Formula E is in search of a commentator to lead their coverage on a full-time basis after parting ways with Jack Nicholls, Motorsport Broadcasting has learnt.
Nicholls, who has been part of Formula E since its inaugural race in 2014, will not commentate on the remaining seven rounds of the 2022-23 season.
Veteran motor sport commentator Ben Edwards will cover the vacant commentary position for the remainder of the season, starting with the Jakarta race weekend, which takes place on Saturday 3th and Sunday 4th June.
The electric series has confirmed this news through a statement issued on their website, following a request for comment made by Motorsport Broadcasting.
Note: Below section added on May 31st. Motorsport Broadcasting understands that multiple complaints were raised to Formula E about Nicholls.
As a result, Nicholls has been off-site since the Cape Town E-Prix in February, with commentary for the last three Formula E race weekends produced from London.
In parallel, the series launched an investigation into the complaint, the outcome of which was conclusive, leading to his departure for “inappropriate behaviour.”
Multiple sources close to the situation have contacted this writer in recent days, confirming the above. The news was first reported publicly by The Times, with further details included, including quotes from Formula E and Nicholls.
The Times report that the series received three complaints, claiming that they had been touched inappropriately by Nicholls.
Formula E has not yet responded to a further request for comment from Motorsport Broadcasting.
In a statement to The Times, they said “Formula E can confirm that an investigation was carried out in response to complaints of inappropriate behaviour received about Jack Nicholls.”
“Following this investigation, Jack Nicholls’s contract to provide race commentary was terminated.”
Speaking to The Times, Nicholls said “Although disappointed with the decision, I respect it and accept why it was taken.”
“I want to take full responsibility for what I did and apologise unreservedly for a couple of isolated incidents that has made those concerned feel uncomfortable. I never meant any harm and I am committed to making amends and to be more mindful of my behaviour in future.”
A surprise change
Changes in broadcasting personnel during a motor racing season are rare, especially for high-profile roles, which is what makes the Formula E’s decision surprising for fans of the series.
Formula E began in September 2014 with the Beijing E-Prix, won by Lucas di Grassi, although the dramatic last-lap accident between Nico Prost and Nick Heidfeld made headlines.
Nicholls has been there from the beginning, and his iconic “And we go green!” calls at the start of each E-Prix quickly became synonymous with Formula E’s broadcasts.
Four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti joined Nicholls, and the two quickly formed a successful commentary partnership, with Nicki Shields providing additional analysis from the pit lane.
This role was Nicholls’ breakthrough into the limelight, leading to his involvement with the BBC’s 5 Live Formula 1 line-up.
While Martin Haven substituted for Nicholls on a handful of occasions, Nicholls remained the lead commentator for Formula E, providing commentary on the series’ highs and lows.
Franchitti’s decision to reduce his commitments to Formula E in the off-season affected the commentary line-up, resulting in a rotating roster that included Karun Chandhok and Oliver Askew partnering with Nicholls.
Nicholls has been off-site since the Cape Town E-Prix in February, with commentary for the last three race weekends produced from London. Formula E has not disclosed the reason for Nicholls’ departure, however it is unrelated to the recent senior leadership reshuffle within the organisation.
Edwards joins the Formula E presentation team for the remainder of the season after his stint with Formula 1, where he commentated on F1’s over-the-top platform last season.
Prior to that, Edwards has worked with Channel 4 on their F1 coverage as well as ITV, Sky Sports, and Eurosport, spanning a career of four decades.
“I am very excited to get back behind the mic with Formula E as the on-track action this season is a commentator’s dream,” said Edwards.
“The championship is more competitive than ever and I get to bring that to life for viewers around the world. I’m delighted to be joining the team and calling the action in Jakarta.”
Other changes to Formula E’s on-air team
Nicholls’ departure from Formula E is one of three changes for Jakarta, as Nicki Shields and Vernon Kay are also absent.
In Kay’s case, he is no longer part of Formula E’s full-time on-air team, as he focuses on his new role at BBC Radio 2.
These changes mean that, for the first time ever in Jakarta, none of the original ‘Formula E trio’ (Nicholls, Franchitti, or Shields) will be present during the series’ television coverage.
Pit lane reporter Radzi Chinyanganya presents coverage from Jakarta, with Saunders Carmichael-Brown stepping into Chinyanganya’s role in the pit lane. Nelson Piquet Jr., Oliver Askew, and Kelvin van der Linde will also provide analysis of the action.
