would be interesting for readers of this site to pull out some key headlines from König’s interview and consider the F1 broadcasting perspective from the German point of view. I watch F1 in the UK (Channel 4 at home or Sky in the pub) but always watched RTL’s coverage when I lived in Germany for a couple of years and when I still visit the country.

König’s Relationship with Lauda
König began his broadcasting career for Süddeutscher Rundfunk, a radio and television station based in Stuttgart, reporting on the Bundesliga, the Barcelona Olympics and the 1993 World Athletics Championships. In 1994, König moved to RTL, becoming the moderator of their F1 coverage two years later, during the rise of one Michael Schumacher.

Speaking on the Starting Grid podcast König admits that, despite watching the odd race before, he was never an F1 fan, much preferring to watch football, but argues that this distance gave him a certain advantage in his role as presenter.

“It wasn’t just F1 fans, insiders and specialists who sat in front of their screen to watch RTL,” he says. “The sport before Schumacher wasn’t a mass phenomenon in Germany, so it wasn’t actually all that bad to have someone with a significant role who could give the viewing public a voice, to ask questions which people at home might also ask.”

Triple F1 champion Niki Lauda joined König on-screen from 1996 until 2017 and some of the most interesting parts of the interview concern König’s relationship with the Austrian. Lauda’s forthright opinions and extensive contacts across the whole paddock made for excellent viewing.

Their partnership was not without its challenges, from Lauda running away to catch a flight before a RTL broadcast ended, to a controversial moment in May 2010 at the Monaco Grand Prix.

Lauda called Robert Kubica a “polack” (an ethnic slur for Polish people) live on-air and maintained that the term was not derogatory in Austria. König challenged him directly in the broadcast and hurriedly had to cut to a feature with Ebel. At the behest of RTL, Lauda later apologised to Kubica.

Controversy notwithstanding, there was an obvious chemistry and understanding between the two. König says that it was “an absolute gift” to work with him.

“He was so clear. He always said what he thought. Of course, on the next day he always thought something different and would then say so,” König retells. When König asked Lauda how they imagined things would work between them, Lauda put it simply: “You ask the questions, I’ll answer them.”

In 2017, to the shock of König who had no inkling of what was to come, Lauda announced live on air that he would no longer be part of RTL’s coverage. “That was first a surprise, secondly live, thirdly emotional. That was really intense. That was very Niki,” he says.

Schumi TV?
Around the turn of the millennium, an average of ten million viewers per race were watching RTL’s coverage, thanks to the raised profile of the sport in Germany through Schumacher’s domination. Fans dubbed RTL ‘Schumi-TV’ in this era, something König openly and honestly admits would be different today.

“In retrospect, if I may say so, we concentrated insanely on Schumacher,” König tells the podcast. “We were intoxicated by his success and the very high viewing figures so that we didn’t question our approach. We would do it a bit differently today.”

König is critical of the way RTL presented Schumacher’s championship rivals on-screen, especially Damon Hill.

“We didn’t report enough on the other drivers and we weren’t fair about his competitors. Naturally Damon was the antagonist, the baddie. That was the narrative of the time, we reported in a very black and white way. That is how it was then and the state of things.”

But at the same time, he argues that RTL’s coverage was driven to a large extent by what people wanted to see, noting how RTL treated Schumacher’s other championship rival Mika Häkkinen much more favourably, in part because of his exposure on German TV in adverts for companies such as Mercedes-Benz.

The changing relationship between drivers and broadcasters
Pictures on König’s personal website show him first broadcasting from the paddock in jacket and tie but now, as seems de rigueur with sports’ presenters, it is the open neck shirt look. Fashion trends aside, over the course of 25 years covering the sport, König is in an excellent position to see how it has developed from a broadcasting point of view.

When König first started with the channel, only a handful of races aired live on location, with all other programmes filmed in the studio in Cologne, before switching in the early 2000s to circuit-based presentation.

Nowadays, production, editing, and sound mixing all happen back in Cologne, meaning the size of the team having to be on site at races has become markedly reduced from the sixty or so people who used to travel.

