Analysis: The decline of the F1 season review

The official 2018 Formula One Season Review, produced by Formula One Management might go down as one of the championship’s poorer productions. To casual observers, that statement might seem like an extreme exaggeration, but the 2018 review saw a major shift in the style of the review produced.

Formula One has produced an official season review dating back to the 1980s, then on VHS and more recently on DVD. FOM released the early reviews for the first time on DVD in recent weeks in the run up to the Christmas period.

Inevitably, one can draw comparisons between the quality of the historical reviews, and the 2018 offering. The official season review has gone through many different iterations in differing shapes and sizes.

In the early to mid-1990’s, the likes of Tony Jardine, Matt Lorenzo and even chat show host Jonathan Ross voiced the reviews. They were generally much more colourful than recent offerings, helped by a script that was willing to poke fun at the action every so often.

Since the early 2000’s, Ben Edwards has voiced most of the reviews. Despite his best efforts, the reviews have become formulaic and stale over the years, not helped by the wealth of footage already in the public arena.

The length of the reviews has increased drastically over the years, and whilst an extended edit is sometimes good, the review became a marathon that even the most dedicated fan found difficult to navigate through. Four and a half hours of Mercedes domination is not the best way to spend a Christmas…

For 2018, FOM opted to overhaul the official season review. On the front of it, that sounds like a good thing, with the possibility of a tighter edit and script making for a better programme that set the pulse racing.

However, instead of using a bespoke voiceover, FOM for the first time used live commentary from Sky Sports, with Tom Clarkson providing additional input between each race. Suffice to say that the result was a drastic cut back in the amount of action on offer.

Midfield action ignored
The narrative in 2018 was Lewis Hamilton versus Sebastian Vettel in the Fight for Five, which is obvious throughout the review. By using Sky’s commentary combined with the World Feed pictures (including the full F1 graphics set), FOM omitted vast amounts of action further down the field.

FOM ignored mid-field incidents, such as the clash between Kevin Magnussen and Pierre Gasly in Azerbaijan, as well as Fernando Alonso’s knock with Lance Stroll in America. There is no transition between shots within each race, as the review simply fails to tell the race-by-race story, and why X ended up in front of Y.

The worst edit though goes to the German Grand Prix, which transitioned from a dry to wet race. On any other season review, there would have been something new, an alternative angle, a new spin not captured on the World Feed output (such as Stroll’s excursion), or snippet of team radio that told viewers something revealing that may make the news wires over the festive period. Not here.

2018 German GP - season review edit.png
From one frame to another during FOM’s German Grand Prix edit in the season review. Multiple positions have changed according to the timing tower, but the review does not cover these. Plus, the second frame has a little bit of drizzle…

The Hockenheim circuit is bone dry in one shot, and in the next, the track is wet without any explanation. As a rule of thumb throughout the review, if FOM did not cover the incident on the main World Feed, chances are that it failed to make the official season review as well.

In a sport such as Formula 1, there is always something new to air, irrespective of how well the World Feed captured the action. As much as FOM have improved their offering with more footage now in the public domain, there is always a hidden gem that most fans have not previously seen before, only uncovered long after the event.

On an editorial level, other decisions taken for the season review, such as displaying the top ten grid order but only the top three finishing positions were baffling. It feels like FOM treated the 2018 review as an afterthought, possibly because they see other developments (such as F1 TV) as bigger revenue streams compared to the antiquated season reviews.

F1 2018 “Best Bits”
A season review is something that should cover the entire field, not just the first dozen cars. In my view, the 2018 season review is a “best bits” snapshot that fails to do 2018 justice.

One of the best reviews for me back in the day was 1995, which covered the pre-season driver market shake-up and the 17 races in reasonable detail. The review also covered the midfield action, highlighting the more amusing moments, such as the best spins and wet weather drives, in several fun (but cheesy) VT’s. Having never watched F1 back in 1995, the review did the job for me.

f1 season review lengths
A look at the length of the F1 season reviews. Left: the length of the main feature. Right: the length of the main feature divided by the number of races, to show the average length per race.

Taking Sky’s live commentary in 2018 meant that there were fewer break points for the editors to take, resulting in a poorer edit. The official 1993 season review clocked in at 95 minutes for 16 races.

The South African round that year, and the 2018 Australian race, had an edit of around 3 minutes and 40 seconds for the racing action (excluding qualifying). Yet, the tighter edit for South Africa 1993, combined with the distinctive voice over from Ross, allowed for eleven snippets of action, compared with just six for Australia 2018, including start and finish.

