New opening themes for Sky’s and Channel 4’s F1 coverage

Both Sky Sports and Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage in 2019 opened with a new theme in Australia, stepping away from their previous efforts as a new era of broadcasting began down under.

Outlands in, Just Drive out at Sky
For Sky, Alistair Griffin’s Just Drive has been a fixture of their opening titles since their very first show in 2012. After seven years, Just Drive steps aside for Outlands by Daft Punk, the song most famous for featuring in Tron: Legacy back in 2010.

The new titles, an effort spanning multiple creative agencies and over 40 people, are six months in the making. As with Sky’s new Formula 1 pre-season trailer, their in-house Creative Agency steered this project from initial concept to delivery.

By Sky’s side were The Mill, Trim and Envy, responsible for visual, edit and sound respectively. The 2019 opening sequence shows the weekend build-up to a crescendo, utilising a ‘left to right’ movement throughout, giving it a ‘big time’ feel.

The intro is a significant improvement on previous efforts where the opening sequence inter weaved Sky’s own personnel with the racing action.

Writing on his Behance profile, Chris Sharpe, Design Director at Sky Creative takes us through the titles. “The new title celebrates the raw and visceral aspects of the live sport. Showcasing the theatre of a weekends coverage, from team preparation to chequered flag, while also encapsulating the story and drama of the previous season’s championship,” explains Sharpe.

“The simple but consistent left to right mechanic weaves its way through the edit, finishing with a spectacular CG move. The sequence signs-off with an unachievable grid moment, leaving the viewer with an unforgettable start of race experience.”

The Mill’s Director for the piece, Ivo Sousa adds “My focus from the offset was demonstrating the importance of the team behind each driver. Each role is essential and preparation is meticulous, every part of the process counts. The engineering details are insanely intricate and yet, in contradiction, the sport is a brutal force.”

The team filmed footage during last year’s US Grand Prix weekend, whilst Silverstone played host to the opening Mercedes shoot. As with all films, some footage did not make the final cut, with the shot described by Rachel Brookes last October featuring Sky’s personnel turning their heads on cue absent.

Genesis in, The Chain out at Channel 4
With Channel 4 unable to secure Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain for 2019, the free-to-air broadcaster too had to look elsewhere for inspiration.

In comes in French duo Justice, with Genesis, which has an opening salvo famous for appearing across many different forms of artwork. The imagery is in a similar style to that of Channel 4’s previous introductions, although a step below the BBC’s efforts from 2009 to 2015.

For both Channel 4 and Sky, the music feels like an afterthought, which is not a surprise considering both broadcasters were hoping to use The Chain as revealed on this site last week. Both tracks are fine, but neither live up to The Chain, admittedly finding a track that does live up to The Chain is a difficult task.

In situations like these, I suspect both broadcasters cut two or three different versions of their respective title sequences ready for use, one with The Chain. If you overlay The Chain over the top of Sky’s visuals, you get a good match. The race for The Chain has resulted in better visuals than sounds in my opinion, on both sides.

Elsewhere, Formula 1’s own opening titles received a makeover. Brian Tyler’s F1 theme remained for a second consecutive season, with his evocative track. This year’s introduction from F1 is an example of where the imagery does not fit the sound, whereas last year, the timing was on point.

However, this year’s effort focusses on each outfit in a logical order, starting with the lower six teams, before moving on the top four teams, whereas there was no logical order to last year’s introduction. With that in mind, if the intention of the 2019 piece is to help newer fans get into the sport, then it is a job well done.

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Live F1 testing coverage peaks with 96,000 viewers on Sky

Live coverage of the first Formula 1 test of 2019 peaked with just under 100,000 viewers in the UK on Sky Sports, overnight viewing figures show.

The pay-TV broadcaster aired the four afternoon sessions live from Barcelona last week from 13:00 to 18:00. The first four hours consisted of on-track action, with a review show airing from 17:00 onwards.

