News round-up: The latest from Austria; Sky extends F1 deal in Italy

In the first return to racing round-up, Netflix’s plans with documentary series Drive to Survive become clearer, as does Channel 4’s coverage plans for this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix.

Where possible, Motorsport Broadcasting endeavours to link directly to the original source instead of linking to a third-party site that may have misinterpreted the original headline.

The round-up gives a bite sized view of the latest news making the waves, as well as interesting snippets that I have picked up along the way.

All of the round-ups to date can be found here, and as always, all feedback on the site, positive and negative, is more than welcome.

Formula 1 – Austrian Grand Prix

  • Journalists are banned from the paddock for the duration of the Austrian Grand Prix weekend, and are instead confined to the media centre.
    • This is not an exhaustive list, but journalists such as Jonathan Noble (Motorsport Network), Adam Cooper (Motorsport Network), Joe Saward, Ben Hunt (The Sun) and Chris Medland (RACER) are amongst those reporting from the on-site media centre.
    • A live stream of today’s press conference was available to journalists inside and outside the track via the FIA portal to access.
    • There is an excellent piece from Noble over on com about his first impressions upon arriving into the circuit – I will not regurgitate it here, other than to say it is well worth reading.
  • Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage is to air from Silverstone’s new attraction, The Silverstone Experience.
    • After this site revealed that the team will remain in the UK, lead commentator Ben Edwards has confirmed the location the team plan to broadcast from in a blog on the BMMC website.
    • Motorsport Broadcasting understands that most of the Whisper production crew will be working remotely, with a small crew based at Timeline Television’s production house in Ealing.
  • In addition, not all of Sky’s on-air personnel are out in Austria this weekend: Anthony Davidson and Karun Chandhok are back at Sky Studios in London, analysing the action on the Sky Pad.
  • Producers of Netflix’s Drive to Survive series are continuing to film footage ready for season three of the documentary series.
    • As in previous years, the Box to Box Films production team conducted some initial filming during testing, whilst more recently drivers, such as George Russell, have been filming themselves on their simulators during
    • Now, RaceFans.net confirms that Netflix will be on-site in Austria this weekend, filming with the McLaren and Red Bull outfits, albeit in a reduced capacity to previous years.
  • Fans watching Formula 1 on television will see some new on-screen graphics this season.
    • Powered by Amazon Web Services (AWS) as part of their wider partnership, the Car Performance Scores graphic will analyse the performance of each car through low, medium and high-speed corners, as well as the straight, giving it a score out of ten for each data point, and a rank compared with the rest of the field.
    • Other graphics currently in development include the Ultimate Driver Speed Comparison, High-Speed/Low-Speed Corner Performance, Driver Skills Rating, Car/Team Development & Overall Season Performance, and Qualifying and Race Pace Predictions.
  • Also making their first appearance from the Austrian Grand Prix is the #F1FanCam, with trackside screens of fans beamed to fans worldwide throughout the course of the weekend.
  • Sky in the UK are running some special offers to mark the start of the new season. Similar to their original pre-season offer, fans can add Sky Sports F1 to their basic Sky package for £10.00 a month for 18 monthsbetween now and the end of September.
    • Whilst there is not an F1 Season Ticket offer for Now TV (presumably because no one knows how long the season will last), Now TV are offering access to all sports channels for £25.00 a month for the first three months.

Elsewhere…

  • Hot off the heels of their new rights deal in Germany, Sky have extended their agreement in Italy to broadcast Formula 1, the new deal running until the end of 2022.
    • As part of the announcement, Sky revealed that Carlo Vanzini and Marc Gené will be in a studio setting to begin 2020, with Mara Sangiorgio on site. In addition, the team plan to make extensive use of the Dallara simulator this year, with Matteo Bobbi giving the explanations.
  • Eurosport will remain home of the British Superbikes championship until the end of 2027. As part of the agreement, which begins next season, highlights of every round will air on Quest, with the free-to-air channel also airing several rounds live.
  • Adobe have written a blog on how they have collaborated with MotoGP’s commercial rights holder Dorna during the pandemic, transforming MotoGP’s workflow in just 13 days, helping them to deliver video content to fans worldwide remotely and quicker than ever before.

