Scheduling: The 2021 Berlin E-Prix

18 drivers. 2 qualifying sessions. 2 races. 1 weekend. And 1 championship.

With 60 points still on offer, there are 18 drivers still in contention to become the first ever Formula E World Champion as the series heads to Berlin for a double-header finale.

From Nyck de Vries on top currently with 95 points, all the way down to Alex Sims in 18th on 44 points, any one of those could exit Berlin as champion

The chances of someone clawing back that margin are highly unlikely, but Formula E has proved this season that anything is possible.

Following Channel 4’s one-off deal for the London E-Prix, live coverage of the Tempelhof weekend airs across the BBC and Discovery.

The first race airs live on Discovery’s free-to-air station Quest, with BBC Two picking up coverage of the season finale on Sunday.

In addition, the BBC’s and Eurosport’s digital platforms, as well as Eurosport 2, will be covering the action from both races.

It is unclear if the BBC are providing bespoke wrap-around content from Salford, as they have done previously when races aired on BBC Two, or whether Formula E themselves are providing localised UK coverage, like they did in London for Channel 4.

Vernon Kay presents the English-language feed, alongside Nicki Shields, with Jack Nicholls and Dario Franchitti on commentary, the latter three having been part of Formula E’s content offering since the very first race in Beijing 2014.

Series organisers say that “over 40 broadcast and digital partners” will cover the season finale, with a “strengthened” free-to-air offering in place.

Outside of the UK, broadcasters including Sat.1 (Germany), L’Equipe (France), Channel 20 and Italia Uno (Italy), CBS Network (USA) and SABC Sport (South Africa) will be airing the E-Prix.

Saturday’s race takes place earlier than usual for a double-header, this to give organisers time to reverse the circuit layout ready for the season finale on Sunday.

Friday 13th August
15:55 to 16:55 – Practice 1 (YouTube)

Saturday 14th August
06:55 to 07:40 – Practice 2 (YouTube)
08:45 to 10:15 – Qualifying (YouTube / BBC Red Button / Eurosport 2)
12:30 to 14:30 – Race 1 (BBC Red Button / Quest / Eurosport 2)
=> Quest coverage runs from 13:00 to 14:30

Sunday 15th August
06:55 to 07:40 – Practice 1 (YouTube)
08:25 to 09:10 – Practice 2 (YouTube)
10:15 to 11:45 – Qualifying (YouTube / BBC Red Button / Eurosport 2)
14:00 to 16:00 – Race 2 (BBC Two / Eurosport 2)

Full scheduling details for the 2021 Berlin E-Prix. Scheduling details correct as of Saturday 7th August and are subject to change.

As always, if plans change, the article above will reflect the updated scheduling details.

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Over 2 million viewers watch F1’s first Sprint in UK

F1’s new look format, trialled over the British Grand Prix weekend, helped audience figures improve in the UK, consolidated data released by BARB suggests.

The Silverstone weekend was Channel 4’s only live action of the season, the broadcaster sharing live coverage with Sky Sports.

The consolidated data accounts for viewers who watched within seven days of the original transmission.

New format draws the viewers…

Usually, Friday plays host to two practice sessions.

However, only one practice session took place on Friday at Silverstone, with the traditional three-part qualifying session moving to Friday evening.

According to industry website Thinkbox, which publishes BARB consolidated data, 1.08 million viewers watched the qualifying session on Channel 4 from 17:00 to 19:30.

An additional 530,000 viewers watched on Sky Sports F1, across a shorter time slot from 17:25 to 19:30. A caveat here that Sky’s figure includes those that watched on devices, whereas Channel 4’s figure is for the TV set only.

Nevertheless, with a combined audience of 1.6 million viewers, the British Grand Prix marked F1’s highest UK audience on a Friday since at least 2003, if not earlier. Back then, ITV aired highlights of Friday qualifying in a late-night slot.

On Saturday, a combined audience of just over 2 million viewers watched Channel 4’s and Sky’s Sprint programming, including build-up and post-session analysis.

1.40 million watched the Sprint across all devices on Channel 4 from 15:45 to 17:40, with a further 610,000 viewers opting for Sky’s programming across a slightly longer time slot.

The figures are higher than what a normal three-part qualifying session would have achieved in its usual Saturday slot.

Initial analysis from Motorsport Broadcasting suggests that F1 may have recorded its highest Saturday audience for the British Grand Prix since 2013.