As always, figures exclude those that watched via Sky Go and Now TV, the former of which may be higher than usual with testing taking place during the week when people are normally at week as opposed to the weekend.

The audience figures for the on-track action peaked on the first day of running, with an average audience of 58k (0.79%) watching across the F1 channel and Sky Sports Main Event. A peak of 96k (1.45%) watched day one, although the number of viewers the programme reached will be higher than usual due to the dip in and out nature of testing.

The remaining days fell into a similar ballpark for the live on-track segment from 13:00 to 17:00, averaging 37k (0.59%), 35k (0.53%) and 37k (0.58%) respectively, all peaking with around 65,000 viewers.

Although lower than most Formula 1 figures from 2018, live testing rated higher than all but two GP3 races and higher than most Formula Two races last season. In the grand scheme of things, audience figures are not spectacular, but on an expected level for a week day.

Welcome to F1 2019, the evening wrap-up show, fluctuated throughout the week. The first and third days averaged 21k (0.16%) and 21k (0.17%) from 17:00 to 18:00 on Sky Sports F1. Days two and four performed better, averaging 38k (0.32%) and 50k (0.40%). Certainly, the trend as the week progressed leaned slightly towards the review show if anything.

The review show recorded its highest peak figure on Thursday, when 72k (0.50%) were watching at 17:50.

Year-on-year, audience figures for testing have increased based on the first airing. However, comparisons are difficult as Sky repeated last year’s content (Paddock Uncut and Ted’s Notebook) ad nauseam meaning that the individual shows reached a higher number, whereas Sky are not repeating this year’s testing content on the channel.

A better comparison is with Sky’s 3D experiment in 2013, when the broadcaster aired testing live. In 2013, Sky aired two and a half hours of testing live, repeating the showing later in the night. Combined, the audience peaked with around 120,000 viewers on three of the four days, higher than the highest peak in 2019.

In the six years between 2013 and 2019, Formula 1’s UK viewing figures have dipped, so a drop between both years expected. The drop may also suggest that five hours of live testing content per day to air on TV is simply too much and that two and a half hours, as we saw in 2013, is the right amount.

However, if the reason for testing not returning in 2014 was because viewing figures were too low, then Sky’s viewing figures for this past week may not bode well for live testing returning to Sky’s schedules for 2020.

Barcelona test 2 update
Live coverage is not returning for the second Barcelona test, which begins today. As reported earlier, last week’s coverage was a one-off effort between Formula 1 and Sky to inform future decision-making.

In a departure from previous years, Sky are not airing their round-up shows for the second test, which typically consisted of Paddock Uncut and either Ted’s Notebook or #AskCrofty. Instead, fans will need to keep an eye on F1’s social media platforms and Sky Sports News to find testing updates.

F1’s over-the-top platform is scheduled to air a review show following Friday’s running, but it is currently unclear if Sky Sports F1 will also carry the show via their channel.

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A step too far? Reviewing live F1 testing

Testing is, by its very nature, boring.

No matter which way you gloss over it, testing is boring. During testing, Formula 1 teams run their own programmes, with varying strategies, tyre choices, fuel loads, engine settings, which makes it difficult to analyse instantly.

Yet, fans clamour for live testing coverage, and I hold my hands up, that includes me too! February comes around, the tweets amplify, we get excited in anticipation for another season of racing, but the earliest we get to see live action over the airwaves is in the middle of March for Australia.

That was until this past week, when Formula 1 for the first time aired the entirety of the first pre-season test live on their over-the-top platform as a one-off experiment. How did the coverage look, and are we likely to see it return?

Data gathering exercise for Formula 1
From the outset, the rationale for producing a World Feed for the first test from Formula 1 and Liberty Media was to gather user data, informing future decision-making around testing heading into 2020. F1 never produced a World Feed for testing while the sport was under the custodian of Bernie Ecclestone and CVC.

This week, F1 has gathered a significant amount of data from users accessing F1 TV’s premium tier: how long each user accessed and watched testing for, what parts of the day were more popular than others, and most importantly how many watched, amongst many other artefacts.

