MotoGP performs solidly as live action returns to free-to-air TV

MotoGP’s first live race on free-to-air television in the UK in over seven years saw viewing figures increase, in-depth analysis by Motorsport Broadcasting shows.

Muddying the picture however is the fact that highlights of the race slumped because of the live coverage.

Consolidated data via BARB, which accounts for viewers who watched within seven days of the original transmission, allows us to draw some conclusions.

Live action performs well across BT Sport and ITV4

Since 2014, BT Sport have aired MotoGP exclusively live, with audiences regularly hovering between 150,000 and 250,000 viewers.

Pleasingly for the pay-TV broadcaster, who will continue to cover MotoGP until at least 2024, figures for their live French Grand Prix programming on Sunday 16th May were in-line with expectations.

An average audience of 176,000 viewers watched Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP on BT Sport 2 from 09:30 to 14:08, as weather conditions changed throughout the day in France.

Two weeks earlier in Jerez, an average of 174,000 viewers watched BT’s programming across the same time slot.

In other words, BT was unimpacted by the choice on offer for the French round, showing how highly fans regard BT’s coverage.

ITV4’s free-to-air coverage, which took MotoGP’s World Feed commentary for the duration, averaged 213,000 viewers from 09:45 to 14:15, a solid number from a standing start.

An average audience of 389,000 viewers watched the live action from Le Mans, across all three classes, an increase of 124% on the BT-only figure from Jerez.

When focussing only on the MotoGP class, an average of 238,000 viewers watched the race via BT Sport, compared with 236,000 viewers for Jerez.

ITV4’s figure for the MotoGP segment (from 12:35 to 14:15) is unknown, however we can draw some conclusions from publicly available data.

Motorsport Magazine reports that a one-minute overnight peak of 425,900 viewers watched the Le Mans race on ITV4, and live sport does not add additional viewers on within the seven-day consolidation window.

Thus, it is fair to conclude that ITV4’s coverage peaked with around 430,000 viewers, averaging around 300,000 viewers for the MotoGP segment itself, including pre-race build-up and immediate post-race analysis.

Motorsport Broadcasting’s analysis suggests that an average audience of 538,000 viewers watched the MotoGP race, an increase of 128% on the BT-only figure from Jerez.

But highlights slump shows that live viewers were not returning fans

While the surge in MotoGP’s live audience is excellent, and shows why MotoGP needs the live free-to-air presence, ITV4’s highlights audience slumped the day after the race.

According to industry website Thinkbox, which publishes BARB data on a rolling week-by-week basis, highlights of the Le Mans round on ITV4 averaged 91,000 viewers, the 40th most watched show on ITV4 that week.

In comparison, highlights from Jerez a fortnight earlier averaged 296,000 viewers, and was the 6th most watched show on ITV4.

Looking at the MotoGP segment in isolation, the audience figures in totality suggest that an average of around 628,000 viewers watched the MotoGP action for Le Mans, with between 550,000 viewers and 600,000 viewers doing the same for Jerez.

So, whilst the change between Jerez and Le Mans did result in more viewers watching MotoGP live, these viewers were not new (in most cases).

Instead, all that happened was that around 70% of ITV4’s regular highlights audience jumped ship to the ITV4 live show on Sunday.

How many viewers were new, or returning, is difficult to quantify, but Motorsport Broadcasting’s analysis suggests that this figure is below 100,000 viewers, which makes the figures in totality look less spectacular than first suggested.

The headline here is that more people watched MotoGP live, with MotoGP recording its highest live average since 2013, thanks to its free-to-air presence, but that these viewers were not ‘new’ in the wider context.

The deal to air two races live across ITV’s network was broken first on Motorsport Broadcasting, with other news outlets following suite. However, an official press release was only issued by MotoGP’s commercial rights holder Dorna two days before the race.

If Le Mans was going to break through and capture more viewers, organisers needed to announce the deal far earlier rather than it coming across as an eleventh-hour deal. The timing very much felt like all parties were testing the waters to see what the reaction would be.

