Re-imagining Drive to Survive: Hamilton vs Massa

Throughout its seventy-year history, Formula 1 fans have witnessed amazing stories play out on and off the circuit, some of which filmmakers have excellently retold in recent years to a new generation of fans.

Asif Kapadia and Manish Pandey brought the story of Ayrton Senna to the masses, utilising F1’s rich archive to fulfil their objective.

More recently, Ron Howard successfully turned Niki Lauda’s rivalry with James Hunt into a box office hit, with Daniel Brühl and Chris Hemsworth doing the larger than life characters justice in Rush.

But there is one recent story arc from the late 2000s that deserves a showcase on the grand stage, and it is not what you think.

With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic looking unlikely to stop soon, the chances of Netflix’s F1 Drive to Survive being able to focus on the 2020 season diminishes by the day.

Luckily, Motorsport Broadcasting has an alternative suggestion. I started watching Formula 1 in 1999 aged 7, so have seen the Schumacher era, Red Bull era and Mercedes era unfold in front of my eyes.

These eras exclude a period encompassing the rise of Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel, Button, Kubica, Massa, all trying to emerge as F1’s new top dog following Michael Schumacher’s retirement.

The 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix marked the end of one era, whilst at the other end, the sun rising in Barcelona in March 2009 would begin the greatest underdog story in Formula 1 history.

The events in the intervening period, encapsulates everything that resembles what Formula 1 is about. Political drama, on-track drama, controversial moments, sub-plots, and two title races that go down to the wire.

2008-brazilian-gp-hamilton
In amongst a huge media melee, Lewis Hamilton celebrates following the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Could Netflix turn this era, culminating in the Hamilton versus Massa showdown in Brazil, into a ten-part documentary? Maybe. Here is how it could work…

Episode 1 – Schumacher
Every story needs a beginning, and the first episode covers the closing phase of the 2006 season, as Spain’s Fernando Alonso dethrones Germany’s Michael Schumacher in a battle that went back and forth for the entirety of the season.

The episode introduces us to Alonso, as he clinches his second championship at the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix, stepping out of Schumacher’s shadow as the German headed into retirement.

Although everything looks comfortable from the outside, Alonso is not one to stay in the comfy chair, shocking the F1 world by jumping from Renault to McLaren (in a move done the previous Winter) ready for the 2007 season.

World champion makes you the de facto team leader, right? Unfortunately for Alonso, not quite. Enter, Lewis Hamilton.

Episode 2 – Pretenders
The key challenger to Alonso’s throne would turn out to come from within at McLaren, with Britain’s newest F1 hopeful.

Episode two gives us Hamilton’s backstory into motor sport, featuring archive footage of him racing the likes of Sebastian Vettel in the lower formulae.

Ferrari’s challengers for 2007, Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen, also get their first outing in the series, with emphasis on Massa given his friendship with Schumacher. There is news of a reshuffle in the off-season since Schumacher’s retirement, causing friction at Maranello.

But the focus is very much on McLaren, and it is clear all is not well at Woking. Hamilton is performing better than expected as the 2007 season begins, leaving the team with difficult decisions to make.

Do McLaren back their number one driver, or do they back the young Brit on the charge?

Events come to a head at the 2007 United States Grand Prix, as Hamilton and Alonso battle side-by-side down the start-finish straight…

Episode 3 – Spy-gate
As if the on-track action was not dramatic enough, activities off-track were about to take a sinister turn, with internal politics and turmoil at McLaren and Ferrari colliding.

Accusations flew of McLaren stealing Ferrari’s intellectual property, all playing out in front of the public eye.

The result was F1’s governing body the FIA fining McLaren $100 million and stripping them of all their Constructors’ Championship points for the 2007 season.

2007 USA GP - McLaren's.png
Not an inch separates McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in the 2007 US Grand Prix.