Karun Chandhok partners with Edwards in the commentary booth, as the Jakarta weekend marks rounds 10 and 11 of the current season.
Jakarta was a hit with fans domestically last year, attracting over 13 million viewers, and series organisers will be hoping for a similar response this time around.
Update on May 27th – Nicholls will not fulfil his commitments with the BBC’s 5 Live F1 team for the remainder of the Monaco Grand Prix weekend in a decision taken by Nicholls rather than the broadcaster, I understand.
Tom Gaymor will replace Nicholls for the final practice session, with Harry Benjamin stepping in qualifying and the race, commentating alongside Jolyon Palmer and Rosanna Tennant.
After an extended winter break thanks to the men’s football FIFA World Cup, Formula 1 roars back into action this weekend with the Bahrain Grand Prix, and fans have a plethora of ways to enjoy the action.
23 races take Formula 1 from Bahrain on March 5th through to Abu Dhabi on November 26th, with twists and turns guaranteed. Familiar venues such as Suzuka, Silverstone and Spa combine with newer venues such as Las Vegas, Miami and Zandvoort, giving fans a mixture of the new world and old throughout 2023.
From a broadcasting perspective, the landscape is increasingly fierce for content creators who want to stand out from the chasing pack. There are multiple options for fans consuming the content to choose from across live and highlights, video, and audio, and online or in the traditional newspaper format.
So, what is returning, what has changed over the hibernation period, and who are new kids on the block? Motorsport Broadcasting takes an in-depth look…
Channel 4 to take F1’s in-house commentary
A new year means new graphics on the television front, with F1 promising some incremental changes for 2023.
Speaking recently to SVG Europe, F1’s director of broadcast and media Dean Locke highlighted that fans will see six to eight live helmet cameras during a race weekend, audio upgrades, “new opening titles”, as well as the potential for biometric graphics later in the season, subject to FIA approval.
The sport has revamped their UK TV base, giving broadcasters the choice of hosting their offerings from an augmented reality (AR) studio at Biggin Hill. Locke says that F1 “will host various broadcasters’ commentary here as well, potentially.”
Fans in the UK can watch every session live on Sky Sports. Sky returns as the UK’s main F1 broadcaster, the pay television outlet entering their 12th season covering the series.
Sky will remain involved for the foreseeable future after agreeing a new rights deal late last year, taking them to the end of 2029 in the UK, and to the end of 2027 in multiple other European territories.
Their roster of motor sport programming expands beyond F1, and this year the broadcaster will air Formula Two, Formula Three, IndyCar, as well as the Indy NXT series for the first time.
The latter, previously branded Indy Lights, features current W Series champion Jamie Chadwick, Chadwick making the jump stateside. However, it is unclear whether W Series, minus Chadwick, will happen in 2023 owing to financial issues.
In the off-season, Sky have tweaked their on-air roster, with both Johnny Herbert and Paul di Resta departing. The rest of the team, including the commentary pairing of David Croft and Martin Brundle, remains the same.
Expect Nico Rosberg’s presence on Sky’s coverage to increase this year, as the FIA have relaxed its COVID-19 paddock protocols for 2023. F1 banned Rosberg from the paddock last season due to his COVID vaccination status.
As announced late last year when they renewed their deal with F1, Sky viewers can access all 20 on-board cameras this season in addition to a new ‘Battle Channel‘, giving Sky Q and Sky Glass subscribers a similar level of service to that overseas fans can receive via F1 TV Pro.
All details for Sky Sports F1 unless stated.
Friday 3rd March 11:00 to 13:00 – Practice 1 (also Sky Sports Main Event) 14:45 to 16:20 – Practice 2 (also Sky Sports Main Event) 17:00 to 18:00 – The F1 Show (also Sky Sports Main Event)
Saturday 4th March 11:15 to 12:40 – Practice 3 14:10 to 16:30 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports Main Event from 15:00) 16:30 to 17:00 – Ted’s Qualifying Notebook 19:30 to 21:00 – Qualifying Highlights (Channel 4)
Sunday 5th March 13:30 to 18:30 – Race (also Sky Sports Main Event from 14:00 to 16:00) => 13:30 – Grand Prix Sunday => 14:30 – Race => 17:00 – Chequered Flag => 18:00 – Ted’s Notebook 21:00 to 23:30 – Race Highlights (Channel 4)
The full UK TV schedule for the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix. Updated on 3rd March to reflect the shorter ‘Grand Prix Sunday’ length and longer ‘Race’ length for Sky F1.