Of course, like many data gathering exercises, this exercise is incomplete, given that F1 TV Pro is geo-blocked in some territories. The fact that testing ran from Monday to Thursday instead of say, Thursday to Sunday was another downside, with lower metrics mid-week compared to a weekend slot.

In addition, Sky Sports opted out of broadcasting the morning session in the UK and Italy, an odd decision considering that is when the fastest times are set. Had F1 in a parallel universe streamed testing live on YouTube, the metrics would be significantly different.

But, as insiders closer to the scene pointed out, the exact wording of each broadcasting contract may prevent that from happening, depending on the language used (for example ‘event’ or ‘race weekend’). And live testing is not worth wrangling with a broadcaster over for what is essentially an add-on.

F1 TV Pro and Sky was what fans got, but it in the very least provides Formula 1 with a baseline to work with, which they can model and extrapolate against to try to work out how many viewers testing could get if streamed live, partial or in full, on social media. Live testing could live or die based on the metrics from this past week.

Slimmed down production on offer
F1 and Sky Sports worked together on the daily ten-hour offering, providing a hybrid offering on and off-screen. Whilst F1 provided the graphics and track side cameras, Sky provided interviews from the paddock via Sky Sports News reporter Craig Slater, the latter at the test regardless of F1’s own offering, so made logistical sense.

Sky brought most of their team to the test, including Simon Lazenby, Karun Chandhok, Johnny Herbert, and David Croft, with Rosanna Tennant, Will Buxton, Tom Clarkson and Alex Jacques playing their part from FOM’s in-house team.

The World Feed output was slimmer than a normal race weekend. F1 were never going to take the full ‘bells and whistles’ product of a race weekend, but what they did was generally good, even if it was unclear why the director was following a specific car from time-to-time.

There were fewer track side cameras, and no live on-board footage on offer, the latter not a huge surprise in the secretive testing environment, although the F1 production team did play delayed on-boards into the broadcast each day.

The lack of timing graphics on display however made the coverage less engaging, and was by far the biggest flaw of F1’s testing experiment. Static times for individual drivers appeared on-screen after each lap, but other timing information, such as the timing tower was noticeably absent, despite this data being available elsewhere for free.

Most of the commentary was discussion based and unrelated to the on-track action, which was fine to a degree, but given the fact that F1 were covering the whole test live, the coverage would have benefited from having additional on-screen information to help paint the overall picture. When Sky covered testing live in 2013 as part of their 3D experiment, their bespoke graphics set displayed some live timing data.

Having graphics displayed on-screen to show that driver X was on lap Y of a run would have been extremely helpful to both the commentators and the viewers watching, keeping fans engaged for longer and crucially for F1 from a data gathering perspective, reduce the bounce rate.

Who was present… and who was absent?
Ignoring the timing gripe, the commentary itself was excellent with a variety of voices on offer throughout, helping to keep the coverage fresh.

There was nice, free-flowing, sometimes irrelevant, discussion on many topics aided by #AskCrofty during the first two days, including F1 in 2021, an in-depth team by team outlook on the season ahead, and the impact Brexit will have on F1 (admittedly a topic that ruffled a few feathers, but an important conversation nevertheless).

The hybrid setup between F1 and Sky resulted in some unique commentary trios, with Buxton, Chandhok and Croft in the box at the same time on Monday afternoon, a real treat for fans who never have previously had these three voices together in the same broadcast.

From the outset, hearing Chandhok talk eloquently about a range of topics in detail during his stints on-air, it is clear to me that he is going to be a huge addition to Sky’s F1 team this year, bringing a vast array of knowledge and experience to the table.

A surprise standout for me also was Lazenby. Traditionally Sky’s lead Formula 1 presenter, Lazenby made his commentary box debut on Tuesday afternoon. Fans saw Lazenby in a different light to usual in the box, and if the opportunity arose, I would not mind hearing him as a guest in the box during a practice session this season.