On-track, it became increasingly clear that Alonso was heading out of McLaren and back to Renault for 2008, following a bizarre sequence of events during the Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying session.

Nevertheless, the Drivers’ Championship fight continued between Hamilton, Alonso and Raikkonen, heading towards a three-way tussle at Interlagos, Brazil.

Episode 4 – Brazil
Brazil again was the scene for a championship decider. Technical problems would get the better of Hamilton, with Raikkonen clinching the Drivers’ Championship for Ferrari.

The story here is that Ferrari have won, and McLaren have lost in a year where the off-track drama dominated the headlines. The challenge now for McLaren was to rebuild ready for the 2008 season, and put the sorry situation that was 2007 behind them.

Elsewhere in the field, episode four introduces us to fellow British driver Jenson Button, who drives for the Honda team.

Whilst Hamilton is getting all the limelight from a British perspective, Button is trundling around in his Honda, with only one win to his name in his eight F1 seasons.

Hope remains for the Brackley based team however, with reports that Ross Brawn is set to join the outfit ahead of a regulation change coming soon to F1…

Episode 5 – Canada
Another two young talents begin to make their mark on F1 in 2008 and episode five focusses on the first of those, recounting the events of Canada 2007 and Canada 2008.

From an accident that almost ended Robert Kubica’s F1 career, to his first ever victory, the episode covers Kubica’s journey up until this point. Is Poland’s rising star about to spring a surprise?

A calamity involving Hamilton and Raikkonen at the end of pit lane allowed Kubica to take his first ever victory with BMW team-mate Nick Heidfeld following him home in second.

Episode five also focuses on the opening phases of the 2008 season, with Hamilton and Massa leading the way.

Episode 6 – Seb
Also rising in stardom is Germany’s Sebastian Vettel, hoping to emulate his compatriot to become an F1 mega-star.

The episode features more archive footage with Vettel and Hamilton, this time from Vettel’s perspective as opposed to Hamilton.

Vettel breaks into the Red Bull ranks in the Summer of 2007, joining sister team Toro Rosso, building up experience with every passing race.

And then, the heavens open in Monza for the 2008 Italian Grand Prix, allowing Vettel in the Toro Rosso to shine. At just 21 years of age, Vettel becomes both the youngest pole sitter and youngest race winner in F1 history, a remarkable feat.

Meanwhile at Honda, times remain tough for Button, finishing over a minute behind Vettel at Monza, as rumours begin to swirl that Honda are looking to exit F1. Has Button lost his chance to break into the big time?

Episode 7 – Spa
With two-thirds of the 2008 season gone, Hamilton and Massa were leading the chasing pack. Hamilton stepped up to the challenge for his second season in F1, winning a classic race at Silverstone.

Massa was never far away, winning three races up until that point. An engine failure robbed him of what should have been a fourth victory in the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Another thing seemingly never far away for Formula 1 was controversy, as the Belgian Grand Prix proved, with politics coming back to haunt McLaren.

Another classic saw Hamilton overtake Raikkonen for victory, the Finnish driver eventually crashing out.

2008 Belgian GP - McLaren statement.png
McLaren’s Communications Officer Matt Bishop reads out a statement to the media following the 2008 Belgian Grand Prix.

After the race, Hamilton was controversially penalised for cutting the chicane handing victory to Massa. Both Hamilton and McLaren strongly disagreed the judgement handed down, opting to appeal the steward’s decision.

Episode 8 – Renault
A missing character from the past few episodes is Alonso, whose return to Renault had not gone according to plan, his highest position fourth in the Monza rain.

Nevertheless, fortune was about to pick up for Renault in F1’s inaugural trip to Singapore, which is where episode eight takes us.

A conveniently timed spin from team-mate Nelson Piquet Jr was enough to trigger a Safety Car, leading to Alonso’s first victory of the 2008 season, and Renault’s first since 2006.

