Scheduling: The 2021 Monaco Grand Prix

After a year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Formula 1 returns to the streets of Monte Carlo for round five of the 2021 season, the Monaco Grand Prix!

So far in 2021, Lewis Hamilton has claimed three victories, with Max Verstappen winning a dramatic Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. Can Verstappen close the gap on Hamilton around the principality?

The upcoming week is set to be a bumper one for Sky Sports, with over 48 hours of live motor sport airing on Sky’s F1 channel.

F1 – the coverage

Live coverage of the blue riband event airs exclusively on Sky Sports, with most of the action simulcast across Sky’s F1 channel and Sky Sports Main Event.

Free-to-air highlights of qualifying and the race follow a few hours later on Channel 4, whilst the BBC also covers every session live via BBC Radio 5 Live.

Joining Steve Jones out in Monaco for Channel 4’s trackside offering are David Coulthard and Mark Webber, whilst Alex Jacques joins Coulthard in the commentary booth. In addition, Eddie Jordan is with the team, the first time Jordan has joined them since 2019.

Meanwhile over on Sky, Ted Kravitz returns to the team having missed the Spanish Grand Prix weekend.

As is tradition in Monaco, all the Friday action moves to Thursday, with only the first Formula 2 sprint race taking place on Friday morning.

The timing of the second Formula 2 sprint race on Saturday morning leaves fans wanting to watch it live with a slightly early alarm call: the race beginning at 07:20 UK time…

F1 – over-the-top

Fans watching via Formula 1’s over-the-top platform outside the UK will hear a different voice to usual on the Pit Lane Channel.

Tom Gaymor, who is a regular voice over on Eurosport, steps into the hot seat for the first time on F1 TV. Alex Brundle and Sam Collins join Gaymor in commentary, with Rosanna Tennant reporting from on-site.

Also new this weekend is the Porsche Supercup commentary line-up, as Harry Benjamin and Shaun Hollamby commentate on the series for the first time.

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

Wednesday 19th May
17:00 to 18:00 – The F1 Show (Sky Sports F1)
18:00 to 19:30 – F1: Drivers’ Press Conference (Sky Sports F1)

Thursday 20th May
08:40 to 09:35 – F2: Practice (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
10:00 to 11:45 – F1: Practice 1 (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
=> also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 10:25 to 11:35
12:15 to 13:05 – F2: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
13:45 to 15:30 – F1: Practice 2 (Sky Sports F1)
=> also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 13:55 to 15:05

Friday 21st May
10:35 to 11:40 – F2: Sprint Race 1 (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)

Saturday 22nd May
07:10 to 08:15 – F2: Sprint Race 2 (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
10:45 to 12:10 – F1: Practice 3 (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
=> also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 10:55 to 12:05
13:00 to 15:30 – F1: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
=> also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 13:55 to 15:05
16:05 to 17:25 – F2: Feature Race (Sky Sports F1)
18:00 to 19:00 – Ted’s Qualifying Notebook (Sky Sports F1)
20:00 to 21:30 – F1: Qualifying Highlights (Channel 4)

Sunday 23rd May
09:30 to 10:15 – Porsche Supercup: Race (Eurosport, Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
12:30 to 17:30 – F1: Race (Sky Sports F1)
=> 12:30 – Grand Prix Sunday (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 13:55 – Race (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 13:50 to 16:00
=> 16:00 – Chequered Flag
=> 17:00 – Ted’s Notebook
18:30 to 21:00 – F1: Race Highlights (Channel 4)

Full scheduling details for the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix. Scheduling details correct as of Thursday 13th May and are subject to change.

Why, and how, are Sky Sports airing so much motor sport over the next week? The answer is the Indianapolis 500…

Indianapolis 500 build-up – the key details

UK fans will be able to see most of the Indianapolis 500 build-up, practice and qualifying exclusively live on Sky Sports F1.

