Analysing the motor sport ecosystem and why coronavirus could cripple it

The coronavirus pandemic is disrupting motor sport in a way we have never seen before, impacting everyone involved in sport.

Collectively, the entire industry stands to lose a significant sum of money, and what the future holds is unclear. The longer this goes on, the worse the financial situation becomes, notwithstanding the fact that a global recession is likely because of the pandemic.

Who are the key players, and what are their role in the overarching ecosystem that is motor sport? Being a broadcasting site, naturally the focus is on broadcasting, although there is heavy linkage between broadcasting and the wider motor sport economy.

Speaking at the Black Book Motorsport Forum last September, Sky’s Head of Formula 1 Scott Young spoke about the delicacies of the ecosystem in a conversation around over-the-top broadcasting and pay television.

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

“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.”

“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.

Young quite clearly encapsulates the key themes of the ecosystem: the broadcasters, the rights holder, and the teams. If the system changes too quickly, the consequences could be catastrophic.

Coronavirus creates a gap in the chamber. The flow of money into the sport stops, meaning that money cannot flow back out the other end easily.

Who are the parties involved, and what are their roles? Let the below diagram explain, using Formula 1 and MotoGP as the key examples…

Motor sport ecosystem.png
A simplified view of the motor sport ecosystem.

Much of the above is stating the obvious, however it shows how the ecosystem joins up from one segment to another, from the customer paying the pay TV broadcaster their monthly subscription, all the way through to teams paying their staff.

The diagram is, I admit, a simplistic view of the landscape, but hopefully helps to show how some of the basic activities connect. There are many more inputs and outputs, the diagram only covers the main ones (although if you feel there is a major gap, please shout).

Motor sport ecosystem - branch 1.png
A simplified view of the motor sport ecosystem (branch 1).

Branch 1 – Pay TV > Commercial Rights Holder
Pay-TV broadcasters receive income from both their customers monthly, as well as from advertisers / sponsors who want to advertise during their programming. Not all motor sports air on pay-TV, but overall, that is the way.

Some have suggested that UK’s pay-TV broadcasters BT and Sky should refund subscribers of their sports channels during the coronavirus outbreak, however neither are planning to do so currently.

The income pay-TV broadcasters receive allows them to broadcast prestigious events, the broadcaster paying the relevant Commercial Rights Holder an agreed amount each season.

For MotoGP, the Commercial Rights Holder is Dorna, for F1 it is Formula One Management, for World Rally Championship it is WRC Promoter, and so on.

To attract subscribers, pay-TV broadcasters want to utilise the best talent, on and off-screen. For that, they use a hybrid of permanent in-house staff and freelancers.

Both bring their benefits: being a permanent member of staff gives you added security with a regular pay packet, but makes it unlikely that you can work on events not aired on their outlet.

Freelancers on the other hand may work F1 one weekend, MotoGP the next, and then Formula E the weekend after, each paid on a standalone basis. Three different broadcasters and production teams, but not a problem. That approach brings risks: any cancellation will result in a loss of income.

Motor sport ecosystem - branch 1.png
A simplified view of the motor sport ecosystem (branch 2).

Branch 2 – Circuit > Commercial Rights Holder
The second area is simpler. Fans pay money to attend the circuit to watch a race, the circuit pays the Commercial Rights Holder the fee for holding the race. Investors and sponsors may pump money into the circuit to improve facilities, increasing the prospects of holding major events there.

It sounds simple, until someone cancels the race, which is where the legal complications come in. Mark Hughes over on The Race summarises the situation in relation to the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix.

In the event of the cancellation of a race, someone will lose money. Opting not to refund the fans is an untenable option. The organisers refund the fans, in which case the organisers lose money. Unless the Commercial Rights Holder waives the fee and takes the financial hit.

The worst-case scenario for a circuit is that they lose so much money, they go into administration and liquidation.

Circuits need money to keep operating outside of the F1 and MotoGP race weekends, they need to pay their own employees (not labelled in the diagram) to give one example. In the UK, the Rockingham Motor Speedway closed in 2018 after financial issues.

Cancelling one race might be okay, but would be enough to disturb the cashflow of the circuit. What happens though, if the Commercial Rights Holder opted to take the hit, saving the circuit, but putting themselves at jeopardy?

Motor sport ecosystem - branch 1.png
A simplified view of the motor sport ecosystem (branch 3).

