Vettel versus Hamilton not bringing new viewers to Formula 1, yet

The 2017 Formula One championship battle between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton has not yet captured the imagination of viewers in the United Kingdom, audience figures for the first half of the season suggest.

> Channel 4 records big early season drops
> Azerbaijan Grand Prix the highlight so far
> On-demand audience growing

All figures in this post are ‘overnight’ audience figures supplied by, which includes everyone who watched the race before 02:00 the following morning, officially called Live + VOSDAL (viewing on same day as live). The Sky Sports viewing figures cover the ‘Pit Lane Live’ and ‘Race’ segments, normally covering the period from 12:00 to 15:30, although can be slightly longer, for example in Azerbaijan due to the red flag period.

Channel 4’s live race programmes last year were for the complete on-air slot. However, the broadcaster has stayed on-air longer this year for their post-race analysis. Furthermore, like Sky did a few years ago, Channel 4 made the decision to split their programming into three blocks: Build-Up, Race, and Reaction. This post covers the first two parts, but excludes the third section to present a fair and meaningful picture year-on-year for Channel 4’s live broadcasts.

This piece only covers the first half of the 2017 season, so I have excluded the Hungarian Grand Prix from this year’s average. Similarly, comparisons are with the first half of every preceding season.

Sky’s 2017 story
As usual, every race has aired live on Sky Sports F1, with simulcasts on other Sky Sports channels. Sky’s programming, from 12:00 to 15:30 or equivalent, has averaged 599,000 viewers, their lowest average audience since they started covering Formula 1 in 2012. The audience represents a drop of 3 percent on last year’s audience of 617,000 viewers.  Compared with 2012, Sky’s coverage has dropped by 23 percent, or by 174,000 viewers. What you cannot tell from these figures is whether these viewers have transitioned towards other methods of viewing, or have simply stopped viewing Sky’s F1 coverage. Has a quarter of Sky’s Formula 1 audience from 2012 really switched to Sky Go or Now TV as their method of viewing F1? The below paragraph might give a clue…

Coverage of the races exclusively live on Sky have averaged 592,000 viewers, compared with an average of 604,000 viewers for the races that Channel 4 also covered live. No, that previous sentence is neither a mistake, or a typo, Sky really does benefit from live Formula 1 on free-to-air television! However, the same phenomenon also occurred last year, although there are some interesting statistics within the detail this year. The Monaco Grand Prix rated higher than the Spanish round, yet Spain was the race Sky aired exclusively live. Furthermore, Britain’s audience was higher than Austria, yet Sky aired Austria exclusively live. The point I am making is that the value of Sky’s exclusive live coverage has evaporated compared to when they first started covering Formula 1 in 2012, to the degree where their coverage now sees little uplift for their exclusive coverage.

Fortunately for Sky, the race by race picture is positive, with four races (Australia, China, Canada, and Azerbaijan) recording increases of 10 percent or above year-on-year. What distorts the picture for Sky is a hefty year-on-year drop for the Austrian Grand Prix, which dropped by one-third, an unusually high drop in the context of their viewing figures so far, this season. It is easy to dismiss Sky’s numbers as poor and going in the wrong direction, but there are one or two stand out audience figures that skew the picture. Overall, Sky’s viewing figures on the whole look okay compared with 2016. However, the numbers are not great and they should be higher, after all Sky are the exclusive F1 broadcaster in two years’ time. The viewing figures are currently middle of the road.

A peak audience of 954,000 viewers have watched Sky’s coverage across the first ten races of 2017, a drop of 3.6 percent year-on-year compared with last year’s peak audience of 989,000 viewers. Sky’s peak audiences recently have been incredibly stable: the last four races before the Summer break peaked between the 1.04m and 1.08m range, again suggesting that exclusivity is having no impact on their overall viewing figures this season. Sky’s high point this season came with the Canadian Grand Prix, which drew a peak audience of 1.47 million viewers, beating Channel 4 in that metric.