There are exceptions, but this is where coverage overlaps with Sky’s Monaco Grand Prix offering, which understandably takes priority.

Normally pre-pandemic, the 500 immediately follows the Monaco race, but this year the two are on different weekends, the first time this has happened since 2010.

Motorsport Broadcasting understands that practice will come with limited commercials on Sky, but that qualifying and the race will run ad-free for UK fans.

Sky will take NBC’s coverage (NBC’s network channel, NBC Sports Network or Peacock) throughout the build-up, with Leigh Diffey leading proceedings.

Full coverage details for Sky’s race day offering are yet to be confirmed.

Tuesday 18th May
15:00 to 19:00 – Practice
20:00 to 23:00 – Practice

Wednesday 19th May
20:30 to 23:00 – Practice
=> session begins at 17:00

Thursday 20th May
17:00 to 23:00 – Practice

Friday 21st May
17:00 to 23:00 – Practice

Saturday 22nd May
18:00 to 23:00 – Qualifying
=> session begins at 17:00

Sunday 23rd May
18:00 to 21:30 – Qualifying
=> 18:00 – Last Chance
=> 19:30 – Fast Nine

Full scheduling details for the 2021 Indianapolis 500 build-up. Scheduling details correct as of Friday 14th May and are subject to change.

The week is jam packed for motor sport fans, as one of the most exciting periods of the motor sport year begins…

Last updated on Thursday 20th May.

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Live MotoGP to return to free-to-air TV in two race deal with ITV

Live MotoGP will return to free-to-air television in the UK this season, Motorsport Broadcasting can exclusively confirm.

ITV, which currently airs highlights of every MotoGP race on ITV4, will air live race day coverage from two rounds in 2021.

The first, from Le Mans on Sunday 16th May, will see ITV4 air all three classes, Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP itself live from 09:45 to 14:10.

In addition, the British MotoGP round, currently scheduled for Sunday 29th August, will air live on ITV’s main channel.

ITV will take MotoGP’s World Feed offering for their live coverage, with Steve Day and Matt Birt on commentary, and Simon Crafar down in pit lane.

It is the first time that MotoGP has aired live on free-to-air television since the BBC’s coverage ended following the 2013 season, and the first time ever that MotoGP has aired live on one of ITV’s television channels.

Since then, coverage has aired exclusively live on pay TV outlet BT Sport, with free-to-air highlights switching between ITV4, Channel 5 and Quest over the years.

Motorsport Broadcasting has reached out to ITV for comment.

A surprising development…

The news that live coverage of MotoGP is heading to ITV and ITV4 caught many fans off guard, as well as this writer, but as they say, everything happens for a reason.

As mentioned, BT Sport have aired live coverage of MotoGP since 2014, and while there is no doubt that their coverage is excellent, audience figures have not changed in the 7 years since.

According to audience data from BARB, around 200,000 viewers tune in to each MotoGP race on BT, fluctuating between 150,000 and 250,00 viewers depending on the competition.

An average of 236,000 viewers tuned in to watch Ducati’s Jack Miller win in Jerez on Sunday 2nd May on BT Sport 2, the race likely peaking with around 300,000 viewers.

Outside of live Premier League and UFA Champions League football, BT’s MotoGP audience was their biggest during that week across their portfolio of channels.

BT’s figures are more impressive when you consider that there are no British riders on the grid for the first time since 2010, with neither Bradley Smith or Cal Crutchlow competing this year.

So, why bring ITV into the live fold now? Clearly MotoGP’s commercial rights holder Dorna believe that BT’s audience is extremely loyal, and unlikely to drop if a handful of races air on ITV or ITV4. They have 7 years of audience evidence to back up that point.

However, Dorna also have the same data to prove that airing live on BT alone is not going to bring long-term audience growth to the UK market. If anything, BT’s audience is stagnant, and needs a refresh.

While we can debate all day whether Formula 1 moving to Sky has harmed the sport in the long-term, what we cannot argue is that F1’s audiences on Sky are increasing, and the evidence to support that statement is clear.