And 1993 was one of the shortest of reviews of its time, meaning that the comparison is a generous one. The statistics show that each 2018 weekend had six and a half minutes of action in the review, the shortest since 1996, and fourth shortest since 1990.

Although the length of the season review is like 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000, the additional races in 2018 means that fans get fewer minutes per race than the late 1990’s. The bulky top 10 run down of qualifying and padding compared to the reviews of yesteryear means that 2018 is, in my view, at the back of the pack.

The fact that FOM opted to use Sky’s live commentary in their season review instead of another broadcaster is irrelevant, the criticism would have remained. Using live commentary in a season review situation does not work, and resulted in a much poorer product.

The season ending in late November probably does not help the season review’s cause, as FOM and Duke Video race to get the review out and on the shelves before Christmas. The main review is 136 minutes long, and would have benefited with an additional 45 minutes added to the main review, but the core problem remains the way that FOM have produced the season review.

I hope the style of the review changes again for 2019, because in my view the 2018 style has left Formula 1 fans, including myself, short-changed.

Maybe, we need to wait until February or March for the proper 2018 review. Enter, Netflix

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Motorsport Broadcasting: Your 2018 Verdict Revealed

Following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, this site offered readers the chance to give their verdict on the 2018 motor racing broadcasting picture, to have their say on proceedings. Thanks to everyone who commented on the original post and gave their thoughts.

The 2018 Formula One season was the last of the original 2012 to 2018 UK television contract, originally signed between the BBC and Sky Sports in July 2011. Channel 4 took over the BBC element from 2016 onwards, and whilst they will remain part of the F1 broadcasting picture in 2019, their role has diminished, with just one race live and all the rest airing in highlights form.

For the third consecutive season readers, including George O’Donnell, praised Channel 4’s output. A long-term viewer of Formula 1, Noggins summarised their view point:

I have been watching F1 for over 50 years and have seen the world, the sport and coverage change enormously. But never has the sport had such wonderful, professional, entertaining coverage as it has had (on live weekends, especially) with Channel 4 / Whisper Films. The quality of the production is outstanding and the real passion of the entire team has been tremendous.

In particular, there was praise for presenter Steve Jones and lead commentator Ben Edwards. “Down to earth”, “chirpy presence on-screen” and “waxing lyrical about the sport” were some of the phrases used by the likes of Peter and Lesmo in relation to Jones.

Peter offered further insight on Karun Chandhok, showing exactly why Sky have picked his services up for 2019. Not everyone was happy with Channel 4’s output though. gwilym.t outlined Channel 4’s positives, but noted “the lack of technical coverage” during their broadcasts. Rhys Benjamin went a step further, and hopes their coverage is radically different next year:

The content itself is also looking very tired, given that they had known this was their final year. It doesn’t match up to a lot of the features that Sky do or the BBC (between 2009 and 2012; the BBC’s product went downhill rapidly from 2013-15) did. I still hope (and pray) that next year’s highlights are a Sky production and simply plonked on C4 (as they were for the 2013-14 Ashes series, albeit plonked on Pick). I can’t see C4 simply having any motivation next year.

A recurring theme of the past, Ted Kravitz and Martin Brundle continue to whet the appetite for Sky’s Formula 1 audience. Peter says that Kravitz “remains the eminent pro”, whilst gwilym.t praised several members of their 2018 team:

Ted Kravitz continues to be a gem, charismatic and entertaining as hell, whilst still being insightful, Martin Brundle continues to be the class of the commentary field, though I do feel that his passion is just starting to wane a little bit. Paul Di Resta has come a long way this year, proving he can fill Martin’s shoes, and he’ll only get better with experience, and Anthony Davidson has been great in practice throughout the year.

Rhys Benjamin offers a different take on David Croft’s commentary puns, stating that they are turning into ‘Murrayisms’! Whilst there have been some positives for Sky in 2018, the quality of their overall product came under fire. Noggins says that Sky appear to be “going through the motions”, but others had a more damming assessment:

The features they put out were absolutely dire. There’s literally no point watching their tired Top Gear esque build up, as you’d get more insight by spending an hour reading the likes of Joe Saward or Autosport before the session gets going. – Lesmo

To summarise Sky’s year I’d say this, they’ve had season like McLaren and Williams, a few minor highlights, but now living off their past glories, they need change in all areas of they are too attract the sort of audience F1 needs, it’s evident in the fall in Sky’s viewing figures compared to 2012-13. Though I will say that the signing of Jenson Button for next year is great. – gwilym.t

Outside of the Channel 4 and Sky sphere, several readers commented on Formula One Management’s offering this season, with Tom Clarkson’s Beyond the Grid podcast quite rightly receiving recognition from George O’Donnell and Lesmo.

