Ben Edwards to return to commentary box with F1’s in-house team

Ben Edwards is to return to the commentary box for the upcoming 2022 Formula One season, the series has confirmed.

Edwards stepped down from his Channel 4 duties following the 2020 season, citing a need at the time to “step back from the front line of such an intense world and take a wider perspective on motorsport and life.”

By that point, Edwards had commentated on nine consecutive F1 seasons, firstly with the BBC from 2012 to 2015, and then with Channel 4 from 2016 to 2020.

Edwards made sporadic appearances last season for both BBC Radio 5 Live and Channel 4 last season, substituting for Jack Nicholls and Alex Jacques.

Now, the 56-year-old will formally return to the booth this year, forming part of F1’s digital team on their over-the-top platform F1 TV.

For Edwards, his return to F1’s in-house team is a throwback to 2002, when he commentated on the full season from F1’s Biggin Hill headquarters as part of the interactive F1 Digital+ platform on Sky Sports.

Edwards will commentate on 10 races this season, beginning in Bahrain this weekend alongside Jolyon Palmer. The pair, along with Will Buxton, Sam Collins, and Tom Gaymor, will be part of the F1 Live channel via F1 TV, the primary feed choice for F1 TV subscribers.

The F1 Live channel will offer “analysis ahead of each race with the teams’ technical directors showing off the car upgrades for the cameras and seamless programming throughout the weekend.”

Sky’s UK commentary, which used to be the main feed option on F1 TV, takes a back seat, but will still be available as a secondary option for subscribers.

Edwards started his F1 commentary career with Eurosport in the 1990s alongside John Watson, until Eurosport’s coverage ended following the 1996 season.

The partnership, which became popular with fans, continued beyond 1996, the two reuniting for F1 Digital+ in 2002, and again for A1 Grand Prix from 2005 onwards.

Speaking to Motorsport Broadcasting, Edwards spoke of his desire to return to the F1 commentary box, but on a reduced schedule.

“I’ve been doing commentary for a long time, and although there were a lot of years I wasn’t doing Formula 1, I was always doing a lot of stuff,” Edwards says.

“The end of 2020 was the right time for me to just back off and rejig myself a little bit, and I think that’s what I needed to do last year, and then this came up.”

“I found that I did enjoy doing a few races [last year]. When it became a possibility that I could do some races, and that there was a source happy for me to just some, that did become interesting to me.”

“I didn’t want to do the whole season now that it’s up to 23 races, but if I can do part of it and work with a team, then that appeals to me.”

“I went to Biggin Hill last week to look around. It’s a slightly different setup to how it was 20 years ago, but it’s the same building, and it felt familiar heading down there,” Edwards recalls.

“The only difference is I won’t have Bernie Ecclestone behind me as I did for my very first bit of commentary with John Watson in 2002!”

While the news of Edwards’ return to the booth is fantastic for subscribers of F1 TV Pro, fans in the UK will not be able to listen legally to Edwards’ commentary this season.

The premium-tier of F1’s over-the-top platform remains geo-blocked to UK fans thanks to F1’s existing deal with Sky Sports which runs until the end of 2024.

A survey released on the subject in 2020 explored potential options for UK fans, none of which have yet come to fruition.

HDR coming to F1 in 2022, with new graphics also set to debut

After successful tests last year fans in multiple territories, including the UK via Sky Sports, will be able to watch Formula 1 in High Dynamic Range (HDR) this season.

Sky says that the move will bring “brighter, sharper and bolder imagery to the sport than ever before will result in a true-to-life picture for every moment of suspense, every emotion and every podium this season,” as Sky aim to make HDR the new standard for fans.

Jonathan Licht, Sky Sports’ Managing Director, said “We are pleased to bring the 2022 Formula 1 season to life in a way fans won’t have experienced before.”

“The stunning picture quality offered through HDR will make viewing the new Formula 1 season even more exciting and impactful than ever.”

“As the exclusive home of live Formula 1 in the UK and Ireland we will bring Sky customers the drama from every circuit around the world straight into the comfort of their own homes.”

Ian Holmes, Formula 1’s Director of Media Rights and Content Creation, said “As we enter an exciting new era of Formula 1, it is fantastic that fans will now get to experience the 2022 season, and enjoy Sky Sports’ extensive Formula 1 coverage, in HDR.”