…and one that may benefit BT’s MotoGP coverage

What Dorna will be hoping for is that, by airing some races live on ITV or ITV4 in a much more attractive EPG slot, BT’s audience figures for the remaining races will benefit indirectly, helping to bring a fresher, potentially younger, audience to the BT product.

ITV can promote live MotoGP round their other motor sport programming, such as the British Touring Car Championship, which will only help. At this stage though, we are only talking about two race days airing free-to-air live, the picture for 2022 and beyond is unknown.

Some of you may be wondering how ITV or ITV4 are able to air the series live when BT Sport’s contract with Dorna is for ‘exclusively live’ coverage of MotoGP.

One industry insider has suggested that BT’s deal with Dorna only covers exclusivity across the pay TV spectrum.

In other words, no other pay TV broadcaster can air MotoGP live, but a free-to-air broadcaster could if Dorna offered the rights package out.

It is not in Dorna’s interest to do the latter on a full season basis, because it devalues the existing BT contract, and would inevitably result in BT walking away from the sport.

At the end of the day, BT brings a lot of money into the MotoGP paddock, and Dorna will want to keep them ‘on side’ throughout this whole process.

So, while a handful of races may air live on free-to-air television moving forward (if this is indeed part of a new strategy from Dorna), do not expect every race to suddenly air live, free-to-air.

BT are in MotoGP for the long haul: they recently extended their contract to cover MotoGP until the end of the 2024 season.

But this development is a welcome one for MotoGP fans as Dorna looks to expand the reach of the sport through both traditional and over-the-top methods moving forward.

Updated on May 14th to reflect the fact that the British Grand Prix will air on ITV and not ITV4.

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Motor sport organisations join wider sporting world in social media boycott

Several motor sport organisations have joined the wider sporting world in boycotting social media this weekend.

The boycott, which began on Friday 30th April at 15:00 and runs until Monday 1st May at 23:59, led by key English football bodies including the Premier League, is in “response to the ongoing and sustained discriminatory abuse received online by players and many others.”

UK broadcasters, including Sky Sports, BT Sport and ITV Sport, are all joining in with the boycott, meaning that neither Sky or BT will publish content to their F1 or MotoGP channels during the Portuguese Grand Prix or Spanish MotoGP weekend respectively.

On the motor racing front, F1 drivers including seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, George Russell, Lando Norris, Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon are among those that have announced that they will join in the boycott.

In addition, The Race’s media outlets, including their own website and WTF1 have announced that they will not publish material on social media through the weekend.

In a statement, they said “While we are fortunate not to be subjected to disgusting hate and abuse on a regular basis like so many sports stars and celebrities are every day, we believe it is right to join those taking a stand to raise awareness and urging social media companies and relevant authorities to do more to combat this problem.”

“At times over the last year it has often looked like our sport has waited to be guided by world champion Lewis Hamilton on these issues, but it should not be up to Hamilton to carry the weight of these matters on his shoulders every time.”

Independent motor sport website RaceFans have stated that they are taking a similar stance.

No F1 team, or F1 themselves have joined the social media blackout. However, in a statement posted to their Twitter account, F1 said “F1 is wholly committed to combatting any form of discrimination, online or otherwise.”

“We support the actions of the Premier League and other sporting bodies and athletes in highlighting that more must be done to eradicate online abuse that they are receiving directly.”

“We continue to work with all platforms and our own audiences to promote respect and positive values and put a stop to racism,” the statement concluded.

Is Formula 1 really ‘taking off’ in the US? What the data says…

It is a perennial question that comes around every so often in Formula 1 circles, both within the paddock and within the fanbase.

‘When will F1 finally break America?’ F1 has tried multiple times in the past to cut through to the wider American population, but with limited success.