Channel 4’s 2017 story
On race day, Channel 4’s coverage has averaged 1.86 million viewers, a decrease of 8 percent year-on-year. Worryingly, Channel 4’s race day programme has lost 47 percent of the viewers that the BBC had in 2015, when it averaged 3.51 million viewers. The viewing figures this year have not been positive for the broadcaster, with only two races seeing year-on-year increases. There are a multitude of reasons in play: their live races have generally under delivered on the track, promotion in year two sign-posting their coverage has not been as significant, and the warmer weather impacted their early season viewing figures. Splitting their programme into three has had a detrimental impact, some opting to skip the first portion of the broadcast.

Channel 4’s live coverage of the five races that they have aired so far have averaged 2.11 million viewers, with their highlights programming averaging 1.60 million viewers, meaning their live coverage gets around a 32 percent uplift. The two most important races in the championship battle so far, the Spanish and Azerbaijan Grand Prix are the only two rounds that have increased year-on-year for Channel 4, both by around 10 percent. Channel 4 covered Spain in highlights form this year, and likely a bigger draw compared with 2016 due to Lewis Hamilton surviving past lap one, whilst Azerbaijan saw the controversy between Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. Every other race has lost viewers compared with 2016. Australia, Canada, and Austria all suffered audience drops of over 20 percent. In the case of Australia and Canada, viewers turned to Sky in both cases (presumably due to the late highlights time for the latter), whilst Austria dropped across the board.

Generally, Channel 4’s live coverage peaks with around one million more viewers than their highlights programming. A peak audience of 2.59 million viewers have watched Channel 4’s coverage so far this year, 3.10 million viewers for their live shows and 2.18 million viewers for the highlights. Even if Sky does decide to sub-let a Formula 1 highlights package to a terrestrial free-to-air station, you can immediately see that the sport is going to lose some casual viewers in the process by switching to a new model. The difference in peak audiences is invisible in the Sky only figures up the article, and certainly will not be cancelled out through the likes of Sky Go and Now TV. It is an undeniable fact that Formula 1 attracts a larger total audience when it is live on free-to-air television. Channel 4’s 2017 high so far came with the Bahrain Grand Prix, which attracted a peak audience of 3.42 million viewers.

Combined audience and final thoughts
Although figures for Sky Go and Now TV are not readily available, streaming platforms are growing year-on-year, admittedly perhaps at a slower rate than to overhaul the TV decline. Data from shows that the All 4 platform is growing month by month, with Formula 1 one of the primary factors for the increase. Whilst live sport is still primarily consumed by those watching on television, there are a range of other techniques that fans can watch the action by. However, whilst the on-demand growth is good for Formula 1, we must not forget that the action was available via BBC iPlayer two years ago. Has All 4’s numbers for F1 overhauled the numbers that BBC iPlayer was delivering when it was covering the sport. I suspect the answer is no, simply because of the size and availability of both platforms. Of course, F1 coverage is available via BBC Radio 5 Live (numbers also not readily available) which may well be delivering stronger audiences since the move of their television product from the BBC to Channel 4.

At the half way stage of 2017, the UK combined television average audience stands at 2.46 million viewers, a decrease of 7 percent compared with 2016’s average audience of 2.63 million viewers. Perhaps showing the draw of live Formula 1 on free-to-air television, the five races live on free-to-air averaged 2.72 million viewers (down 2 percent), versus 2.19 million viewers (down 13 percent) for the races exclusively live on Sky. Four of the top five races this year had live coverage on free-to-air television:

01 – 2.99 million viewers – Azerbaijan Grand Prix (live)
02 – 2.86 million viewers – British Grand Prix (live)
03 – 2.82 million viewers – Bahrain Grand Prix (live)
04 – 2.65 million viewers – Spanish Grand Prix (highlights)
05 – 2.55 million viewers – Monaco Grand Prix (live)

The season high is clearly Azerbaijan across the metrics analysed, not only the highest average of the season but also recording a decent percentage rise year-on-year. The only other race to increase year-on-year is Spain, the Catalunya race seeing a 6 percent rise compared with 2016. From the championship perspective, the two races that have seen wheel to wheel action between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are the two events that have seen jumps, perhaps no coincidence. Whilst the other races have contributed to the story between the two drivers, Spain and Azerbaijan were clearly the ‘flash points’ so far, this season. Arguably, Spain could have brought a higher audience had the race aired live on free-to-air television.