Race day saw an audience of around 3.6 million viewers watch Channel 4’s and Sky’s main programming, an average that includes the extended red flag period, but excludes the extended wraparound offering.

2.34 million viewers watched on Channel 4 from 14:26 to 17:07, with 1.21 million viewers watching on Sky Sports F1 from 14:53 to 17:35.

Year-on-year, Sky’s race audience increased by 15%, with Channel 4’s decreasing by around 8.5%, reflecting the positive trajectory Sky’s F1 audience figures continue to take.

Both broadcasters benefited from the Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen collision, with 2 million viewers sticking around for the post-race programming until 18:30.

…what this means…

Although peak audiences are unavailable, we can use the average audience figures already in the public domain, along with programme lengths, to draw some conclusions.

Using the available data, it is likely that Friday’s qualifying session peaked with 2 million viewers, Saturday’s Sprint session with 3 million viewers, and Sunday’s race with 4.5 million viewers.

Having the weekend live on free-to-air television undoubtedly helps the audience figures, but even for Sky, the British qualifying session was their highest ever F1 audience for a Friday – including the plethora of evening practice sessions where they were the exclusive broadcaster.

In some ways, that is unsurprising, but it shows that fans tuned into the idea of having a meaningful session take place on a Friday evening.

Fans did not dismiss Friday qualifying, and instead felt that it was important part of the F1 weekend, and important enough to tune in to.

Whether the Sprint figures were higher than a typical Saturday because of the novelty of it remains unknown, and only something we will know when audience data for the Italian Grand Prix comes in next month.

But, arguably, the events of the Sprint contributed to what followed on Sunday from a sporting perspective.

Speaking to selected media, including The Race, on a conference call, F1’s CEO Stefano Domenicali described the response to the Sprint as “really positive”.

“After the first sprint event at Silverstone, the response that we have from the drivers, from the teams, the media, has been really positive, and also for the promoter,” said Domenicali, as quoted by The Race.

“The outcome of the first event has been dramatically positive. It’s great because that brought attention, interest on TV, and also partners. We have already seen the financial interest be positive.”

The audience data for the weekend, which F1 is no doubt digesting, backs up Domenicali’s statement.

…as W Series beats Formula E

But, Formula 1 was not the only beneficiary of the revised schedule.

The W Series race normally takes place after F1’s qualifying session. For Britain, the race remained on the Saturday, but aired in between F1’s single practice session, and before the Sprint.

An impressive average of 533,000 viewers watched on Channel 4 from 13:05 to 14:17, a figure which excludes those who watched on other devices.

Now in its second season, the all-female championship, retained around 66% of the F1 practice audience. The F1 session, which began at 12:00 UK time, averaged around 800,000 viewers across Channel 4 and Sky.

A week after the Grand Prix, Formula E’s London outing aired live on Channel 4 across the weekend of July 24th and 25th with a double header event.

The electric series reached a high of 382,000 viewers from 13:51 to 15:12 for its second race of the weekend, again excluding the ‘other device’ watchers.

The audience figures demonstrate how W Series benefited from being on the same card as Formula 1, whereas Formula E’s events are largely standalone with no wrap-around support.

W Series also benefited from added exposure through Channel 4’s live F1 coverage, the only weekend of the year that the free-to-air broadcaster covers F1 live.

Moving forward, W Series will not have the luxury of an F1 lead-in on the same channel.

In addition, Formula E faced the opening weekend of the Olympics across the BBC, which took attention away from the E-Prix. In that context, the Formula E figure is good given the lack of support the series has received from free-to-air stations in recent years.

Most importantly, The Race notes that Formula E “surpassed the expectations of the C4 management team,” which bodes well for a future rights deal between the two parties.

Motorsport Broadcasting will publish a full analytical piece looking at the UK F1 audience picture at the half way stage of the 2021 season shortly.

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Reflections from Formula E’s return to London

Formula E made its return to London last weekend after five years away from the UK.

Instead of racing around the Battersea Park vicinity, the event moved east, racing in and out of the ExCeL Centre in the Docklands.

Jake Dennis claimed victory in the first of two races of the weekend on Saturday, with Alex Lynn clinching his first Formula E victory on Sunday.

Motorsport Broadcasting was on hand to witness events throughout the weekend, from Friday morning through to Sunday evening, and here are some early reflections…

The on-boarding process

Normally, the on-boarding process heading into an event, at least in pre-COVID times, is simply a case of picking up your media accreditation from a designated place, and then making tracks towards the media centre. Not so here.