The highlight of the year for me is the ‘Beyond The Grid’ podcast with Tom Clarkson. I think Tom is one of the more underrated journalists in the paddock. His interview questions really get the most out of his guests, and the podcasts are captivating listening. The one hour long form gets much more out of the guests than TV features and I’ve learned a lot which I haven’t learned from all the hours of features which BBC/Channel 4/Sky have produced over the past 10 years.

Readers were critical of other aspects in FOM’s control, with Rhys Benjamin criticising the “clunky” 2018 graphics set, whilst Andy believes Liberty Media are “dumbing down” the end product.

As always, the above is a snapshot of the conversation happening on the site, some of the posts cover a lot of ground that this article does not, and is very much worth a read as we head towards the start of another season.

Looking ahead to 2019

For most Formula 1 fans in the United Kingdom, 2019 will have a completely different feel to it, as the new television broadcasting contract kicks into gear.

Sky Sports have exclusive rights to all the action from 2019 to 2024, in a deal signed in March 2016 with Formula One Management, then under the control of Bernie Ecclestone. How will Formula 1’s UK viewing figures look under the first year of the new deal?

I am not expecting a tumble in the total audience figure, as Sky have sub-let the free-to-air element of their deal to Channel 4, for 2019 at least. The move means that fans still have a major free-to-air platform to view highlights of every race, plus live coverage of the British Grand Prix. But, Channel 4’s Formula 1 deal is only one year long.

Will Sky Sports let Channel 4’s coverage continue beyond 2019, or will they pull the plug? There are a ton of questions surrounding Channel 4’s 2019 coverage, the personnel involved, the commentary that they will take, and so on, plus whether there will be further jumps from Channel 4 to Sky. All will be revealed…

In its second season, expect Formula 1’s over-the-top service to grow significantly, something that we will be monitoring throughout the year as the service begins to mature. There were previous rumblings that UK fans could have access to F1 TV Pro, but this is unconfirmed. If confirmed, it provides another avenue for fans to view the action on.

Beyond Formula 1, MotoGP fans have stability, as the championship remains on BT Sport for the next three seasons. Formula E’s UK offering will be a focal point, the electric series choosing to go all guns blazing onto just about every platform possible. With the help of Auntie Beeb and YouTube, is 2019 the year that Formula E finally breaks into the mainstream in the UK and starts making significant movement?

For some, 2018 marked the end of an era, as 2019 marks the start of a new era. 2019 promises to be another fascinating year in the broadcasting landscape as each championship fights to remain in the limelight.

Who knows what the next twelve months may hold…

Motorsport Broadcasting: Your 2018 Verdict

The 2018 Formula One season has ended, and with it, brings down the curtain on the motor racing year.

On-track, it has been a year of generally good racing wherever you look. Whilst neither the F1 or MotoGP seasons went down the wire, the racing in both has been worth watching on many occasions this year.

Off the track, there have been many developments on the broadcasting front. Traditionally, the end of season verdict has stuck to the UK F1 view point, but we live in a motor sport world far greater than both the UK and F1, and with that in mind it makes sense to expand the scope of the verdict to encompass all elements of broadcasting.

Whether it has been the launch of F1 TV, or World Rally Championship’s All Live service, there has been plenty of movement in the online arena. Liberty Media have made their mark on Formula 1’s graphics set, whilst closer to home, 2018 was the last year of Channel 4’s current F1 contract, the broadcaster remaining in a reduced capacity, for 2019 at least.

Now, we want your opinion. Has something irritated you with this year’s motor sport coverage? Have I missed a revolution that this site should be covering? And what would you like to be different about the motor sport broadcasting scene in 2019? Are you planning to watch a new series next season?

As always, the best thoughts and views will form a new article closer to the festive period.

Formula Two and Sky Sports F1: embedding one into the other

Next year marks twenty years since Formula Two joined its bigger brother on the European tour. Back in 1999, the leading Formula 1 feeder series was known as International Formula 3000 and featured future Formula 1 names such as Nick Heidfeld and Enrique Bernoldi.

Formula 3000 evolved into the GP2 Series in 2005, before GP2 itself became Formula Two in 2017. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg achieved glory in both GP2 and Formula 1, whilst a further seven GP2 champions progressed to the elite of motor sport.

Despite playing host to the future of motor racing, the feeder system has never quite received the level of attention one would expect, from both Formula One Management (FOM) and broadcasters alike, especially when compared to how the MotoGP system works. However, the tide is shifting…

The current UK broadcasting picture
As part of the package created to entice fans in the run up to the 2012 season, Sky Sports created a dedicated Formula 1 channel, also encompassing the GP2 and GP3 feeder series. GP2 had previously aired on ITV4, Setanta and Eurosport.

