After a two-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, motor racing is back! Over the next few weeks, the schedules will begin to fill back up with live motor racing action taking place from across the globe.
Kicking us back into action are two stateside championships: MotoAmerica and the IndyCar Series. MotoAmerica is the American equivalent of the British Superbikes championship, with ten race weekends featuring on the revised 2020 calendar.
This weekend’s MotoAmerica race (30th and 31st May) is the first of two stops for the series at the Road America circuit in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, with both races airing live on Eurosport for UK viewers.
One week later, the IndyCar Series begins its 2020 tour at the Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday 6th June. For the first time ever, in addition to qualifying and the race, practice also airs live for UK fans on Sky Sports F1.
Elsewhere, there is a plethora of new programming on Sky Sports F1 and BT Sport, whilst there is plenty of Esports action also on offer. RaceFans has a complete list of the Esports events taking place this weekend.
Of interest also to UK readers is the fact that Formula E documentary film ‘And We Go Green‘ premieres on Channel 4 on Tuesday 2nd June at 00:05 (Wednesday morning).
IndyCar Series – Texas (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
06/06 – 18:30 to 20:00 – Practice
06/06 – 22:00 to 23:00 – Qualifying
06/06 (Saturday night) – 01:00 to 04:00 – Race
MotoAmerica – Road America (Eurosport)
30/05 – 20:00 to 22:00 – Day 1
31/05 – 19:00 to 21:00 – Day 2
The past two months have felt like an eternity, with coronavirus dominating the news scene worldwide.
But, before COVID-19 hit the UK, there was a time when Formula 1 was looking forward to the 2020 season, beginning with the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday 15th March.
As part of the pre-season build-up, Sky Sports invited selected media – including this writer – to their season launch event at the Westwood Sports Pub & Kitchen in White City, London for an evening of entertainment.
Instead of the usual chatter that goes alongside these events, Sky treated guests to what they billed as The Ultimate Quiz, pitting members of their F1 team against each other.
Think of the BBC’s long running quiz show A Question of Sport, or Sky’s A League of Their Own, but this version pitched towards F1 fans.
With Sky’s regular F1 presenter Simon Lazenby ill on the day of the recording, David Croft stood in as Master of Ceremonies for the 90-minute affair.
On one side, Johnny Herbert led a team that included him, Karun Chandhok, Natalie Pinkham, and Paul di Resta.
On the other side, Sky’s pit lane reporter Ted Kravitz joined Rachel Brookes, and special guest Lando Norris alongside Martin Brundle. Norris was a late surprise to the taping because of Lazenby’s absence.
Off-camera, some of Sky’s production team were present, including their Head of F1 Scott Young, whilst guests could have a swirl on the Sky Pad if they so desired.
The quiz itself lasted six rounds, with rounds varying from general knowledge through to ‘What happened next?’ clips from the F1 archive.
Overall, it was a fun, light-hearted evening and worth the five-hour round trip. Croft managed to keep the ship steering in the right direction throughout (just about!). I will save the spoilers for this piece, other than saying it was a close affair throughout.
The first few rounds did overrun somewhat, meaning that the final section was shortened, the crew wrapping up filming at 21:00.
Transmission details are unclear as of writing, although I understand that it will air in some form over forthcoming weeks, so keep an eye on both Sky’s F1 social feeds and the F1 channel itself.
Over the past 50 years, many voices have graced the small screen to broadcast Formula 1 to the masses in a wide range of territories: from the UK to the US, from free-to-air to pay TV and beyond.
But how many would make Motorsport Broadcasting’s on-air team, and why? To answer that question is incredibly difficult, when trying to account for the different eras, the different broadcasters, the age of the talent in question, and so on.
The fan that ITV was trying to attract in the late 1990s may be different to the fan Sky is currently trying to attract to their offering.
As part of the selection process, I am assuming that age is not a factor, that time has no bounds, alive or deceased.