If fans knew before the season that ITV4 were airing races live, it may have given some an extra incentive to keep in touch with the highlights package throughout the season rather than jumping in cold.

An unscientific poll over on this site’s Twitter page suggests that BT’s audience may see a small bump over the months ahead thanks to Le Mans airing live on free-to-air television.

MotoGP has another bite of the free-to-air cherry in August, as Silverstone airs live on ITV’s main channel, and thus has a much bigger chance at attracting a wider audience who would never normally watch the championship.

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5 key stories from the opening 2021 F1 and MotoGP weekend

The 2021 Formula One and MotoGP seasons started in fine fashion in Bahrain and Qatar respectively, with Lewis Hamilton, Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quartararo coming out winners.

Off-track, there were plenty of broadcasting stories making the rounds, as all sides had a gem or two hidden up their sleeve.

Here are some of the key headlines from the opening leg of the 2021 season…

Filming begins on MotoGP’s new documentary series

Filming has begun on MotoGP’s new Amazon documentary series, under the working title Life at Speed.

MotoGP organisers Dorna will be hoping that the series can emulate the success of F1’s Drive to Survive series on Netflix.

As reported by The Race, Spanish production company Mediapro are behind the series, whilst Alessandro Di Renzo, who previously worked for Dorna, is directing the series for Mediapro.

Speaking to The Race, MotoGP’s head of media and content Manel Arroyo confirmed plans for the Amazon series.

“We want to create something similar to what Formula 1 have with Netflix and we are already shooting with the thought that we can have something ready in the next months,” Arroyo said.

“We can prepare something for next season. It is a new way, because audiences today are consuming sport in a new way.”

“People want to see highlights, they want to see behind the scenes, and we are trying to cover many angles. With documentaries, it takes us to new audiences.”

Over on four-wheels, filming for season 4 of Drive to Survive is well underway, the crew filming the action throughout testing and the Bahrain weekend with the likes of Mercedes.

New faces, new places

Alex Jacques was not the only new face in Channel 4’s Formula 1 line-up over the Bahrain weekend, with Lawrence Barretto also joining the team for the first time.

Barretto has increasingly appeared in front of the camera in recent years through F1’s in-house digital output, having previously worked for the BBC and Autosport’s online platforms as website writer.

Now, Barretto will share his existing F1 duties with his new Channel 4 role as on-site reporter.

Writing on Twitter, Barretto said “So excited to work with such a talented team at Channel 4 this year alongside my role F1. Appreciate the efforts from so many people to make this happen.”

As well as retaining Barretto, F1 have bolstered their digital line-up, with an array of new faces joining the team.

David Alorka joins both Barretto and Will Buxton in the paddock for 2021.

Alorka has previously produced content for Heineken as part of their relationship with F1, and has also worked with the likes of NFL, the UEFA Champions League and UFC to create engaging content.

Also joining F1 for the new season are renowned technical experts Albert Fabrega and Craig Scarborough, both of whom will be working alongside Sam Collins on F1 TV’s Tech Talk programming.

Sky F1 shakes up commentary team for practice

Fans watching Sky Sports F1’s coverage of the first practice session from Bahrain were treated to an unusual commentary line-up.

Natalie Pinkham led the commentary team, with Jenson Button and Karun Chandhok joining her.

Pinkham made history from a broadcasting perspective, as it was the first time ever that a female had led an F1 commentary line-up for a UK TV broadcaster.

The main take away for me from the commentary itself was that it felt more like a radio commentary, but for practice, that is no bad thing.

Credit as well should go to Sky for trying something different – this was an experiment that I personally would like to see repeated throughout the season.

The feedback on social media was broadly positive to the change. Writing on Twitter immediately following the session, Pinkham said “THANK YOU for all the support and lovely feedback on my debut in the comms box. Still buzzing!”

“Karun Chandhok and Jenson Button were (as ever) the perfect teammates. Normal service resumes with Crofty back in the hot seat for the rest of the weekend.”