But Sky’s contribution to both championships has been historically lacklustre, with little promotion. There have been one-off features with drivers, in addition to segments during the studio based F1 Show in the early years, but nothing consistent across the course of a season since.

Sky’s attitude has changed very little towards the feeder championships, and has arguably got worse as 2018 has progressed. Under Scott Young’s leadership, Sky added colour to their Formula Two coverage, with a pre-recorded introduction to each session from Simon Lazenby.

The broadcaster has also given the series more prominence via their social media channels and website, as well as recording features with the British stars currently racing in Formula Two.

However, the inexcusable decision to prioritise The F1 Show over Formula Two at both Hungary and Russia was a major blot in their copybook, and shows where priorities lie for certain elements of Sky’s production team. Fans pay to watch racing cars, not talking heads. Yes, Sky may have improved the social media aspect, but I cannot defend the scheduling decisions in any way. I worry that this could continue into 2019…

ITV4’s coverage of GP2 in 2008 remains the pinnacle from a feeder series perspective. Back then, ITV4 aired around 15 minutes of build-up and post-race reaction for Saturday’s feature races, featuring pre-recorded interviews and analysis, with Charlie Webster presenting and David Croft on commentary.

Unfortunately, with the wider Formula 1 rights changes at the time, ITV4’s coverage lasted one season. Although their coverage had some flaws from the outset presentation wise, ITV showed what broadcasters could attempt, rather than something that comes across as being token at times.

The current Formula One Management picture
Whilst we talk about the lack of promotion Sky Sports have given the feeder championships over the years, Sky do not take all the blame, as the same statements apply for Formula One Management.

Formula Two has historically had a very small social media footprint, with Bernie Ecclestone’s FOM giving both championships little attention. If you think F1’s social media span was poor, multiply that by a hundred or thousand for the feeder championships.

The problem was getting worse with each passing year, but the tide is shifting. The takeover of Formula 1 by Liberty Media resulted in a social media overhaul. F1 benefited last year, with Formula Two starting to see rewards this season.

Formula Two and GP3 scheduling in 2018
A problem for any broadcaster wishing to cover the feeder championships: inconsistent scheduling throughout the race weekend, with start times fluctuating rapidly week-by-week.

Formula 1 now regularly cross-references their sister series across social media, and since the Summer break, videos have been uploaded to F1’s YouTube channel from each Formula Two race weekend.

The duel between future British stars Lando Norris and George Russell in Monza came at a perfect time for FOM, with Norris announced as one of McLaren’s 2019 drivers just days later. Their battle has since had nearly a quarter of million views on Formula 1’s YouTube channel, an excellent number for the series.

Rosanna Tennant and Will Buxton now contribute to the World Feed, with Tennant in pit-lane, and Buxton providing the top three interviews from parc ferme, resulting in a neat, all-rounded feed for broadcasters to pick up. Alex Jacques continues to lead the commentary team, with his and Davide Valsecchi’s enthusiastic commentary perfectly appropriate for Formula Two.

One un-referenced championship is the GP3 Series, which serves as the feeder series to Formula Two. GP3 has yet to receive the same level of attention as its bigger brother, as GP3 is being merged with the Formula Three European Championship to form International Formula 3 in 2019.

As always, there is work to do to continue to boost the profile of Formula Two, but that will come in time when all parties are on the same page…

Scheduling a major problem, but there are workarounds
However, there is a fundamental problem which is, in my view, stifling potential growth opportunities for the feeder championships. The best comparison is with MotoGP. Formula 1 has Formula Two and the GP3 Series as its feeder categories; MotoGP has Moto2 and Moto3 as its support acts.

On Sunday’s, the gap between the end of Moto2 and the start of the MotoGP race is just under an hour, compared to a three-hour gap between Formula Two ending and Formula 1 starting. Think about how that not only impacts bums in seats at home, but also the amount of people watching in the grandstand, and the perception it gives those on the outside.

From the inside, MotoGP feels like a product that encompasses Moto2 and Moto3 as its little brothers, which cannot be said for Formula 1. This is a problem that Liberty Media have inherited, although whether Formula 1 considers this a problem internally is a different question entirely. Some may argue that it is better the Formula 1 way.

