F1’s new look format, trialled over the British Grand Prix weekend, helped audience figures improve in the UK, consolidated data released by BARB suggests.
The Silverstone weekend was Channel 4’s only live action of the season, the broadcaster sharing live coverage with Sky Sports.
The consolidated data accounts for viewers who watched within seven days of the original transmission.
New format draws the viewers…
Usually, Friday plays host to two practice sessions.
However, only one practice session took place on Friday at Silverstone, with the traditional three-part qualifying session moving to Friday evening.
According to industry website Thinkbox, which publishes BARB consolidated data, 1.08 million viewers watched the qualifying session on Channel 4 from 17:00 to 19:30.
An additional 530,000 viewers watched on Sky Sports F1, across a shorter time slot from 17:25 to 19:30. A caveat here that Sky’s figure includes those that watched on devices, whereas Channel 4’s figure is for the TV set only.
Nevertheless, with a combined audience of 1.6 million viewers, the British Grand Prix marked F1’s highest UK audience on a Friday since at least 2003, if not earlier. Back then, ITV aired highlights of Friday qualifying in a late-night slot.
On Saturday, a combined audience of just over 2 million viewers watched Channel 4’s and Sky’s Sprint programming, including build-up and post-session analysis.
1.40 million watched the Sprint across all devices on Channel 4 from 15:45 to 17:40, with a further 610,000 viewers opting for Sky’s programming across a slightly longer time slot.
The figures are higher than what a normal three-part qualifying session would have achieved in its usual Saturday slot.
Initial analysis from Motorsport Broadcasting suggests that F1 may have recorded its highest Saturday audience for the British Grand Prix since 2013.
Race day saw an audience of around 3.6 million viewers watch Channel 4’s and Sky’s main programming, an average that includes the extended red flag period, but excludes the extended wraparound offering.
2.34 million viewers watched on Channel 4 from 14:26 to 17:07, with 1.21 million viewers watching on Sky Sports F1 from 14:53 to 17:35.
Year-on-year, Sky’s race audience increased by 15%, with Channel 4’s decreasing by around 8.5%, reflecting the positive trajectory Sky’s F1 audience figures continue to take.
Both broadcasters benefited from the Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen collision, with 2 million viewers sticking around for the post-race programming until 18:30.
…what this means…
Although peak audiences are unavailable, we can use the average audience figures already in the public domain, along with programme lengths, to draw some conclusions.
Using the available data, it is likely that Friday’s qualifying session peaked with 2 million viewers, Saturday’s Sprint session with 3 million viewers, and Sunday’s race with 4.5 million viewers.
Having the weekend live on free-to-air television undoubtedly helps the audience figures, but even for Sky, the British qualifying session was their highest ever F1 audience for a Friday – including the plethora of evening practice sessions where they were the exclusive broadcaster.
In some ways, that is unsurprising, but it shows that fans tuned into the idea of having a meaningful session take place on a Friday evening.
Fans did not dismiss Friday qualifying, and instead felt that it was important part of the F1 weekend, and important enough to tune in to.
Whether the Sprint figures were higher than a typical Saturday because of the novelty of it remains unknown, and only something we will know when audience data for the Italian Grand Prix comes in next month.
But, arguably, the events of the Sprint contributed to what followed on Sunday from a sporting perspective.
Speaking to selected media, including The Race, on a conference call, F1’s CEO Stefano Domenicali described the response to the Sprint as “really positive”.
“After the first sprint event at Silverstone, the response that we have from the drivers, from the teams, the media, has been really positive, and also for the promoter,” said Domenicali, as quoted by The Race.
“The outcome of the first event has been dramatically positive. It’s great because that brought attention, interest on TV, and also partners. We have already seen the financial interest be positive.”
The audience data for the weekend, which F1 is no doubt digesting, backs up Domenicali’s statement.
…as W Series beats Formula E
But, Formula 1 was not the only beneficiary of the revised schedule.
The W Series race normally takes place after F1’s qualifying session. For Britain, the race remained on the Saturday, but aired in between F1’s single practice session, and before the Sprint.
An impressive average of 533,000 viewers watched on Channel 4 from 13:05 to 14:17, a figure which excludes those who watched on other devices.