If you have spotted anything else making the rounds that I have yet to mention on this site, drop a line in the comments section below.


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Scheduling: The 2020 Austrian Grand Prix

It will be odd, it will be strange, and it will be weird. But when the lights go out, nothing will sound better than twenty Formula 1 cars blasting their way around a Grand Prix circuit.

After a three-month hiatus, and seven months since the 2019 season ended, F1 is back with the start of the 2020 season, beginning with a double header in Austria.

Sky Sports are the only UK broadcaster presenting their coverage on-site. Simon Lazenby continues to steer the ship, alongside the likes of Ted Kravitz, David Croft and Martin Brundle out in Austria.

Due to COVID-19, Sky’s original plans from a scheduling perspective for 2020 have gone out the window. Both Paddock Walkabout and The F1 Show are missing from Sky’s Saturday schedule, whilst their qualifying and race build-ups have halved.

Current schedules show that Sky intends to have a 30-minute build-up to qualifying, with a 70-minute build-up to the race itself, reminiscent of ITV’s F1 offering in the early 2000s, albeit in very different circumstances.

Sky originally intended to extend their race build-up to 130-minutes for 2020, which appears to no longer be happening, for the early phase of the season at least. The qualifying programme is shorter, as Sky are airing a live Diversity in Motor Sport special in what would normally be the first 30-minutes of their qualifying show.

Given that the social distancing guidelines limit what you can do, it is not exactly surprising that Sky have had to review their programming and go back to basics – including no grid walk for the foreseeable future.

This site can reveal that both Channel 4 and the BBC are remaining in the UK for the opening rounds. Jack Nicholls and Jolyon Palmer form the BBC’s 5 Live commentary team for 2020, with Jennie Gow and Andrew Benson joining them.

Meanwhile, Steve Jones heads into a fifth season as Channel 4’s Formula 1 presenter, joined in their UK studio setting by David Coulthard, Mark Webber and Ben Edwards.

As revealed prior to Australia, Channel 4 are airing more of the race this year than in 2019, with around 60-minutes of the race airing in their edit, compared to 45-minutes last year.

Elsewhere, Sky are airing the Formula Two documentary series Chasing the Dream in the run-up to Austria. For those who do not have F1 TV, this is well worth a watch, the series following the leading contenders during the 2019 season.

Channel 4 F1
04/07 – 18:45 to 20:15 – Qualifying Highlights
05/07 – 18:30 to 21:00 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
03/07 – 09:30 to 11:50 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 09:30 – Welcome to the Weekend
=> 10:00 – Practice 1
03/07 – 13:45 to 15:45 – Practice 2
04/07 – 10:45 to 12:10 – Practice 3
04/07 – 13:30 to 15:30 – Qualifying
05/07 – 13:00 to 17:30 – Race
=> 13:00 – Grand Prix Sunday
=> 14:05 – Race
=> 16:00 – Chequered Flag
=> 17:00 – Notebook

Supplementary Programming
29/06 – 19:00 to 19:30 – F2: Chasing the Dream (1/5)
30/06 – 19:00 to 19:30 – F2: Chasing the Dream (2/5)
01/07 – 19:00 to 19:30 – F2: Chasing the Dream (3/5)
02/07 – 19:30 to 21:00 – Drivers’ Press Conference
02/07 – 19:00 to 19:30 – F2: Chasing the Dream (4/5)
03/07 – 16:30 to 17:00 – The Story so Far
03/07 – 19:00 to 19:30 – F2: Chasing the Dream (5/5)
04/07 – 13:00 to 13:30 – Diversity in Motor Sport

BBC Radio F1
All sessions are available live on BBC’s F1 website
03/07 – 09:55 to 11:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
03/07 – 13:55 to 15:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
03/07 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
04/07 – 10:55 to 12:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
04/07 – 13:55 to 15:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
05/07 – 13:55 to 16:15 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)

Formula Two – Austria (Sky Sports F1)
03/07 – 11:50 to 12:40 – Practice
03/07 – 15:55 to 16:30 – Qualifying
04/07 – 15:35 to 16:55 – Race 1
05/07 – 10:00 to 11:05 – Race 2