At the other end of the spectrum, Australia and Austria saw drops of 17 and 26 percent respectively year-on-year. Of course, Australia in 2016 had extra promotion from Channel 4 given that it was their first ever race, whereas the early season promotional hype this year from the broadcaster was underwhelming in comparison. The Austrian Grand Prix suffered across the board in both Sky’s live broadcast and Channel 4’s race highlights, like Russia the race was distinctly average until the final stages. A rise for Azerbaijan followed immediately by a drop for Austria does beg the question: why did F1 not benefit from the Hamilton and Vettel spat in Baku in forthcoming races? Did broadcasters not use the clash between the two drivers to aid the promotion of future races? Without wanting to bang the ‘live free-to-air’ drum again, I raise the point that F1 struggles to capitalise on flash points when live behind a pay wall.

Three of the five races broadcast live across free-to-air and pay television have peaked with above 4 million viewers, whilst Monaco and Russia peaked with around 3.5 million viewers. The races where Channel 4 aired highlights have peaked with a cumulative three million viewers, Spain the exception with a stronger peak of 3.78 million viewers.

Neither of the television broadcasters, or the BBC regarding their radio figures, have yet responded to a request for comment.

The difficult decisions that lie ahead for Sky

The British Grand Prix marked the half way stage of the 2017 Formula One season, in a championship that is shaping up to be a classic between Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. The race from the famous Silverstone circuit also heralded the ‘notional’ half way mark of Channel 4’s current Formula 1 contract. In just a year and a half, Sky Sports in the UK will have the exclusive television rights to Formula 1.

Whilst the change is significant in that Formula 1 will not air live on free-to-air terrestrial television for 2019, the change is also significant because it is the first time that a group of talent has ‘disappeared’ from the UK scene. Yes, ITV’s coverage finished at the end of 2008, but some of their talent headed to the BBC.

Behind the scenes, and in front of the camera, ITV’s television talent moved to the BBC to cover Formula 1. Louise Goodman and Steve Rider may have stayed with ITV to cover the British Touring Car Championship, but the likes of Martin Brundle, Ted Kravitz and assistant editor Steve Aldous moved from ITV to the BBC. There was a natural decision made, no one was axed by the BBC as it was a new talent line-up.

The same happened when Sky appeared on the scene in 2012: talent moved around, talent appeared, but no one vanished. In 2008, there was a total of nine on-air personnel with ITV and BBC Radio 5 Live. Nearly a decade later, and that figure has swelled to around 23 personnel, depending on who you wish to count. In recent years, Gary Anderson, and the BBC parted ways in 2014, with the two parties disagreeing on the future direction of the BBC’s technical output, whilst Georgie Thompson and Sky separated at the start of 2013.

The remaining separations on the UK front have been amicable: Jonathan Legard and the BBC at the end of 2010, Legard since continuing radio and television work with the broadcaster. Jim Rosenthal and Tony Jardine left ITV’s F1 coverage at the end of 2005, but again that was a natural separation having both been part of their coverage since the very beginning.

It is rare in the sporting area for television bosses to bring multiple people in at once at the expense of others. However, if Sky want to make a good impression on new viewers ready for 2019, and bring in the largest possible audience, is it in their best interests to make some tricky and difficult decisions over the next 18 months?

As it stands, talent such as Ben Edwards, Karun Chandhok and David Coulthard will have no Formula 1 television work from the 2019 season onwards, assuming no free-to-air terrestrial television highlights package is available to the large UK broadcasters. This expands to all the Whisper Films crew who are currently working on Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage, who arguably deserve to still play a part in Formula 1’s post-2018 output.