Now in its second season, the all-female championship, retained around 66% of the F1 practice audience. The F1 session, which began at 12:00 UK time, averaged around 800,000 viewers across Channel 4 and Sky.
The electric series reached a high of 382,000 viewers from 13:51 to 15:12 for its second race of the weekend, again excluding the ‘other device’ watchers.
The audience figures demonstrate how W Series benefited from being on the same card as Formula 1, whereas Formula E’s events are largely standalone with no wrap-around support.
W Series also benefited from added exposure through Channel 4’s live F1 coverage, the only weekend of the year that the free-to-air broadcaster covers F1 live.
Moving forward, W Series will not have the luxury of an F1 lead-in on the same channel.
In addition, Formula E faced the opening weekend of the Olympics across the BBC, which took attention away from the E-Prix. In that context, the Formula E figure is good given the lack of support the series has received from free-to-air stations in recent years.
Most importantly, The Race notes that Formula E “surpassed the expectations of the C4 management team,” which bodes well for a future rights deal between the two parties.
Motorsport Broadcasting will publish a full analytical piece looking at the UK F1 audience picture at the half way stage of the 2021 season shortly.
Sebastian Vettel dominated the 2011 Formula One season, clinching his second Drivers’ Championship with four races to spare in Japan.
Although dominant up front, the 2011 season was competitive behind Vettel. One of the major talking points on-track was the frequent clashes between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa, in what would turn out to be Hamilton’s penultimate season with McLaren.
Off-track, as the teams headed into the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend before the summer break, storm clouds began to emerge.
Hamilton may have topped a mundane first practice session in Hungary, but closer to home, a bombshell press release that landed just hours earlier sent shockwaves through the paddock and F1’s UK fanbase…
Here, Motorsport Broadcasting looks at the events that have unfolded since, and whether F1 is in a better place in the UK than what it was a decade ago.
Ten years ago today, the BBC and Sky Sports confirmed that, from 2012, Formula 1 would air across both free-to-air and pay television as part of a new agreement between two of the biggest broadcasters in the UK.
2011 was the last season covered exclusively live, free-to-air by the BBC, the season becoming the highest watched in the UK on television.
BBC TV and Sky Sports have been awarded the live rights to Formula 1 ™ between 2012 and 2018.
The move will bring increased choice, innovation, and breadth of coverage to UK and Irish motor racing fans.
Since 2012, Sky Sports has aired every race live. The BBC’s programming supplemented Sky’s comprehensive offer, the free-to-air broadcaster airing half the races live and the other half in highlights form.
The previous Autumn, in October 2010, the government confirmed a licence fee freeze for six years which, in real terms, was a 16% cut to the BBC’s budget.
Cutbacks were necessary in some areas, and F1 was in the firing line.
The BBC’s original contract was set to expire at the end of 2013 and, writing at the time on the BBC website, their Head of F1 Ben Gallop said that the deal with Sky “extends the BBC’s commitment to F1 by a further five years.”
“Given the financial circumstances in which we find ourselves, we believe this new deal offers the best outcome for licence-fee payers,” Gallop said.
At the time, the deal generated a lot of response from fans. The likes of Autosport described the deal as ‘controversial’ on their magazine cover, and it is easy to see why considering the magnitude of the change.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is possible to look at the 2011 deal through a different lens.
What has happened since?
The BBC’s commitment to F1, which was meant to last until the end of the 2018 season, was short lived.
Another round of cuts was to come, and this time, BBC’s television coverage of Formula 1 was to disappear altogether.
Channel 4 succeeded the BBC as Sky’s free-to-air partner, retaining largely the same team both in front and behind the camera, as their coverage began in 2016.
We are absolutely delighted that F1 will remain on the BBC. The sport has never been more popular with TV audiences at a 10-year high and the BBC has always stated its commitment to the big national sporting moments. With this new deal not only have we delivered significant savings but we have also ensured that through our live and extended highlights coverage all the action continues to be available to licence fee payers.
Barbara Slater, BBC’s Director of Sport, speaking in 2011
If the 2011 bombshell was not big enough, a further bombshell was to follow.
Just one race into Channel 4’s new Formula 1 deal, Sky announced that they had secured the rights to air F1 exclusively live from 2019 to 2024 in a six-year deal.