Channel 4’s free-to-air highlights package continues this season, with highlights of every race, as well as live coverage of the Silverstone weekend, airing on their main linear outlet.
Their coverage features a change which appears minor to begin with, but is significant underneath the surface. Alex Jacques remains Channel 4’s F1 lead commentator, however Jacques is no longer part of the core Channel 4 team. Confused?
Jacques has moved back to F1’s in-house team in the off-season, and will commentate on every race for F1’s streaming service, F1 TV Pro.
Instead of producing their own bespoke commentary, Motorsport Broadcasting can confirm that Channel 4 will take F1’s in-house commentary this year, Jacques alongside a team that includes ex-IndyCar racer James Hinchcliffe, Jolyon Palmer, and Channel 4 analyst David Coulthard.
The look and feel of Channel 4’s pre- and post-race programming stays the same. For Bahrain, Steve Jones will present alongside Coulthard, Mark Webber, Alice Powell, and Ariana Bravo, while Lee McKenzie, Jamie Chadwick, Billy Monger, and Lawrence Barretto will join them throughout the year.
F1 has announced various rights extensions in the off-season overseas, including in Mexico and Belgium, where the sport will continue to air on FOX Sports Mexico and Play Sports.
Over in Asia, the sport will continue its long-standing partnership with Fuji Television in Japan, with their agreement with DAZN also continuing in the market until the end of 2025.
Fans in India will have access to live action via F1’s over-the-top service for the first time, while beIN SPORTS will cover F1 in ten territories across Asia, including Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
Elsewhere in the motor sport spectrum, 2023 sees the end of the BT Sport brand in the UK. While MotoGP remains live on BT Sport, and both World Superbikes and British Superbikes remain on Eurosport, all three will become part of the TNT Sports brand in the medium term.
TNT Sports becomes the new name for BT Sport from July, with Eurosport merging into the brand “sometime into the future” following the announcement of a joint venture between BT Group and Warner Bros. Discovery last year.
The F1 Academy series launches in April; however, details of broadcasting arrangements are unknown as of writing.
Plenty on offer in the podcasting world
The BBC remains F1’s radio rights holders in the UK, with every race airing across either BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra or the BBC Sport website.
Thursday 2nd March 20:00 to 21:00 – Season Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
Friday 3rd March 11:25 to 12:45 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra) 13:30 to 14:00 – Bahrain Grand Prix Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live) 14:55 to 16:15 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
Saturday 4th March 11:25 to 12:45 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra) 14:55 to 16:15 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
Sunday 5th March 14:45 to 17:30 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
The full UK radio schedule for the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix.
Rosanna Tennant leads their offering for the start of 2023 season following Jennie Gow’s serious stroke at the end of December. Writing on Twitter last week, Gow said “I’m gutted not to be well enough to return to the paddock and to bring you all the excitement.”
“My recovery is progressing well – considering eight weeks ago I wasn’t able to move fully or speak at all!” Motorsport Broadcasting wishes Gow well on her recovery.
Jack Nicholls and Harry Benjamin will share the lead commentator microphone on 5 Live, alongside a roster of talent including Formula E driver Sam Bird, Chadwick and Palmer. Supplementing the BBC’s main race offering will be their Chequered Flag podcast, presented by the 5 Live team.
Joining 5 Live in the motor sport space this year is talkSPORT, who have launched a one-hour weekly show in collaboration with Formula E.
Presented by Jon Jackson, On Track airs on talkSPORT 2 on Tuesday afternoons, focusing not only on the electric series, but also on other championships, including F1 and MotoGP.
Where original audio and podcast content is concerned, the BBC’s and talkSPORT’s offering is only the beginning in a vast landscape this season.
Sky have launched their own podcast, with new episodes premiering every Tuesday. Presented by Matt Baker, The Sky Sports F1 Podcast replaces Any Driven Monday, which will not return to Sky’s YouTube channel after a single season on air.
The Race Media have refreshed their WTF1 brand in the winter break, with two of the brand’s key players, Tom Bellingham and Matt Gallagher moving to pastures new.