Sky Sports F1 – Mock-Up Schedule
Saturdays
10:30 to 12:15 – LIVE F1: Practice 3
12:15 to 13:00 – REPLAY F2: Qualifying
13:00 to 15:25 – LIVE F1: Qualifying
15:25 to 17:00 – LIVE F2: Race 1
17:00 to 18:00 – LIVE: From the Paddock
18:00 to 18:30 – Ted’s Qualifying Notebook

Formula One Management’s scheduling of the feeder championships is inconsistent throughout the season (see table above), which could cause broadcasters problems if they wanted to create a regular schedule moulded around the support categories. The Porsche Supercup disturbs the schedule on a Sunday morning, a situation that is unlikely to change until Porsche’s legacy contract with FOM expires at the end of 2019.

If Porsche is here to stay, something needs to give to allow for a tighter schedule on Sunday, whether that involves shorter races, fewer races, or a complete rejig of the support schedule package. The single-seater support championships cannot remain detached in the long-term from Formula 1.

And, if Liberty Media do not care about Formula Two’s scheduling during a race weekend, why should TV broadcasters dedicate time, resource, and money into providing their own wrap-around coverage to the feeder championships like MotoGP’s broadcasters do?

Sky may have no control over the weekend scheduling, but they absolutely do have control over their own schedule. Sunday is a tougher cookie to crack, but with some work, Sky can integrate Formula Two into their Saturday schedule.

Anyone who visited this site in the early days will know I discussed revamping their schedule in-depth back then, but it is worth a revisit now that Sky now has a new person at the helm.

There are numerous ideas that should be on the table, such as:

  • Airing a replay of Formula Two qualifying between F1’s third practice and qualifying, instead of ‘filler’ material
  • Seamlessly going from F1 qualifying to the Formula Two feature race, instead of treating it as a separate show
  • Airing around 15-minutes of pre-race build-up, with post-race analysis over-spilling into their new 17:00 show
  • Cross-promotion during the F1 qualifying build-up
  • Re-branding The F1 Show fully to integrate the feeder series, allowing for a greater variety of segments

The same principles apply for Friday’s, where Sky should be looking to stay on-air from the start of Formula 1’s first practice session through to the end of GP3 qualifying, using the gaps between sessions to analyse the action and to chat to the drivers at the heart of the action.

If anything, Sky should drop Welcome to the Weekend on Thursday afternoons, whilst the paddock show on a Saturday evening should focus on the personality of the drivers, rather that the personality of the talent presenting the show.

Look to the outside
You only need to look elsewhere in the UK motor racing television spectrum to find two networks who embed their feeder series to the benefit of the overall product. The British Touring Car Championship support programme typically features races such as the Renault UK Clip Cup and Ginetta Juniors, in both single-seater and tin-top action.

ITV4 takes advantage of the BTCC’s rich offering, airing seven hours of coverage on Sundays from 11:00 through to 18:00, as it has done for the past decade. Steve Rider presents from start to finish, ITV providing a package that benefits all within the paddock.

In the pay-TV world, BT Sport airs live coverage of Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP from Friday morning through to Sunday evening, with wrap-around coverage provided by the likes of Suzi Perry and Gavin Emmett.

BT gives ample coverage to the feeder series, providing a clear linkage and harmony between the three championships. Their coverage feels natural, although sensible scheduling from Dorna helps MotoGP’s broadcasters. The broadcaster uses the Friday lunch break to their advantage, with extensive analysis and interviews from voices you rarely hear from.

Sky could use the gap on Friday’s in the same way, using it to speak to Formula Two and GP3 drivers we would never normally hear from. Sky may argue that this goes against the grain of efficiency savings, I would argue that Formula 1’s leading feeder series featuring the stars of tomorrow deserves better treatment off them than what it is currently getting.

The point of embedding the two better means that the feeder series, and its stars, reach a wider audience, which has a positive knock on effect when that star reaches Formula 1. Detaching the two in the long-term results in ‘unknown’ stars making Formula 1, of course, they are known, except the fact that they are in another series elsewhere on Sky’s F1 channel goes unnoticed.

Several years from now, when Lewis Hamilton retires, Norris, Russell and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc will be at the forefront of Sky Sports F1’s coverage. But the journey to build them up, and by proxy the other stars that progress through Formula Two is an everlasting journey, showing why Sky need to intertwine the series through their regular programming rather than treat it as an isolated slate on the side.

Formula Two’s viewing figures on Sky are nothing stellar, and they never have been. “What you put into life is what you get out of it,” is a famous quote and it applies perfectly for this situation. Sky have, proportionally speaking, not given the feeder championships much attention, so have received very little in return.

If Sky start to give Formula Two a chance to show its worth, and try to embed the series into its weekend schedule, they might just get something good out the other end, with higher viewing figures their reward. But, for that to happen, they need to make the first step and try it in anger…