After picking up my accreditation, this time it was straight to my PCR appointment, because without a negative PCR test, I was not getting inside the ExCeL, a protocol that applied to anyone inside the Formula E bubble.

Those on-site for more than three days had to be PCR tested every other day (so, if you were on-site from Thursday to Sunday, you needed to be PCR tested on Thursday and Saturday).

From PCR, I went into isolation until I received the negative PCR result around three hours later. The PCR test did bring with it some anxiety from my perspective, as I tested positive for COVID three weeks ago – symptoms long gone thankfully.

The London E-Prix was also my first event since WEC at Silverstone in 2019, so I was mightily relieved to receive a negative result!

The whole testing process was efficient, and the wait for the result was not too long (I finished drafting this piece while I waited back at the hotel).

Within the ExCeL and the media centre, face masks were mandatory. Most of the time, people were socially distanced, although as pointed out elsewhere, the starting grid was more than a little congested.

Which begs the valid question: if Formula E allowed influencers, VIPs, and media into the event, why were fans not allowed?

The Race reports that Formula E needed special dispensation from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to stage the event at full capacity, and this was not forthcoming.

An interactive map of vaccinations helps explain the local context. In the Custom House area, where the ExCeL is located, only 56.9% of people have had their first vaccine, this figure dropping to 39.4% for both vaccines. The picture in the surrounding boroughs is also bleak.

The original planning application suggests that 30,000 spectators would normally attend, with around 2,500 of them hospitality.

Circuit layout

Another interesting aspect to the planning application is that it allows Formula E to stage races at the ExCeL until the end of 2029, giving them time to refine the layout.

Aside from the double hairpin set-up, which turned into bumper cars during the second race, the rest of the circuit looked fine.

I hope the double hairpin solution disappears, preferably in favour of a right-left chicane. For me, the inelegant solution ruined the flow of the track and ended up breaking up groups of cars during the race as battles unfolded.

One observer on-site noted that the weekend had a ‘test event’ feel, so hopefully Formula E refines the layout for next year’s outing.

On the inside, the pit lane, paddock complex and turns 22, 1, 2 and 3 were all located on the South side of the building, with the TV compound located on the North side.

The South side of the building was largely perfect, but the TV compound was much more spaced out than usual, not that the team were complaining!

It did highlight though how Formula E did not utilise all the hall space, something I hope changes next year when fans are in attendance.

Visibility and perception remain a problem for Formula E

On Sunday morning, I asked my Twitter followers whether they had followed Saturday’s race.

Bear in mind that, if you are following Motorsport Broadcasting on the socials, you are likely big into motor sport, whether that be F1, MotoGP or IndyCar, and likely will have a good idea of when things are happening.

Did you watch the first Formula E race of the weekend on Saturday? [665 votes]
Yes – 42.7% [284 votes]
No – did not know it was on – 13.2% [88 votes]
No – not interested – 28.3% [188 votes]
No – other reason – 15.8% [105 votes]

Like any poll, the results are a snapshot of what a given subset of the population is thinking. The results highlight two key problems that Formula E has: visibility and perception.

Outside of the Formula E circle, a cursory glance at the #LondonEPrix hashtag on Twitter showed little activity outside of the usual fan accounts.

Formula E had several things against it last weekend, notably the Olympics. However, the bigger issue that I have is that the event immediately followed F1’s British Grand Prix.

If you are a non-motor sport outlet, and have a choice of covering Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen’s collision from Silverstone or Formula E in the mid-week articles, the decision is an easy one to make.

Arguably, organisers should position the race away from F1 in the British sporting calendar, potentially in the Early May Bank Holiday slot leading into the Monaco E-Prix.

I appreciate that there is never a weekend with no sporting opposition, but following the F1 means Formula E is fighting for the same column inches, which is not the position it wants to be in.

Commenters on Twitter noted that promotion was poor, which tallies with what I saw in the build-up to the E-Prix from Channel 4.

The races over the weekend started at 15:00 and 14:00 local time respectively, whereas the agreement between Formula E and the local council allows track action until 18:30, so there is scope to adjust timings to allow for an early evening race.

I am in the camp where I really want to see the electric series grow at home, but it has perception and visibility issues that organisers need to navigate.

Hopefully a regular visit to the ExCeL, in addition to some tweaks to the track layout and fans from next season, will help increase the championship’s profile and reach in the UK.

Attack Mode graphic change here to stay

Fans watching the E-Prix from home will have noticed that the Attack Mode graphic on the timing wall changed for last weekend’s action.