Jacques and Buxton from the F1 digital side put in marathon shifts in the commentary box across the four days, with many anecdotes and tales to tell. Their efforts, as well as those working behind the scenes on the whole operation, I should applaud.

The end of day wrap-up shows had a Sky feel to it, with only Sky on-air personnel involved. If you watched the entire day of coverage until that point, some of the discussion felt recycled. On the other hand, if you opted out of the on-track action, there is an argument to suggest that the wrap-up show as a standalone offering was inferior to last year’s digestible, but short, round-up that Sky offered.

A major absentee on-screen was Ted Kravitz, with no reference to him throughout Sky’s coverage. Normally at this stage, Kravitz is on-air with his trademark Notebook programme as well as Development Corner, both of which have formed part of Sky’s testing offering in recent years (one of the reasons why the wrap-up show felt inferior in comparison).

Fans noticed Kravitz’s absence across social media but, as of writing, neither Sky or Kravitz have commented on the record about his status, and whether he is still with the broadcaster.

Too far in one direction?
There is only so much you can talk about in 40 hours of on-track action during testing without the discussion becoming repetitive. I absolutely enjoyed the commentary, primarily the reason I stuck with the live coverage for Monday and Tuesday afternoon (when the UK had access to it). The product was decent, although the novelty began to wane after a while.

With additions on the graphics side, the commentary would become more meaningful and focused on the on-track action, as well as being discussion based, resulting in a better balance rather than it feeling like a radio feed. During the test this week, timing has been an afterthought.

If it is simply not possible to present additional on-screen graphics, I hope there is a world where F1 produces a basic World Feed for testing for those that want to watch it, and then go on-air with a full product towards the end of the day, consisting of the final phase of on-track running and an additional hour of genuine analysis on what each team was doing.

I use the word ‘genuine’, as the end of day wrap-up show never provided that in my view because the talent on-air had not had the opportunity to dissect the day’s events as they were on-air from the get-go. Okay, there was rotation, but there was never a fresh pair or eyes to provide new analysis within the review show.

For me, there is a limit. Two or three hours of discussion and action per day, fine. Five or six hours, and my attention will dip, unless the F1 production team make changes for 2020, although some of these may need the approval of all ten teams. I like what F1 did this year, the only way they will know if live testing is going to work is by doing it, and I applaud the team for doing that.

Is there an audience for testing all day, every day? Only F1 knows the answer to that question…

Scheduling: The 2019 Mexico City E-Prix / F1 Barcelona test 1

Formula E hurdles towards one-third distance as the second leg of its South American tour takes it to Mexico for the Mexico City E-Prix.

The electric championship uses part of the Formula 1 circuit, encompassing the famous stadium section. As usual, the race airs live across the BBC’s digital platforms, with BT Sport, Eurosport and Formula E’s YouTube channel also covering the action.

Formula E’s support series, the Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy returns in Mexico, with both qualifying and race airing live on BT Sport. Sweden plays host to round two of the World Rally Championship, where one expects much more snow than what fans saw in Monte Carlo for the season opener.

Meanwhile, Formula 1 testing gets underway in Barcelona, where the big news is that the first test will air live across F1’s over-the-top platform and Sky Sports F1. However, the F1 TV stream is only available to Pro users (which UK fans do not have access to), meaning that UK fans will need to watch Sky F1 for testing.

Sky are covering each of the four afternoon sessions live as well as the review show, whereas F1 TV is covering the complete day live. Sky are not repeating the live action, so if you want to watch it, you will need to set your recorders. Little is known about the presentation team currently, although Karun Chandhok has alluded to his involvement on Twitter.

Elsewhere, the Williams documentary premieres on BBC Two having been released on DVD in 2017. Whilst I am happy to see it premiere on a major platform, the decision to air it against Formula E on the Red Button is an odd move by BBC’s schedulers.

