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…


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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.


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The over-the-top challenge facing motor sport

Over-the-top broadcasting. It is a phrase many visitors to this site will have seen referenced repeatedly, and it is only going to become more prominent as time progresses.

What it means is relatively simple: to deliver a service direct to the customer watching at home, rather than through a third-party satellite television channel or cable platform.

In the modern media landscape that poses many questions as to what the right or wrong approach is to take, if there is such a simple answer.

Motor sport faces a major challenge in not only understanding the landscape, but also exploiting it, satisfying stakeholders, and most importantly broadening the reach of the sport in the process.

An upward struggle
Whether it is MotoGP, World Rally Championship or Supercars over in Australia, most of motor racing’s big entities have an over-the-top platform now of some nature. All vary to different degrees, and hold a different level of importance for each series.

Late to the game and trying to catch up on the digital front, Formula 1’s over-the-top platform went live in May 2018 with F1 TV. However, the platform struggled on the technical front, with a variety of teething problems, leading to suggestions that the platform launched too early.

Speaking in front of industry experts at the Black Book Motorsport Forum, their Director of Marketing and Communications Ellie Norman was unashamed to admit that it has not been the smoothest of starts for F1 in the OTT world.

“It’s been a bumpy ride, I would suggest that we definitely launched F1 TV too soon,” Norman says.

Norman points to a ‘growth hacker’ mentality that F1 now has, the organisation unafraid to try things out to see what works, and what does not, even if it backfires.

“Working within digital is a really different space to working in broadcast, and often you are always in beta mode. But one thing I think we’ve done is, we’ve listened to the fans, and responded quickly by refunding them,” Norman told the audience.

“Twelve months on, the product is more stable, and I think it’s in a much better place now with the fan input, seeing how users engage with it, use it, and what they want for it. And that has been invaluable.”

The battle between pay-TV and OTT
But F1’s roadblocks on the over-the-top front expand far beyond the first twelve months.

Whilst most of the world can access F1 TV’s basic offering, many countries, including the UK, cannot access F1 TV’s premium tier. The only way UK fans can access the live race action is via Sky Sports, thanks to an agreement signed between Sky and ex-F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone back in 2016.

For many, this is a source of frustration, with some fans feeling locked out of live F1 for the foreseeable. For F1, and sport in general, the balance is ‘delicate’ between over-the-top and pay television.

Over-the-top pricing
A snapshot for UK fans

MotoGP (live) – £177.26
WRC (live) – £79.76
WEC (live) – £38.99
Supercars (live) – £32.98
F1 TV (archive and non-live) – £19.99

Pricing per year.
WEC covers 2019/20 season.
WEC excludes Le Mans.

Do motor sport brands throw live content onto their over-the-top platform, allowing them to target a different audience directly, but potentially miss a key revenue stream?

Or, do the brands air their content live on pay television, helping the bank balance, but not their reach?

Gernot Bauer, Eurosport’s incoming Head of Motorsport, puts it bluntly. “As a broadcaster, I won’t pay a lot of money if every federation has a competing product because it puts so much challenge on us as a broadcaster.”

For broadcasters such as Eurosport and Sky, the emergence of a new over-the-top platform could cause their audience figures, and therefore revenue streams, to fall.

Having invested £1 billion over six years, unlocking F1 TV in the UK would cause consternation between F1 and Sky.

“Our investment is significant as one of the one of the investments that underpins F1, as all our rights do in every sport,” explained Scott Young, Sky’s Head of F1.

“I think that’s one of the differences between an OTT platform right now and major sporting broadcasters, like Sky and Eurosport, that actually invest a large amount of money that goes into those sports of which they need to help fund the teams to compete.”

Young denied suggestions that Sky’s relationship with F1 had become ‘strained’ because of F1 TV, but warned of the consequences if the balance between pay and over-the-top changed too quickly.

“There’s an ecosystem in there that is quite delicate, and if you unravel it too quickly it can have some lasting effects,” he said.

The NASCAR approach
The World Endurance Championship and World Rally Championship are examples of series that are nicely suited to the modern OTT way.

Both are long in duration, meaning that they can play out live in their entirety on OTT, without interruption from other sports on linear television.