The cast assembled in my opinion brings together the best of the BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Sky Sports into a super team, with a few surprises thrown in for good measure. Think of it as my version of the Avengers, for use of a better term!
Of course, this is all judgemental (I admit to being openly biased for the next 2,000 words) and that there is no right or wrong answer to this question. The line-up comprises of:
2 x presenters
3 x analysts
2 x pit lane reporters
2 x technical reporters
2 x commentators
So, who is in, and who is out? Revealed, Motorsport Broadcasting’s dream F1 presentation team…
Every good on-air presentation team needs a presenter to fit the bill. For me, watching Formula 1, there are two presenters that brought warmth with them whenever presenting the sport.
First up, the BBC’s Formula 1 presenter from 2009 to 2012, Jake Humphrey. Humphrey worked his way through the BBC ranks, from children’s television into BBC Sport, and eventually onto BBC F1 for the start of F1’s return to the Beeb in 2009.
Humphrey’s style was a departure from his predecessors Jim Rosenthal and Steve Rider on ITV. Both Rosenthal and Rider are excellent, top-tier presenters, but Humphrey brought with him an additional element. During that period, it felt like Humphrey was one of us: a fan who happened to be living the dream as F1 presenter.
In my view, Humphrey helped bring us closer to the sport that we love, thanks to his presenting style, bouncing off his co-presenters where necessary.
Alongside Humphrey anchoring the show is Georgie Ainslee (nee. Thompson). Ainslee has been round the motoring circles for years, having been part of Sky’s A1 Grand Prix coverage in the mid-2000s.
Ainslee was part of Sky’s F1 coverage in 2012, presenting elements of their programming including The F1 Show, but quietly left prior to the 2013 season, with reports at the time suggesting that she wanted a bigger role within the team.
One presenter anchoring the entire weekend is too much, so having two presenters in equal capacity feels the best way to handle the situation.
Back in 2012, I really enjoyed Ainslee’s Sky Pad contributions with Anthony Davidson, and it is unfortunate that she left in the manner that she did, considering she was one of the better parts of Sky’s offering in their inaugural season.
This is where the choices get tough, given that there is a plethora of personalities to choose from spanning across the BBC, Sky, Channel 4, and ITV. Narrowing the choices down to three or four stars, past and present, is an extremely difficult challenge. But hey, we did say that this is a dream team.
All three of my choices are natural broadcasters, and all three were part of Sky’s Formula 1 line-up last season. We start with Martin Brundle, 2020 marking his 24th season on the microphone in the commentary box.
Brundle could double up as a third co-commentator, although this piece for brevity keeps Brundle primarily in an analytical role. Alongside Brundle are Sky colleagues Anthony Davidson and Jenson Button, both of whom have shown why they are worthy of being in a dream team in recent years.
Davidson’s broadcasting life started in 2008 alongside David Croft in the BBC Radio 5 Live commentary box, moving over to Sky for the start of their coverage in 2012.
Button joined Sky for five races last year. The thing that lets Sky down is that both Davidson and Button appear on-screen too infrequently across the season, but that is a wider issue surrounding the number of races as opposed to a Sky-specific problem.
On the Sky Pad, Davidson is a wizard, whilst Button has the same characteristics as Humphrey from a broadcasting perspective: a warm style, and a down to earth personality.
If you are looking for entertaining features, maybe this is not the trio for you, it really depends what you are after from a programming perspective.
For me, I want analysts who live and breathe F1, who know it like the back of their hand, and can articulate their knowledge back to the viewer at home in a digestible manner. Brundle, Button and Davidson tick those boxes for me.
Missing out by small margins are Mark Webber, Karun Chandhok and Allan McNish. On a different year in history, the choice may be different.
Also, it is worth bearing in mind that I am looking at this from a UK broadcasting perspective, so opinions may vary depending on where you are based.
Roving the pit lane are two faces, one of whom has never appeared in an official F1 capacity for a UK broadcaster, either through choice or because they overlooked him at every opportunity.