Formula E – Mexico City
Shakedown, Practice and Qualifying also air live on YouTube…
15/02 – 21:45 to 22:30 – Shakedown (BT Sport 1)
16/02 – 13:15 to 14:30 – Practice 1 (BT Sport 3)
16/02 – 15:45 to 16:45 – Practice 2 (BT Sport 3)
16/02 – 17:30 to 19:00 – Qualifying (BT Sport 3 and Eurosport 2)
16/02 – 21:30 to 23:30 – Race: World Feed
=> live on BBC’s digital platforms from 22:00
=> live on BT Sport 3
=> live on Eurosport 2
16/02 – 21:30 to 23:10 – Race: Voltage (YouTube)
18/02 – 00:00 to 01:00 – Highlights (Quest)

Formula E Radio – Mexico City (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
16/02 – 17:40 to 19:10 – Qualifying
16/02 – 21:45 to 23:15 – Race

F1 Testing – Barcelona 1 (Sky Sports F1)
13/02 – 15:00 to 15:30 – Racing Point Launch
14/02 – 12:00 to 12:30 – McLaren Launch
18/02 – 13:00 to 18:00 – Day 1
=> track action from 13:00 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> review at 17:00
18/02 – 19:55 to 20:55 – Day 1 Review (R)
19/02 – 13:00 to 18:00 – Day 2
=> track action from 13:00 (also Sky Sports Main Event until 14:00)
=> review at 17:00
19/02 – 20:25 to 21:25 – Day 2 Review (R)
20/02 – 13:00 to 18:00 – Day 3
=> track action from 13:00 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> review at 17:00
20/02 – 20:05 to 21:05 – Day 3 Review (R)
21/02 – 13:00 to 18:00 – Day 4
=> track action from 13:00 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> review at 17:00
21/02 – 20:05 to 21:05 – Day 4 Review (R)

Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy Series – Mexico City (BT Sport 3)
16/02 – 14:30 to 15:15 – Qualifying
16/02 – 19:45 to 20:45 – Race

Williams Film (BBC Two)
16/02 – 21:00 to 22:45

World Rally Championship – Sweden (All Live – BT Sport Extra 1)
Every stage also live via WRCPlus.com
14/02 – 09:45 to 11:15 – Shakedown
14/02 – 18:30 to 20:00 – Stage 1
15/02 – 06:45 to 17:15 – Stages 2 to 8
16/02 – 06:00 to 19:15 – Stages 9 to 16
17/02 – 05:30 to 12:45 – Stages 17 to 19

World Rally Championship – Sweden
14/02 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Stage 1 (BT Sport 1)
15/02 – 21:45 to 22:15 – Day 1 Highlights (BT Sport 3)
16/02 – 08:30 to 09:30 – Stage 11 (BT Sport 2)
16/02 – 14:00 to 15:00 – Stage 14 (BT Sport/ESPN)
16/02 – 22:00 to 22:30 – Day 2 Highlights (BT Sport 2)
17/02 – 11:00 to 12:30 – Stage 19 [Power Stage] (BT Sport/ESPN)
17/02 – 20:00 to 20:30 – Day 3 Highlights (BT Sport 2)
18/02 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights (5Spike)

As always, I will update this site as and when further details confirmed.

Update on February 15th – Two pieces of good news. WRC highlights will air on 5Spike on Monday, whilst Formula E makes it BBC radio debut on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra. Formula E has its own bespoke radio commentary, with Claire Cottingham, Tom Gaymor and Marc Priestley in the booth for Mexico.

F1 to broadcast the first pre-season test live in 2019

Formula 1 will broadcast the first pre-season test of 2019 live, one of the championship’s main broadcasters has confirmed.

The test, which takes place from Monday 18th February to Thursday 21st February in Barcelona, will air live via F1 TV’s premium tier service in its entirety. For UK fans however, coverage will air exclusively live on Sky Sports F1, but only the afternoon element.