Not every championship uses their over-the-top offering for live action though (for contractual or strategic reasons), which leads to the question of just how valuable OTT is without much live content to bring the viewer in.

“As each racing series creates their own OTT product it forces us, and them, to rethink that philosophy,” Bauer says.

“What is OTT, are you an alternative broadcaster for life? Are you a video on demand for archive material, or are you an app where you combine everything from Instagram to Twitter and so on? There is not one answer.”

For NASCAR, the situation is tricky, as all their premium-tier live content is exclusive to Fox and NBC in the US through until 2024, meaning that the series has no choice but to get creative with their domestic OTT offering.

NASCAR owns the Fans Choice platform and the RaceView service, but neither offer fans domestically live coverage of NASCAR races (overseas fans have access to Trackpass which offers live coverage).

“If we’re doing OTT, then it’s got to be driver lifestyle content, or it’s got to be some of our other series that we broadcast internationally,” explains Jill Gregory, NASCAR’s Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer.

“I think as we look to the new media landscape, as everybody is today, we’re trying to decide what is the right mix.”

“We need to think about what goes on to traditional broadcasting, and what do you keep out for either your own OTT product, or even partnerships with social media platforms, the Amazon’s, and the Hulu’s.”

“For us, it’s about knowing where the fans want their NASCAR content and maximizing our exposure,” Gregory concluded.

2019 WEC - 6 Hours of Silverstone - OB Truck.jpg
Inside the World Endurance Championship OB truck at the 6 Hours of Silverstone, WEC one of the many tackling the OTT hurdle head on.

Second screen “has become first screen”
Of course, the likes of Sky, Fox and NBC have their own over-the-top platforms.

In the case of Sky, Now TV is becoming a more prominent player for cord-cutters due to its lower entry price. As Young alluded to however, Sky “need to do a better job” of promoting their other services to audiences.

That job is becoming increasingly important because, as Motorsport Broadcasting pointed out last month, research from UK’s communications body Ofcom shows that traditional viewing is falling quicker than ever before, with around half of UK homes now subscribing to at least one streaming service.

“You don’t need to be at home in front of your TV anymore [to consume sport]. Many people still think that way but they are not acting this way,” Bauer told the audience.

“I am constantly on my phone, watching on my phone on my iPad, on my laptop. I consume not the whole race anymore but certain bits of highlights, and that is interesting to me as it helps smaller federations to get a direct engagement with the fans.”

Young added that Sky’s current F1 audience is viewing other streams alongside the main F1 channel. In his opinion, the second screen “has become first screen.”

“We’re seeing a lot of data now on people actually not only watching data channels but watching other streams, watching our highlights, watching social feeds come through whilst they’re actually watching the live race.”

“And that to me is an amazing opportunity that we’re focused on tapping into.”

For broadcasters and championships alike, it is a constant battle to try to not only retain existing audiences, but to bring in a new, younger audience. That battle will only intensify over the forthcoming years.

Is over-the-top going to become the long-term destination for F1 and motor sport, replacing pay television for the next generation, or can the two entities coexist side-by-side? Could free-to-air television even make a resurgence?

Only time will tell.


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In conversation with Ellie Norman

Over the past two years, Formula 1 has undergone a digital transformation since Liberty Media acquired control of the sport.

Last week at the Black Book Motorsport Forum, Motorsport Broadcasting caught up with one of the faces leading the effort to bring F1 into the modern world. Ellie Norman (@ChikinCS) is Formula 1’s Director of Marketing and Communications, and we got her view on how things have gone so far.

Before Formula 1, you had stints at both Honda and Virgin Media, just talk to us about what you were involved in there.

I first spent five years on the agency side, where Honda was my client, and then directly with Honda for eight years, always in a marketing and advertising role.

Through that period, it was always about building meaning and value in the Power of Dreams brand. It was about elevating Honda at that time in the UK and Europe where the perception was that they lagged behind the more established European brands.

I spent five years in between Honda and F1 at Virgin Media. My focus shifted into being one market specific in the UK, so it was great to deepen learning versus working across international markets.

Interestingly it is an entertainment company, so they’re really understanding the landscape of TV consumption, the role that entertainment plays, cord cutting, the involvement of digital platforms, direct to consumer. Moving to F1 is a perfect combination of both automotive and entertainment.