“This is the latest in a long line of innovations in F1’s production that allow us to bring racing to fans in new and engaging ways and we can’t wait to see it in action.”

In addition, and in a sign that F1 sees the 2022 season as the start a new era across the piece, new television graphics are set to debut this weekend in Bahrain.

Since the turn of the decade, F1’s graphics have changed around every 4 years, so a change at this point is perhaps unsurprising.

Early images from Bahrain suggest that the F1 digital on-screen graphic (DOG) will be repositioned to the top left corner of the screen, embedded into a new look timing tower.

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BBC extends F1 radio rights until end of 2024 season

The BBC will continue to broadcast Formula 1 exclusively across radio for the next three seasons, the broadcaster has confirmed.

Every session will air across BBC Radio 5 Live, 5 Live Sports Extra and BBC Sounds until the end of the 2024 season. By 2024, F1 will have aired on Radio 5 Live for 30 years, the new agreement extending an already long relationship between the two parties.

The free-to-air broadcaster continued to cover F1 on radio after they relinquished television rights at the end of 2015.

Jack Nicholls will lead the 5 Live commentary team, his seventh as full-time lead commentator with 5 Live, with Jennie Gow also remaining part of the line-up.

For the weekends which clash with Nicholls’ Formula E commitments, Motorsport Broadcasting understands that Harry Benjamin will substitute for Nicholls.

As reported earlier, Jolyon Palmer will remain with 5 Live, but in a reduced capacity, with Palmer moving to F1’s in-house team on a more permanent basis.

Instead, fans will hear from “a range of different voices from the world of motorsport throughout the season.”

Formula E driver Sam Bird, who races for Jaguar TCS Racing, will join Nicholls for the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend, while two-time W Series champion Jamie Chadwick will work on a “number of races”, including Saudi Arabia on March 27th.

Jack Aitken and Marc Priestley will also feature this season as part of 5 Live’s commentary offering.

Joining 5 Live out in Bahrain this weekend for the season opener are Radio 1, in the form of BBC Newsbeat, who have increased their F1 coverage in recent years, with Christian Hewgill presenting the programme from Bahrain.

IMG will continue to produce to produce the BBC’s 5 Live Formula 1 offering, including the popular Chequered Flag podcast.

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Over 4 million viewers tune into Drive to Survive’s opening weekend

The fourth season of Formula 1’s Drive to Survive kicked off with over 4 million viewers watching across its opening weekend, audience data from Netflix reveals.

Since launch, Netflix audience data has been unavailable for the general public to analyse.

That changed last Summer, when the corporation opted to release weekly data, showing how well their top 10 shows perform week-on-week.

What the data shows for Drive to Survive

Netflix releases weekly data each Tuesday, with the data release on March 15th covering the week ending March 13th, encompassing the first three days of Drive to Survive season 4.

The audience figures show that fans consumed 28.01 million hours of Drive to Survive during the opening weekend, equating to an average of 4.14 million viewers worldwide so far.

In comparison, season 5 of The Last Kingdom, which premiered two days earlier than Drive to Survive, was consumed for 63.54 million hours, equating to an average of 6.97 million viewers so far.

Caution needs to be taken when analysing the data, as the raw average for every series will be higher than reported in the data release. The data released by Netflix does not account for the fact that multiple people will be watching the series around one ‘viewing’ or TV set at the same time.

At most, this will likely push the Drive to Survive average closer to 5 or 5.5 million viewers for the opening weekend.

Drive to Survive: Season 4 – week ending March 13th, 2022
28.01 million hours consumed…
…which is the same as 1.6806 billion minutes…
…divided by 406 minutes
…results in an average of 4.14 million viewers per minute

Netflix data analysed by Motorsport Broadcasting

Nevertheless, for the first time, we have a true indication of how many people are viewing Drive to Survive on Netflix. These figures will only increase as the weeks progress.

To put the Netflix data into wider context, data from F1 shows that around 70 million viewers on averaged watched each Grand Prix in 2021.

It is difficult to conclude whether these figures are good or bad given that we have no historical reference points to compare against.

Drive to Survive popular in non-F1 territories, but fails to make US top 10

The data for the opening weekend, shows that Drive to Survive was the most watched show in Norway.