Branch 3 – Commercial Right Holder > Staff
Like the pay-TV scenario above, the Commercial Rights Holder will pay people to run the World Feed for them all the weekend, both freelancers and permanent staff. The talent varies: from directors, to vision mixers, to replay operators, to camera operators, the list is never ending.

F1 has a mixture of freelance talent and permanent talent, same as above. Same positives, same negatives, same risks.

Motor sport ecosystem - branch 1.png
A simplified view of the motor sport ecosystem (branch 4).

Branch 4 – Commercial Rights Holder > Teams
As well as receiving money off pay-TV broadcasters and circuits, the Commercial Rights Holder will receive money off advertisers, sponsors and investors, the Rolex’s of this world.

Pay-TV broadcasters may want compensation off the Commercial Rights Holder if races fall by the wayside, and the same applies for advertisers, whilst circuits may want their fees lowered.

If organisers cancel one race, most championships would be able to deal with it, however when multiple races disappear, the problem amplifies.

For hypothetical sake, assume the Commercial Rights Holder has buckled in the event of cancellation. They have waived the circuit race fee and given both advertisers and pay-TV companies some compensation. Unlikely, but let us continue the worst-case path.

But, hang on. The Commercial Rights Holder needs to the pay the teams their prize money, right? Well, yes. Oh. But, the Commercial Rights Holder has already lost money? Again, yes.

“Okay then, we will not give teams their prize money.” Good luck with that one.

Teams need to pay their permanent staff and freelancers, as well as suppliers, and need some form of income from both the Commercial Rights Holder and sponsors.

Suppliers are important here. Motor sport relies on thousands of small to medium-sized employers worldwide that rarely gets a mention. If any one of those suppliers go under, that could impact the team’s ability to go racing. Suddenly, we have a major problem…

The likes of Mercedes, Ferrari, Repsol Honda, will survive with minimal disruption. The likes of Williams in F1, and many outfits in MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3, all the way down the motor sport pyramid I worry about.

I worry about the freelancers, inside and outside of broadcasting, who are out of work for at least the next month. I worry about championships who struggle to make a profit each year.

I appreciate this is a simplistic view of the world, and does not account for all factors (there are many indirect lines excluded).

The point I am getting at though is that the motor sport ecosystem will be seriously tested over the next few months, and the potential longer-term consequences for this sport do not bear thinking about…


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Scheduling: The 2020 Australian Grand Prix

Update – both F1 and IndyCar have been cancelled for the foreseeable future.

An air of uncertainty surrounds motor sport as the Formula 1 paddock beckons on Melbourne, Australia for the start of the 2020 Grand Prix season.

As I write this article, the Australian Grand Prix is still set to take place on Sunday 15th March. However, the coronavirus outbreak means that nothing is certain, and that the details in this article are accurate as of right now, but could change rapidly in the days ahead.

On the broadcasting side, very little has changed in terms of personnel over the winter break, a stark contrast to twelve months ago.

Simon Lazenby continues to lead Sky’s coverage of Formula 1 in Melbourne, alongside the likes of Paul di Resta, Martin Brundle, Jenson Button, Karun Chandhok and David Croft.

Ted Kravitz remains with Sky for 2020, in what Motorsport Broadcasting understands will be a similar arrangement to 2019, with Kravitz part of Sky’s output for most of the 22 races this year.

Meanwhile, Steve Jones continues to steer Channel 4’s ship, with David Coulthard, Mark Webber and Ben Edwards again alongside the Welshman. Over on BBC Radio 5 Live, Jack Nicholls, Jolyon Palmer and Jennie Gow preside over events from Melbourne.

As reported earlier, close sources have indicated to this site that Sky will be presenting their output from Melbourne on-site, however the situation for Channel 4 and BBC is unclear.

On the scheduling front, Sky’s build-up for the 22 races extends to 130 minutes this season, which must be some kind of record. The change means that their live race day shows clock in at five and a half hours when also accounting for the Notebook.

There are other smaller changes to Sky’s schedule, namely Welcome to the Weekend moving from Thursday’s to Friday’s immediately before the first practice session.

Channel 4’s highlights programming also changes for 2020, moving back towards its previous ‘Extended Highlights’ format, as revealed exclusively by this site in January.

The free-to-air broadcaster can now air 60 minutes of the race itself, instead of 45 minutes as was the case last year.

Elsewhere, the IndyCar Series is back for its second season on Sky Sports F1, whilst the World Rally Championship heads to Mexico for round three of 2020.

