In conversation with Rachel Brookes

Rachel Brookes has been an integral part of Sky’s Formula 1 coverage since 2013.

Now in her ninth season with the team, Brookes presents coverage of Formula Two and Formula Three, as well as Sky’s magazine programme The F1 Show on Thursday evenings.

New for 2021, Brookes also commentates on the first Friday practice session alongside the likes of Karun Chandhok and Paul di Resta in the booth.

Ahead of the 2021 season, Motorsport Broadcasting caught up with Brookes to discuss her broadcasting career to date, how COVID has impacted broadcasting, amongst other topics.

We start off by talking about how Brookes ended up part of Sky’s F1 team…

When I joined Sky Sports News, I was just reporting on anything and everything, and one day an editor came into the edit suite I was in and asked whether I know anything about cricket. I said ‘yes, I know a little bit,’ and he said ‘we need you to cover a cricket match tomorrow!’

I turned up and started reporting on cricket from the boundary edge. Sky seemed to like it and then they kept sending me to cricket after that. I loved cricket as a sport but I would never have imagined essentially commentating on it from the side of the pitch! I really enjoyed it, though.

And then when we bought the rights to Formula 1 [in 2011], I was a pain in the neck to the bosses saying ‘I want to work on it!’ They put the job out there, and Craig [Slater] and I both applied.

We went through an interview process, I had to put a presentation together like anyone else would, sit there and tell the why. Luckily, I got the job on Sky Sports News, and then moved over to Sky Sports F1 full-time in 2016, but I started working on F1 in 2013.

What sparked your interest in motor sport, is it something you’ve wanted to be involved in from an early age?

My Dad did endurance records before I was born. 24 Hours of Le Mans was nothing, he did 7 days and nights and that record still stands today, I don’t think anyone else has been crazy enough to beat it.

In our living room at home there was a picture of him during one of his record runs, I would always see that as a kid and ask questions about it. I used to watch it with my brothers, because they were older and they were the cooler ones!

Then one of my brothers started racing in the Polo Super Coupe Cup, followed by both my brothers doing some Radical Racing together, so I used to follow them around. I’ve been around motor sport since I was young and it was always something that intrigued me.

When I went to the races my brother did, there was always such a lovely family atmosphere in the paddock that I knew it was a sport I’d enjoy if I got into it in the end. You’ve still got that same atmosphere in F1 that we had at the races at Brands Hatch or Cadwell Park.

We heard recently about the passing of Murray Walker. Do you have any memories of meeting or interviewing Murray?

I never got to interview him, but I did get to meet him, funnily enough when I worked at the Power FM radio station on the south coast [between 2000 and 2005]. Murray was quite local and he used to come into the radio station to do his voiceover work, so I met him on a couple of occasions then.

He was such an idol in my eyes that I was too nervous to speak to him properly. I met him to say hello and to say that I loved watching Formula 1, and that was it, and I really regret actually not stopping and having a really good conversation with him.

He’s the sound in my ears when I think of watching Formula 1 as a kid, I hear Murray, I think most of us do. He really brought the sport alive for so many people. I think he’ll always be the voice of F1 and so he should be.

People call it a childlike enthusiasm, but it was just his genuine passion for the sport and doing what he loved that was awesome, and I think all of us can learn from that.

This year is Sky’s tenth season of broadcasting F1, and your ninth with the team. Do you have any standout features that you remember?

The Sergio Perez trip to Mexico, to see him at home, is always something that sticks out in my mind, probably because it took nine months to set up.

It’s not easy to persuade a driver and their family to let you into their house with cameras and film them and their family. It’s also because of the environment, he was really open, saying that he’d given up on his Ferrari dream and all this sort of thing. That was one that really sticks out, that I really enjoyed.

I’ve got a couple of people at the moment who are tentative yeses. One solid yes, but COVID has just put pay to doing it, which is a real shame. If the solid yes comes off, it’ll be amazing, I’m keeping everything crossed that it happens.

I really enjoy those just because getting them out of the racing environment makes such a difference and seeing what makes them tick when they’re not at a race track is something I enjoy finding out.

The stuff away from the track we really miss, so the sooner that comes back, the better.

From an interviewing perspective, how has COVID changed the interview dynamic? Have you found yourself adapting your questions a lot more than previously?

It’s really hard because so much of the interview is the connection between you and the person you’re interviewing and that face mask is a physical barrier, and that’s a real shame because you lose quite a bit of that connection.

On a practical side, doing interviews in the pen being 2 meters away, and wearing masks, you can’t hear what they are saying at all, so for the first couple of rounds of interviews, I was thinking ‘this is crazy, I need to find a way around this.’

In the end, I plug headphones into the camera next to me and I hear it through the camera in one ear and then try and hear other stuff in person through the other ear and listen to what’s going on.

I didn’t realise how much of a difference it made until I did an interview [before Bahrain] with Lewis, where we didn’t wear face masks.

We sat probably more than two meters away to be fair, but we could do it on the track, and without face masks, and it completely changes the interview. It’s much more relaxed without masks.

It feels like yesterday since the F1 channel started, its already like I said the tenth season. The plan this year is for 23 races, which is a lot.