König’s first task for RTL in the F1 arena was to produce a feature on Heinz-Harald Frentzen at the 1995 French Grand Prix. In the podcast, König recalls spending the whole day pacing the Magny-Cours paddock hoping to catch a word with the Sauber driver, at time when there were not even dedicated press schedules.

In the intervening years relationships between teams and broadcasters have become far more professionalised. Whilst this obviously makes planning things easier, he does feel that the human element has become lost, such as joining other German journalists in drinking schnapps and singing songs with Norbert Haug after a race.

As with many broadcasters one of the aspects he most enjoys is forty minutes before lights-out and the unscripted pre-race grid walk. “It’s a challenge, but it’s what makes the programme so fun,” he says. While there are several German speakers in the paddock (Verstappen, for example, conducts interviews in German), there is the further demand placed on broadcasters of having to ask many of their questions in English.

The Future of F1 in Germany – and a future for RTL?
F1 in Germany faces its challenges and, with the retirement of Nico Hülkenberg last year, Sebastian Vettel remains the only German driver on the grid. The 2020 season also sees no race in Germany. But König says that viewing figures remain healthy with around four million viewers tuning in, especially with the much greater choice that is now available to viewers, which just was not the case when he first started out covering the sport.

In Germany viewers have two choices: either to pay a subscription to watch uninterrupted coverage on Sky or to watch free-to-air coverage on RTL with advert breaks. Figures from Motorsport.com show that a peak of 5.26 million viewers tuned into RTL’s coverage of Monza last year (a market share of 32.3%), whilst a further 450,000 viewers watched on Sky (2.8%).

The adverts breaks and constant competition plugs are obviously frustrating and remind this writer of the ITV days, but the figures demonstrate, especially when seen in comparison to the UK, that watching the event live has an obvious pull.

F1’s current deal with RTL was signed at the end of 2017 and runs until 2020. On F1’s future with RTL from 2021 König won’t be drawn and only says that “RTL would like to keep F1.” It will be interesting to see how the disruption of this season affects the negotiation of rights going into 2021 and whether König will be on Germany’s F1 screens in the future.

König, a self-styled “great friend of this sport” has done much over the last twenty-five years to promote F1 in Germany in his professional, down-to-earth, and articulate manner. As we await with uncertainty whether we will see any F1 this season, it is good to have these sorts of high-quality podcasts with their interesting insights available so that, in the words of the podcast Starting Grid’s slogan, we can “Keep Racing!”

Thank you to them above all for putting together such a wide-ranging and insightful interview.

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


Contribute to the running costs of Motorsport Broadcasting by donating via PayPal

A year in the making: the development of WEC’s new graphics package

The eighth season of the World Endurance Championship kicked off at Silverstone earlier this month, with Toyota continuing to dominate the LMP1 class.

Whilst the on-track story stayed the same, off-track, a new on-air graphics package greeted fans worldwide.

During the Silverstone weekend, Motorsport Broadcasting went into the WEC TV compound to find out the rationale behind the change…

The time to refresh
WEC’s graphics package has needed a refresh for a while, their old solution arguably some way behind their motor racing rivals. The new graphics package needed to solve some fundamental problems at the heart of the previous package.

One of the challenges that endurance racing faces is telling the story of four different classes without alienating viewers. Unlike Formula 1, where there is only one winner, a WEC race will have multiple winners, and the graphics package on offer needs to reflect this.

Speaking to me at Silverstone, Oliver Denis, WEC’s Director of TV, believes that the earlier graphics set failed in this area. The previous set primarily told the overall race story rather than focusing on the individual classes.

“It is the time for us to change,” Denis tells me. “The last set was not good for endurance racing. Before, the graphics were for the overall, and to be honest it’s not interesting to see that the GT-Am is ten laps behind the LMP1!”

“I think the graphics are good for three or four years, after that you need to change. The technology on offer changes extremely fast, and you need to follow the movement.”

“But we haven’t changed because Formula 1 or Formula E have changed, we used the last one for four years and it’s time to change again.”

WEC collaborated with Israeli company Promotheus on their new graphics package, in a project that began in September 2018. The company has experience in the motoring space, having implemented the current World Rally Championship on-screen interface.