All is not as it seems though and, although the episode may not explicitly state this, Renault’s victory was not a genuine one…

The events of Singapore also cost Massa a near certain race victory, and potentially his first Drivers’ Championship, thanks to the accident successfully executed by his compatriot.

One thing is for certain: yet again, the Drivers’ Championship is heading down to the wire…

Episode 9 – Showdown
It all comes down to this. McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton. Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. One race. One champion. The venue? Massa’s backyard in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

For Massa to win the crown, he must win the race, with Hamilton finishing lower than fifth. A tall order, but still possible.

Massa takes the early advantage, clinching pole, as Hamilton starts down in fourth. Vettel continues to surprise, qualifying seventh. Meanwhile, at the other end of the field, Button qualifies a dismal 17th.

Race day dawns with rain on the horizon, dramatically turning into a storm minutes before the start. Massa keeps his lead off the line, but Hamilton remains favourite for the title.

The rain clears, but dramatically returns in the closing laps. The leaders pit for intermediate tyres, however other runners stay out on dry weather tyres, an inspired decision as conditions continue to deteriorate.

At this point Hamilton is set to win the title, that is until a mistake sends Hamilton wide on lap 69, dropping him to sixth and putting Massa in championship winning position!

The destination of the 2008 Drivers’ Championship hinges on the final two laps…

Episode 10 – 38 Seconds
Spygate. Alonso. Controversy. Spa. The past two seasons for McLaren have seen the team at some of their lowest points internally. Can Hamilton turn everything around?

Massa crosses the finish line, as champion!

“Is that Glock going slowly? That’s Glock! Hamilton’s back in position again!”

Hamilton moves ahead of Glock on the final corner of the final lap, taking fifth position to become the 2008 Formula One World Champion! Jubilation at McLaren, heartbreak at Ferrari. Massa was champion for just 38 seconds.

The cameras follow the scenes from garage to garage, contrasting fortunes everywhere you look, capturing a moment in Formula 1 history that even Hollywood could not write.

2008 Brazilian GP - Massa.png
Ferrari’s Felipe Massa celebrates in race victory, but disappointed in championship defeat.

As the teams begin to leave Brazil, news emerges of Honda’s imminent exit from Formula 1, appearing to end Button’s Formula 1 career.

Back at base, McLaren and Hamilton celebrate their title victory, as attention quickly turns to the 2009 season, with new regulations set to change F1 forever.

As 2009 edges closer and the new look cars hit the circuit, stories emerge from around the sport that Ross Brawn has saved the Honda outfit from oblivion, rebranding the team as Brawn GP.

The ten-part series ends with Jenson Button taking the Brawn car onto the Barcelona circuit for the very first time, as a familiar bass riff plays in the background.

And well, the rest is history…

Is a documentary series like this, in the style of ‘Drive to Survive’, possible?
In my view, yes.

You may argue that covering two years of F1 in one series makes little sense. But, in the context of the Hamilton and Massa battle, both grew in stature throughout the 2007 and 2008 seasons, reaching a climax in Brazil 2008.

The first nine episodes would result in viewers, in F1 and beyond, becoming invested in both characters, and the associated sub-plots, ready for the finale in episode ten.

Senna, released in 2010, shows what you can do with the archive material on offer, and that covered an even earlier period than suggested here.

A series of this nature would utilise footage from F1’s own internal archive, including footage filmed by Formula One Management as well as F1’s broadcasters during that period (ITV in the UK, Speed in America, Premiere in Germany, TV3 in Spain).

Supplementing the in-house footage includes footage from news reports, as well as amateur film from that time, like we saw in the Senna movie.

Every broadcaster records hours of footage in the paddock ‘off-roll’ for usage later if needed.

WWE recently aired a documentary series on their over-the-top platform called Ruthless Aggression, focusing on what made the mid-2000s special for them, retelling stories for a new audience, using never-before seen footage spliced with present day interviews.

F1, and motor sport, can learn a lot from WWE in the archive space.

