Formula 1 fans hoping to see more than a sneak peek of the 2018 machinery may be disappointed, as there will be no live coverage of testing ahead of the new season, I can confirm.
At the back-end of 2017, there were rumblings that Formula One Management (FOM) would provide enhanced testing coverage this year. The suggestions were amplified by comments made during Sky Sports F1’s coverage of the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where pit lane reporter Ted Kravitz noted that commentator David Croft would be “standing in a commentary box” for long periods of time during testing, alluding to the potential of live coverage.
The idea was that FOM would use Sky’s personnel on commentary for their coverage of testing, with coverage airing on Sky’s F1 channel, and via FOM’s new over-the-top platform or YouTube. However, I can now reveal that plans have not come to fruition. The news means that the first-time fans will see cars in live action will be during the Australian Grand Prix weekend in late-March. The one time testing aired live was in 2013, the move primarily designed to promote Sky’s 3D offering.
I understand that FOM will provide a similar level of coverage to last year’s testing season, with clips, such as on-board footage, shared via social media, and live segments from the paddock on Facebook during the on-track lunch break.
Many make the comparison between MotoGP and Formula 1. MotoGP does produce a live feed of their post-season test from Valencia; however, all their production equipment and facilities are already on-site following the final race of the season two days earlier. Dorna’s pre-season coverage of testing from Sepang largely consisted of updates at various points of the day (around three hours in total), with footage of riders on-track, live reports from pit lane and extended interviews.
In comparison, IndyCar produced a live stream of testing from ISM Raceway earlier this month, but this consisted of one static camera situated on the start-finish straight. So, there are ways and means, but unless you already have the facilities on-site, there is reluctance to produce a World Feed, as the cost outweighs any benefits it would bring. Famously, IndyCar did stream Fernando Alonso’s Indianapolis 500 rookie orientation day live last year, but they were extremely unique and unprecedented circumstances.
For me, the best scenario would be to go on-air with an hour of testing left each day, with some analysis after the chequered flag. Of course, the ‘hour’ of testing could consist of footage compiled from earlier in the day, along with key developments. A show of this nature would do the job nicely, giving each team ample air-time, as well as showing off as much of the cars as possible, whilst removing the need for a full circuit production.
ESPN’s US coverage to take Sky’s UK commentary
Overseas, ESPN have confirmed that their US coverage will take Sky’s UK commentary line-up of David Croft and Martin Brundle. The agreement between ESPN and Sky Sports was “arranged by Formula 1”, likely a result of the fact that Sean Bratches, Formula 1’s Managing Director for Commercial Operations, used to work for ESPN.
ESPN follows in the footsteps of many broadcasters around the world who take Sky’s UK commentary, such as TSN (Canada) and FOX Sports (Australia). Sky Sports will also produce special segments to supplement ESPN’s television coverage, something they do not currently do for other broadcasters.
A variety of outlets have reported this deal as ESPN taking Sky’s coverage, which may be stretching the truth. ESPN say that a further announcement on their content plans is coming in forthcoming weeks. If Sky’s pre and post-race segments turn up, I suspect it will form part of ESPN’s online offering given that race start times have already adjusted to suit their needs.
Whilst Sky’s UK coverage is excellent compared to many broadcasters, and stateside fans will love hearing Martin Brundle’s commentary, American fans deserve to have a broadcaster covering Formula 1 who are prepared to invest time, money, and home-grown talent into the sport.
To NBC’s credit, they produced content tailored to their audience, with Will Buxton, Jason Swales, Leigh Diffey and more at the helm. Viewing figures may go up, but audience appreciation of the raw Formula 1 television product in America could decrease because of the ESPN deal.