Channel 4 would later secure free-to-air highlights, plus live coverage of the British Grand Prix from Sky.
By securing the pay-TV rights early, Sky fended off potential competition from rivals BT Sport, who were rumoured to be interested in F1 at the time.
The current Sky deal, mooted to be around £1 billion across the duration of the contract, or around £160 million per season, is significantly higher than what any free-to-air broadcaster could bid for the rights.
Let us rewind back to the 2011 deal and think about alternative scenarios. Had the BBC pulled out altogether, F1 may have moved on a full-time basis to Channel 4 or ITV.
With Sky lurking in the background though, it is difficult to imagine how many years such a deal would have lasted without Sky intervention.
The only alternative that could have had a material impact, even today, would be a joint BBC and ITV deal, like the current Six Nations rugby arrangements. On a 22-race basis, the BBC could air 7 races live, with ITV airing the remaining 15 races.
The two free-to-air broadcasters pay around £100 million per year for the Six Nations. The rugby tournament is a more attractive proposition to broadcasters than F1, with higher viewing figures and a higher proportion of action in primetime.
Any combined bid therefore would likely be under £100 million, even if you swap the BBC with Channel 4.
While it is a nice idea, the finances do not stack up when compared with the amount of money Sky have invested in F1.
Did Sky walk through an open door when the BBC approached them in 2011? Absolutely. But the destination, and where we are currently in 2021, was always going to be the same irrespective of the journey taken.
The BBC’s deal with Sky in 2011 delayed the inevitable. It was not a question of if, it was a question of when.
The transfer of rights from free-to-air to pay in the UK has been gradual, in stark contrast to Germany where audiences have slumped by around 70% because of the ‘big bang’ rights change imposed on audiences.
The pros and cons of the UK F1 broadcasting arrangement
On and off-air, the UK F1 broadcasting arrangements over the past decade have helped talent step into the motor sport arena, who may never have had a chance had F1 remained solely on BBC television.
The likes of Rachel Brookes, Jack Nicholls, and Steve Jones to name a few have benefited over the past decade.
Brookes joined Sky’s F1 setup when their coverage started, while both Nicholls and Jones joined the F1 paddock on a permanent basis later.
Nicholls became BBC’s lead radio commentator in 2016, a role once held by David Croft; while Jones became Channel 4’s F1 presenter having never presented an F1 race!
This is fantastic news for F1 fans and Sky Sports will be the only place to follow every race live and in HD. We will give F1 the full Sky Sports treatment with a commitment to each race never seen before on UK television. As well as unrivalled build up to each race on Sky Sports News, we will broadcast in-depth live coverage of every session. Sky customers with Sky Sports will also be able to enjoy F1 across multiple platforms and devices, including Sky Go.
Barney Francis, Managing Director of Sky Sports, speaking in 2011
Having several broadcasters in the mix presenting their own bespoke output not only gives emerging talent more opportunities to break into the sport, but it gives viewers access to a broader roster of pundits.
From the BBC’s Jolyon Palmer, through to Channel 4’s Mark Webber and onto Sky’s Anthony Davidson, there should be something for everyone across the talent pool, across live and highlights.
The broadcasting arrangements since 2012 have resulted in every F1 session airing live, as well as the vast majority of Formula Two and Formula Three sessions.
Having multiple broadcasters air live F1 from 2012 to 2018 meant that the two could push each other to produce better content, with the fans watching at home benefiting overall.
I think it is important to emphasis at this point that Sky have an excellent team: Davidson, Jenson Button, Martin Brundle and Karun Chandhok to name a few, a rotating talent set helping to keep their coverage fresh race-by-race.
COVID has restricted what Sky can do, as Brookes outlined to this writer earlier this year. That combined with the number of races on the calendar now, dilutes the quality of programming on offer to the viewer.
Broadcasters want more races, as races attract viewers, but it means that their supplementary programming takes a hit.
Formula Two and Formula Three feel like an afterthought (not helped by the changes beyond Sky’s control), while Sky have failed to replicate the attraction of BBC’s post-race show, F1 Forum, in my view, where the team used to perch themselves in a motor home.
