UK F1 TV Coverage in 2012

There had been murmurs in recent weeks and months of potential changes to F1’s UK TV rights, as everyone knows the BBC is trying to save money and it paid a heck of a lot for the Formula 1 rights, but with the need to cut back across the board nobody really knew if they’d stick to the contract. The names of Channel 4 and Five were mooted as taking over, and I think many fans expected a wholesale switch to one of those channels.

Last weekend it was revealed to be Sky Sports and that it would be a partnership agreement, not a complete switch. Sky will air all 20 races on their dedicated sports channels with additional pre- and post-race coverage on Sky Sports News. The BBC will continue to cover 10 races live and in full, including the British GP, Monaco GP and the final race of the season which next year is scheduled to be the Brazilian GP. Highlights of the other 10 races will be aired later that day.

For the benefit of those outside the UK, you pay a monthly fee for the Sky package and then a premium for Sky Sports. Sky Sports News comes as part of the main package not the premium package. Sky Sports is also available as an add-on with a variety of other competing services such as cable. BBC channels are free to all*.

* the term ‘free-to-air’ does not include the TV License because that is non-optional, everybody has to pay it so it is usually ignored in any comparison.


Whilst this sort of sharing arrangement is common over in the US, although maybe without airing on two channels at once, this is a Big Deal for UK rights. Formula 1 TV coverage in this country has always been free-to-air for as long as races have been available on TV –  since the 1970s in highlights form with sporadic live races, and every race of the season covered live since the early/mid 1990s.

Quite a lot of discussion has occurred online in the last week or so, with a great many opinion pieces from insiders and fans alike putting forth their arguments for and against the deal.

For me it isn’t the death knell of the sport in the UK, but that is very much contingent on the BBC honouring their promise to produce an ‘extended’ highlights show or even air the entire race on a tape delay. If it is a heavily edited version the interest will wane and audience figures will drop off. The reason for that is I think only the die hard fans will take the option to watch live on Sky, and there aren’t as many of those fans as some like to suggest.

There are an awful lot more of what most of us more diehard fans call ‘casual fans’, especially so in Britain over the last 3 or 4 years as a result of the championship wins from Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, hence the record viewing figures seen this year. They might not all be buying Sky especially to watch F1, and unlike football I don’t think they’ll all pile down the pub to watch it. If they have Sky Sports already they may well continue to tune in, I really hope so.

With a lot of sponsorship dependent on viewing figures and the UK representing a major market for F1 sponsors, the real question is whether a casual fan without Sky will be happy to wait for the BBC highlights show. The argument goes that they are happy to wait until 10:35pm for Match Of The Day, a highlights show covering all the Premier League action that day. Indeed many make it a weekly ritual. I don’t doubt that a similar F1 show would attract decent viewers. They might not be the nuts who want to have every F1 session live on TV with an hour of pre- and post- analysis, those who are surprisingly vocal about it on the internet, but they are interested enough in F1 to watch an hour or so about the day’s race.

Some have argued we may actually see an uplift in viewing figures as the diehard fans will stump up to watch the race live, then the less diehard fans are able to come to the race coverage at a potentially more favourable time which doesn’t take up a whole afternoon and give the highlights some decent ratings.

I don’t know if that is how it will play out but it definitely just as plausible as live ratings falling off a cliff and highlights being ignored as some others have suggested. We won’t know the answers to that until we see the broadcast time of the show, and how much is included and how much is edited out.

Winners And Losers

The teams themselves and FOM/FOWC (‘Bernie’s lot’) will making extra money so the pressure to nail the BBC at the next renewal will be off, hopefully meaning the BBC will be able to keep their rights for a few years longer than they would’ve done.

There are three sets of fans :-

– For the dedicated fan with spending money, who either already has Sky Sports or is willing to get it, they’ve got a win-win situation because for the first time in years they’ll be able to choose between two live broadcast teams for half of the races. How many countries can say that? Luxury!

– For the casual fan I am sure they can wait for the highlights show and wouldn’t complain a lot because of it, many might even prefer it.

– For me the only true losers are those dedicated fans who can’t afford to take Sky Sports. Sadly I am one of those fans. I’m sure we’ll be climbing the walls staying off the internet and away from news reports, waiting for the highlights show. Web feeds are usually awful and they can suddenly get shut down midrace, I struggle enough with IndyCar, imagine the demand there will be for F1. Luckily I do know people who have Sky Sports so rather than struggle away with a 4 inch buffering web feed I’ll go there and watch 50 inch HD. But I can’t do that forever. I think one day I’m just going to have to make savings elsewhere and stump up for Sky. That may come at the expense of attending races, including Grands Prix.


I have nothing against Sky in all of this, despite their poor quality news channel and the poor reputation of some of their owners, they do produce very good coverage of other sports. I watched the cricket coverage of England vs India last weekend and it was of a very high quality. Everybody on the panel, including the presenter, was a former international-level cricket player, yet none floundered on TV as so many do.

I’ve also seen football games which are well presented and produced, as well as golf and more. They do a lot of American-style wooshy sounds and boistorous intro music and over-hyping which is all probably a little unnecessary, this is countered with a knowledgeable staff of presenters and analysts and as many on-screen stats as you can imagine. I genuinely would love to see what they could do with F1 coverage, it could be transformed.