Over on F1 TV, Rosanna Tennant led their line-up for the F1 sessions, comprising of Alex Brundle and Matt Gallagher, Tennant succeeding Jacques in the role following Jacques’ move over to Channel 4.

F1 makes significant progress towards sustainability targets

Formula 1 has made significant progress towards their sustainability targets, in part an indirect result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The series had a long-term objective to move to a remote operation, as part of their wider Strategic Plan, to ‘minimise the amount of equipment and people sent to each race’.

Speaking on Formula 1’s YouTube channel, Formula 1’s Director of Broadcast and Media Dean Locke noted that F1 executed the “multi-year project in just over 7 weeks under lockdown conditions, something we’re very proud of.”

“Going remote has allowed F1 to reduce its travelling freight by 34%. The number of travelling staff has also reduced by 37%, and we now transfer over 160 terabytes of data to Biggin Hill during each race weekend.”

F1’s Biggin Hill base now plays host to the Remote Technical Centre, which was previously transported worldwide for each race weekend.

“Acquisition of the data and media is still done at the track, but curation of those products is now done here at the Remote Technical Centre,” he says. “We have 53 operational positions, over 400 screens, thousands of computers to drive this system.”

“Formula 1 prides itself on innovation, and we feel F1’s move into remote operation is a really good example of that,” Locke added.

Channel 4 production team member tests positive for COVID-19

In the lead up to the Bahrain weekend, a member of the Channel 4 production team tested positive for COVID-19.

The positive test, first reported publicly on the Press Association’s news wires, forced the production team to go into quarantine, with new staff flown out to the Sakhir circuit as a result.

As thus, Alex Jacques made his Channel 4 commentary debut from Ealing alongside Billy Monger, with David Coulthard on location in Bahrain.

Jacques also commentated on Formula Two remotely from Ealing, with Alex Brundle alongside him, but a 75-minute drive away at F1’s Biggin Hill headquarters.

Spot anything else during the weekend worth noticing? Have your say in the comments below.

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Gavin Emmett to lead BT Sport’s MotoGP commentary team as Quirk joins line-up

Gavin Emmett is to become BT Sport’s lead MotoGP commentator for the 2021 season, the broadcaster has confirmed.

Emmett succeeds Keith Huewen as their lead, following Huewen’s decision to step down after the 2020 season. Emmett steps up to the role having been part of BT’s coverage since its inception in 2014, primarily serving as reporter and co-commentator.

Motorsport Broadcasting understands that Neil Hodgson will join Emmett for the main MotoGP series, with Michael Laverty joining him for Moto2. Hodgson and Laverty will then rotate on a race-by-race alongside Emmett to cover the Moto3 class.

As a result of Emmett’s promotion, BT have brought Natalie Quirk into the MotoGP fold. Quirk will serve as MotoGP reporter, also presenting some segments of the programme in a similar vein to Emmett previously.

Quirk has been part of BT Sport’s wider programming since 2014, as both presenter and reporter. In recent years, Quirk has led BT’s speedway offering, both domestically and internationally.

Currently, Quirk serves as one of BT’s regular football presenters, presenting coverage of the UEFA Europa League and The National League, amongst others.

The rest of BT’s line-up remains the same, with Suzi Perry continuing to present the broadcaster’s main MotoGP offering.

Last month, BT and MotoGP confirmed that the pay-TV channel will continue to broadcast the series until the end of the 2024 season, extending their current rights deal by an additional three seasons.

BT to remain in UK for the first 5 rounds

The pay-TV broadcaster will remain in the UK for at least the first 5 rounds this season, Motorsport Broadcasting can confirm.

BT began 2020 covering MotoGP from Triumph’s UK headquarters in Hinckley, before relocating to the BT Tower in London from September onwards.

I understand that BT’s presentation will continue from the BT Tower as the 2021 season gets underway due to the ongoing international travel restrictions.