In my view, there is enough footage in the archives, both at F1 and elsewhere, to make a series like this a reality, creating some excellent new material for fans to watch in the process.

So, F1 and Netflix. What are we waiting for?


Contribute to the running costs of Motorsport Broadcasting by donating via PayPal

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…


Contribute to the running costs of Motorsport Broadcasting by donating via PayPal

News round-up: F1 overtakes MotoGP on Instagram; BBC to air Extreme E

In the coronavirus-free round-up, Formula 1 jumps ahead of MotoGP in the Instagram stakes, whilst the BBC have increased their motor sport portfolio with the acquisition of another electric series.

Where possible, Motorsport Broadcasting endeavours to link directly to the original source instead of linking to a third-party site that may have misinterpreted the original headline.

The round-up gives a bite sized view of the latest news making the waves, as well as interesting snippets that I have picked up along the way.

All of the round-ups to date can be found here, and as always, all feedback on the site, positive and negative, is more than welcome.

Formula 1 – contractual arrangements

  • Austria – Red Bull broadcaster Servus TV is looking to snatch television rights off ORF when the latter’s contract with F1 expires at the end of 2020, according to an article on the Osterreich website.
    • Osterreich expects an announcement following this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix.
  • Canada – F1 will continue to air on TSN and RDS after the parties agreed a new deal until the end of the 2024 season.
    • As part of the new deal, fans can access additional feeds via the TSN and RDS app. F1 says that last year was the most-watched season ever on TSN, which coverage reaching “nearly 5.3 million Canadian viewers” across the two networks.
    • It should be noted that Canadian fans can also watch F1 live through F1’s over-the-top service F1 TV Pro.
  • Portugal – Eleven Sports has created an annual pass to allow motor sport fans to watch all of their motor sport content, as well as other sports.
    • The pass covers Formula 1, their feeder championships Formula Two and Formula Three, as well as the Porsche Supercup and TCR touring car series.
    • The pass costs Portuguese fans just €49.99 across the year, or €4.17 per month. In UK pounds, that works out at £43.79 across the year, or £3.65 per month.
  • USA – Mothers Polish will continue to sponsor ESPN’s coverage of Formula 1 until the end of 2022, meaning that American viewers can continue to enjoy F1 without commercial breaks.
    • As in 2018 and 2019, ESPN will take Sky Sports F1’s UK offering this season, extended in length on race day because of Sky’s own scheduling changes for UK fans.

Formula 1 – other news

  • Over on social media, Formula 1 is now the most popular series on Instagram in terms of the number of followers, overtaking MotoGP towards the end of February. F1 now has 9.00 million followers, whilst the bike series has 8.90 million followers.
  • There was recognition for three familiar faces in the broadcasting world at the 2019 British Sports Journalism Awards, held last month.
    • Channel 4’s F1 presenter Steve Jones won the award for Sports Presenter of the Year.
    • F1 commentator Alex Jacques received the Silver Award for the Broadcast Ones to Watch (on-air).
    • Former presenter of ITV’s F1 coverage Jim Rosenthal received the Doug Gardner Award for Services to Sports Journalism and the SJA. Writing on Twitter, Rosenthal said he “never saw it coming,” and that he was “blown away by the reaction.”
  • F1 are relaunching their official F1 magazine after a 16-year hiatus. The first iteration of the magazine closed in 2004, but is now being relaunched by owners Liberty Media, with ex-associate editor of F1 Racing magazine James Roberts at the helm.
    • The magazine brings together a range of motor racing correspondents including Rebecca Clancy (The Times) and Giles Richards (The Guardian), as well as Oliver Owen (previously The Observer).
    • The magazine aims to offer “unrivalled access to the heroes of the sport, with in-depth interviews, exclusives, strong opinion and intelligent summaries.”
    • An interesting sub-plot to this is that Lifestyle Media House Limited are publishers of the new magazine. Lifestyle Media were originally meant to be purchasing F1 Racing magazine off Motorsport Network. That deal fell through, and coincidentally, Motorsport Network have since renamed F1 Racing magazine to GP Racing. Read into that what you will…
  • Alex Brundle is to join Alex Jacques in the Formula Two commentary box for five weekends this season, he has announced.
    • Writing on his Twitter, Brundle says he will partner Jacques for the Bahrain, Dutch, Belgium, Russian and Abu Dhabi rounds this year.