The two have been largely responsible for the brand’s growth over the past decade, taking the brand from start-up to major player in the motor sport landscape. Instead, the two opted to create P1 with Matt & Tommy, a brand that they have full creative control over.
Content creators Andre Harrison, Hannah Atkinson, Ciaran Oakes, and Charley Williams have joined WTF1 ahead of the new season, with Jack Nicholls’ hosting WTF1’s s flagship Internet’s Best Reactions YouTube series.
“I believe the new team we have assembled gives us the best opportunity to keep the brand relevant and cater to the next generation of Formula 1 fans,” said The Race Media founder and COO Andrew van de Burgt.
Another new addition to the podcasting world this season is The Fast and The Curious, with a few recognisable faces to a non-F1 audience. BBC Radio 1 presenter Greg James hosts the podcast alongside Betty Glover and Christian Hewgill.
The show’s creators says that the podcast is “die-hard fans as well as those who are curious to learn more about the fascinating F1 world and the characters that inhabit it,” with guests in the opening episodes including Mercedes driver George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, and new Williams rookie Logan Sergeant.
And, if that was not enough, ex-Sky F1 pundit Herbert and Monger have launched the Lift the Lid podcast, while Whisper have launched a podcast with Coulthard and Eddie Jordan.
Lift the Lid has been “brought together through a love of F1 and their joint experience of life-changing crashes,” the two “join forces to give a unique drivers-eye-view on all the hottest topics from up and down the F1 grid each week!”
The Athletic joins the F1 media pack
A big addition on the writing front for 2023 is The Athletic, who have snapped up journalists Luke Smith from Autosport and Madeline Coleman from Sports Illustrated to kick start their coverage.
Introducing their F1 offering, The Athletic’s Managing Editor for F1, Alex Davies said “Our coverage will build on The Athletic’s mission of going beyond the chyron delivering scores and stats to the bottom of your TV screen.”
“From each racetrack around the world, we’ll dive deep into the personalities, technology, strategy, business, politics, culture and miscellanea of F1,” Davies added.
“Whether you’re new to F1 or a Serious Fan, we’ll get you up to speed by telling you not just who won, but how and what it means. Not just fighting words, but the roots of the rivalries. Not just how to tune into a race, but how to watch it like a pro.”
Davies highlights Drive to Survive as a factor in The Athletic beginning its F1 coverage, which has already been recommissioned for season six covering the 2023 season.
Autosport and The Race remain on the starting grid both in the written media and podcasting world, the latter now firmly embedded into the paddock and heading into their fourth season covering the sport.
Other faces to follow across social media in 2023 include Auto Motor und Sport’s Tobi Grüner and technical expert Albert Fabrega, the two breaking stories before the UK contingent of journalists.
AMuS’s most recent exclusive concerns the future of the AlphaTauri team, with owners Red Bull considering to put the team up for sale, a suggestion later denied by the team.
If journalists or broadcasters are not your thing, there is the other option of going DTT: direct-to-team. Expect plenty of content across the ten teams’ and 20 drivers social media channels this year, bringing fans closer to the action.
While Drive to Survive and broadcasters, such as Sky, aim to give all the grid ample coverage, some teams receive the short straw last season.
A tweet posted a few weeks ago by Williams suggested that they were releasing a behind the scenes documentary series focusing on their 2022 season, however Williams have since deleted the tweet.
Whether it is Red Bull’s Behind the Charge series or McLaren’s Unboxed, there is plenty of content to engage fans throughout 2023 across the different platforms.
Are Red Bull set to dominate 2023?
Audience figures stayed stable in 2022, with F1’s commercial rights holder Liberty Media reporting a cumulative audience of 1.54 billion viewers, resulting in an average per race worldwide of 70 million viewers.
Other metrics reported by Liberty indicate that F1 remains on the rise, with strong attendances following the COVID-19 pandemic and a 23% rise in the number of social media followers.
Early signs from testing suggest that Red Bull are the outfit to beat this year, as Max Verstappen looks to clinch his third consecutive Drivers’ Championship. Nevertheless, F1 will be hoping for a closer championship battle this year to keep the audience engaged through the 23 races.
Can Red Bull remain at the front, or will Ferrari, Mercedes and even Aston Martin pose a threat this season? Will it be Verstappen celebrating at the end of 2023, or are we looking at Verstappen vs Hamilton, round 2?