Enter Will Buxton. Currently Formula 1’s digital presenter, Buxton first made a name on the F1 broadcasting scene as GP2 and GP3 lead commentator. More recently, fans stateside heard Buxton’s voice during both Speed’s and NBC’s coverage of the sport from 2010 to 2017.
Despite being around the sport for nearly twenty years, Buxton has never worked in an F1 capacity for Sky, Channel 4, the BBC or ITV at their respective times. UK’s loss was America’s gain over the past decade.
During NBC’s coverage, Buxton and producer Jason Swales hosted several behind the scenes documentaries on the sport, including the ‘Road to…’ series, which was well received by fans.
Joining Buxton is Channel 4’s Lee McKenzie, who has been part of the UK’s free-to-air F1 output since 2009, grilling the drivers on a variety of topics.
Outside of the small screen, both McKenzie and Buxton are brilliant journalists in their own right, both with a unique ability to get the best out of their interviewee on any given occasion: whether in a pre-race vignette, or during the post-race media pen interviews.
You might think two reporters in pit lane and beyond is excessive. But remember, F1 consists of ten teams, 20 drivers, and hundreds of people that help bring the show to life. It is Buxton and McKenzie that get beneath the skin of the sport, helping to tell the stories that may otherwise go unnoticed.
On the technical side, Ted Kravitz leads the output, having been part of the broadcasting scene since the 1990s. Kravitz moved to ITV’s F1 on-air team in a full-time capacity following Murray Walker’s retirement, staying in that role until 2008.
Kravitz moved with F1 to the BBC in 2009, and then again to Sky in 2012, where he has remained ever since, narrowly avoiding the chop from their team prior to the 2019 season. Well-liked by fans, Kravitz’s Notebook has been a fixture of Sky’s F1 coverage since its inception, along with the Development Corner segment.
What Kravitz has never had though, is a good wing man in the technical space, someone to bounce off from time to time. And that is where the second technical expert comes in the form of Craig Scarborough.
With the resources that he has, Scarborough does a great job dissecting the technical innovations across social media, sometimes with Peter Windsor in toe. Both were dropped by Motorsport Network in the latter half of 2018 as part of their cost-cutting exercise at the time.
I suspect no UK broadcaster has ever picked Scarborough up because he has never worked with in an F1 team as technical expert, unlike the likes of Gary Anderson, who was part of the BBC’s F1 offering in 2013 and 2014 before they dropped him.
Nevertheless, if you want an all rounded team that covers both the human element and technical element in equal detail, then you need two technical experts, and Kravitz and Scarborough are the two for me.
The beauty of having a broadcasting dream team is that there is no right, or wrong, answer. I started watching Formula 1 in 1999, so caught the later years of Murray Walker‘s commentary.
I met Walker twice: once at a book signing back in 2002, and more recently at Channel 4’s Formula 1 launch in 2016. And, thanks to the internet, many classic races feature his commentary.
“And it’s Go! Go! Go!”
“Three point three six seconds! Damon Hill wins the Japanese Grand Prix!”
“And he exits the final corner for the fifty-third and last time, to win the 2000 Japanese Grand Prix, and the World Championship, for the third time!”
Commentary lines such as these will live on in Formula 1’s history. And it is for that reason that Murray, and his Murray-isms, feature in my dream team. Yes, Walker made mistakes.
But, if I had a choice between a commentator that could make paint dry sound exciting, with a few mistakes here and there, or someone who struggled to capture the excitement that F1 brings, it is the former all day long.
To put it simply, Walker’s voice is infectious, and we are lucky that he stayed in the commentary box for as long as he did. Walker will always be F1 to me, and for a whole generation of fans in their late 20s and onwards.
On the other side, one of Walker’s colleagues left this arena far earlier than they should have. James Hunt passed away at the age of 45 in 1993, days after commentating on the Canadian Grand Prix. Had Hunt opted to retire at the same age as Walker, Hunt would still be commentating on F1 today at the age of 72.