Channel 4 F1
14/03 – 12:00 to 13:30 – Qualifying Highlights
15/03 – 14:10 to 16:40 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
13/03 – 00:30 to 02:45 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 00:30 – Welcome to the Weekend
=> 01:00 – Practice 1
13/03 – 04:45 to 06:45 – Practice 2 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
14/03 – 02:45 to 04:30 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 02:45 – Practice 3
=> 04:10 – Paddock Walkabout
14/03 – 05:00 to 07:30 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 05:00 – Pre–Show
=> 05:55 – Qualifying
15/03 – 03:00 to 08:30 – Race (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 03:00 – Sunday Social
=> 04:00 – Grand Prix Sunday (also Sky One)
=> 05:05 – Race (also Sky One)
=> 07:00 – Chequered Flag
=> 08:00 – Notebook

Supplementary Programming
12/03 – 05:00 to 05:30 – Drivers’ Press Conference
13/03 – 07:30 to 08:00 – The Story so Far (also Sky Sports Main Event)
14/03 – 07:30 to 08:00 – The F1 Show (also Sky One and Sky Sports Main Event)
18/03 – 20:00 to 20:30 – F1 Weekend Debrief

BBC Radio F1
All sessions are available live on BBC’s F1 website
12/03 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
13/03 – 00:55 to 02:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
13/03 – 04:55 to 06:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
14/03 – 02:55 to 04:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
14/03 – 05:55 to 07:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
15/03 – 04:30 to 07:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

IndyCar Series – St. Petersburg (Sky Sports F1)
14/03 – 18:30 to 20:00 – Qualifying
15/03 – 18:30 to 22:00 – Race

World Rally Championship – Mexico (All Live)
Also airs live on WRC+ (£)
13/03 – 01:15 to 03:00 – Stages 1 and 2 (BT Sport Extra 1)
=> 02:08 – Stage 1
=> 02:31 – Stage 2
13/03 – 13:45 to 03:00 – Stages 3 to 12 (BT Sport Extra 1)
=> 15:08 – Stage 3
=> 16:16 – Stage 4
=> 17:14 – Stage 5
=> 18:12 – Stage 6
=> 21:35 – Stage 7
=> 22:43 – Stage 8
=> 23:41 – Stage 9
=> 01:21 – Stages 10 and 11
=> 02:14 – Stage 12
14/03 – 13:45 to 02:30 – Stages 13 to 21 (BT Sport Extra 1)
=> 14:58 – Stage 13
=> 16:01 – Stage 14
=> 17:08 – Stage 15
=> 20:56 – Stage 16
=> 21:59 – Stage 17
=> 23:08 – Stage 18
=> 00:38 – Stages 19 and 20
=> 01:26 – Stage 21
15/03 – 13:30 to 18:45 – Stages 22 to 24 (BT Sport Extra 2)
=> 14:38 – Stage 22
=> 15:56 – Stage 23
=> 17:18 – Stage 24

World Rally Championship – Mexico
13/03 (Thursday night) – 02:00 to 03:00 – Stage 1 (BT Sport 2)
14/03 (Saturday morning) – 06:00 to 06:30 – Day 1 Highlights (BT Sport 3)
14/03 – 17:00 to 18:00 – Stage 15 (BT Sport 3)
15/03 (Saturday night) – 04:30 to 05:00 – Day 2 Highlights (BT Sport 2)
15/03 – 17:00 to 18:30 – Stage 24 [Power Stage] (BT Sport/ESPN)
16/03 (Sunday night) – 03:00 to 03:30 – Day 3 Highlights (BT Sport 1)
17/03 – 22:30 to 23:30 – Highlights (ITV4)

Of course, the listings above are subject to change, so keep an eye on both this site and the official championship social channels for the latest up to date information.


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Channel 4’s F1 race edit to switch to ‘Extended Highlights’ format for 2020

Viewers watching Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage in 2020 will receive more of the action than last year, Motorsport Broadcasting can exclusively reveal.

As part of a new arrangement with Sky Sports, Channel 4 aired Formula 1 in highlights form in 2019, with the British Grand Prix also airing live. Both parties agreed to extend the partnership last Autumn, taking the agreement through to the end of 2022.

The highlights deal allowed Channel 4 to cover 50 percent of the race during their edit, a decrease on the amount stipulated in the 2012 to 2018 broadcasting contract between Formula 1, Sky, and their free-to-air partner at that time.