Elsewhere…

  • The BBC is to air live coverage of the new Extreme E series in a “multi-year deal.” The series, which begins in January 2021 sees all-electric SUV cars compete in remote locations around the world.
    • Ali Russell, Extreme E’s chief marketing officer, said: “The UK has an insatiable appetite for world-class motor racing and a groundswell of backing for sustainable technologies – particularly pertinent given the government’s plans to bring forward the transition to fully-electric motoring to 2035.”
  • James Hinchcliffe is to join NBC’s on-air team for their coverage of the IndyCar Series this year. Hinchcliffe will commentate on ten races this season, the first of which is this weekend in St Petersburg.
  • A new look and feel greeted MotoGP fans over the Qatar Grand Prix weekend, with a new graphics set.
    • Keep an eye on Motorsport Broadcasting over forthcoming weeks for in-depth analysis on the new package.
    • Also on the MotoGP front, the series has teamed up with Facebook, bringing exclusive content to the social media platform. MotoGP says that there will be “original and exclusive” content available on Facebook Watch, and will be between “three and seven minutes in length.”
  • The recent series of Top Gear featured an excellent 20-minute segment celebrating 25 years since Colin McRae won the World Rally Championship in his Subaru Impreza 555.
    • The segment is available to watch on BBC iPlayer here until March 2021.
  • Sky Sports F1 is to air highlights of the inaugural Ultimate Karting Championship. The series kicks off in April, with Jake Sanson providing commentary on the seven events.
  • Paul O’Neill will no longer be part of ITV Sport’s BTCC “Social Saturdays” segments across social media, he has confirmed.
    • The segments, which were uploaded to ITV Motorsport’s Facebook and Twitter channels, saw O’Neill roam the paddock, bringing fans closer to the sport prior to the main event on Sunday.
    • It is unclear if the social segments are continuing with a different host, or if ITV and TOCA have dropped the segment for 2020.

If you have spotted anything else making the rounds that is worth a mention, drop a line in the comments section below.


Contribute to the running costs of Motorsport Broadcasting by donating via PayPal

Coronavirus and motor sport broadcasting

For many, March normally signals the start of another exciting, exhilarating, and tense motor racing season, with many twists and turns set to greet drivers, teams, and broadcasters.

This year, things are different, thanks to the unknown quantity that motor sport has little to zero control over, as coronavirus is set to wreak havoc over the early phase of the 2020 motor racing season.

The list of events impacted is growing, with the main casualties to date F1’s Chinese Grand Prix, and MotoGP’s Qatar and Thailand rounds of the championship.

The impact coronavirus is having on motor sport goes far beyond broadcasting, however this being a broadcasting site, we are going to stick to the subject in hand.

On the broadcasting side, there is not only the financial impact, but also the human impact as events disappear off the calendar. A scenario such as coronavirus impacting the season is unprecedented in the modern era.

Many of the questions posed below are rhetorical, some of which broadcasters will no doubt be thinking about day and night currently.

Compensation for broadcasters?
To air motor sports, broadcasters pay the respective promoters a pre-agreed amount covering each season, which can vary from a few pounds (literally) to £200 million if you are Sky paying F1.

Now, given that parties agree contracts years in advance, the agreement is unlikely to specify a set number of races per year. However, in my view it is likely that the contract states that the commercial rights holder must deliver a minimum of X races per year to deliver the contract.