I was too young to watch Hunt’s commentary live – I had not even turned one when Hunt passed away. But what I do know is that Hunt in the commentary box was passionate about the racing that was unfolding in front of him, telling it how it was.
It is a testament to the relationship between Hunt and Walker that the pairing lasted 13 years, from 1979 until Hunt’s untimely death.
In a parallel universe, Hunt would have been commentating alongside Walker for many years to come, but alas, it was not too be. In a dream broadcasting line-up, both Hunt and Brundle would be part of that team (clearly, I am bending the rules in the name of fun).
If time had no bounds, this is Motorsport Broadcasting’s dream F1 presentation team:
Presenter: Georgie Ainslee
Presenter: Jake Humphrey
Commentator: James Hunt
Commentator: Murray Walker
Analyst: Anthony Davidson
Analyst: Jenson Button
Analyst: Martin Brundle
Pitlane: Lee McKenzie
Pitlane: Will Buxton
Technical: Craig Scarborough
Technical: Ted Kravitz
Like with any team, whether the eleven would blend together on-screen is a different question, in the same way that two world class drivers in the best team may go pear shaped.
You want a line-up that is flexible. You do not want a commentator that just commentates, or a technical expert that cannot interview drivers. In the scenario above, Walker would still interview drivers, and Brundle could still commentate, for sake of argument.
Notable by their omission are David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan, amongst other high calibre candidates, which shows how difficult it is to select a dream team cutting across different eras. Had I been focusing on current generation only, then Coulthard and Jordan may well have made the cut.
To bring gravitas to the production is Channel 4’s F1 producer Whisper, but with backing from Sky Sports. Sky bring with them the Sky Pad, the paddock stage set up, as well as the extensive air-time, whilst Whisper bring with them some excellent VTs and a graphics package that is second to none. The best of both worlds, in my view.
And that is my dream Formula 1 broadcasting line-up. What is yours? Have your say and debate the question in the comments below.
Fancy contributing to Motorsport Broadcasting? Head over here for further details…
A massive audience of over 200,000 viewers watched a special F1 Esports event on Sky Sports, consolidated viewing figures from BARB show.
With no action taking place on the circuit within the near future, organisations in the Esports arena have taken advantage by holding their own replacement races.
F1 opted to run a Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix using their F1 2019 video game, featuring McLaren’s Lando Norris, Williams driver Nicholas Latifi and a range of celebrities, including singer Liam Payne and Olympian Sir Chris Hoy.
The action aired live across three Sky Sports channels to an audience of 208,200 viewers from 20:00 to 21:30 on Sunday 22nd March via the TV set.
82,900 viewers watched on Sky Sports Main Event, with 82,600 viewers watching on the F1 channel, and a further 42,700 viewers watching on Sky Sports Mix.* The event was the most watched programme on those three channels for the week commencing 16th March.
To put that figure into comparison, last year’s running of the Indianapolis 500 averaged 172,000 viewers exclusively on Sky Sports F1, which in itself was a record high, whilst the Esports figure comfortably beats any Formula Two or Formula Three race that Sky has aired.
It is possible that the audience figures are some of the highest ever for an Esports event on UK television, but Motorsport Broadcasting is unable to confirm that as of writing.
This is in addition to the online average audience reported by Echarts of 279,000 viewers worldwide across Facebook, YouTube and Twitch.
The Virtual Vietnam Grand Prix is set to air live across Sky’s outlets and social media again this Sunday from 20:00.
* Technical Note: Logs on the BARB website shows the description for the Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Mix as ‘Sky Sports News’ and ‘NBA’ respectively. However, Motorsport Broadcasting can confirm that the underlying figures are for the F1 Esports event.
A new year, a new decade, but the same calculations are necessary to work out what the cheapest method is to view Formula 1 in the United Kingdom.
2020 is Sky’s ninth season covering the sport for fans in the UK. From 2012 to 2018, the pay-TV broadcaster aired half of the races exclusively live, with the other half also airing live on free-to-air television.