Formula Three – Austria (Sky Sports F1)
03/07 – 08:30 to 09:20 – Practice
03/07 – 13:00 to 13:45 – Qualifying
04/07 – 09:20 to 10:10 – Race 1
05/07 – 08:35 to 09:35 – Race 2

IndyCar Series – Indianapolis Grand Prix (Sky Sports F1)
03/07 – 21:30 to 23:00 – Qualifying
04/07 – 17:00 to 19:00 – Race

Porsche Supercup – Austria (Sky Sports F1)
05/07 – 11:20 to 12:05 – Race

Keep an eye on this article over the forthcoming week, as broadcasters evolve their plans of the new F1 season.

Updated on June 30th to add details about Sky’s Diversity in Motor Sport special.

Update on July 2nd at 18:05 – As reported by Jonathan Noble over at Motorsport.com, the Drivers’ Press Conference format is radically different – and heavily extended.

Because of the COVID-19 restrictions in place resulting in no media scrums, drivers are being interviewed team-by-team in a secure room. Anyone who has followed the tweets this afternoon from journalists will know it has been a drawn out process, hence Sky opting beforehand to air a 90-minute version later tonight.


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Channel 4 to present opening phase of 2020 F1 season ‘off-site’

Channel 4 will present the opening phases of the 2020 Formula One season from the UK, Motorsport Broadcasting has learnt.

The season was due to start with the Australian Grand Prix back in March, but the opening weekend failed to get going after a member of the McLaren team tested positive for COVID-19 and the pandemic took hold.

Now, the season is set to begin with a double-header in Austria on July 5th and July 12th, with all eight European races announced so far taking place behind closed doors.

As part of the announcement, F1 stated that there would be around 1,200 essential personnel on-site for each event, with 60 broadcast personnel also there.

The position in relation to every media outlet is unclear, however this site can confirm that UK free-to-air broadcaster Channel 4 will not be travelling to the opening races.

Instead, production partner Whisper will produce Channel 4’s F1 highlights offering from a location to be determined within the UK, with the team situated together in a studio-based setting.

The 2020 F1 calendar – at a glance
July 5th – Austria
July 12th – Styria
July 19th – Hungary
August 2nd – Britain
August 9th – 70th Anniversary
August 16th – Spain
August 30th– Belgium
September 6th – Italy

Steve Jones will continue to present Channel 4’s coverage, with the likes of Ben Edwards, Billy Monger, David Coulthard, Mark Webber and Lee McKenzie alongside him to offer insight and analysis.

Speaking to this site, a Whisper spokesperson said “We can’t wait for F1 racing to return, so we can bring that excitement to our passionate F1 audience, who have waited since November to see cars on track.

“We want to get back on-site as soon as we can, but only when it’s safe to do so. F1 have done a remarkable job in restarting the season and we want to support them in every way possible.”

As revealed earlier this year, Channel 4 will air ‘extended highlights’ this season, the free-to-air broadcaster airing around 75 percent of the race, a substantial increase on last year’s figure.

However, the broadcaster will not air live coverage of the 70th anniversary race from Silverstone on August 9th, that race airing live on Sky Sports.

As Motorsport Broadcasting confirmed last month, Channel 4’s broadcast rights only allow them to air live coverage of the event given the ‘British Grand Prix’ title, which is currently the race scheduled for August 2nd.


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F1’s ‘Silverstone II’ race in 2020 set to air exclusively live on Sky

One of the two races that Formula 1 is set to hold at Silverstone this season looks likely to air exclusively live on pay television, Motorsport Broadcasting can reveal.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the curtailment of the first half of the 2020 season, with the season now expected to begin with a double header in Austria on July 5th and July 12th.

Current plans indicate that Silverstone will play host to rounds three and four on July 26th and August 2nd, circuit bosses confirming today that F1 had reached a deal with the circuit “to host two races behind closed doors this summer.”

However, it appears unlikely that both races will air live on free-to-air television. Since 2012, the free-to-air broadcaster in question (BBC until 2015 and Channel 4 thereafter), have been able to air the British Grand Prix live on free-to-air television.