Gone are the chevrons, and in its place, is a simple timer, with the driver’s name highlighted on the timing wall.

Speaking to Motorsport Broadcasting, Formula E’s TV director West Gillett noted that the team has changed the graphic to “make it clearer for the viewers,” and that the change is a permanent one moving forward.

Keep an eye on this site over the forthcoming weeks for more insight from Gillett and the Formula E television team: how the championship gets to air, the infrastructure used, Driver’s Eye, and much more…

On a final note, a huge thank you to everyone within Formula E for their kind words about this site over the weekend, it really is appreciated (more in the Twitter image above).

Updated on July 27th with information about the special dispensation needed to allow fans to attend.

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Channel 4 to air Formula E’s return to London

Channel 4 will air live coverage of Formula E’s return to London later in July, series organisers have confirmed.

It will be the first time that the free-to-air broadcaster has aired Formula E live. As thus, Formula E has now aired on all four of the main free-to-air outlets in the UK, following in the footsteps of the BBC, ITV and Channel 5.

Formula E says that Channel 4 will air ‘bespoke programmes’ presented by Vernon Kay. Produced by North One, the trio of Nicki Shields, Jack Nicholls and Dario Franchitti join Kay from the ExCeL London.

The move comes as neither the BBC or Eurosport will be airing the London races live on any of their television channels due to the Olympics from Tokyo.

However, neither Quest or BBC Two are options for Formula E over the London weekend, as Quest are airing live British Superbikes coverage from Brands Hatch, whilst BBC Two are covering cricket’s new experiment called The Hundred.

Without their deal with Channel 4, Formula E would be left without a live linear TV home for their biggest race from a UK perspective. Channel 4’s deal only covers the race, and not practice or qualifying, and is for the London round only.

Sam Bird, who races for Jaguar and currently leads the championship, said “It is great news for Formula E to be shown live on Channel 4 for such a key race on the world championship calendar.”

Channel 4’s Formula E schedule
Saturday 24th July
14:00 to 16:30 – Race 1
=> 14:00 – Build-Up
=> 14:30 – Race
=> 16:00 – Reaction

Sunday 25th July
13:30 to 15:30 – Race 2
=> 13:30 – Build-Up
=> 13:40 – Race
=> 15:00– Reaction

“This is the first time in five years we’ve raced in London – the first time in 17 years for Jaguar – and terrestrial TV plays a key role to put our sport into the homes across the UK at a milestone moment.”

Formula E’s chief media officer Aarti Dabas added “We are pleased to add Channel 4 to our ever-growing line-up of media partners. UK is a key market for Formula E’s ecosystem of teams, manufacturers, partners and drivers.”

“More importantly we wanted to provide our growing UK fanbase and potential new fans with easy access to watch and engage with the live coverage of their home races.”

“Channel 4 is one of UK’s most progressive free-to-air channels and this partnership for the London races provides both Formula E and Channel 4 to engage with progressive motorsports fans and new audiences.”

A look into the future?

The move by Formula E to partner with Channel 4 is likely to increase suggestions that Channel 4 is front runner to air the series for the 2021-22 season, as the existing BBC and Eurosport rights agreements expire at the end of this season.

While the BBC has given Formula E a free-to-air home over the past few years, it is clear that the partnership has not matured in the way that Formula E had hoped.

Over the past few years, the BBC has aired several Formula E races live on BBC Two, the last being the Rome E-Prix back in April. But this has happened inconsistently, with the corporation not committing to more races on linear television.

Formula E in the UK – at a glance
2014-15 – ITV
2015-16 – ITV
2016-17 – Channel 5
2017-18 – Channel 5, Eurosport
2018-19 – BBC, BT Sport, Eurosport, Quest
2019-20 – BBC, Eurosport, Quest
2020-21 – BBC, Eurosport, Quest
2020-21 [London only] – BBC, Channel 4, Eurosport

Elsewhere in the sporting spectrum, the British Olympic athletics trials did not air on the BBC last month after the broadcaster refused to pay for the rights or air it on their linear channels, leading to UK Athletics streaming the action on their own platforms to a much smaller audience.

The fact of the matter is, unless you are a tier 1 sport (which Formula E acknowledges that they are not), then it is highly unlikely that the BBC are willing to air the sport in question on BBC One or BBC Two, unless there is strong justification to do so.

Dabas’s comments to Motorsport Broadcasting last week, combined with the one-off Channel 4 deal, would suggest that, unless the situation changes, Formula E does not have a long-term future on the BBC.