Sky’s Formula 1 executive producer Martin Turner recently retired, and one might assume that the new executive producer, whoever they are, will want to start planning for 2019 early. The growing opinion amongst fans, including myself, is that Sky’s television team is becoming tired and dated, with very little change since 2012. There might be an opportunity to start the changes from 2018. It is difficult game of chess, while the current line-up goes about its race-by-race business, it should not be destabilised.

The combination of Ben Edwards and Martin Brundle is one that remains in the eyes of many fans, a ‘dream’ commentary line-up, one that for reasons unknown did not come to fruition in either 2002 when Murray Walker retired or 2009 when Formula 1 returned to the BBC. Personally, I think it would be a mistake for Sky not to bring over anyone from Channel 4’s on-air team over for the 2019 season, but I do not know how likely that is.

The bigger loss will be behind the camera. The majority of Channel 4’s team through Whisper Films, bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience. Their portfolio of staff includes ex BBC and ITV staff who have worked on programmes such as Top Gear, whereas on the other hand Sky has been in efficiency saving mode in recent years. It is plausible that some of Channel 4’s F1 talent might move onto an over-the-top service through FOM, should that opportunity arise.

Sky Sports is possibly one of the best F1 broadcasters’ worldwide. However, even the greatest can go stale if they fail to reinvent themselves and their output on a regular basis to stay ahead. Sky’s F1 coverage is falling into this category and actions should be taken, including looking at the personalities involved in their coverage.

Sky can bridge the best of both worlds in 2019, by taking the best talent from both rosters, creating a ‘dream’ line-up. Do they upset the apple cart by creating a fresh new line-up, mixed with the old and the new, or will they stick by their current talent? We shall soon find out…

A detailed analysis of Formula E’s UK viewing figures so far

From birth, Formula E has had sceptics from across the motor sport landscape, with fans and journalists alike wondering whether the series would take off and whether the championship is here to stay. The events of the past few weeks are showing that motor racing as we know it is seeing a seismic shift underneath the surface. Manufacturers, such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche are beginning to invest money into the championship, ready to begin within the forthcoming years.

But whilst the shift is occurring in the industry, how are fans reacting to the change? Is interest growing in the electric series? After three seasons, I feel it is worth stepping back and reflecting on the UK viewing figures so far, from inception through to present day, whilst also considering scheduling across the three seasons. In adult years, Formula E as a brand has not yet started school, it is still in its early infant years. Every year is a learning year. Nevertheless, this has been the story so far:

– In 2014/15, there were ten Formula E weekends, of which five weekends clashed with F1.
– In 2015/16, there were nine Formula E weekends, of which three weekends clashed with F1.
– In 2016/17, there were nine Formula E weekends, of which six weekends clashed with F1.

The championship started life in 2014, with exclusive live coverage on ITV4. Live coverage of the first race from Beijing on September 13th, 2014 averaged 266,000 viewers, peaking with nearly half a million viewers. It was a good number for the inaugural race, helped by the race-deciding incident that made headlines around the world. It was something for Formula E to build upon. In a story that would repeat itself numerous times though, momentum evaporated thanks to haphazard scheduling from the outset. Instead of a traditional two or three-week gap until the next race, round two did not occur until November and fell on the same weekend as the 2014 Formula One season decider.