Up until this point, it has not been clear whether the free-to-air broadcaster could also air other races that took place within the UK. The last time two F1 races took place in the UK in the same year was 1993, when Donington Park played host to the European Grand Prix.

Speaking to this site, a Channel 4 spokesperson has confirmed that the broadcaster will cover the race F1 officially calls the British Grand Prix live. In other words, if F1 decides to badge the second weekend as the European Grand Prix, then it will air exclusively live on Sky.

The key here is the official name of the Grand Prix weekend, not the location F1 are holding the race in.

Of course, the second round from Red Bull Ring also could be called the European Grand Prix, but geographical boundaries suggest that the Slovenian Grand Prix would perhaps a better fit, and there is past precedence in situations like this (see: Imola and San Marino or the Nürburgring and Luxembourg 1997).

The alternative is that F1 badges the second British Grand Prix as ‘British Grand Prix race 2’, in a similar vein to Formula E’s double header weekends. If that happens, well, your guess is as good as mine. Or, alternatively, maybe F1 can finally have their London Grand Prix. Just a 90-minute drive away…


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Revealed: Motorsport Broadcasting’s dream F1 presentation team

Over the past 50 years, many voices have graced the small screen to broadcast Formula 1 to the masses in a wide range of territories: from the UK to the US, from free-to-air to pay TV and beyond.

But how many would make Motorsport Broadcasting’s on-air team, and why? To answer that question is incredibly difficult, when trying to account for the different eras, the different broadcasters, the age of the talent in question, and so on.

The fan that ITV was trying to attract in the late 1990s may be different to the fan Sky is currently trying to attract to their offering.

As part of the selection process, I am assuming that age is not a factor, that time has no bounds, alive or deceased.

The cast assembled in my opinion brings together the best of the BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Sky Sports into a super team, with a few surprises thrown in for good measure. Think of it as my version of the Avengers, for use of a better term!

Of course, this is all judgemental (I admit to being openly biased for the next 2,000 words) and that there is no right or wrong answer to this question. The line-up comprises of:

  • 2 x presenters
  • 3 x analysts
  • 2 x pit lane reporters
  • 2 x technical reporters
  • 2 x commentators

So, who is in, and who is out? Revealed, Motorsport Broadcasting’s dream F1 presentation team…

Presenters
Every good on-air presentation team needs a presenter to fit the bill. For me, watching Formula 1, there are two presenters that brought warmth with them whenever presenting the sport.

First up, the BBC’s Formula 1 presenter from 2009 to 2012, Jake Humphrey. Humphrey worked his way through the BBC ranks, from children’s television into BBC Sport, and eventually onto BBC F1 for the start of F1’s return to the Beeb in 2009.

Humphrey’s style was a departure from his predecessors Jim Rosenthal and Steve Rider on ITV. Both Rosenthal and Rider are excellent, top-tier presenters, but Humphrey brought with him an additional element. During that period, it felt like Humphrey was one of us: a fan who happened to be living the dream as F1 presenter.

In my view, Humphrey helped bring us closer to the sport that we love, thanks to his presenting style, bouncing off his co-presenters where necessary.

Alongside Humphrey anchoring the show is Georgie Ainslee (nee. Thompson). Ainslee has been round the motoring circles for years, having been part of Sky’s A1 Grand Prix coverage in the mid-2000s.

2012 Australian GP - Sky Pad.png
Georgie Thompson and Anthony Davidson analyse the action on the Sky Pad, during Sky’s inaugural race weekend in 2012.

Ainslee was part of Sky’s F1 coverage in 2012, presenting elements of their programming including The F1 Show, but quietly left prior to the 2013 season, with reports at the time suggesting that she wanted a bigger role within the team.

One presenter anchoring the entire weekend is too much, so having two presenters in equal capacity feels the best way to handle the situation.

Back in 2012, I really enjoyed Ainslee’s Sky Pad contributions with Anthony Davidson, and it is unfortunate that she left in the manner that she did, considering she was one of the better parts of Sky’s offering in their inaugural season.