Last year was Sky’s first covering F1 exclusively, with only the British Grand Prix airing live on free-to-air television on Channel 4. So, what options are available for UK F1 fans, and how does this compare to previous years?
Motorsport Broadcasting takes an in-depth look at the figures, to help fans decide which package is best for them…
All calculations in this article assume that we are still going to see a (relatively) full Formula 1 season without coronavirus causing a significant impact, but also therefore come with a heavy caveat attached to them.
F1 TV Pro
Formula 1 launched their over-the-top service in May 2018, and since then the service has grown in stature, both in terms of archive and in terms of live content.
This year, the platform offers fans a richer offering, with live coverage of every session, on-board angles from every car, a Pit Lane Channel, as well as exclusive pre- and post-race programming hosted by Will Buxton.
There have always been musings that F1 TV Pro may launch in the UK, but this has never come to fruition, which is unfortunate for those wanting to cut the cord, yet understandable as Sky want to protect their investment in the sport.
It is frustrating for UK fans that want a wider variety of on-board angles (F1 TV offers angles from all 20 cars, whereas Sky does not), or want an alternative pre- or post-race offering.
From Sky’s perspective it makes little sense to expose F1 TV’s additional wrap-around content to UK fans, as it means that they now have a direct competitor.
For 2020 at least, F1 TV Pro is not an option for UK fans. However, UK fans can subscribe to F1 TV Access for £2.29 a month, or £19.99 across the year, which gives you access to F1’s rich archive.
Earlier this week, Sky unveiled a new pricing structure, which applies immediately for new customers.
The previous Entertainment offering, which was Sky’s entry level tier for new subscribers, has gone. In its place is a new Signature offering, which brings together Sky’s basic television offering and Box Set Bundles into one pack.
Currently, new customers can grab the Signature Pack for £25.00 a month, or £21.00 when taking Sky Sports, which compares favourably to the previous Entertainment price of £22.00.
The second change is that you no longer need multiscreen to access Sky Sports in ultra-high definition (UHD). Instead, Sky have rolled that into a separate, cheaper pack, which is good news for those that have no interest in multiscreen.
Year-on-year, the price for viewing Formula 1 in ultra-high definition has tumbled thanks to the pricing changes. In the grand scheme of things, the ballparks all look similar, Sky continuing to try to entice new customers into their offering.
Sky are increasingly looking at the big picture: their TV shop-window on their website is currently trailing an Ultimate TV package, with the YouTube, Spotify, Netflix, All 4 and BBC iPlayer logos all present.
In addition, fans of BT Sport content can now subscribe to them through Sky as opposed to having to take out a contract with BT separately.
The prices above apply for new customers, and account for any offers that Sky are currently running, as was the case in last year’s article.
Note that, outside of the offer periods, the Signature package costs £30.00 per month, as does the Sky Sports pack, which suddenly looks a little dearer…
If you have stumbled across this article after March 260th, and want to subscribe to Sky Sports F1 on its own…
A new entry to the Sky Sports market is BT themselves, thanks to the deal agreed between themselves and Sky last month. BT TV subscribers can now watch Sky Sports via a Now TV pass.
BT TV is an IPTV service, meaning that readers wanting to subscribe to Sky Sports F1 will first need to sign up to BT’s broadband offering, making the below an apple and oranges comparison compared to Virgin Media and Sky.
BT’s pricing does compare favourably with Virgin Media, although Virgin’s television offering is more comprehensive than BT’s. The benefit of BT is that you can flexibly change your packages as you see fit without any penalty.
If the idea of paying a significant amount of money for the pay-TV players does not sit well with you, there is still the option of Now TV, which is a viable option this season.
As in 2019, Sky are also airing the IndyCar Series live, which is good news for fans of the American-based series.
The F1 Season Ticket returns to Now TV, but is only available to purchase until the end of March. The pass allows fans to watch F1 and IndyCar for £198.00 across the year, an increase of £3.00 compared with the price of last year’s pass.