Despite the criticism, since Sky moved to the podium set up in the paddock, their post-race shows have improved, and is heading in the right direction.
Worryingly for Channel 4, their free-to-air highlights audience has slumped over the past two years, to the point where Sky is moving into a position whereby it has the lion’s share of the F1 audience, an unthinkable statement even two years ago.
The good news in totality for F1 is that Sky’s audiences are increasing rapidly, and are at their highest level yet (more to follow on this front over the forthcoming weeks).
Yes, television audiences have decreased compared with a decade ago, but fans have a much wider range of viewing options now.
Back in 2011, F1 did not upload highlights to YouTube, podcasts did not exist, and the F1 social media community was insignificant. Oh, and that thing called Drive to Survive was still eight years away.
If F1 is going to continue to sign exclusive pay TV deals, then they need an action plan on how they aim to reach fans that do not have pay TV. Otherwise, F1 will haemorrhage fans.
A Formula 1 only accessible behind a pay wall is not a fruitful Formula 1.
A Formula 1 that exploits social media, is available to fans at a reasonable price, and finds new, innovative ways to harness their audience, is a fruitful Formula 1.
Motorsport Broadcasting, writing in 2016 [pleasingly I think F1 currently aligns more into the second category. Not fully, but the second category resonates more with me].
A survey by The Race Media, which operates both The Race and WTF1, shows that most fans on both platforms watch F1 via pay-TV, with less than a quarter watching via free-to-air television.
It is plausible that F1 in the UK has lost older viewers over the past decade (‘lapsed fans’), thanks to the move away from the BBC, but gained some younger fans through the likes of Drive to Survive, thanks to Netflix and Liberty Media. It may still result in a net loss, but the picture is not as black and white as the headline suggests.
A major gripe for UK fans is that fans do not have access to F1’s premium tier over-the-top service, meaning that the only way fans can watch live F1 is through Sky Sports.
How open Sky are to this position changing is unclear. Suggestions last summer that Sky would offer F1 TV Pro through their TV platform have yet to come to fruition.
Nevertheless, for everything that has changed over the past decade, F1 remains king and is by far the leading series when it comes to motor sport in the UK, with no other form of motor sport eroding its dominant market position.
What is next?
While Hamilton may retire in 2024, the prospects of both Lando Norris and George Russell look bright, which should keep interest in the sport high, which is great news for Sky Sports moving forward.
We can reminisce about every F1 race airing live on free-to-air television all we want, but the chances of F1 returning to that position in the UK after 2024, when Sky’s current deal expires, is close to zero.
In a sense this partnership with Sky is another example of how the landscape of sports broadcasting has been transformed in recent years. There was a time when the BBC and other public service broadcasters could expect to televise all the big sports themselves. Now though we have a ‘mixed economy’, with some events on satellite while others are on terrestrial.
Ben Gallop, BBC’s Head of Formula 1, speaking in 2011
In my view, I expect Sky to renew beyond 2024, with confirmation to come within the next 12 to 18 months.
Such a renewal may seem far too early, but remember that Sky sealed the 2019 deal three years in advance. F1 is Sky’s second biggest sport, only behind football, and the earlier they can renew on a like-to-like basis, the better for them.
Furthermore, the economic climate post-COVID means that F1 is unlikely to see an increase in rights fees from the UK market. As thus, extending the current agreement with Sky may be in F1’s best interests too. Stability is in the interests of both parties.
When I outlined the above to someone close to the situation recently, what was their response? “I think you’re on the money, Dave…”
How have your viewing habits of Formula 1 changed in the past decade? Have your say in the comments below.
The key talking point after last weekend’s British Grand Prix was, of course, that incident between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen which has generated column inches across the board.
On the broadcasting side, it was a newsworthy weekend, for multiple reasons.
Alongside the previously announced offline HDR test, there were other things that caught the eye over the Silverstone weekend. Here are just a few…
New format, new graphics…
A new experiment for Formula 1 brought with it new graphics for the Sprint session.
The changes were visible to fans immediately after the F1 opening titles, with the usual fly-over coming in the form of enhanced augmented reality graphics.
The pre-race graphics detailed the same information as usual, such as the track layout and starting grid, but in a different format to the Grand Prix graphics.