ITV4’s programming averaged around 160,000 viewers during season one, Buenos Aires drawing a mid-season high of 260,000 viewers in January 2015. As alluded to above, the lowest viewing figures for season one was in Putrajaya (same weekend as the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix) and Moscow (same weekend as the 2015 Canadian Grand Prix). The season ending London ePrix recorded by far the championship’s highest ever audience figures. The Sunday finale aired live on ITV in June 2015 to an audience of 700,000 viewers, peaking with 1.2 million viewers. The whole weekend from Battersea Park, with ITV’s crew led by Jennie Gow presenting on-site, was a great way to end Formula E’s debut season and gave hope that Formula E could grow in season two, despite some mediocre audience figures. This required commitment from both parties, of course…

To ITV’s credit, a highlights programme aired on Sunday mornings on their main channel during season two, and their commitment remained for ITV4’s live programming (bar Mexico, which was substituted for live darts). Unfortunately, season two performed badly than the worst expectations had predicted. The first two rounds in Beijing and Putrajaya dropped by two-thirds year-on-year, the former not helped by airing on the same weekend as the 2015 United States Grand Prix. Without wider media attention, Formula E’s numbers were looking low by ITV4’s standards. Clashing with Formula 1 matters. Most of the motor racing world’s attention during an F1 weekend is on the Grand Prix circus, and not on an event on the other side of the globe.

The hefty percentage drops year-on-year continued throughout season two, whilst the highlights programme comparatively struggled against ITV’s own slot average. Irrespective of slot, Formula E was always below the expected average. The season ending London ePrix clashed with the 2016 Austrian Grand Prix, drawing a peak audience of 600,000 viewers on ITV’s main channel. Whilst good in comparison with the rest of the season, it was the final straw for the championship on ITV.

At this stage more than ever, Formula E needed ITV more than ITV needed Formula E. With horse racing on the horizon for ITV, the two parties parted company at the end of season two. I argued that ITV should have aired several races, including the season two opener from Beijing, live on their main channel to increase interest, but that did not happen. The series was simply not bringing viewers to either ITV or ITV4.

“I think logical progression from both sides would be to retain the current deal, but air the opening race of the 2015-16 season on ITV, along with two or three other races (the calendar hasn’t yet been released, so it is impossible to say which ones), with ITV committing to an on-site presence for those races.” – writing at the end of season one, this is what I said about ITV’s Formula E coverage

Inevitably, the move to Channel 5 received positive press, with the intention to boost Formula E’s audience. Despite the PR talk before the season from those involved, coverage has also not been as expansive on Channel 5: it was fundamentally clear the moment their first show started from Hong Kong that they were unprepared and received the rights ‘on the cheap’ because ITV did not wish to continue.

The studio format was absent from Hong Kong, and only came back after criticism from fans, on a much lower scale than ITV4. Behind the scenes, non-motor racing people led the show. According to BARB, ITV4 reaches around nine million viewers per week, with Channel 5 reaching 25 million viewers per week. Comparatively speaking, Formula E’s audiences have increased upon the move to Channel 5:

– In 2014/15, live coverage on ITV and ITV4 averaged 216k (2.6%) [156k (2.0%) excluding London]
– In 2015/16, live coverage on ITV and ITV4 averaged 138k (1.5%) [82k (1.0%) excluding London]
– In 2016/17, live coverage on Channel 5 averaged 280k (2.6%)

Admittedly, some of the rise will be due to the Channel 5’s shorter programme lengths compared with ITV4, benefiting their audience figures as a result. The average of 288,000 viewers would more than likely be closer to 200,000 had Channel 5 ran the same length time slots as their predecessor.

Live coverage on Channel 5 has been more stable in season three than the previous two seasons on ITV4, with consistent averages around 300,000 viewers. The high point came with the Buenos Aires, where a peak audience of 604,000 viewers watched Sebastian Buemi win the race. Despite audiences increasing compared with ITV4, the fact remained that, even on Channel 5, audiences are below Channel 5’s own slot average, and Formula E has consistently lost viewers compared with the programmes on-air beforehand or directly following afterwards.