Now TV’s day pass has increased in price for the third year running to £9.98, however the weekly pass remains at £14.99. The monthly pass remains at £33.99, but an offer currently running allows subscribers to grab the pass for £20.00 for the first three months.
This year, fans need to purchase seven monthly passes to watch every race live:
pass 1 from March 13th to April 13th (Australia, Bahrain, and Vietnam)
pass 2 from April 25th to May 25th (Dutch, Spain, and Monaco)
pass 3 from June 5th to July 5th (Azerbaijan, Canada, France, and Austria)
pass 4 from July 10th to August 10th (Hungary)
pass 5 from August 20th to September 20th (Belgium, Italy, Singapore)
pass 6 from September 25th to October 25th (Russia, Japan, USA)
pass 7 from October 29th to November 29th (Mexico, Brazil, and Abu Dhabi)
The passes exclude the British Grand Prix, which airs live on Channel 4. For IndyCar fans, the seven passes cover all bar one race, the exception being Long Beach on April 15th.
Making use of the £20.00 offer means you can view Formula 1 using the seven monthly passes for £223.94 across the year (or £237.93 without the offer).
In comparison, twenty weekly passes cost £299.80 across the year (or £314.79 if F1 reschedules China). The individual day passes cost £199.60 across the year, a steep increase year-on-year.
The day and weekly passes are not ideal, leaving realistically the monthly pass your best bet, unless you plan on dipping heavily in and out of F1 throughout 2020. And, of course, you may waste money because of coronavirus…
Sky Sports Mobile TV
The cheapest of the bunch remains Sky Sports Mobile TV by some margin, at just £10.99 per month. The app, which is available on iPhone and Android, costs fans £76.93 across seven calendar months.
You hear many people reference Now TV elsewhere, yet Sky Sports Mobile TV gets very little mention despite being a far cheaper alternative.
In summary, there are 15 different options, across five different players this year:
– £1,136.00 a year – Virgin Media (HD)*
– £1,075.87 a year – BT TV (HD)**
– £1,052.00 a year – Virgin Media (SD)*
– £835.87 a year – BT TV (SD)**
– £632.00 a year – Sky (F1 – UHD) – post-offer period
– £608.00 a year – Sky (All – UHD)
– £536.00 a year – Sky (F1 – UHD) – offer (expires March 30th)
– £536.00 a year – Sky (F1 – HD) – post-offer period
– £512.00 a year – Sky (All – HD)
– £440.00 a year – Sky (F1 – HD) – offer (expires March 30th)
– £299.80 – Now TV (Weekly Pass x 20)
– £237.93 – Now TV (Monthly Pass x 7)
– £223.94 – Now TV (Monthly Pass x 7) – offer (expires March 16th)
– £199.60 – Now TV (Day Pass x 20)
– £197.00 – Now TV (F1 Season Ticket) – offer (expires March 30th)
– £76.93 – Sky Sports Mobile TV
* includes BT Sport as mandatory
** includes BT Broadband as mandatory
In comparison, F1 TV Pro for fans in America costs $79.99 per year, which translates to £61.30 across the whole year, undercutting every single price listed above.
Comparing Sky’s platform with F1 TV Pro is a false economy, the former is always going to cost more given that it offers consumers more breadth for their money.
Sky reaches viewers across different age groups, demographics, and genders, whereas F1 aims to please the passionate fan with their over-the-top service.
However, if you love your motor racing, but are not really interested in other sports, maybe dabble in a bit of Twitch or gaming as an alternative hobby, then are Sky or Virgin Media really serving your needs?
For me personally, I like my motor sport, but also like other sports, such as football and wrestling, as well as the usual mainstream television entertainment programmes, which does make some of the choices listed viable.
Are any of the options above cheap enough for you, and has Sky’s 2020 pre-season offer hooked you in? If you have spotted anything worth adding, or noted any other deals out there, drop a line in the comments below.
Pricing and information correct as of March 8th, 2020. Pricing is subject to change.