In my view, the changes helped to differentiate the Sprint to the main event on Sunday.
I know sometimes F1, and other forms of motor sport, sometimes have a habit of implementing ‘change for changes’ sake, but I thought that this was a cool change.
As a wrestling fan, it reminded me of WWE’s broadcasts, the wrestling juggernaut having used augmented reality to their advantage throughout the pandemic with no fans in attendance.
The graphics which followed during the race had mixed execution, however.
A graphic depicting the live speed of McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo at The Loop and Aintree fell into this category.
If this was a top speed graphic, it might make sense, displaying the live speed at one of the slowest parts of the circuit added little to the broadcast.
In contrast, F1 used augmented reality to highlight Alpine’s Fernando Alonso when riding on-board with McLaren driver Lando Norris, a graphic which worked well.
Others suggested that the Alonso graphic resembled a video game, but that for me is not a valid criticism.
Not every livery stands out as easily as a McLaren (orange) or Ferrari (red), especially when viewing from behind.
If F1’s implementation helps new viewers engage in our sport, then this is a change for the better.
Besides F1 are not the first (see: MotoGP, NASCAR, amongst others), and certainly not the last, to implement a graphic of the nature.
…as audiences in the Netherlands remain strong
In the Netherlands, ratings bureau SKO reported that Friday’s evening qualifying session averaged 552,000 viewers (15.5% audience share) on Ziggo Sport.
The figure in-line with Saturday’s afternoon qualifying session from Austria, which brought 585,000 viewers (31.7% audience share).
The higher share for Austria is reflective of the fact that the Silverstone qualifying session aired in an evening time slot, so whilst more viewers could have watched Friday qualifying in the Netherlands, they opted not to.
Saturday’s Sprint averaged 717,000 viewers (28.9% audience share), a significant volume increase on Austria qualifying, with a slight share drop.
The race on Sunday, from the start of the red flag period, averaged 1.31 million viewers across Ziggo Sport and Ziggo Sport Select, equating to a 62.9% audience share.
In the US, 529,000 viewers watched the new Sprint format on ESPN, while the race averaged an excellent 1.03 million viewers, continuing F1’s positive trajectory in the States.
The picture was less positive in Spain, where the Sprint generated no additional interest.
According to Formula TV, 114,000 viewers (1.3% audience share) watched the Sprint programme on DAZN, compared with the 116,000 viewers who watched the Austria qualifying session.
Sustainability on the agenda…
Wherever you looked across the F1 weekend, sustainability was one of the main topics featured across F1’s UK broadcasts.
Sky’s #GoZero campaign was in the spotlight during the coverage, with all their presentation team using green ‘Sky Zero’ microphone coverings and recycled clothing.
The broadcaster hopes to become net zero carbon by 2030, and is working in collaboration with F1 to help bring down carbon emissions across the sport. F1 themselves announced that the Silverstone weekend was their first ever Carbon Neutral broadcast.
Writing on Sky’s F1 website, senior producer Jamie Coley explained how he plays his part in Sky’s Sustainability Content Group.
“The group brings producers and journalists together from across Sky Sports to find ways of achieving tangible results and awareness around the environmental problems our world faces through our sports coverage,” he says.
“Over the last year, this group has achieved some significant milestones, including making all our host broadcast sports productions albert certified sustainable productions, and joining the UNFCCC’s Sport for Climate Action Framework.”
“It has also led to Sky Sports marking a ‘Summer of Sustainability’ at some of the biggest events on the sporting calendar this week, including the British Grand Prix.”
“As a producer for Sky Sports F1, my part in this is helping to tell the great stories of how Sky and F1 are going green.”
“The best person to showcase the great work F1 has done and continues to do to improve its environmental impact, which for a petrol sport is no way easy feat, is Nico Rosberg who I filmed a special feature with that airs during this weekend’s coverage at Silverstone.”
Over on Channel 4, a feature involving Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel aired. Vettel, along with Lee McKenzie, visited a local school to help engage children on how to live sustainability in the future.
…as Channel 4 teams up with Hollywood stars
Channel 4 splashed out on their live offering from Silverstone, with Hollywood stars Tom Cruise and Ryan Reynolds featuring through their broadcasts.