Honda and Virgin Media both have huge marketing teams, yet you join F1 and find that is greenfield in nature, with little marketing, which was quite a culture shock I imagine!

F1 is such an incredible brand with a huge history. Bernie [Ecclestone] did an incredible job to build it into the business that it was, but my perception was that it had been underutilised, and that there was a role marketing could play.

Part of the appeal was having the ability to come into what is close to a 70-year old start-up and to be able to establish marketing from the ground up, agreeing what the infrastructure needed to be, shoring up the fan base, bringing in new fans. And that was exciting, too good of an opportunity for me not to take.

How difficult has it been in your role to attract new fans into F1, without alienating the existing fan base?

You are always treading a balance between holding onto your current fans, knowing who you are and what you stand for, but also needing to adapt and be contextually relevant to the fans of tomorrow, understanding what their motivations are, what platforms they are on and how they can be engaged, and bringing them into your sport.

Ultimately, we are a means of entertainment. The appeal of Formula 1 is that we have an ability to bring large groups of people together around live events. The on-track product is vitally important, but it is the entertainment that surrounds that as well.

15 to 20 years ago, there was one entry point for new fans, in front of the television, whereas now there are many different entry points. Does that make the job more complex?

It is very, very complex, the marketplace is fragmented.

The one thing I think we’re very fortunate with is that live sports is one of the last bastions that does bring millions of people together around a fixed time.

What can you learn from other brands, such as NASCAR, or non-motor sport brands, like the Premier League or Netflix?

It’s always interesting I think to look outside of your own echo chamber. Aside from other live sports, I’m always fascinated to know how entertainment properties operate, for example music festivals such as Glastonbury.

How are they engaging with fans, at a digital level in terms of insight, access, experiences that bring them closer? We can take learnings from that and pull that into Formula 1. I think part of the mentality needs to be an openness to try and to test things.

The fan festivals are a great example of where you can take the richness of the sport out of a race track and into city centres. It’s a visceral sport, the closer that people can get to seeing teams, drivers, hearing and smelling the cars, it moves you, and that’s what we know people love.

You did the ‘Engineered Insanity’ promotion last year, and have continued that this year.

‘Engineered Insanity’ is our brand positioning. It’s man and machine pushed to their limit; it’s opposing forces working together in harmony. We launched that brand platform and positioning in 2018, and this year we continued that work.

We brought it to life this year through a partnership with The Chemical Brothers, which was again a way to look outside the echo chamber of motor sport and to work with renowned musicians in their field, who are renowned for engineering their music and to bring those two audiences together. We knew there was an overlap of passion between a Chemical Brothers fan and Formula 1.

It’s interesting when you look at actually where people, and what they’re passionate about, it shows up through gaming, through music, food experiences, and there’s a way where Formula 1 can partner with many different brands within the wider world to take Formula 1 out to that fan base, and be relevant to them.

You cited Netflix earlier as a competitor of someone’s share of time. The Netflix series has been incredibly popular for us, and that was a way for us to reach a light, lapsed or a non-F1 fan through engaging long form content.

E-Sports is massive. We know younger audiences spend an awful lot of time within an E-Sports environment. Now, whether that’s watching it or playing it, Formula 1 is very closely aligned to E-Sports. You’re sitting in a seat, you’ve got your pedals, your steering wheel. We know all our F1 drivers spend hours and hours perfecting their laps within a sim.

So, this is how we can converge those worlds together.

Have you seen the demographics on your social media platforms change because of E-Sports?

Social media has grown ferociously. In the last two years, Frank [Arthofer] and our digital team have grown that to over 23 million people, a 54 percent year-on-year increase, making us the fastest growing sport across social media.

75 to 80 percent of the audience watching E-Sports is below 34 years old, so it’s really shifting the dynamic. We’re taking Formula 1 out, and showing a different side of Formula 1 to these audiences in places they’re already passionate about.