Are Channel 5 going to happy with those audiences when an old film (i.e. Dirty Dancing) could get double or triple the number that Formula E was getting in some slots? On ITV4, this may not have mattered as much in season one: ITV4 is a free-to-air multichannel station where audience expectations are generally lower in the daytime

Whilst there has been no public comment about this, the fact that the season finale in Montreal aired on Spike TV, and the Saturday race from New York aired on tape-delay, suggests the broadcaster has not been happy with the figures that the championship has produced this season despite the increased audience year-on-year. As in the ITV seasons, Channel 5’s coverage has been damaged by other motor racing events. A perhaps pertinent example of where Formula 1 has damaged Formula E was the Monaco ePrix. Airing on the same weekend as the Spanish Grand Prix, the race averaged 248,000 viewers on Channel 5. A week later, with no Formula 1 clash and more attention, the Paris ePrix averaged 381,000 viewers in the same time slot.

The prime-time races have struggled on Channel 5, far below their usual slot averages. As noted above, the Montreal ePrix averaged 319k (1.9%) on Channel 5 on Saturday 29th July, with an audience of 104k (0.5%) watching coverage on Spike the following day. Andy Jaye confirmed in Channel 5’s broadcast that the broadcaster would, as expected, be continuing their live Formula E coverage for the 2017-18 season. I would be very surprised if live coverage of qualifying continues Spike. At one point on Sunday evening, their Montreal ePrix qualifying programme recorded an audience of “zero”, which is rare for any live motor racing broadcast on free-to-air television (the whole programme averaged 12,000 viewers).

Formula E’s top five UK audiences (programme average, overnight viewing figures)
01 – 700,000 viewers (6.8% share) – 2014-15 London ePrix, Race 2 (28/06/15, ITV)
02 – 426,000 viewers (2.2% share) – 2016-17 Buenos Aires ePrix (18/02/17, Channel 5)
03 – 411,000 viewers (3.8% share) – 2015-16 London ePrix, Race 2 (03/07/16, ITV)
04 – 381,000 viewers (4.4% share) – 2016-17 Paris ePrix (20/05/17, Channel 5)
05 – 317,000 viewers (1.9% share) – 2016-17 Montreal ePrix (29/07/17, Channel 5)

When I see people talk about Formula E, one of the complaints is that fans do not know when the series is on. The gaps between races are far too long. Running races in the Summer will not help viewing figures, you have more chance of hooking the casual floating viewer in January than July. Pushing races towards the Summer period and traditional motor racing period is not the answer, because Formula E will become lost in the shuffle, and I think the viewing figures do support that argument.

Formula E will always feel like a ‘small’ series if the championship is head-to-head on the same weekend as Formula 1, it needs space to breathe preferably away from the leading motor racing series. I know that is difficult when F1 has twenty races, but I am unconvinced with the current direction that Formula E are taking their calendar. On the brighter side, the gaps for the 2017-18 season look better than previous years, but races have a tenancy to disappear from the calendar, leaving gaping holes, which hopefully will not happen this time around.

Also, some of their social media content has stagnated, which stands out more now that F1 is finally trying with social media. Formula E’s social media content just feels… there, which might explain why their growth on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is slowing. Bringing North One Television on-board should improve their television coverage, which might have a knock-on effect to other areas of the championship. There are other problems, such as un-memorable tracks and the New York driver farce to name two.

If Formula E is the future, then the viewing figures need to start reflecting that soon. Yes, it is still an infant. But, by this stage infants show sign of growth. In the UK, there is little sign that Formula E is growing. I want Formula E to do well, the racing on track is generally good to watch. The viewing figures though suggest I am part of the minority that enjoy the action (compared to the large numbers that watch Formula 1).

The people in industry might care about Formula E, but outside of the Twitter bubble and into the real world with casual Joe, you get the impression that no one is paying Formula E any attention. And if that continues to happen, then Formula E might well be heading behind a pay wall in the UK sooner, rather than later…

Looking ahead to 2017

I can’t promise that 2017 in the motor racing broadcasting world will be as interesting as 2016 has been now that the dust has settled on the next round of Formula 1’s television rights in the United Kingdom. However, there is still enough to intrigue as 2017 kicks into life.