Now, the question is changing. ‘Is F1 finally breaking America?’ With TV audiences on the slide, the job for F1 is increasingly difficult, but we look at how well F1 is succeeding…

A history lesson…

Over the past 30 years, multiple different venues in America have hosted F1 races, whilst many cities, such as New Jersey, have tried, and failed, to enter the arena.

After stints in Las Vegas, Phoenix, Watkins Glen, amongst others, Formula 1 returned to America in 2000 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

F1’s stint at Indy lasted eight years, the circuit playing host to the infamous race in 2005 which saw only 6 cars start, a race which arguably led to F1’s Indy spell ending.

Austin has hosted the US Grand Prix since 2012, minus 2020 due to the pandemic, and next year sees the arrival of Miami to the Grand Prix calendar.

Despite F1’s flirtation with the US, only three drivers have competed in F1 since 1990 with limited success: Michael Andretti in 1993, Scott Speed in 2006 and 2007, and Alex Rossi in 2015. And, well, the less said about the attempted US F1 team, the better…

On the broadcasting front, the championship has moved around different broadcasters in recent years, moving from Speed to NBC, and now ESPN.

Will Buxton, Leigh Diffey, Steve Matchett and David Hobbs led the broadcasting team on NBC, but the move from NBC to ESPN for 2018 saw the line-up disbanded, ESPN instead opting to simulcast Sky’s UK coverage.

Although fans reacted negatively to the removal of the NBC line-up, the move to ESPN did lead to two benefits, but not without their hurdles.

Fans in the US were able to access F1’s over-the-top service from launch whilst ESPN, from race two onwards, aired commercial free coverage of F1. The commercial free move came only after the network faced a barrage of criticism following the opening round in Australia.

Around the same period at the start of 2017, US media giant Liberty Media acquired the sport from Bernie Ecclestone and private equity fund CVC.

Under Liberty, F1 has made tremendous strides on social media to reach new audiences, including commissioning Netflix to produce a documentary series. Entitled Drive to Survive, the series has been a hit with fans.

Drive to Survive’s popularity has led to some claiming that F1 is reaching new audiences in the US. But, is this really the case, and does the publicly available data back up the claim?

…what the data shows…

Motorsport Broadcasting has analysed four years’ worth of television audience data, available publicly via Showbuzz Daily to get an idea of the year-to-year trends.

The industry website publishes audience data for key sporting events each weekend, both total people and those aged within the 18 to 49 demographic, pertinent given F1’s desire to attract younger audiences.

Total audience

In 2017, the last year of F1’s contract with NBC, four races aired on NBC’s main broadcast outlet, with the other races airing on NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) or NBC’s business news channel CNBC.

An average of 645,000 viewers watched 16 of the 20 races in 2017. The figure is slightly lower than suggested, as it excludes Australia, China, Malaysia, and Japan, which aired in the early hours for US fans.

In addition, the average drops further when removing the four races that aired on NBC. Excluding those four races drags the figure down to 483,000 viewers, giving us a better baseline to work with.

Three of the four races that aired on NBC in 2017 averaged over 1 million viewers, hence the discrepancy between the two averages. The four NBC races did little to boost F1’s regular NBCSN and CNBC programming over the course of the 2017 season.

The averages include NBC’s wrap-around content, consisting of around 30 minutes of build-up and some post-race reaction, as well as commercial breaks during the races.

Fast forward to 2020, and none of the 17 races aired on broadcast television in the US, owing to the pandemic affected schedule. Instead, every race aired live via ESPN or ESPN2.

An average of 603,000 viewers watched the 2020 action, this figure for the race segment only, from F1’s 5-minute introduction through to the initial post-race analysis.

Viewing figures for the 30-minute segment immediately before the race are unavailable, but including that segment is likely to push the average closer to 550,000 viewers, which is still an increase on the NBCSN/CNBC only figure from 2017.

F1’s growth in the States pre-dates 2017, starting as early as 2013, as reported by Motorsport Broadcasting at the time. Early data from 2021 suggests that the upward trajectory is likely to continue.