Reynolds introduced viewers back to Channel 4’s programming throughout the weekend through short VTs.
Meanwhile, Cruise featured in the broadcaster’s excellent opener to their race day coverage alongside Steve Jones, David Coulthard and Mark Webber.
In the build-up to the Grand Prix, the BBC’s Top Gear team were also in action, preparing for the next series, which will air in the Autumn.
The feature sees Sebastian Vettel, Antonio Giovinazzi and Lando Norris taking on Paddy McGuiness, Freddie Flintoff, and Chris Harris in a head-to-head challenge.
Elsewhere, a week of contract signings
Outside of the F1 world, it has been a big week for a few rights holders.
Stateside, the IndyCar Series and NBC have extended their partnership in a multi-year agreement. Normally, a rights renewal is not surprising news, however in this instance it is, as earlier suggestions linked IndyCar to CBS.
NBC’s main station will air 13 races next season, with the remaining races airing on USA Network and NBC’s over-the-top platform Peacock.
No races will air on NBC Sports Network after this season, following NBC’s decision to close the channel at the end of 2021.
In the UK, BT Sport will remain home to the World Rally Championship until the end of 2024, after the two parties agreed a new three-year deal.
On the personnel front, Will Buxton has joined Motorsport Network’s portfolio of talent, the network has this week confirmed.
While Buxton will continue his F1 commitments, his YouTube show (This Week with Will), will move across exclusively to Motorsport.tv’s over-the-top platform on a free-to-view basis.
A new era dawns for Formula 1, as the championship returns home to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix!
Max Verstappen has stretched his legs at the top of the standings, but can Lewis Hamilton use the power of home turf to claw his way back into the championship fight? It is all to play for…
F1 – the coverage
Live coverage of the weekend airs across Channel 4 and Sky Sports, as the two broadcasters air F1’s new qualifying format live. On Friday evening, the traditional three-part qualifying session will take place.
Instead of setting the grid for Sunday’s race however, Friday’s qualifying session will set the grid for Saturday’s sprint qualifying race, which is a 17 lap blast around the 5.9 kilometer circuit. The result of the Saturday’s sprint race will then set the grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix.
Channel 4 are back to full strength following Billy Monger’s positive COVID test prior to the Styrian Grand Prix. Monger returns to the team that also includes Steve Jones, David Coulthard, Lee McKenzie, Mark Webber, Eddie Jordan and Alex Jacques.
The free-to-air broadcaster are taking ‘the Sky approach’ to their build-up, with 90-minutes of build-up to the Grand Prix airing on Channel 4 from 13:30, followed by an additional hour after the race.
For W Series, McKenzie, Monger and Jacques are joined by Naomi Schiff and Amy Reynolds for Channel 4’s offering.
Over on Sky, Ted Kravitz returns to their programming after two races away from their coverage. Expect the likes of Martin Brundle and Jenson Button to also be back with Sky during the Silverstone weekend.
F1 – over-the-top
With Jacques focussed on his Channel 4 duties, Rosanna Tennant steps into the Formula Two hot seat, commentating on every Formula Two session for the first time.
Joining Tennant throughout the weekend are Tom Gaymor and Jordan King.
Channel 4 schedule Friday 16th July 14:10 to 15:45 – F1: Practice 1 17:00 to 19:30 – F1: Qualifying
Saturday 17th July 11:45 to 13:05 – F1: Practice 2 13:05 to 14:20 – W Series: Race 15:45 to 17:45 – F1: Sprint Qualifying
Sunday 18th July 13:30 to 18:00 – F1: Race => 13:30 – Build Up => 14:45 – Race => 17:00 – Reaction
Channel 4 scheduling details for the 2021 British Grand Prix. Scheduling details correct as of Friday 9th July and are subject to change.