The yearly Channel 4 and Sky television picks for the upcoming season should be revealed in the first half of January, as we find out which races Channel 4 will be screening live and which ones they will be airing in highlights form. Alongside that, there is also the question of whether we will see any changes to either team. This is a bigger question than most years given that three high-profile drivers retired at the end of 2016. Will Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg or Felipe Massa be lured towards either Channel 4, Sky or the BBC’s radio coverage?

2017 will see Formula 1 air in ultra HD for the first time. In many parts of the world, standard high-definition (HD) is still not the norm and I still watch Formula 1’s races on Sky Sports in standard definition (SD). So, whether Formula 1 is aired in ultra HD or not, doesn’t make much difference to me. However, the ongoing technological advancements as Liberty Media come on-board should be closely followed.

We are expecting an upgraded Formula 1 app in 2017, with live on-board footage present for the first time. I expect this to be geo-blocked in the UK and elsewhere, but for those countries that can receive it (assuming plans come to fruition), this will be a great addition to the product. Elsewhere, we might hear news about BT Sport’s MotoGP rights deal which is due to expire at the end of 2018. All of the above, and the usual pieces of news, viewing figures and scheduling information (and who knows what more) coming up on this site in 2017.

Steady as she goes, Sky Sports F1’s 2016 season reviewed

Each year when I write the season reviews for the BBC, Sky and Channel 4, I try to find something new to say. Some new insight or opinion about what new areas the broadcasters have tackled, or not as the case may be. The on-screen product should always evolve year-on-year with little tweaks here and there. But, this season it is tricky to say too much about Sky Sports F1 that hasn’t already been said.

Anyone who has read this blog will be able to accurately predict without reading further that I’m going to mention the lack of material outside of race weekends and that the team, led by Martin Brundle and Anthony Davidson, needs a shake-up. It is the same story as we head towards 2017. It is surprising that Sky did not try new things, especially against new opposition in the form of Channel 4. Nevertheless, there were some changes compared to 2015 which is worth digesting.

Closer collaboration with Formula One Management
On the backdrop of a new deal with Formula 1’s media group to cover Formula 1 up to and including 2024, it was clear in 2016 that the working relationship between Sky and Formula One Management (FOM) was closer than before, the partnership spanning all of Sky’s broadcasting arms.

The main change in this area focussed on new virtual graphics that were provided by FOM for the Sky Pad, which were featured twice during the 2016 season. The graphics helped demonstrate the different braking points between Fernando Alonso and Esteban Gutierrez prior to their horror smash at the Australian Grand Prix. FOM also provided special graphics for the incident between Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel at the Mexican Grand Prix. I hope we see more of these graphics going forward as they help put into perspective how much of a difference even ten meters can make in some cases.

There has also been greater access to Bernie Ecclestone this year, unintentionally or not. The aura around him in recent years has reduced compared to the mid-2000s, and the aura was reduced further with what Martin Brundle described as one of the best features in his twenty years of making Formula 1 television. Brundle went to Ecclestone’s pad prior to the Brazilian Grand Prix for an excellent extended interview which aired standalone on the channel prior to the Christmas period.

Whilst closer collaboration is good, Sky have been unable to unlock FOM’s rich video vault which continues to limit the content that they can produce outside of race weekends. FOM are doing work themselves in this space, but it would make sense for Sky to assist where possible to bring new content to their audience. Tales from the Vault promised ‘unseen’ footage but failed to deliver, and other shows on the channel have regurgitated footage that has already been seen. Let’s have new angles and insight of past incidents. The footage does exist, it simply has not been exploited to a wide audience yet.

Stable team for Sky’s fifth season
Sky’s on-air team has barely changed since the channel launched in 2012. The only notable changes have been the departure of Georgie Thompson prior to the 2013 season and Paul di Resta becoming a regular fixture since he lost his Formula 1 drive. Apart from that, the team has been static. I find that disappointing considering Channel 4 grabbed the likes of Karun Chandhok and Mark Webber, suggesting Sky never went for either guy or both of them rejected Sky. The rhetoric “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” only works for so many years before a shake-up is needed.