The impact of Max Verstappen is clear in the data so far, with the opening weekend being the 2nd most watched show in both Belgium and the Netherlands.

Drive to Survive was also the 2nd most watched show in non-F1 territories, such as the Czech Republic, Ireland and South Africa.

The series, which made its debut in 2019, also made the top 10 for the week in key F1 territories, including the UK, Australia, Canada, France, Mexico, Germany and Italy.

Surprisingly, the series failed to make the top 10 in the US, where it is suggested that Drive to Survive has had a big impact on the championship’s stature increasing stateside.

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Scheduling: The 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix

The Bahrain International Circuit plays host to the first round of the 2022 Formula One season as the new era gets underway!

Can Max Verstappen retain his crown and become a double Drivers’ Champion, or will Lewis Hamilton make history and become an eight-time champion? With new look cars on show, everything is to play for over eight months and 23 races.

F1 returns to Australia, Canada, Japan, and Singapore this year, while Miami makes its first appearance on the F1 calendar.

F1 – the coverage

For UK fans, every race airs live on Sky Sports, with extended free-to-air highlights airing later in the evening on Channel 4. The exception is the British Grand Prix, which airs live across Channel 4 and Sky Sports.

Sky will be hoping that their audience figures continue to rise off the back of last season’s titanic battle between Verstappen and Hamilton, the broadcaster celebrating 10 years of covering F1 this year.

The length of Channel 4’s shows remain the same as last season: 90 minutes for qualifying and 150 minutes for the race.

Although neither the broadcaster or F1 have made a formal announcement, schedule details show that F1 will remain on BBC Radio 5 Live for the upcoming season. Under what terms, whether the BBC have signed a one-year deal, or a multi-year deal is unclear.

What Motorsport Broadcasting can confirm is that IMG will continue to produce the BBC’s offering, as they have done since late 2018.

Joining Radio 5 Live are Radio 1, in the form of BBC Newsbeat, who have increased their F1 coverage in recent years. Christian Hewgill presents the programme from Bahrain next Friday, across Radio 1, Radio 1Xtra and the BBC Asian Network.

Formula Two and Formula Three return to their old two-race format, with both series in action at Sakhir. In addition, the F1 schedule switches from four days to three, with the Thursday press conference moving to Friday mornings, bumping practice to Friday afternoons.

F1 – the personnel

Naomi Schiff is the latest talent to join Sky’s broadcast team ahead of the new season. Schiff will present a new show on Monday evenings called Any Driven Monday alongside Sky’s Matt Baker.

Schiff will also be part of Sky’s presentation line-up during the Bahrain weekend. The usual Sky voices of David Croft, Martin Brundle, Anthony Davidson, and Jenson Button will be back with Sky throughout the 2022 season.

Readers listening to BBC’s coverage will hear less of Jolyon Palmer this season. Palmer will feature more on F1’s over-the-top platform, as F1 moves to making their own line-up the main choice for fans watching live outside of the UK.

Will Buxton, Tom Gaymor and a third person will rotate the lead commentator role for F1 TV. Once F1 publicly confirms the identity of the third person, Motorsport Broadcasting will update this site with additional information. Joining the trio will be the likes of Palmer and other guests throughout the year.

With no Palmer on 5 Live for most of the season, a wider variety of voices will join Jack Nicholls and Jennie Gow across the BBC’s output this season.

Owing to his existing commitments with Channel 4 and F1 respectively, Alex Jacques steps back from his Formula Three commentary role for 2022, with Harry Benjamin stepping up. Alex Brundle will continue to be part of F1’s feeder series offering, commentating alongside Jacques on F2 and Benjamin on F3.

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

Friday 11th March
All Day – Drive to Survive: Season 4 (Netflix)

Monday 14th March
18:00 to 19:00 – Any Driven Monday (Sky Sports F1’s YouTube)
– also Sky Sports F1 from 21:00 to 22:00

Thursday 17th March
19:00 to 20:00 – F1: Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Friday 18th March
08:25 to 09:10 – F3: Practice (Sky Sports F1)
09:35 to 10:20 – F2: Practice (Sky Sports F1)
08:30 to 10:30 – F1: Drivers’ Press Conference (Sky Sports Main Event)
11:30 to 13:20 – F1: Practice 1 (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
– also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 11:55 to 13:05
12:45 to 13:00 – Newsbeat (BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 1Xtra and BBC Asian Network)
13:20 to 14:00 – F3: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
14:45 to 16:20 – F1: Practice 2 (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
16:20 to 17:00 – F2: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
17:00 to 18:00 – The F1 Show (Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Mix and Sky Sports Main Event)
17:45 to 18:00 – Newsbeat (BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 1Xtra and BBC Asian Network)