Sky Sports F1 schedule Sunday 11th July 14:30 to 17:15 – Goodwood Festival of Speed
Thursday 15th July 18:30 to 19:30 – The F1 Show 19:30 to 21:00 – F1: Drivers’ Press Conference
Friday 16th July 11:25 to 12:20 – F2: Practice 14:00 to 15:45 – F1: Practice 1 (also Sky One) 16:45 to 17:25 – F2: Qualifying 17:25 to 19:30 – F1: Qualifying (also Sky One)
Saturday 17th July 08:40 to 09:45 – F2: Sprint Race 1 11:30 to 13:10 – F1: Practice 2 (also Sky One) 14:35 to 15:35 – F2: Sprint Race 2 15:40 to 18:00 – F1: Sprint Qualifying 18:00 to 18:30 – Ted’s Qualifying Notebook
Sunday 18th July 10:40 to 12:00 – F2: Feature Race 13:30 to 18:30 – F1: Race => 13:30 – Grand Prix Sunday (also Sky One) => 14:55 – Race (also Sky One) => 17:00 – Chequered Flag => 18:00 – Ted’s Notebook
Sky Sports F1 scheduling details for the 2021 British Grand Prix. Scheduling details correct as of Friday 9th July and are subject to change.
Rachel Brookes has been an integral part of Sky’s Formula 1 coverage since 2013.
Now in her ninth season with the team, Brookes presents coverage of Formula Two and Formula Three, as well as Sky’s magazine programme The F1 Show on Thursday evenings.
New for 2021, Brookes also commentates on the first Friday practice session alongside the likes of Karun Chandhok and Paul di Resta in the booth.
Ahead of the 2021 season, Motorsport Broadcasting caught up with Brookes to discuss her broadcasting career to date, how COVID has impacted broadcasting, amongst other topics.
We start off by talking about how Brookes ended up part of Sky’s F1 team…
When I joined Sky Sports News, I was just reporting on anything and everything, and one day an editor came into the edit suite I was in and asked whether I know anything about cricket. I said ‘yes, I know a little bit,’ and he said ‘we need you to cover a cricket match tomorrow!’
I turned up and started reporting on cricket from the boundary edge. Sky seemed to like it and then they kept sending me to cricket after that. I loved cricket as a sport but I would never have imagined essentially commentating on it from the side of the pitch! I really enjoyed it, though.
And then when we bought the rights to Formula 1 [in 2011], I was a pain in the neck to the bosses saying ‘I want to work on it!’ They put the job out there, and Craig [Slater] and I both applied.
We went through an interview process, I had to put a presentation together like anyone else would, sit there and tell the why. Luckily, I got the job on Sky Sports News, and then moved over to Sky Sports F1 full-time in 2016, but I started working on F1 in 2013.
What sparked your interest in motor sport, is it something you’ve wanted to be involved in from an early age?
My Dad did endurance records before I was born. 24 Hours of Le Mans was nothing, he did 7 days and nights and that record still stands today, I don’t think anyone else has been crazy enough to beat it.
In our living room at home there was a picture of him during one of his record runs, I would always see that as a kid and ask questions about it. I used to watch it with my brothers, because they were older and they were the cooler ones!
Then one of my brothers started racing in the Polo Super Coupe Cup, followed by both my brothers doing some Radical Racing together, so I used to follow them around. I’ve been around motor sport since I was young and it was always something that intrigued me.
When I went to the races my brother did, there was always such a lovely family atmosphere in the paddock that I knew it was a sport I’d enjoy if I got into it in the end. You’ve still got that same atmosphere in F1 that we had at the races at Brands Hatch or Cadwell Park.
We heard recently about the passing of Murray Walker. Do you have any memories of meeting or interviewing Murray?
I never got to interview him, but I did get to meet him, funnily enough when I worked at the Power FM radio station on the south coast [between 2000 and 2005]. Murray was quite local and he used to come into the radio station to do his voiceover work, so I met him on a couple of occasions then.
He was such an idol in my eyes that I was too nervous to speak to him properly. I met him to say hello and to say that I loved watching Formula 1, and that was it, and I really regret actually not stopping and having a really good conversation with him.
He’s the sound in my ears when I think of watching Formula 1 as a kid, I hear Murray, I think most of us do. He really brought the sport alive for so many people. I think he’ll always be the voice of F1 and so he should be.
People call it a childlike enthusiasm, but it was just his genuine passion for the sport and doing what he loved that was awesome, and I think all of us can learn from that.
This year is Sky’s tenth season of broadcasting F1, and your ninth with the team. Do you have any standout features that you remember?