Simon Lazenby has presented every race since 2012. At this stage, Lazenby is more Jim Rosenthal than Jake Humphrey in appearance, a good presenter. Lazenby comes across as presenting Formula 1 because “that’s his job” rather than someone who enjoys the intrinsic nature of the sport, whereas Humphrey and now Steve Jones clearly enjoy the paddock atmosphere. That’s how it comes across on-screen to the viewer watching the programme, in my opinion.

On the punditry side, as I’ve said before, Anthony Davidson and Martin Brundle are the highlights, standing head and shoulders above the rest of the line-up. Brundle is still one of the best analysts in the business, and Sky would be much weaker without him as we saw in the Canadian and Baku rounds in June. di Resta was an okay replacement as co-commentator alongside David Croft, but di Resta is not someone I see permanently in that role.

Ted Kravitz’s Notebook was its usual good self during 2016, although I didn’t watch every edition this season purely because of timing: with 21 races, it meant that not everything was consumed every weekend. I generally enjoyed Kravitz’s contributions, but would like to see Mark Priestley continue to be used more into 2017.

Priestley presented the weekly F1 Report and did appear during Sky’s main programming in the latter part of the season. I’d like to see him and Kravitz work on technical features together during 2017 detailing the various car changes. One of Sky’s highlights of 2016 was a fantastic piece between Priestley and Alex Zanardi, detailing Zanardi as he turned 50 years old. I would encourage readers to go out their way to watch the piece if you haven’t done so yet.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like the direction given for the pen interviews this season. At multiple junctions, this season, it felt like Sky were trying to bait either Nico Rosberg or Lewis Hamilton into giving a provocative response to questions for headlines. This line of journalism rarely works and will only lead to the interviewee clamouring up. If anything, the neutral approach should be taken so that more detail can be deciphered from the driver. It’s easy to blame the interviewer (Rachel Brookes) but actually the directive would have come from an editorial level at Sky.

Supplementary programming makes brief off-season return
In a season where Sky produced no new episodes of F1 Legends or Tales from the Vault, I was not expecting much new content to appear during the post-season period. Nevertheless, a few extended cuts did appear featuring Brundle’s interview with Bernie Ecclestone and an amalgamation of the various James Hunt pieces that have aired this season. A Journalist’s Special, combined with a quickly turned around special to mark Nico Rosberg’s retirement meant that Sky Sports F1 has looked busier than usual since the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

What is unclear is whether Sky plan to continue in the same vein for 2017. 2016 saw The F1 Show cut down to just 30 minutes for each race weekend, with the F1 Report moving to a weekly format. Personally, I think the F1 channel has been worse off a result this season. The F1 Report was good, but the calibre of guests was not enough for me to tune in on a weekly basis. The moment viewers are trained to miss an episode, and you have potentially lost them forever.

Cost-cutting meant less documentaries throughout the season. There was so much scope for a 1996 retrospective strand considering three people in their team were involved in that season, and one of them was world champion! A few features did air during Sky’s race day coverage, but no stand-alone programming which was a huge disappointment. The features that did air could have been expanded upon. An inherent problem Sky have (and it continued in 2016) was that features were being hyped up far too much and failed to deliver. In some instances, there was more hype than the length of the feature itself which is ridiculous when you think about it.

Overall, 2016 has been a good year for Sky. Steady, stable and solid are all words that I would describe Sky’s coverage in 2016. Do they plan to change things for 2017? I can’t see it happening. Do things need to change? I don’t think they will see any real gain in change for the sake of change. In my opinion, Sky need to find ways to make their coverage fresh and cutting edge. After all, Sky are the ones that will be broadcasting every race exclusively live from 2019 onwards. The ‘fresh and cutting edge’ broadcaster are not words that I associate with Sky in 2016, but instead with the opposition, something that needs to change as we head towards 2019.