Analysts
This is where the choices get tough, given that there is a plethora of personalities to choose from spanning across the BBC, Sky, Channel 4, and ITV. Narrowing the choices down to three or four stars, past and present, is an extremely difficult challenge. But hey, we did say that this is a dream team.

All three of my choices are natural broadcasters, and all three were part of Sky’s Formula 1 line-up last season. We start with Martin Brundle, 2020 marking his 24th season on the microphone in the commentary box.

Brundle could double up as a third co-commentator, although this piece for brevity keeps Brundle primarily in an analytical role. Alongside Brundle are Sky colleagues Anthony Davidson and Jenson Button, both of whom have shown why they are worthy of being in a dream team in recent years.

Davidson’s broadcasting life started in 2008 alongside David Croft in the BBC Radio 5 Live commentary box, moving over to Sky for the start of their coverage in 2012.

Button joined Sky for five races last year. The thing that lets Sky down is that both Davidson and Button appear on-screen too infrequently across the season, but that is a wider issue surrounding the number of races as opposed to a Sky-specific problem.

On the Sky Pad, Davidson is a wizard, whilst Button has the same characteristics as Humphrey from a broadcasting perspective: a warm style, and a down to earth personality.

If you are looking for entertaining features, maybe this is not the trio for you, it really depends what you are after from a programming perspective.

2019 W Series - Ted Kravitz.jpg
Ted Kravitz dissects the W Series action during his Notebook segment.

For me, I want analysts who live and breathe F1, who know it like the back of their hand, and can articulate their knowledge back to the viewer at home in a digestible manner. Brundle, Button and Davidson tick those boxes for me.

Missing out by small margins are Mark Webber, Karun Chandhok and Allan McNish. On a different year in history, the choice may be different.

Also, it is worth bearing in mind that I am looking at this from a UK broadcasting perspective, so opinions may vary depending on where you are based.

Pitlane
Roving the pit lane are two faces, one of whom has never appeared in an official F1 capacity for a UK broadcaster, either through choice or because they overlooked him at every opportunity.

Enter Will Buxton. Currently Formula 1’s digital presenter, Buxton first made a name on the F1 broadcasting scene as GP2 and GP3 lead commentator. More recently, fans stateside heard Buxton’s voice during both Speed’s and NBC’s coverage of the sport from 2010 to 2017.

Despite being around the sport for nearly twenty years, Buxton has never worked in an F1 capacity for Sky, Channel 4, the BBC or ITV at their respective times. UK’s loss was America’s gain over the past decade.

During NBC’s coverage, Buxton and producer Jason Swales hosted several behind the scenes documentaries on the sport, including the ‘Road to…’ series, which was well received by fans.

Joining Buxton is Channel 4’s Lee McKenzie, who has been part of the UK’s free-to-air F1 output since 2009, grilling the drivers on a variety of topics.

Outside of the small screen, both McKenzie and Buxton are brilliant journalists in their own right, both with a unique ability to get the best out of their interviewee on any given occasion: whether in a pre-race vignette, or during the post-race media pen interviews.

You might think two reporters in pit lane and beyond is excessive. But remember, F1 consists of ten teams, 20 drivers, and hundreds of people that help bring the show to life. It is Buxton and McKenzie that get beneath the skin of the sport, helping to tell the stories that may otherwise go unnoticed.

NBC's Road to Mercedes.png
Will Buxton and Jason Swales at Reims for the Road to Mercedes documentary.

Technical
On the technical side, Ted Kravitz leads the output, having been part of the broadcasting scene since the 1990s. Kravitz moved to ITV’s F1 on-air team in a full-time capacity following Murray Walker’s retirement, staying in that role until 2008.

Kravitz moved with F1 to the BBC in 2009, and then again to Sky in 2012, where he has remained ever since, narrowly avoiding the chop from their team prior to the 2019 season. Well-liked by fans, Kravitz’s Notebook has been a fixture of Sky’s F1 coverage since its inception, along with the Development Corner segment.

What Kravitz has never had though, is a good wing man in the technical space, someone to bounce off from time to time. And that is where the second technical expert comes in the form of Craig Scarborough.