Saturday 19th March
09:55 to 10:55 – F3: Sprint Race (Sky Sports F1)
11:45 to 13:10 – F1: Practice 3 (Sky Sports F1)
– also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 11:55 to 13:05
14:00 to 16:35 – F1: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1)
– also Sky Sports Main Event from 14:45
16:35 to 17:35 – F2: Sprint Race (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
17:35 to 18:05 – Ted’s Qualifying Notebook (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
19:30 to 21:00 – F1: Qualifying Highlights (Channel 4)

Sunday 20th March
08:55 to 09:55 – F3: Feature Race (Sky Sports F1)
10:35 to 11:50 – F2: Feature Race (Sky Sports F1)
13:30 to 18:30 – F1: Race (Sky Sports F1)
=> 13:30 – Grand Prix Sunday
=> 14:55 – Race
– also Sky Sports Main Event from 14:30 to 16:30
– also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 14:30 to 16:50
=> 17:00 – Chequered Flag
=> 18:00 – Ted’s Notebook
19:30 to 22:00 – F1: Race Highlights (Channel 4)

Full scheduling details for the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix. Scheduling details correct as of Tuesday 15th March and are subject to change.

Elsewhere…

Outside of the F1 circles, MotoGP heads to the Mandalika International Street Circuit in Indonesia for the first time. The action airs live in the early hours on BT Sport 2, with the main MotoGP race starting at 07:00 UK time on Sunday 20th March.

However, before MotoGP arrives in Indonesia, there is the small matter of Life at Speed, the championship’s new documentary series which aims to emulate the success of F1’s Drive to Survive. The series arrives on Amazon Prime on Monday 14th March.

The weekend also sees the World Endurance Championship return, with fans able to catch the racing from Sebring across Eurosport’s and WEC’s platforms on Friday 18th March.

Anthony Davidson joins the broadcast team, replacing Allan McNish who will focus on other commitments this year. Davidson joins Martin Haven and Graham Goodwin in the commentary box.

As reported on Twitter earlier this week, Eurosport will not be producing their own commentary feed for WEC, instead opting to take the World Feed. This follows a worse than usual reception to their 24 Hours of Le Mans commentary last Summer, which fans panned across social media.

The IndyCar Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway for round two of their season. Unusually, due to F1 post-race analysis on Sky Sports F1, the race airs live on Sky Sports Mix from 16:30 on Sunday 20th March, with a full tape-delay airing on Sky F1 from 22:00 onwards.

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Looking back at 10 years of Sky Sports F1

“Your new home of Formula 1. On PC, mobile, Sky Sports app, Red Button, high definition, and incredible 5.1 audio. This is Sky Sports F1 HD.”

After months of anticipation, 10 years ago today, Sky Sports F1 launched onto the air with a live show on launch night. The channel has changed over the last decade, with some features added, and others removed.

Here is how Motorsport Broadcasting has covered the last ten years…

July 29th, 2011 – After mounting speculation, the bombshell landed on the Friday prior to the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend that Sky Sports would be airing every Formula 1 session live from 2012 in a new seven-year deal with F1 and the BBC.

Immediately, speculation turned to who would be joining Sky, with the BBC’s then lead commentator Martin Brundle making his feelings clear on Twitter.

March 9th, 2012 – Supported by an advertising campaign under the ‘F1™ like never before’ banner, with Alistair Griffin’s Just Drive as the channel’s signature tune, Sky’s F1 channel launched nine days before the Australian Grand Prix.

Georgie Thompson and Ted Kravitz presented the inaugural edition of The F1 Show, also featuring contributions from Soccer AM’s John “Fenners” Fendley, who was on location during pre-season testing.

March 18th, 2012 – The 90-minute pre-race show we have come to know well over the past decade made its debut in Melbourne, with a now familiar line-up. Out of the 8 people that were part of Sky’s F1 team that weekend, 7 of them are still with the team now. Simon Lazenby presented, with David Croft and Brundle on commentary, the pair joining from BBC’s F1 team. A peak of just over one million viewers watched the opening race on Sky.