You’re now starting to scrape the surface of both of Formula 1’s feeder series, Formula Two and Formula Three. People may not realise this, but both are Formula 1 properties. [Note from David: this interview was done prior to Anthoine Hubert’s fatal accident at the Belgian Grand Prix]

They are incredible series, very competitive racing, wheel-to-wheel competition, you always have the interesting sprint races, for example with reverse grid in F2. And what we see is a lot of our Formula 1 drivers coming through the ranks of having either raced in Formula Two or Three, and there’s some really interesting characters and stories within those series.

Again, this is about us demonstrating the journey that racing talent goes through to get into Formula 1. There’s much more focus internally on what we can do with Formula Two and Formula Three to bring those closer to Formula 1 and to give them their own spotlight.

It’s F1’s 70th anniversary next year, is there anything in the pipeline that you can tell us?

We are busy back in the office, we have a range of ideas that we would love to see next year. All I can say is watch this space!

My thanks go to Ellie Norman for spending the time with me on the above piece.


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New circuit, new challenges: preparing for MotoGP’s KymiRing adventure

A new circuit on the motor racing calendar is a challenge, not only for the racers, but for everyone involved in the championship, with many hours involved to ensure everything goes swimmingly.

Next year, MotoGP heads to the new KymiRing circuit in Finland for the first time, and preparations are already underway to ensure that the event happens without a hitch. Last week, six riders participated in a two-day test session, inaugurating the track.

The test was also the first time that MotoGP’s production team had visited the facility. Sergi Sendra, who is Dorna’s Senior Director for Media Content, Television and Production, gave me the low-down on how the test went, from a broadcasting perspective.

The logistics of a new event
For readers unaware, Dorna are MotoGP’s commercial rights holder, and have been since 1992. “I remember at the beginning it was tougher for us to arrive to a place and design which positions we would have, but now it is easier with experience,” Sendra tells me.

Races on the MotoGP calendar broadly fit into two categories from a logistical perspective: European and non-European. Sendra does not expect any surprises on the logistical front for Finland, as all the logistics from a broadcasting perspective sits within Dorna instead of third-party suppliers.

“The resources to accomplish the goal of having a stable Grand Prix in terms of logistics is going to be the same as at any other European round,” Sendra adds.

“We shouldn’t have any surprises on that front. We bring the scaffolds, the power supplies (with a triple generator group), the posts for the antennas, the cables, the fibre, it’s all ours. We never expect the local people to provide the key things. We make sure we have the same conditions, comfort, and practicability that we have in other circuits.”

The main difference, of course, is the layout of the circuit which varies from weekend to weekend. A typical MotoGP event has between 20 to 25 cameras track side, which gives Dorna enough scope to change the perspective on offer lap-by-lap.

“One camera should have a wide range of coverage from the in-point to the end-point,” he says. “This will help to have no gap in the coverage, when you cut from camera to camera.”

“What you want is a comfortable zone, where both cameras overlay for us to cut and have a good continuity for the viewer.”

Even with existing events, Dorna are always reviewing the existing camera angles on offer, to see if there is further room for refinement. Sendra gives Brno as an example, where Dorna have changed some angles in recent years to give MotoGP fans a different view of the circuit, whilst keeping to the core principles.

> Behind the scenes with BT Sport’s MotoGP team [2018] (planning, evolution)

What Dorna does not currently have for new circuits is the ability to simulate camera angles using 3D graphics months before the event which, although Sendra says would be beneficial, is not worthwhile given that new races are rare.

“This map [for Finland] in 3D will arrive later. We would make simulations if we had a 3D map that we could put in our computer and then start playing.”

“We wanted to do this a long time ago, but it takes a team to prepare the maps, and we don’t have this yet,” Sendra explains. “If we had five or six new circuits every year, then we should have it, but actually going to the circuit is better.”

“When you go to the circuit, you see it changing in front of your eyes, you can experiment with it, take cameras and film, which is the best way. We take the GPS positions exactly, and photos of everything to refer to later.”

“In any case, I think with the knowledge we have, we can presume and predict things that can also be done with computer.”

Visiting KymiRing
Normally when a new race is added to any Grand Prix calendar, whether it be Formula 1, Formula E, or in this case MotoGP, the production team working on the series will visit the circuit to perform a recce. The purpose of the recce is to firm up the exact details (i.e. deciding camera angles), and to iron out any potential risks ahead of time.