It’s going to be a very long, very tough season.

I’m fortunate in that I don’t do every race, Natalie [Pinkham] and I share the role, so for me it’s not as tough, but for those going to every race and for the teams, I can’t imagine how difficult it’s going to be. That’s a very long time for people to be away from home, away from their families and kids.

In 2020 there was always something different every race we went to, there would always be a new story.

I really, really enjoyed last year, seeing different drivers on the podium, having different race winners really helped in what was quite a tough year to carry out on the ground in terms of all the restrictions. It was a great year, and it looks like this year might be even better.

Formula 1 as a sport last year did so well to make sure we managed to complete the season and Sky as a team didn’t have any on-site positive tests.

We [Sky] probably played it safer more than anyone else, none of us went to restaurants, we sat in our hotel in a conference room to have dinner and things just to keep us all safe. Formula 1 saw that it worked and we managed to keep on the road last season when other sports couldn’t.

Moving onto a different topic, there’s been a lot of good work done to get more women into motor sport, and the W Series being on the F1 calendar this year should only help in that regard.

Absolutely. I’ve always said that you can’t be what you can’t see, and a perfect example was my niece who went to a Dare to be Different day.

She came along and we all assumed that she’d get in the go kart and love it. Actually, it was the STEM engineering that she loved. They made a hovercraft and made it fly, and for her, she hadn’t done any of that at school, and she was like ‘I love this, I want to do this.’ 

I think the big message we need to get out there is it’s open to everyone, absolutely everyone, and the more we can showcase all of the different people that work in the paddock, that work in motor sport, the better.

We’ve got some fantastic women working in Formula 1 right now, we had Claire [Williams] as a deputy team principal, but we’ve got strategists, we’ve got aerodynamicists, we’ve got people working in the pit stops that you don’t see because they’ve got helmets on, but let’s showcase these people more, and show what they can do.

W Series is another brilliant example, and just this morning there was a tweet from Top Gear with an interview with Chris Harris and Jess Hawkins who’s a stunt driver. Let’s publicise these people, let’s really put them on a platform and say ‘you can do anything.’

It doesn’t just apply to women, it applies across the board, let’s make sure that everyone is given a fair opportunity to show what you can do and what’s open to you, and then hopefully kids growing up will think ‘I can do anything’ which is exactly what they should be able to think.

It’s not soundbite, it’s action that is needed.

My thanks go to Rachel Brookes for spending the time with me on the above piece.

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Behind the motorcycling microphone: Keith Huewen on four decades of broadcasting

MotoGP fans worldwide will remember 2020 for many reasons, and not only because of the COVID-19 pandemic. On track, the action was thrilling, with Juan Mir stepping out into the limelight to secure his first championship in the premier class, and Suzuki’s first since 2000.

The pandemic resulted in changes across the board: a truncated MotoGP season of just 14 races started in July, culminating on November 22nd in Portugal. Some broadcasters stayed away from the paddock, including UK broadcaster BT Sport, who recently extended their deal to cover MotoGP until the end of the 2024 season.

BT based themselves to begin with at Triumph’s UK headquarters in Hinckley, before moving to the iconic BT Tower in London from September. For the personnel involved, 2020 meant a season closer to their loved ones, for the first time in years.

During the Czech Republic weekend, I mused around BT’s temporary Triumph base to see how they were adapting to the ever-changing pandemic, chatting to the stars in front of the camera, including lead commentator Keith Huewen.

But little did I, or perhaps he, know at the time, 2020 would be Huewen’s last with the BT Sport team. Following the season finale, Huewen announced that he was stepping down as BT’s lead commentator.

Here, we look back at Huewen’s broadcasting career…

The early days

Before stepping into the broadcasting arena, Huewen raced across the UK and overseas, like many before and after him, including at Mallory Park, which is just a stone’s throw away from the Triumph building where we recollect about the past.

Huewen raced into his early 30s in the 1980s, when injury forced him onto the side-lines at a “relatively early” age. “I won my last British championship when I was 30, and retired when I was 31,” he tells me.

“The fact is, at a certain age, you know as a rider, that the time is right [to retire]. Some go through denial; others are forced out through injury. For me, it was a bit of both. I had shoulder injuries that were hampering me, and it felt like the time was right to move on.”

It was during his racing days that Huewen met journalist Julian Ryder, a friendship now almost 40 years in the making, and one that has evolved over the years through various commentary stints with multiple broadcasters.

The two began their partnership with Eurosport, before moving to Sky, in an era where satellite TV was just coming to the forefront, and the sports television boom on pay-TV was beginning.

“It was pioneering back in those days,” Huewen recalls. “I always remember my mates at the BBC and elsewhere laughing their socks off when they knew I was going satellite.”

“But, of course, within two or three years, all the sports departments you had at Anglia Television and Look South had gone. A lot of the people I worked with at, say, Anglia are now working with different production companies all over the country.”

“Satellite television really took sport on and improved it in my view. There’s a lot of people that baulked at the idea that sport would cost people money to watch on TV but the fact is sport pretty much lives off the television nowadays.”