The UK government hopes to ease international travel restrictions on May 17th. On that basis, BT intends to present their Mugello offering on-site over the weekend of May 28th to May 30th, but this is subject to change.

BT cannot realistically present their coverage on-site before then, as all their UK based talent would need to quarantine upon arrival back in the UK.

This is not an issue for the crew working on Sky’s Formula 1 coverage, as F1 has an exemption in place with the UK government meaning that their talent do not need to quarantine after returning from a race weekend.

The 2021 MotoGP season gets underway in Qatar on Sunday 28th March.

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Scheduling: The 2021 F1 and MotoGP season openers

After a shorter than usual winter break, both Formula 1 and MotoGP are back!

Coverage of Formula 1, along with feeder series Formula 2 and Formula 3, airs live on Sky Sports in 2021, the broadcaster now entering their tenth season of covering the sport.

In addition, highlights of every race will air on Channel 4, with the free-to-air broadcaster also airing live coverage of the British Grand Prix weekend.

F1 – the personnel

The big change from a personnel perspective is the departure of Ben Edwards from Channel 4’s line-up, Edwards deciding to step down from his position at the end of last season.

Replacing Edwards in the box is Alex Jacques, who will commentate on Channel 4’s coverage alongside his existing Formula 2 and Formula 3 commitments.

Joining Jacques in the Channel 4 box is David Coulthard, whilst Mark Webber and presenter Steve Jones also remain part of Channel 4’s line-up. The crew will be out in Bahrain presenting coverage, as opposed to remotely in the UK.

Over on Sky, Simon Lazenby continues to front their coverage, with David Croft and Martin Brundle remaining in the commentary box.

Ted Kravitz and his Notebook return in an increased capacity. ‘Ted’s Notebook’, as it was affectionally known, returns after being absent from the 2019 and 2020 schedules during Scott Young’s previous tenure as Sky’s Director of F1.

Ted’s Notebook as a programme will not only be present post-race, but will also return to cover qualifying as well during 2021.

Elsewhere on Sky’s presentation line-up, expect the likes of Anthony Davidson, Karun Chandhok, Johnny Herbert, Natalie Pinkham, Paul di Resta and Rachel Brookes to feature as the season progresses.

Over on the radio airwaves, Jack Nicholls, Jennie Gow and Jolyon Palmer return to BBC Radio 5’s offering to talk listeners through the 23-race season.

F1 – the coverage

The championship reverts to a weekend structure last seen 15 years ago, with the two Friday practice sessions reduced to 60 minutes, a throwback to the 2006 season.

Furthermore, races will now start on the hour instead of ten past the hour, again a throwback to yesteryear.

The structure of Formula 2 and Formula 3 changes radically for 2021: less weekends, more races, intended to reduce costs.

Each race weekend will now feature 3 races, the two series alternating their way through 2021.

As well as adapting to the above, Sky have moved The F1 Show to a Thursday evening time slot, with both Welcome to the Weekend and The Story so Far dropped from their schedules.

Plans for a Sunday Social show preceding the main build-up on Sunday’s have not materialised after being in Sky’s pre-COVID plans for 2020.

Channel 4’s scheduling remains identical to 2020, with a 90-minute show for qualifying and a 150-minute show for the race itself, both including ad-breaks.

F1 – over-the-top

The only way to watch F1 live legally in the UK is via Sky Sports F1 in some form.

Fans cannot access the premium tier of F1’s over-the-top service, despite F1 and Sky exploring this openly last year.

For those outside of the UK watching via F1 TV Pro, access to on-board angles from every car is available, as well as the Pit Lane Channel.

With no Jacques on the Pit Lane Channel this season, F1 says that Alex Brundle, Sam Collins, Rosanna Tennant, Matt Gallagher, and Jordan King will provide commentary this year.