On the desk in front of myself and Sendra at Silverstone is a map of the KymiRing circuit, which Sendra and his team have heavily annotated, during and following their two-day visit.

2019 MotoGP - KymiRing.jpg
A map of the KymiRing, annoted by Dorna showing their current line of thinking ahead of MotoGP’s inaugural race at the circuit. All the red circles with numbers written inside (from 1 to 23) are the current proposed track side camera positions.

With only a handful of laps on the board during day one due to heavy rain, the TV team walked the track to scope out their initial thinking.

Immediately obvious to all was the scenery that surrounds the circuit, the nearest city twenty minutes away by car. The scenery, along with the elevation change from corner to corner, presents Dorna with an opportunity to highlight the best of Finland.

“The nice thing about this track is that it is surrounded by beautiful trees, nice Finland forest. We were looking for positions where we can see more of the nature,” Sendra tells me.

“It’s quite wild, and I’m sure we will look for the animals to capture the atmosphere. There are a lot of animals, not here, but close to here!”

“The second thing is the shape of the corners, the vision of the corners from the positions. It’s very different to Thailand, which is flat and very easy from that perspective, whereas Finland has a lot of up’s and down’s.”

“Here, there are spots that you cannot see, where there are trees in between. We like that, because it will give personality to the event.”

Throughout their visit, Sendra and his team are comparing KymiRing to MotoGP’s existing portfolio of circuits, although this is a challenge (in a good way for Sendra). Sendra says that KymiRing “is a completely different shape which is very good, because it enriches the championship.”

The second day allowed Dorna to confirm their thinking from day one, adjusting the positions slightly based on the action that was unfolding in front of them.

During the visit, Dorna try to ‘second guess’ where the hot spots are in terms of action. Turns 1, 4, 5 and 13 all have two camera angles to capture potential overtakes, whilst the 1.2 kilometre back straight requires a different approach.

Sendra continues “At the end of a straight, there will be braking points, so two cameras are necessary. If the straight is as long as this, we will have to split it, because with one camera will be boring. In the case of Finland, there are three spot cameras.”

“One at the beginning, let us say 350 meters, another one at 300 more, and then two at the end. There will be, for sure, overtaking at the end of this straight.”

One area of the circuit that Dorna believes will be a hot spot is the final bend, which may remind readers of the Fuji Speedway in Japan. Sendra expects the final corner to be “crazy” with Dorna opting to place more cameras down at that section than they usually would, for 2020 at least.

“It’s quite wide here, and we wanted to see a camera from outside and inside at the same time. We believe the corner is going to be better seen from outside than inside, but then all the cameras are inside so this is something you solve when you’re directing.”

“The final bend goes up, then goes down [heading to the finish line], it’s really very different compared to other places. All are quite flat to the finish line, only Saschsenring goes up.”

“We will have more cameras here the first time to make sure we don’t miss anything. If somebody likes to make a last lap overtake here like in Austria, then we must see it from various angles.”

Outside of the circuit itself, Dorna are figuring out their own logistics. The paddock being on the outside as opposed to the inside means that the television compound will be in a different location to usual, more than likely on the outside of turn one, Sendra tells me.

Moving forward
Whilst the track itself is finished, the surrounding area is still under construction, and it will not be long before the production team are back.

“Once we’ve set the camera spots, then it will be the people from the technical side to calculate lengths, accesses and everything else that surrounds this,” Sendra says.

“Normally we do two or three rehearsals. For TV, two rehearsals is the minimum to make sure we arrive during the week of a Grand Prix and nothing is forgotten, and everything is on the spot.”

Even with rehearsals, nothing is better preparation than a race weekend, and Sendra says that, it can take two or three year for the direction to gel on a new circuit.

“Honestly, we will have to wait until the first race, wet or dry, to understand if we made the right choices. The first weekend we will spend in Finland with a real experience, with three classes, races and practices, it will allow us to improve for the next year.”

“And I can more or less tell you that for us it takes between two and three years to stabilise the circuit, to have a good knowledge, because one year it will be hotter than the other, maybe it rains, it’s never the same.”

Now with a lot more information than before following the inauguration of the circuit, Dorna’s television team have a better sense of what they are dealing with ahead of the first MotoGP race at KymiRing next year.


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