Across the four days, F1 TV Pro will cover the full test, with every second of on-track action covered. In comparison, Sky are airing twenty hours of coverage, with their broadcast running from 13:00 to 18:00 each afternoon. For the first four hours of Sky’s programme, on-track action will be the centre of attention, with special guests throughout the coverage.

Following the conclusion of each day an hour-long review show, Welcome to F1 2019, will air from 17:00 to 18:00 on both Sky F1 and F1 TV Pro. As of writing, it is unclear whether the on-air team will consist of purely Sky personnel, or whether the coverage will be a hybrid of Sky and FOM personnel. Sky’s newest recruit Karun Chandhok will be involved in coverage.

Given the different lengths, with Sky on-air much later than the World Feed, it is possible that Sky’s programme will be completely bespoke. Formula One Management (FOM) are providing a feed for the first test, however sources close to the situation say that this is a one-off move to inform future decision-making, hence why both Sky’s and FOM’s article contains no reference to the second Barcelona test.

Most extensive coverage of F1 testing ever
The foray back into the live testing scene means that the first Barcelona test will be the most extensive for a Formula 1 test ever. But it is not the first-time F1 testing has aired live.

In 2013, live coverage of the second Barcelona test aired on Sky Sports F1, although it was designed to promote Sky’s 3D offering, and was largely a Sky production. Nevertheless, the broadcaster provided two and a half hours of live action each day, half the amount that Sky are airing this year.

Back then, combined over the live airing and the repeat showing, audience figures peaked with just over 100,000 viewers, a good number for pre-season testing and on a similar ballpark to GP2 (as it was then), GP3 and IndyCar, although that excludes devices such as Sky Go. Numbers may suffer this time round, with no weekend action to draw fans in.

One of the great things about Sky’s live coverage in 2013 that I mentioned at the time was hearing from new voices from down within the pit lane, back then it was Marc Priestley getting some on-air screen time alongside Ted Kravitz.

Airing testing live gives Sky an opportunity to experiment, see what works and what does not, which should inform their main coverage this year. The same applies for FOM, testing may be an appropriate time to test a new graphic or camera angle to see what gets a good reaction on social media, and again what does not.

The main industry argument for not airing testing: it is dull. Airing eight hours of on-track action each day would make for terrible television, and I agree with that view-point. However, the ‘2013 model’ which Sky ran with, airing the last two hours live, interspersed with the best bits from earlier in the day, worked extremely well in my view.

Although I will be watching with interest what the ‘2019 model’ has to offer, my initial gut feeling is that five hours per day is a little too much. Three hours at a push maybe, but five hours may become repetitive fast, especially if rain hits any of the four days. But who knows, maybe five hours is the optimal amount, we shall see.

How much analysis FOM and Sky can get out of the product will be intriguing to see, considering how restrictive teams tend to be at each of the F1 tests.

MotoGP have covered testing live in some format for years, so this is not new for motor sport. The post-season test from Valencia has aired live for several years, with full World Feed treatment, helped by the fact that all their facilities are already on site from the final race weekend a few days earlier.

The championship gives the pre-season Sepang test coverage from their hub in Spain, with pre-recorded bike shots from the track interspersed within the studio chatter, purely on the grounds of cost. Clearly, they feel there is a small audience for it, but not enough to justify sending the full crew to Sepang for the test.

Inevitably, the whole testing argument boils down to cost. If the metrics simply do not add up, then there is little point continuing with the experiment, which will determine whether FOM push ahead with airing testing live again beyond 2019.

Update on January 23rd – I have modified portions of the article as F1 has today confirmed that the entirety of the first test will air live on F1 TV Pro, with Sky airing the afternoon element only.

Whilst F1 TV Pro is the most logical place for testing in full, I do think FOM would have been wiser to air some of the test for free via social media and YouTube, because I do not see subscriptions to F1 TV Pro spiking, just to watch testing. Relatively speaking though, it should be a hit with existing subscribers.

FOM’s release also covers those countries receiving F1 TV Pro for the first time in 2019, including Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Sweden.