All F1 sessions are available to listen live via BBC’s F1 website

Friday 19th March
19:30 to 21:30 – The F1 Show: Season Launch (Sky Sports F1)
All Day – Drive to Survive: Season 3 (Netflix)

Tuesday 23rd March
21:00 to 22:00 – F1: Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Thursday 25th March
13:00 to 16:35 – F1: Drivers’ Press Conference (Sky Sports F1)
17:00 to 18:00 – The F1 Show (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)

Friday 26th March
10:00 to 11:00 – F2: Practice (Sky Sports F1)
11:00 to 12:45 – F1: Practice 1 (Sky Sports F1)
– also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 11:25 to 12:35
13:45 to 14:25 – F2: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1)
14:45 to 16:30 – F1: Practice 2 (Sky Sports F1)
– also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 14:55 to 16:05

Saturday 27th March
10:15 to 11:20 – F2: Sprint Race 1 (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
11:45 to 13:10 – F1: Practice 3 (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
14:00 to 16:30 – F1: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
– also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 14:55 to 16:10
16:30 to 17:35 – F2: Sprint Race 2 (Sky Sports F1)
18:30 to 20:00 – F1: Qualifying Highlights (Channel 4)
21:00 to 21:30 – Ted’s Qualifying Notebook (Sky Sports F1)

Sunday 28th March
11:40 to 13:00 – F2: Feature Race (Sky Sports F1)
14:30 to 19:30 – F1: Race (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 14:30 – Grand Prix Sunday
=> 15:55 – Race
– also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 16:00 to 18:00
=> 18:00 – Chequered Flag
=> 19:00 – Ted’s Notebook
20:30 to 23:00 – F1: Race Highlights (Channel 4)

Full scheduling details for the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix. Scheduling details correct as of Friday 26th March and are subject to change.

Live coverage of MotoGP remains on BT Sport for 2021, the pay-TV broadcaster having recently extended their deal with MotoGP to continue airing the sport until 2024.

MotoGP – the key details

In a similar vein to Edwards on the F1 front, BT’s lead commentator Keith Huewen also decided to step away from the day-to-day commentary role at the end of 2020.

Huewen cited the “unexpected positive effect of the pandemic” as to the reason for his departure. Gavin Emmett succeeds Huewen as lead commentator, with Natalie Quirk stepping into Emmett’s previous role as reporter.

For fans not wanting to subscribe to BT, coverage is also available via MotoGP’s over-the-top VideoPass service.

Available to fans for €199.99 (£171.73) across the season, the service gives fans the ability to watch from multiple angles, as well as access to MotoGP’s rich archive from 1992 onwards.

On the free-to-air highlights front, coverage will return to ITV4 this season after negotiations between Dorna and prospective broadcasters went to the eleventh hour.

Highlights will again air on Monday evenings, moving from Quest where it has aired for the past two seasons, but with limited success.

Friday 26th March
10:45 to 18:00 – Practice (BT Sport 2)
=> 10:50 – Moto3: Practice 1
=> 11:45 – Moto2: Practice 1
=> 12:40 – MotoGP: Practice 1
=> 15:10 – Moto3: Practice 2
=> 16:05 – Moto2: Practice 2
=> 17:00 – MotoGP: Practice 2

Saturday 27th March
10:15 to 13:15 – Practice (BT Sport 2)
=> 10:25 – Moto3: Practice 3
=> 11:20 – Moto2: Practice 3
=> 12:15 – MotoGP: Practice 3
14:00 to 18:00 – Qualifying (BT Sport 2)
=> 14:30 – Moto3: Qualifying
=> 15:25 – Moto2: Qualifying
=> 16:20 – MotoGP: Practice 4
=> 17:00 – MotoGP: Qualifying

Sunday 28th March
11:45 to 19:30 – Races (BT Sport 2)
=> 11:45 – Asia Talent Cup
=> 12:30 – Warm Ups
=> 14:15 – Moto3: Race
=> 16:00 – Moto2: Race
=> 17:30 – MotoGP: Race
=> 19:00 – Chequered Flag

Monday 29th March
20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

Full scheduling details for the 2021 Qatar MotoGP. Scheduling details correct as of Friday 26th March and are subject to change.