However, Motorsport Broadcasting can confirm that Channel 4 and Sky have loosened at least two elements of the free-to-air contract for 2020.

This season, fans watching via Channel 4 will now see 70 percent of the racing action, increasing the race edit from 45 minutes to around 60 minutes (depending on race). The change brings Channel 4’s 2020 agreement closer to the 2012 to 2018 contract – at least in terms of the race edit.

The extension means that Channel 4’s race day show, produced by Whisper, will be 150 minutes in length for 2020 instead of 120 minutes, a similar amount compared with 2016 to 2018 for Channel 4 (including commercials).

In addition, Motorsport Broadcasting understands that both qualifying and the race day show can now begin two and a half hours after the chequered flag has fallen instead of three hours. Highlights for most European races will therefore air from 18:30 to 21:00, instead of 19:00 to 21:00 as they did last year.

The two races likely to prove troublesome this year are the United States and Mexican Grand Prix, which both begin at 19:10 UK time. Expect highlights to change to 22:30 to 01:00 this season, unless Sky gives Channel 4 any additional leeway on this front.

As of writing, there is no confirmation on the status of the additional restrictions that Sky imposed on Channel 4 prior to the 2019 season, such as the restriction of Channel 4 personnel on the grid or within the interview pen.

Overall, this is good news for fans watching Formula 1 via free-to-air television, and another sign that the relationship between Sky and Channel 4 is strong.

Both broadcasters expected to retain current line-ups
Although neither broadcaster has yet to confirm their on-air team, Motorsport Broadcasting expects both to field a similar line-up, with no upheaval like last year.

Ben Edwards is expected to return as Channel 4’s lead commentator, joined by personalities such as David Coulthard and Billy Monger throughout the course of the season.

Barring a change of direction, Sky are retaining Ted Kravitz for 2020, although the number of races Kravitz will be with Sky for is unclear. The likes of David Croft, Martin Brundle and Simon Lazenby are staying part of Sky’s line-up.

Meanwhile, newly announced W Series lead commentator Alex Jacques returns as commentator for Formula Two, Formula Three and Formula 1’s Pit Lane Channel this year.

Testing begins on Wednesday 19th February, with the season itself getting underway in Melbourne on Sunday 15th March, both of which are airing live on Sky Sports.

A correction was made to this article on January 19th. Although the United States Grand Prix begins an hour later local time, timezone differences / daylight savings mean that there is no difference to the UK race time and Channel 4’s highlights should therefore start half an hour earlier. My apologies for this error.


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Motorsport Broadcasting: Your 2019 Verdict Revealed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Whisper’s C4 F1 highlights package shines in new era

Earlier this week, news broke that Whisper would continue to produce Channel 4’s Formula 1 free-to-air coverage in 2020, as the broadcaster enters a new three-year deal with Sky Sports to air the sport.

2019 was a year of change for the UK’s free-to-air viewers of F1, as fans accustomed themselves to life without live action. Only the British Grand Prix aired live on free-to-air television, with every other race airing exclusively live on Sky.

Across the year, Whisper produced highlights of every qualifying session and race, as well as live coverage of the Silverstone round. Including commercials, Channel 4’s highlights package consisted of 90 minutes for qualifying and 120 minutes for the race. Slicing off commercials takes both totals down to around 72 and 96 minutes respectively, giving fans a chance to view the action.

John Curtis led Whisper’s F1 production team for the first-time, replacing Mark Wilkin as their producer.

How well have Whisper managed to manoeuvre the obstacles placed in their way this year? We look at how their F1 coverage has fared…

A variety of vantage points on offer…
Although Channel 4 did not air live coverage throughout 2019, Whisper played to their own storytelling strengths with high quality VT’s.

The opening vignette for their Abu Dhabi race day coverage featured a powerful voice over of six-time Drivers’ Champion Lewis Hamilton telling his story, as viewers watched Hamilton tackling the final lap of the US Grand Prix from his helmet-facing camera angle. It was simple, yet innovative, unusual, and effective.

Whisper’s VT’s stretched across the full grid, meaning that fans still saw the personalities behind the helmets even if Channel 4 were unable to offer live coverage outside of Silverstone. Steve Jones’ sit-down interview with Alfa Romeo driver Kimi Raikkonen in Canada helped get beneath the bones of Raikkonen’s character and was one highlight of their year.