ESPN says that an average of 906,000 viewers watched the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, the 6th largest cable audience on record and the biggest F1 audience since the 2019 Canadian Grand Prix, which aired on broadcast network ABC.

18 to 49 audience

From a demographic stand-point, an average of 196,000 viewers aged between 18 and 49 watched each F1 race in 2017, but this figure drops to 142,000 viewers when removing the four races that aired on NBC.

In 2020, an average of 218,000 viewers watched the action, this metric likely dropping to around 190,000 viewers when accounting for 30-minutes of build-up to bring it equal with NBC’s 2017 offering.

Since 2017, F1 has attracted a younger audience in the US. Around 30% of F1’s audience in 2017 were within the coveted 18 to 49 demographic. The skew has since increased over time to around 36%, although analysis shows that the 2020 skew was slightly lower than 2019.

Nevertheless, 2021 has started brightly in this area: 46% of the Emilia Romagna audience were aged between 18 and 49, equating to 416,000 viewers, a massive number for the sport in the US.

From a wider motor racing perspective, NASCAR remains comfortably on top of both F1 and IndyCar, but F1 skews considerably younger than both commodities, making it a more attractive proposition to advertisers.

During the same weekend as Emilia Romagna, a NASCAR race averaged 3.31 million viewers on Fox, but only 650,000 of those were within the crucial 18 to 49 demo, a skew of just 20%.

In contrast, IndyCar brought in 6,000 more viewers than F1, but 159,000 fewer viewers in the 18 to 49 demographic.

…still small pickings in the grand scheme of things

In the wider context, an average audience of just under 1 million viewers for F1 in a country with over 320 million people feels like very slim pickings.

However, Formula 1 is fighting an uphill battle in the US from the outset, with unfriendly time slots throughout the season, especially compared to IndyCar and NASCAR.

Most races start at 06:00 PST / 09:00 ET, meaning that F1 is relying on fans either watching live during their breakfast or catch-up later to engage fully in the sport.

The alternative for F1 would be to move European races to later in the afternoon, and ensure that the likes of Australia, Japan and China start early in the morning.

Both moves would likely result in higher audiences in the Americas and Europe, but lower audiences in Asia and Oceania, making it impossible for F1 to please everyone in this scenario.

In addition, television audiences in America are rapidly declining, and F1’s increases (slim or otherwise) on the traditional platforms should be considered even better in that context.

While TV audiences initially rose as COVID hit in March 2020, figures soon went back into reverse and, as Hollywood Reporter put it, the gains “couldn’t reverse larger, systemic declines on ad-supported networks.”

For F1, and many other sports, traditional TV is only part of the picture, with fans able to easily access F1’s over-the-top platform and watch the live action, cutting the cord.

Or, alternatively, fans can watch bite sized highlights on F1’s YouTube channel, something that has only been available during the past few years.

Only F1 knows the true scale of how many fans in America are accessing this content, as F1 does not release these figures publicly.

But, given that F1 has seen slight increases via the traditional, yet declining, linear platforms, it therefore is an accurate statement to say that F1’s popularity in the US has increased, and more so with younger audiences.

With two more series of Drive to Survive on the horizon in the pipeline1, and a new race in Miami, things will only improve further for F1 stateside, as F1 begins to take off in the US.

Can F1 break through the glass ceiling and cut into the mainstream conversation in America? Only time will tell…

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1. See Episode 29 of the Australian Grand Prix podcast ‘In the Fast Lane‘, featuring Drive to Survive’s executive producer James Gay-Rees.

5 key stories from the opening 2021 F1 and MotoGP weekend

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

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

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

Filming begins on MotoGP’s new documentary series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New faces, new places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sky F1 shakes up commentary team for practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

F1 makes significant progress towards sustainability targets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Channel 4 production team member tests positive for COVID-19

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

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

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

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

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

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