As I announced in my piece last month, I will not be publishing scheduling articles for every single F1 and MotoGP race weekend this season.

Instead, this site will publish schedules for key events in the motor racing calendar throughout the year, such as the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, Indianapolis 500, and 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Last updated on Friday 26th March.

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Murray Walker, 1923-2021

The voice of Formula 1, Murray Walker has died at the age of 97, the BRDC has confirmed.

Walker commentated on motor sport for decades, from his first Grand Prix race in 1949 all the way through until retiring from his Formula 1 commentary role at the end of 2001, for both the BBC and ITV.

In a statement, the BRDC said “It’s with great sadness we share the news of the passing of BRDC Associate Member Murray Walker OBE.”

“A friend, a true motorsport legend, the nations favourite commentator and a contagious smile. Murray will be sadly missed; his mark and voice will live on in motorsport and our hearts forever.”

“We thank Murray for all he has done for our community.”

Writing on Twitter, Martin Brundle, who commentated with Walker full-time from 1997 to 2001 said “Rest in Peace Murray Walker. Wonderful man in every respect. National treasure, communication genius, Formula One legend.”

Silverstone’s Managing Director Stuart Pringle said “It is with great sadness that I have to inform Silverstone’s fans that Murray Walker died earlier today. He was to so many of us fans of F1, the voice that epitomised the sport we love.”

“Knowledgeable beyond words and with a passion that occasionally got the better of him in commentary, he brought the sport and some of its greatest moments to life in a way that ensured they remained seared in our memories for ever.”

“Much will be written about the impact that Murray had on the sport and we will make a more fulsome tribute in due course, but for the time being rest in peace Murray and thank you.”

A legend who has inspired generations

When people think of F1, past or present, they think of a handful of names. Senna. Schumacher. Fangio. Prost. Hamilton. Bernie. And Murray.

The first F1 race I watched was the 1999 Canadian Grand Prix. Two things got me addicted to F1 that year and into the 2000s: Michael Schumacher in the iconic Ferrari, with Murray Walker and Martin Brundle providing the sound track. Without Murray, I doubt this site would exist.

Although Walker did step aside at the 2001 US Grand Prix, the joys of the internet means that his commentary lives forever, and is easy to find on any F1 archive clip from the 1970s to the 1990s.

I cannot mention Walker without mentioning James Hunt, two opposites, but joined together in the commentary box discussing the one thing they loved most: motor sport.

During Walker’s tenure, F1’s popularity in the UK boomed, thanks in part to Nigel Mansell’s and Damon Hill’s on-track successes, but also due to Walker’s commentary, Walker communicating the intricates of the sport to the masses.

Lines such as “And I’ve got to stop, because I’ve got a lump in my throat!” are forever etched in F1 history, and will always will be.

I had the pleasure of meeting Murray twice. The first was at a signing for his ‘Unless I’m Very Much Mistaken’ book in late 2002. What I remember about the evening most was not the actual signing, but the long queue of hundreds of people, which stretched far outside the Waterstones.

From kids, like me, through to the grandparents, everyone wanted Murray to sign a copy of the book. And that was a sign of just how much people connected with Murray at home. Murray was special, and he brought our wonderful sport to life.

Fast forward 16 years, and to the second meeting of me and Murray, this time at Channel 4’s Formula 1 launch.

Murray was on stage with the rest of the Channel 4 team, before joining the rest of the team in roundtable discussions with media afterwards. Even at the age of 92, Murray was in fine form.

Sadly, there will not be a third meeting.

The motor racing paddock is filled with young talent: racers, mechanics, hospitality, and on the broadcasting side, producers, commentators, presenters and so on.

All of them have a connecting bond: they grew up listening to Murray’s infectious commentary. Without Murray, the motor racing paddock today would be a worse place. There will never be another Murray Walker.

Murray, you inspired generations, not one generation, but multiple. Legend is bandied around far too much, but you were a legend, and simply the best.

We’ll miss you.