The Sergio Perez trip to Mexico, to see him at home, is always something that sticks out in my mind, probably because it took nine months to set up.
It’s not easy to persuade a driver and their family to let you into their house with cameras and film them and their family. It’s also because of the environment, he was really open, saying that he’d given up on his Ferrari dream and all this sort of thing. That was one that really sticks out, that I really enjoyed.
I’ve got a couple of people at the moment who are tentative yeses. One solid yes, but COVID has just put pay to doing it, which is a real shame. If the solid yes comes off, it’ll be amazing, I’m keeping everything crossed that it happens.
I really enjoy those just because getting them out of the racing environment makes such a difference and seeing what makes them tick when they’re not at a race track is something I enjoy finding out.
The stuff away from the track we really miss, so the sooner that comes back, the better.
From an interviewing perspective, how has COVID changed the interview dynamic? Have you found yourself adapting your questions a lot more than previously?
It’s really hard because so much of the interview is the connection between you and the person you’re interviewing and that face mask is a physical barrier, and that’s a real shame because you lose quite a bit of that connection.
On a practical side, doing interviews in the pen being 2 meters away, and wearing masks, you can’t hear what they are saying at all, so for the first couple of rounds of interviews, I was thinking ‘this is crazy, I need to find a way around this.’
In the end, I plug headphones into the camera next to me and I hear it through the camera in one ear and then try and hear other stuff in person through the other ear and listen to what’s going on.
I didn’t realise how much of a difference it made until I did an interview [before Bahrain] with Lewis, where we didn’t wear face masks.
We sat probably more than two meters away to be fair, but we could do it on the track, and without face masks, and it completely changes the interview. It’s much more relaxed without masks.
It feels like yesterday since the F1 channel started, its already like I said the tenth season. The plan this year is for 23 races, which is a lot.
It’s going to be a very long, very tough season.
I’m fortunate in that I don’t do every race, Natalie [Pinkham] and I share the role, so for me it’s not as tough, but for those going to every race and for the teams, I can’t imagine how difficult it’s going to be. That’s a very long time for people to be away from home, away from their families and kids.
In 2020 there was always something different every race we went to, there would always be a new story.
I really, really enjoyed last year, seeing different drivers on the podium, having different race winners really helped in what was quite a tough year to carry out on the ground in terms of all the restrictions. It was a great year, and it looks like this year might be even better.
Formula 1 as a sport last year did so well to make sure we managed to complete the season and Sky as a team didn’t have any on-site positive tests.
We [Sky] probably played it safer more than anyone else, none of us went to restaurants, we sat in our hotel in a conference room to have dinner and things just to keep us all safe. Formula 1 saw that it worked and we managed to keep on the road last season when other sports couldn’t.
Moving onto a different topic, there’s been a lot of good work done to get more women into motor sport, and the W Series being on the F1 calendar this year should only help in that regard.
Absolutely. I’ve always said that you can’t be what you can’t see, and a perfect example was my niece who went to a Dare to be Different day.
She came along and we all assumed that she’d get in the go kart and love it. Actually, it was the STEM engineering that she loved. They made a hovercraft and made it fly, and for her, she hadn’t done any of that at school, and she was like ‘I love this, I want to do this.’
I think the big message we need to get out there is it’s open to everyone, absolutely everyone, and the more we can showcase all of the different people that work in the paddock, that work in motor sport, the better.
We’ve got some fantastic women working in Formula 1 right now, we had Claire [Williams] as a deputy team principal, but we’ve got strategists, we’ve got aerodynamicists, we’ve got people working in the pit stops that you don’t see because they’ve got helmets on, but let’s showcase these people more, and show what they can do.
W Series is another brilliant example, and just this morning there was a tweet from Top Gear with an interview with Chris Harris and Jess Hawkins who’s a stunt driver. Let’s publicise these people, let’s really put them on a platform and say ‘you can do anything.’
It doesn’t just apply to women, it applies across the board, let’s make sure that everyone is given a fair opportunity to show what you can do and what’s open to you, and then hopefully kids growing up will think ‘I can do anything’ which is exactly what they should be able to think.
It’s not soundbite, it’s action that is needed.
My thanks go to Rachel Brookes for spending the time with me on the above piece.