There is no doubt that losing Karun Chandhok to Sky hurt Channel 4’s coverage on the technical front. But, with only Silverstone airing live on Channel 4, his loss was not as significant as it could have been. Channel 4 and Whisper covered up his departure through rotating their punditry throughout the season (a possible result of restrictions from a personnel quota perspective).

Pleasingly, Whisper utilised their complete cast of on-air talent during their pre- and post-race programming (including new for 2019 podcast On the Marbles), from Mark Webber, through to Billy Monger, and onto Ben Edwards.

Edwards’ own post-race segment, aptly titled “Ben’s Bible” helped shine a light on the midfield teams, wrapping up stories from pit lane. It was awesome to see Whisper use Edwards more – his broadcasting talent extends far behind the commentary box, and it is only right that we see him utilised more on-screen.

Monger excelled in his first season with Channel 4, gelling straight into his role with the team. As a fan, you could feel a natural on-screen connection between the likes of Monger, George Russell and Lando Norris, all young Brits, and that made the interview segments much easier to watch in my view.

Throughout 2019, Whisper strived to show viewers more than just the paddock, taking advantage of the fact that they were not live on-air, whether through choice or not is a different question.

For example, Whisper presented the Chinese Grand Prix qualifying opening segment from the smog of the Shanghai city, taking viewers to the heart of the city. Sky do not have the same luxury for good reason, they need to be in the paddock surroundings for their live broadcasts, airing their live programming outside of the paddock would make little sense.

…but inflexibility hampers programming
For all the effort that Whisper went into to make their programming distinctive, and they did a good job at that, the restrictions in their contract meant that things were perhaps not as great as they could have been.

The race edits were generally slick across the season, but inflexibility did not help. Each race had a 45-minute edit allocated to it, meaning that the likes of France were on an equal billing as Germany, even though the latter was far more exciting than the former.

Over on the BBC’s weekly Premier League football highlights programme Match of the Day, highlights of a game can vary from anywhere between five to ten minutes, although admittedly that is within the context of one show. But it shows that flexibility does exist within the remit of a highlights-based sporting contract.

Is there a world where Sky require Channel 4 to air an average of 45 minutes per race across the season, but ‘flexed’ that so that they can air between 35 and 55 minutes each race?

This would allow Channel 4 to air a 55-minute edit for Germany and a 35-minute edit for France. Each would still need to fit in a 96-minute slot (excluding commercials), but it at least gives Channel 4 flexibility. And, if Channel 4 make a wrong decision and the last few races of the season turn out to be more (or less) exciting – tough.

Two other aspects that would improve the highlights edit itself would be the ability to play out interviews in a picture-in-picture format during the race. If a midfield driver retires from the race, it makes sense from a storytelling standpoint to play out the post-race interview there and then, as opposed to after the race.

The spoiler previews prior to each ad-break did not sit well with me either, although I understand the logic in it to keep the audience hooked for later in the race.

At several races in 2019, Whisper opted to present their commentary off-tube, but not as you would expect. Whilst co-commentator David Coulthard remained on-site, Edwards stayed back at Whisper’s base in Ealing, which feels like an odd way to deal with the situation. If you want to commentate off-tube, fine, but at least go the full way instead of a 50/50 approach.

The Canadian Grand Prix weekend saw this scenario unfold, but the delay between Coulthard and Edwards was significant, leading to disjointed commentary, as if someone stitched it together from two separate sources. Whilst of some frustration, if the alternative was having no Edwards at all, then maybe this is the best of a bad situation.

I could criticise Whisper for other elements of their highlights programming: no grid interviews, and few post-race driver interviews. But, as a broadcaster and production company, you can only do what the contract stipulates. And, as we well know (Silverstone aside), Channel 4 were banned from the grid, and forced to take Sky’s post-session interviews from the interview pen.

Channel 4’s Formula 1 viewing figures may have dropped significantly on 2018, but that in my opinion is not a reflection on the quality of programming that Whisper have aired this year.

There are things that could change, both inside and outside of Whisper’s production contract. But overall, free-to-air viewers of Formula 1 in 2019 have had a high-quality highlights package that they can rely on.

The situation is not ideal for those without Sky, but it also serves as a reminder that, without Whisper on-board, the package on offer could be significantly worse.

For the next few years, expect the status quo to remain – with Channel 4 set to remain in the F1 fold until at least 2022.


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