For example, the F1 contracts may state that the commercial rights holder must deliver at least 16 races per year to fulfil the agreement, otherwise be subject to potential refunds.

Over in MotoGP, the CEO of commercial rights holder Dorna Carmelo Ezpeleta has revealed that a season must have 13 races to constitute a World Championship.

Motor racing is unlike other sporting events, such as the Rugby World Cup, whereby the number of matches in that case is known years in advance. Anyone who follows motor sport knows that calendars can flip from 20 to 19 to 21 races year-on-year-on-year.

I mention the Rugby World Cup because last year’s event saw three matches cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis, which cost French broadcaster TF1 “more than €1 million,” although Sports Business reported at the time that organisers would “hold talks with affected broadcasters over any possible compensation.”

The point here is that F1 and MotoGP will want to show broadcasters that they have made every possible attempt to hold races, hence why organisers have postponed both the F1 China and MotoGP Thailand rounds until later dates and not cancelled them outright.

MotoGP organisers have already rescheduled Thailand for October, however reorganising the Chinese round is proving to be more difficult for F1 and Liberty Media…

Remote coverage?
As a broadcaster, do you treat races as business as usual, or do you take the more cautious approach and keep your personnel away from the race track?

German F1 free-to-air broadcaster RTL are taking the cautious route, opting to present their shows for Australia, Bahrain, and Vietnam from their base in Cologne, with none of their talent heading overseas.

Writing on their website, RTL’s Sports Director Manfred Loppe said “The spread of the coronavirus, the associated incalculable health risks for all colleagues and, furthermore, a broadcast security that can no longer be guaranteed due to the immediate measures when infected.”

“This only allows for one decision, namely to produce from the Cologne broadcasting centre.” As of writing, RTL are the only broadcaster to declare that they are not travelling to Melbourne.

Closer to home, Motorsport Broadcasting understands from close sources that Sky Sports plan to present their coverage of the Australian Grand Prix from on-site in Melbourne, but that UK government and internal advice is being “closely monitored.”

The BBC’s and Channel 4’s plans for Australia remain unclear as of writing, both keeping their cards close to their chest. BT Sport have opted to present commentary of this weekend’s Qatar Moto2 and Moto3 races off-tube, although arguably Dorna made the decision for them by cancelling the premiere class.

Talent working for those broadcasters will follow the instructions given – whether that is “stay at home” or “fly out,” irrespective of their own personal preferences.

Further afield, Sky have labelled Vietnam, the site of round three of the 2020 Formula One season, as a “high-risk” country. The categorisation means that staff who have returned from Vietnam cannot work on a Sky broadcast for a further 14 days.

For all within broadcasting, working remotely is becoming an ever-present thing, which helps when faced with situations such as this one.

Formula 1’s live coverage of testing last month was delivered remotely from Biggin Hill, with only on-air talent, camera operators and a disaster recovery function present on-site in Barcelona.

If needed as a last resort, F1 could rely on local camera operators for the three early season fly-away races which, whilst not ideal, would keep the show moving.

Working remotely also helps from a logistical perspective, with many within the F1 circus having to change their travel plans for Australia to avoid travelling through Singapore.

The fewer people F1 takes to Australia without impacting their broadcasts, the better.

Human impact
Behind every motor sport broadcast that fans watch worldwide is a team of fantastic producers, directors, camera operators, floor assistants, the list goes on.

Some of those will be employed directly by the broadcasters they are working for; others will be freelance. As an example, a freelancer may work on a football match one weekend, a Grand Prix the next, and then tennis the weekend after to keep the income flowing in.

The moment one Grand Prix disappears is the moment a freelancer loses income. The situation becomes critical if organisers cancel multiple events in quick situation, exactly the situation we currently find ourselves in thanks to coronavirus.

This might sound like an exaggeration, but for many people inside and outside of broadcasting, this is their livelihood at stake, which looks to be uncertain in the immediate short-term future unless coronavirus rapidly disappears.