With the resources that he has, Scarborough does a great job dissecting the technical innovations across social media, sometimes with Peter Windsor in toe. Both were dropped by Motorsport Network in the latter half of 2018 as part of their cost-cutting exercise at the time.

I suspect no UK broadcaster has ever picked Scarborough up because he has never worked with in an F1 team as technical expert, unlike the likes of Gary Anderson, who was part of the BBC’s F1 offering in 2013 and 2014 before they dropped him.

Nevertheless, if you want an all rounded team that covers both the human element and technical element in equal detail, then you need two technical experts, and Kravitz and Scarborough are the two for me.

Commentators
The beauty of having a broadcasting dream team is that there is no right, or wrong, answer. I started watching Formula 1 in 1999, so caught the later years of Murray Walker‘s commentary.

I met Walker twice: once at a book signing back in 2002, and more recently at Channel 4’s Formula 1 launch in 2016. And, thanks to the internet, many classic races feature his commentary.

  • “And it’s Go! Go! Go!”
  • “Three point three six seconds! Damon Hill wins the Japanese Grand Prix!”
  • “And he exits the final corner for the fifty-third and last time, to win the 2000 Japanese Grand Prix, and the World Championship, for the third time!”

Commentary lines such as these will live on in Formula 1’s history. And it is for that reason that Murray, and his Murray-isms, feature in my dream team. Yes, Walker made mistakes.

1997 Australian GP - Qualifying.png
Martin Brundle and Murray Walker on the balcony during ITV’s coverage of the 1997 Australian Grand Prix qualifying session.

But, if I had a choice between a commentator that could make paint dry sound exciting, with a few mistakes here and there, or someone who struggled to capture the excitement that F1 brings, it is the former all day long.

To put it simply, Walker’s voice is infectious, and we are lucky that he stayed in the commentary box for as long as he did. Walker will always be F1 to me, and for a whole generation of fans in their late 20s and onwards.

On the other side, one of Walker’s colleagues left this arena far earlier than they should have. James Hunt passed away at the age of 45 in 1993, days after commentating on the Canadian Grand Prix. Had Hunt opted to retire at the same age as Walker, Hunt would still be commentating on F1 today at the age of 72.

I was too young to watch Hunt’s commentary live – I had not even turned one when Hunt passed away. But what I do know is that Hunt in the commentary box was passionate about the racing that was unfolding in front of him, telling it how it was.

It is a testament to the relationship between Hunt and Walker that the pairing lasted 13 years, from 1979 until Hunt’s untimely death.

In a parallel universe, Hunt would have been commentating alongside Walker for many years to come, but alas, it was not too be. In a dream broadcasting line-up, both Hunt and Brundle would be part of that team (clearly, I am bending the rules in the name of fun).

If time had no bounds, this is Motorsport Broadcasting’s dream F1 presentation team:

  • Presenter: Georgie Ainslee
  • Presenter: Jake Humphrey
  • Commentator: James Hunt
  • Commentator: Murray Walker
  • Analyst: Anthony Davidson
  • Analyst: Jenson Button
  • Analyst: Martin Brundle
  • Pitlane: Lee McKenzie
  • Pitlane: Will Buxton
  • Technical: Craig Scarborough
  • Technical: Ted Kravitz

Like with any team, whether the eleven would blend together on-screen is a different question, in the same way that two world class drivers in the best team may go pear shaped.

You want a line-up that is flexible. You do not want a commentator that just commentates, or a technical expert that cannot interview drivers. In the scenario above, Walker would still interview drivers, and Brundle could still commentate, for sake of argument.

Notable by their omission are David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan, amongst other high calibre candidates, which shows how difficult it is to select a dream team cutting across different eras. Had I been focusing on current generation only, then Coulthard and Jordan may well have made the cut.

To bring gravitas to the production is Channel 4’s F1 producer Whisper, but with backing from Sky Sports. Sky bring with them the Sky Pad, the paddock stage set up, as well as the extensive air-time, whilst Whisper bring with them some excellent VTs and a graphics package that is second to none. The best of both worlds, in my view.

And that is my dream Formula 1 broadcasting line-up. What is yours? Have your say and debate the question in the comments below.

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