Whilst pioneering, there were fewer people involved in front of the screen compared to today, with the likes of Huewen ‘doubling up’ as both presenter and commentator.

Huewen not only presented Sky’s World Superbikes offering from Chiswick in the mid-1990s, but would then join Ryder in the commentary box straight after. Whilst “quite good fun,” Huewen does look back on certain aspects of their commentary slightly differently, and not with rose-tinted glasses either.

“TV commentary has moved on hugely since the ’90s. I listen to some of our old commentaries and cringe slightly. I’m sure if you spoke to Jules, he’d be exactly the same!”

“The professionalism involved in our television broadcast now is hugely better than it was back then, in both the production standards, and I hope in commentary standards,” Huewen believes.

As with many commentators, Huewen has bounced around various places, on both two wheels and four. See if you recognise the commentator in the clip above, published to F1’s YouTube channel, featuring Lewis Hamilton climbing from back to front during his karting days in 1998…

The second coming

With Sky moving away from World Superbikes however as the 1990s ended, the Huewen and Ryder pairing ended, for now at least.

Huewen spent the 2000s presenting Sky’s motor sport portfolio, from A1 Grand Prix to IndyCar, and whilst he admits he “could have ticked over at Sky forever,” presenting motor sport in a studio when other broadcasters were evolving their offering around him, was not where he wanted to be.

In addition, the emergence of Sky F1 at the beginning of 2012 meant that Sky’s existing motor sport rights became even less of a priority.

For Huewen, MotoGP’s move from the BBC and Eurosport to BT Sport ready for the start of 2014 season, presented new opportunities, and more importantly, a potential return to what he loved doing.

“The point here is that I really, really, really felt the loss of not being at the track covering World Superbikes or MotoGP and when BT took MotoGP on, I wanted to be there.”

The jigsaw fell into place for the Northampton-based commentator. Internal support from the powers that be at BT Sport sealed the deal for Huewen, whilst Huewen himself made it clear to Dorna, MotoGP’s Commercial Rights Holder, that he wanted to be back in the paddock.

“I’d made sure that the right people had known that we [Huewen and Ryder] were available to the point where I’d even gone out to Le Mans in 2013 to meet with [CEO] Carmelo Ezpeleta at Dorna to make sure that he knew so that if anybody from BT asked the boss at Dorna his opinion regarding commentators, he would know that I was in the marketplace,” Huewen recalls.

“Grant Best [BT’s Executive Director of Talent, Creative and Programming] at the time decided that he wanted Jules [Ryder] and I back together again. That meant that the likes of Steve Parrish and Toby Moody both very capable commentators, lost out.”

“But they lost out on the BT deal because it was decided that Jules and I were going to get back together again, and the rest is history as they say.”

Huewen is full of praise for the BT team that he leaves behind.

“The team that’s on BT is a well-oiled machine, everybody works well together. We’re very fortunate in that everybody shares information, which you don’t get in broadcasting that often. It’s an unusual situation.”

“Going back to the racing analogy, it’d be like sharing your notes as far as your data is concerned, with somebody that’s outside of your team, it’s rare.”

Commentating with Ryder and Hodgson

Contrary to what some on social media may believe, Huewen and Ryder are genuine friends, even if they sometimes did “aggravate each other” in the commentary box!

“People often ask ‘do you actually like each other.’ And we really do, we are good mates. We’re opposites in many of our viewpoints, but we always end up properly agreeing.”

“Our arguments have always been whoever can argue the most reasonably wins. If you’ve got the most reasonable argument over the other person, you win, eventually.”

“He’s never hit me. Although I think he probably wanted to.”

Hopefully not in commentary…

“It’s been close! I’ve had to stand up in front of the screen so I can get a go sometimes.”

Joking or not (reader, I will let you decide), Huewen’s and Ryder’s friendship goes beyond the commentary box, and the two still speak regularly about the action on track.

“Yeah, we still speak every week about what’s going on. We’re all connected in our field, journalists, riders, mechanics. We’ve known each other for decades.”

“Motorcycling is your life, and the fact you’re broadcasting now, even though it is a job in comparison, you’re still just as enthusiastic about it as you were then. I’ve spent nights lying in bed, looking through time sheets. Some people think that’s bloody ridiculous,” Huewen laughs.

“And it’s not because I have to, it’s because I want to!”

More recently, Neil Hodgson has succeeded Ryder in the commentary box alongside Huewen, a pairing that in Huewen’s eyes has worked “really well.”

“He’s got personality and he knows what he’s talking about at the end of the day. He’s like me, man and boy came up through the paddock. I knew his Mum and Dad for a long time, and I of course commentated on a lot of stuff Hodgy had done.”

“We have a very similar sense of humour, which always helps. We’re like brothers from a different mother, and that works really well.”

Citing the “unexpected positive effect of the pandemic,” Huewen stepped aside from BT’s offering following the conclusion of the 2020 season, but is also keen to emphasise that, like Ryder a few years earlier, he is not retiring.

What next then for both Huewen, and BT Sport’s MotoGP coverage? Who will succeed Huewen in the BT box? That is the next chapter to follow…

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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…


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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.


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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.


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