Whilst no one likes to see sporting events get cancelled, there is not only the financial impact from an organisational perspective, but also the financial impact from a personal perspective to bear in mind.

The Formula 1 season starts in just 10 days’ time, but whether F1 ends up racing in 10 days’ time, is anyone’s guess in an uncertain climate…


Contribute to the running costs of Motorsport Broadcasting by donating via PayPal

F1 TV subscribers to receive richer offering in 2020

Fans of Formula 1 watching the sport via F1’s over-the-top platform will receive a richer offering this season.

The platform has grown since it first launched in May 2018, both in terms of size and content. Now, F1 TV Pro subscribers will receive a bespoke pre-race build-up for the first time, fronted by Will Buxton.

Buxton, who joined F1 after covering the sport with NBC from 2013 to 2017, will continue to present F1 TV’s Tech Talk output as well as their post-race programming.

In addition, F1 says that they are improving their Pit Lane Channel this season, with a co-commentator joining Alex Jacques at every race this season.

The Pit Lane Channel will also feature new camera angles from the pit wall and pit box, as well as exclusive interviews from the paddock.

The premium-tier service is available in eleven additional countries for 2020, taking the tally to 77. For fans in the US, the service is available on Roku for the first time.

However, UK fans are still unable to access F1 TV Pro, meaning fans who want to watch F1 live will need to subscribe to Sky Sports F1 in some form.

Testing gets the full World Feed treatment
As part of the announcement, F1 also confirmed that subscribers to their over-the-top platform will receive an improved live timing experience.

The improved experience for fans was clear from the first seconds of testing, with a more detailed view of lap times for each driver.

From a graphics perspective on-screen, testing now feels like an extension to a race weekend: the timing wall, split times, on-board angles, and team radio all on offer as proceedings opened in Barcelona.

In fact, it was the second day of testing when coverage came into its element: revealing the ‘Dual Axis Steering’ (DAS) device on the new Mercedes W11, only noticeable via on-board camera angles.

Mercedes would have successfully hidden the device until Australia just two years ago, something that is now impossible thanks to the level of coverage F1 is giving testing.

You can criticise live coverage of testing all you want, but on days like today, it proved its use to both fans and journalists, giving F1 publicity that it would have not received in previous years.

As was the case twelve months ago, personnel from Sky and F1 formed the hybrid team for testing, with nine people live on-air during the first day of running.

Alex Jacques, Jolyon Palmer, Rosanna Tennant, and Tom Clarkson represented F1’s in-house digital output, with David Croft, Rachel Brookes, Natalie Pinkham, and Ted Kravitz joining from Sky, Kravitz back for testing after his absence last year.

Laura Winter was the ninth person on-screen during day one, Winter joining the F1 team during ten race weekends in 2020, whilst Will Buxton also featured during the second day.

Briatore to feature on Beyond the Grid
Clarkson’s stint in the commentary box saw him confirm Flavio Briatore as one of the guests on F1’s official Behind the Grid podcast this year.

Now in its third season, the first episode of 2020 lands on Wednesday 11th March prior to the Australian Grand Prix.

Elsewhere, German Formula 1 broadcaster RTL has announced that they are producing their coverage of the Vietnam Grand Prix from their base in Cologne because of the “incalculable spread of coronavirus,” with none of their personnel set to travel to Hanoi.

“We have a high level of responsibility for our employees. When reporting from Hanoi, the risks to their health appear to be too great after careful examination,” RTL’s sports director Manfred Loppe explained.

“We came to this decision after querying numerous information points and, bottom line, none from our point of view have received a reliable assessment of the situation on site.”

Motorsport Broadcasting has reached out to UK broadcasters to confirm their current stance on the Hanoi event, which takes place across the weekend of 3rd to 5th April.


Contribute to the running costs of Motorsport Broadcasting by donating via PayPal