Verstappen versus Hamilton. 21 races down. 1 to go. The 2021 championship fight is going down to the wire, in one of the most intense Formula 1 seasons in years, as both drivers go into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix level on 369.5 points.
If Lewis Hamilton beats Max Verstappen, he will become an eight-time Drivers’ Champion, breaking the record set by Michael Schumacher in 2004.
If Verstappen wins, he will win his first Drivers’ Championship, becoming the 34th person to win the championship, and the first from the Netherlands.
In addition, Sky will air special programming throughout the weekend, with specials on Friday and Saturday, and an extended race day broadcast on Sunday.
Highlights of the race will still air on Channel 4 in an early evening time slot, with qualifying airing at 18:55 on Saturday, with race at 17:30 on Sunday, three hours after the chequered flag has fallen.
Radio coverage airs across BBC’s online platform, BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, with updates also during the race itself on BBC Radio 5 Live.
The weekend could be BBC’s last for covering F1 on radio, with no formal announcement yet on who will be covering F1 from 2022 onwards.
Thursday 9th December 15:00 to 16:00 – The F1 Show (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event) 16:00 to 17:30 – F1: Drivers’ Press Conference (Sky Sports F1) 20:00 to 21:00 – F1: Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
Friday 10th December 08:05 to 08:50 – F2: Practice (Sky Sports F1) 09:00 to 10:45 – F1: Practice 1 (Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Showcase) 12:45 to 14:25 – F1: Practice 2 (Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Showcase) => also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 12:55 to 14:05 14:25 to 15:05 – F2: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event) 15:05 to 15:35 – The F1 Show: Decider in the Desert (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
Saturday 11th December 08:10 to 09:15 – F2: Sprint Race 1 (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event) 09:45 to 11:10 – F1: Practice 3 (Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Showcase) 12:00 to 14:40 – F1: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Showcase) => also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 12:55 to 14:05 14:40 to 15:40 – F2: Sprint Race 2 (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event) 15:40 to 16:40 – F1: Champions Special (Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Showcase) 16:40 to 17:10 – Ted’s Qualifying Notebook (Sky Sports F1) 18:55 to 20:25 – F1: Qualifying Highlights (Channel 4) 20:30 to 21:30 – IndyCar Season Review (Sky Sports F1)
Sunday 12th December 08:50 to 10:10 – F2: Feature Race (Sky Sports F1) 11:30 to 17:00 – F1: Race (Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Showcase) => 11:30 – Grand Prix Sunday => 12:55 – Race => also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 12:45 to 15:00 => 15:00 – Chequered Flag => note: Sky Sports Main Event leaves the F1 at 16:00, Sky Showcase leaves the F1 at 16:30 => 16:30 – Ted’s Notebook 12:00 to 16:00 – F1: Race (Channel 4) => 12:00 – Build-Up => 12:55 – Race => 15:00 – Reaction => note: simulcast of Sky Sports from 12:15 to 15:30 17:30 to 19:00 – F1: Race Highlights (Channel 4)
Full scheduling details for the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Scheduling details correct as of Thursday 9th December and are subject to change.
If scheduling details do change, this article will be updated.
With 6 races to go in the 2021 Formula One season, just 6 points separate Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton as the championship returns to Texas for the United States Grand Prix!
For UK viewers, the weekend offering from both Sky Sports and Channel 4 looks a little different to usual – hence why Motorsport Broadcasting has opted to publish a full schedule for the weekend.
F1 – the coverage
Channel 4’s offering is the weakest from a free-to-air broadcaster in decades, partly by choice, and partly inflicted upon them.
With qualifying starting at 21:00 UK time on Saturday, Channel 4 have opted to air qualifying on Sunday morning instead of a late-night Saturday slot, as they did in 2019.
Meanwhile, the race edit begins just after midnight on Sunday, the earliest Channel 4 can contractually air the race.
Channel 4 have trimmed both shows back compared to usual: a one-hour qualifying show airs on Sunday with an 85-minute programme covering the race. Expect limited commercials, and a weekend featuring primarily World Feed content.
The actual race edits should be the same length as usual, except without the usual bells and whistles that production company Whisper usually provide.