2019 WEC - running clocks.png
WEC’s graphics showing three individual clocks running during qualifying.

Promotheus worked closely with series organisers and timing company Al Kamel on the project. Over the past year, the package has gone through several iterations, Denis and the team taking feedback from stakeholders, including WEC’s current commentary team of Martin Haven and Allan McNish throughout.

“The first try was not good, but now we are very happy because it’s the first time we’ve used it [here at Silverstone], and there’s not been a lot of problems,” Denis says.

The changes for 2019-20
Throughout the package, the four categories are clearly identifiable, more so than before. As an example, each category has a different replay wipe, giving them their own identity. In addition, the package now presents to viewers the interval within each category.

“We have a package now that is very good and informational for the viewers, which explains the four categories.”

WEC have also taken the opportunity to refresh their social media offering and track branding at the same time, keeping them aligned with the World Feed.

“Of course, this weekend [at Silverstone] we start with version 1,” Denis reveals. “We have a lot of graphics that are not ready but will be used for Japan. By race four, we should have all graphics ready. But we prefer to start simple and improve all the time.”

As they did in the build-up to season eight, WEC will again be soliciting feedback from all parties involved in the series, including WEC’s television broadcasters.

“Maybe after Silverstone they will send me feedback to say it was very good, or that we don’t understand something, so we might have further adjustments to make depending on what they say,” explains Nathalie Fargier, WEC’s TV rights liaison.

One area that WEC is continuing to work on is their on-board camera angles, which Denis admits is not there yet. “We are working with the manufacturers to find better shots,” he tells me.

“In Formula 1, it is easy to see the track and the driver at the same time, because that’s open cockpit. Here, sometimes we can see the track, but it is more interesting to see the track and the driver working, battling with his car.”

“We have some new angles in the Toyota this season, which is interesting for the viewer, but we need to go further. Here, it is not the same in the Rebellion as it is in the Toyota. In an LMP1 car it’s very complicated to get a good position for the camera and we are working on it.”

The challenges of directing endurance racing
Having previously worked in Formula 1, Denis discussed the challenges that endurance racing brings from his perspective, with multiple races taking place at the same time, making direction tricky.

“In WEC, the strategy is the most important, and we don’t the cars in the same shot for a lot of the time,” Denis says. “It’s very interesting sometimes to follow one car when they’re coming through the traffic in different categories.”

“Sometimes we can have four, five, six, or ten stories at the same time taking place at the same time. We may have a battle in LMP1 for third position, an interesting pit stop for the leader of the GT-Pro, as well as a crash or spin on the track, all at the same time!”

2019 WEC - sidebar battle.png
WEC’s graphics featuring the timing tower, focusing on a battle in LMP2.

As in all motor sports, the key to the feed is storytelling, meaning that Denis must make tough decisions throughout on what to include within the WEC World Feed.

“If it is not important for the big story, we can hold it back for replays later during a quieter moment. Alternatively, we can show it on the app if it is a story very important for one team, but not for the race, that way we can show it all in some way.”

Denis’ team have the facility available to them to take a split-screen and picture-in-picture (PIP) approach to their broadcasts, however Denis believes that these techniques are not always the answer from a storytelling perspective.

“If we do that too much, it becomes complicated and confusing for the viewers to follow because, if I switch too quickly all the time between each story, it’s not possible to follow one story in full.”

“Sometimes it’s easy if we have a car in pit lane for a rebuild, I can use the split to show the rebuild [on one side] and follow a battle on the track [on the other side]. But if we have two stories at the same time unfolding on-track, sometimes it is complicated to follow that.”

“I prefer to show the main story and afterwards to play out replays when we have time,” he tells me.

“If I have an incident, sometimes it is not very important to show that immediately, whereas in Formula 1 it’s immediate because you only have 20 cars.”

“But here, I can wait if it is not too important. Ideally, I like to close the main story if possible, and after that show the second story in replay ‘as live’.”

After Toyota’s expected domination in LMP1 at Silverstone, this weekend, WEC heads to Fuji Speedway in Japan for round two of the 2019-20 season.

Fans should expect to see further additions to the new graphics package that aims to catapult WEC forward for the next few seasons.


Contribute to the running costs of Motorsport Broadcasting by donating via PayPal