February 15th, 2013 – Motorsport Broadcasting revealed that Thompson had left the Sky F1 team after just one season, with suggestions swirling that Thompson wanted a bigger role heading into the 2013 season. Thompson presented the studio based F1 Show during 2012, a format which worked well, bringing fans closer to the detail outside the race weekend.

The format of The F1 Show has changed over the years: from a studio with no fans, to a live studio with fans, to on-site, from Friday’s to Saturday’s and everything in between, The F1 Show has not quite stuck to a consistent slot over its lifespan.

May 1st, 2014 – Arguably the best themed week that Sky has ever put together for F1: Senna Week. The week marked 20 years since Ayrton Senna’s death at Imola, with special programming focusing on both his and Roland Ratzenberger’s tragic accidents.

October 5th, 2014 – Sky’s most difficult race day broadcast: the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix. The race came to an early conclusion after Jules Bianchi’s fatal accident. The channel went off-air for the remainder of the day, with no re-runs of the Grand Prix broadcast.

March 23rd, 2016 – Less than a week after Channel 4 aired Formula 1 for the first time, taking over the BBC’s free-to-air commitments, Sky and F1 announced that Sky would air F1 exclusively live from 2019. The deal, rumoured to be around £1 billion over six years, was one of the last signed while Bernie Ecclestone and CVC were running the sport.

> Flashback to 2016: Davidson and Brundle highlight strengths and weaknesses in Sky’s F1 team
> Flashback to 2019: Button stands out as Sky celebrates their 150th F1 race
> Flashback to 2020: The catalyst for change?

Since that deal was signed, as well as screening Formula Two and Formula Three, the Sky F1 channel has expanded its portfolio, now covering the IndyCar Series, British GT, and the GT World Challenge.

Late 2017 – Martin Turner steered the channel from inception through its infancy, before stepping down as Sky’s Director of F1 in 2017. Scott Young succeeded Turner, bringing Jenson Button and Karun Chandhok into the team as Sky’s new agreement with F1 in 2019 edged ever closer.

February 25th, 2019 – Possibly Young’s biggest undoing was thinking he could drop one of Sky’s most popular team members. The Ted Kravitz saga overshadowed the start of Sky’s new F1 contract in 2019, with Kravitz’s role reduced in the process.

March 2020 – The world as we knew it changed, with Formula 1 and the rest of the sporting world paused as the COVID-19 pandemic began. Esports and special historical programming got Sky through the first lockdown.

The crew returned on-site to Austria at the start of July, however, COVID continued to impact production, in particular the Race to Perfection documentary series. The series, celebrating 70 years of F1, fell victim to COVID with planned interviews shelved because of the pandemic.

December 12th, 2021 – Sky’s audiences have doubled in recent years, and continued to swell further as the 2021 season came to its conclusion. A peak of 2.66 million watched the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix live on Sky as Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen clashed.

One week later, Sky’s coverage also aired free-to-air for the first time via Channel 4, with a peak audience of over 7 million viewers watching the final lap showdown between Hamilton and Verstappen.

March 9th, 2022 – Now, Sky celebrates 10 years of F1, heading into its eleventh season. Naomi Schiff is the latest talent to join Sky’s broadcast team, with a new show set to air on Monday evenings from next week called Any Driven Monday, recapping all the action from F1, F2, F3 and IndyCar.

Schiff presents the show alongside Matt Baker, which will air across the F1 channel and YouTube. Speaking about the announcement, Billy McGinty, who has since succeeded Young as Sky’s Director of F1, said “I’m delighted to welcome Naomi to our Sky Sports F1 team. I’ve watched Naomi’s career with interest, I’m excited she’ll be contributing to our coverage and co-hosting our new YouTube show Any Driven Monday.”

“Every year we strive to push the boundaries of broadcasting, whether that’s technology and innovation or multi-dimensional storytelling and this year will be no exception. We are seeing growth in motorsport fans year on year and it’s our role as the exclusive home of Formula 1 to continue to challenge ourselves and deliver the best coverage for our audiences.”

“2021 was an exceptional season for the sport and we look forward to more excitement and drama in 2022.”

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