For now, fans can watch live coverage of the London E-Prix weekend on Channel 4, as well as the BBC’s, Eurosport’s and Formula E’s digital platforms.

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Formula E looking for ‘channel consistency’ and audience consolidation in future TV deals

Formula E are looking for ‘channel consistency’ and audience consolidation in future television deals, series organisers have told Motorsport Broadcasting.

Since the electric series launched in 2014, Formula E has aired across five different broadcasters in the UK.

Currently, the series airs live across BBC’s digital platforms, with live coverage also airing on Eurosport, but both deals end following the 2020-21 season.

Speaking to Motorsport Broadcasting on the eve of the New York E-Prix weekend, Formula E’s chief media officer Aarti Dabas said that the series was exploring making it ‘simpler’ to watch Formula E moving forward.

“When you drive a message, with the clutter that’s around, you want a simple message, watch it on this channel, live,” Dabas believes. “You don’t want five different channels over there and five calls to action.”

“It’s a good question because we’re definitely looking at a more consistent channel strategy in the UK and other markets. And when I think of the channel strategy, I know that every race currently we are like, is it on BBC Red Button, is it on network, is it on Quest. It’s hard.”

Dabas, who joined Formula E in June 2020, believes that channel consistency, along with localised content, are both key if Formula E is going to become a tier 1 sport in key territories.

“For us we are aiming to be a tier 1 sport, and channel consistency is going to drive the numbers,” Dabas says. “We are looking to see how we can have consistent channels whether it’s with BBC, or with any other channel that we go with.”

Sat.1 deal in Germany an early success story for Dabas

Citing her previous role, Dabas notes that cricket saw a 50% jump in audiences in India following the creation of a localised feed, instead of the Indian coverage taking the English language feed.

Dabas’s team are trying to replicate that approach in Formula E, with their deal with German station Sat.1 an early success story.

Sat.1 airs a one-hour bespoke pre-show, with a dedicated on-site crew producing coverage for German viewers, featuring the likes of former racer Daniel Abt on commentary.

“It took a while to do and draft the deal [with Sat.1], because both from their end and ours, we wanted to work on something that helped them grow their audiences. Eventually they want younger people to watch their channel, and Formula E is the right fit.”

“They’re [Sat.1] actually owning the product with language, relevant talent, so it doesn’t look like they just take the World Feed.”

“I think ultimately that is the model we want to replicate in most key markets because that is what’s going to build audiences for us.”

“The second New York race is on CBS [in the US], a big free-to-air channel. There’s marketing support on the This Morning show on CBS which is a huge crossover from sport into entertainment.”

“We have to look at growing holistically rather than actually ‘here’s a sport, here’s a feed’, put it on and people will watch, those days are gone I think.”

Formula E is taking a long-term approach on the rights front, aiming to build their audience first, with the hope that revenues will follow later.

“It’s a hedge bet, placing 3 million for three years in a territory for rights. But in those three years, if that sport is not performing and building audiences, you’ve actually taken the sport backwards,” Dabas tells me over a Teams call from New York.

“I think, rather than focus on revenue first, you focus on audience first, and then the revenue follows. Those are the sports that will see growth, rather than sports that are looking at short term revenue versus long term growth.”

Formula E re-assessing social media content strategy

The championship is also re-assessing their social media content strategy to help them grow audiences further.

“When I joined, I could see that the Formula E content was all over,” Dabas recalls.

“It was everywhere, the teams were putting it out, partners, broadcasters, YouTube, but ultimately did that actually grow the audience? I think for us it’s about working with partners and adding value, otherwise we’re simply just putting the content on YouTube.”

“Avid fans will probably love it because they can see it for free, but we have to go beyond those fans and I think hopefully in two or three years we can reach a position where we reach the fans who don’t yet know us.”

“And then for our avid fans we have something else to give to our digital products. Avid fans should be actually looked after and rewarded for being avid fans, and right now all we’re doing is putting it out on YouTube.”

Dabas believes the content across Formula E’s platforms, whether it is the championship-led channels or the team channels needs to have a narrative.

“There has to be a narrative and we should cross promote each other, rather than all of us trying to be on top of each other, diverting attention and fragmenting audiences.”

“So, I think when I talk about the consolidation audience approach, I think there is also about complementary content rather than competing content that we need to look at.”

Formula E’s UK broadcast plans for the London E-Prix weekend, which takes place on July 24th and 25th, will be announced shortly.

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