Given the closeness of the championship race, one wonders whether Channel 4 should have negotiated with Sky to bring the free-to-air highlights package forward, even by an hour to 23:05.
Doing so would unlikely deplete Sky’s live audience, but boost Channel 4’s figure significantly, resulting in a net gain overall. Thankfully this is not a championship decider, because having the F1 title won at 01:00 on free-to-air television is not in anyone’s interests.
By way of comparison, 30 years ago, the BBC aired a 50-minute highlights package of the US Grand Prix from Phoenix in a late night time slot on BBC Two.
Sky have seemingly reacted to Channel 4’s qualifying conundrum by opting to simulcast their live coverage on their new Sky Showcase channel, enabling more viewers to watch qualifying across Sky, Virgin Media and BT TV.
F1 – the team and W Series
With a reduced offering comes a change in presenter, as Lee McKenzie steps into Steve Jones’s presenting shoes for Channel 4.
Martin Brundle returns to Sky’s coverage after missing both the Russian and Turkish rounds, with Jenson Button also joining the team out in Austin.
For the first time, IndyCar and NASCAR star Danica Patrick joins Sky’s offering. One person not with Sky is Ted Kravitz, Kravitz part of the W Series team during the US Grand Prix weekend.
Live coverage of the W Series airs across More4 and Channel 4, the Saturday race airing on More4 with the season finale airing on Channel 4.
Thursday 21st October 21:00 to 22:00 – The F1 Show (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event) 22:00 to 22:30 – F1: Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live) 23:00 to 00:30 – F1: Drivers’ Press Conference (Sky Sports F1)
Friday 22nd October 17:00 to 18:45 – F1: Practice 1 (Sky Sports F1) 20:45 to 22:30 – F1: Practice 2 (Sky Sports F1)
Saturday 23rd October 18:45 to 20:10 – F1: Practice 3 (Sky Sports F1) => also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 18:55 to 20:05 20:30 to 21:00 – Hamilton vs Verstappen: The Season so Far (Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Showcase) 21:00 to 23:45 – F1: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Showcase) => Sky Showcase until 23:15 => also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 21:55 to 23:05 23:05 to 00:25 – W Series: Race 1 (More4)
Sunday 24th October 08:00 to 08:30 – W Series: Race 1 Highlights (Channel 4) 08:30 to 09:30 – F1: Qualifying Highlights (Channel 4) 16:30 to 18:00 – W Series: Race 2 (Channel 4) 18:30 to 23:00 – F1: Race => 18:30 – Grand Prix Sunday (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event) => 19:55 – Race (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event) => also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 19:45 to 22:00 => 22:00 – Chequered Flag (Sky Sports F1) 00:05 to 01:30 – F1: Race Highlights (Channel 4)
Full scheduling details for the 2021 United States Grand Prix. Scheduling details correct as of Friday 15th October and are subject to change.
Meanwhile, MotoGP heads back to Misano, the Emilia Romagna race filling the void left by the cancellation of the flyaway rounds.
With a 52-point advantage, Fabio Quartararo is odds on favourite to win his first MotoGP World Championship. As always, live coverage of every session airs on BT Sport 2, with highlights airing on ITV4.
Elsewhere in motor racing, the British Touring Car Championship concludes with all the action from Brands Hatch airing live on ITV4.
Friday 22nd October 08:00 to 15:15 – Practice (BT Sport 2) => 08:00 – Moto3 => 08:55 – MotoGP => 09:55 – Moto2 => 12:15 – Moto3 => 13:10 – MotoGP => 14:10 – Moto2
Saturday 23rd October 08:00 to 15:00 – Practice and Qualifying (BT Sport 2) => 08:00 – Moto3: Practice 3 => 08:55 – MotoGP: Practice 3 => 09:55 – Moto2: Practice 3 => 11:35 – Moto3: Qualifying => 12:30 – MotoGP: Practice 4 => 13:10 – MotoGP: Qualifying => 14:10 – Moto2: Qualifying
Sunday 24th October 07:30 to 14:30 – Races (BT Sport 2) => 07:30 – Warm Ups => 09:15 – Moto3: Race => 11:00 – Moto2: Race => 12:30 – MotoGP: Race => 14:00 – Chequered Flag
Monday 25th October 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)
Full scheduling details for the 2021 Emilia Romagna MotoGP. Scheduling details correct as of Friday 15th October and are subject to change.
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.