There are those who decry Sky Sports based on their IndyCar coverage, which is frankly awful, a few talking heads sitting in a little studio in London trying to fill time whilst their host feed is on yet another ad break. (If anything this is a good sign as it means Sky themselves won’t take too many breaks.) I hope they don’t approach F1 in the same way because it is interminably boring. I don’t have a problem with a studio, just put it at the track in the same way the football and cricket studios are at the grounds. That way the on-air talent can speak to the relevant people before the race and get a better sense of the event. I don’t think they will just plonk them in London and make them work from a feed. I think they are more sensible than that.

As an aside, perhaps they could cross-sell IndyCar to F1 fans to bump up viewership of that series, this could actually be a really good thing for IndyCar viewership figures in this country, which are currently tiny. What good timing with a brand new car being launched for IndyCar next year. Sky might even start sending people to the States to cover IndyCar more effectively rather than simply taking a feed, even just a reporter..? I’m dreaming. I’m hoping.


The main problem here is one of cost. I think people who can’t afford Sky, including me, are going to have to revise their expectations. In any case, with a record 20 races next year surely nobody can expect to watch all of them live complete with an hour of talking before and an hour of talking after. Where would you find the time? Highlights, even extended highlights, could be a blessing. Mind you, I’m holding out for a tape delay.


33 thoughts on “UK F1 TV Coverage in 2012”

  1. I don’t think I disagree with a word said in your post.

    Its not only Indycar that I can think benefit, despite recent cheating problems in Speedway, it only needs a small link, because it is in theory motorsport, will help the sport somewhat in Britain, and can help a lot for other smaller sports Sky show which is only a good thing.

    Sky coverage, for the most part, is brilliant. It does overhype and does have an annoying habit of only focusing on the big teams. Although saying that, when a game like Wigan v Wolves is shown on TV all I see on Twitter is moaning and wondering why Sky are using it.

    I do feel for people who can’t get Sky, and it does suck massively. But it is a fair point, you can’t watch every race live, I’ve missed about four this year already, which is annoying, but amazingly I can live with it.

    Overall, excellent piece mate, it isn’t the best solution, but it isn’t the end of the world in Formula 1.


  2. Nice analysis

    There’s also the fans who enjoy F1 as a social experience in addition to a sporting one. Twitter, live blogs, etc. That’ll be a loss as F1 seems to have grasped interaction with both hands this year

    For the data hungry, live timing and team data feeds will be pointless if you’re not following a race live. Yes, some live timing apps let you replay at will but I can’t see many people paying for a service like that as they do know.

    The worse thing in all of this for me, was the teams insistence before the deal that F1 must stay free-to-air. Amazing what the smell of money will do!

    Shafted, that’s how it feels


  3. My family got Sky for especially for the 1992 Indy 500 – we weren’t disappointed by that race for sure! Their Superbike coverage was thrilling in the 1990s, it really got me into the sport with Keith Huewen and Julian Ryder hosting the show. Since then the cost of Sky Sports has rocketed and their motorsports coverage has stagnated, so I can’t justify subscribing to it anymore. I hope giving F1 two bites of the viewers on a Sunday benefits it, but typically their Premiership games only attract a million viewers with around 2 million watching Match of the Day on the BBC – that doesn’t add up to F1’s current figures and football is unquestionably more popular in Britain. What I would really like to see is Sky buy up GP3, GP2 and Porsche then they could do what Eurosport do with bikes or ITV do with touring cars and show the whole race day. Dedicating one of their channels to six or more hours at the track on a Sunday would make it well worth buying. I like your point about Indycars – hopefully the F1 coverage will hammer home that Indy is well worth a watch. Maybe Sky will pick up live Nascar again too. And the WRC needs saving. Getting carried away now I know, but I just want to justify around £600 a year for Sky Sports in HD!


  4. I completely agree.

    1 more point though, supposing I had a spare £600 (or whatever the sky package will cost me) I can go to Silverstone (or even Monaco) for that money! I’d probably rather do that than pay for sky?!

    Likewise, if I spent all my spare money on an annual trip to Silverstone, would I be willing to stop that in exchange for sky? Will we see ticket sales falling?

    Finally – how does sky make F1 available to a wider audience?! Surely no one has sky but not bbc1?!


  5. Ryan – Thanks. I’ve come to realise in the last couple of years that missing one or two races in a year isn’t all that bad. I’m not sure I’d cope with 10 if I missed them completely but at least there will be extended highlights, and I’m holding them to their word that they will be extended and not just 45 minutes. I hope I can live with an hour or so for ten races, hopefully the BBC won’t cover the least interesting ones live.

    Bassano – Yes in the context of being promised FTA throughout it does feel like being shafted and that’s why I have a slight hope we’ll get a tape delay instead of highlights. You’re completely right on the live aspect, that is a big deal.. but I must say I’ve watched a race this year already on a delay on iPlayer and I could still follow it well enough. Mind you in a recent race they forgot the position crawler graphic which is essential.


  6. RoTW/Phil – I hadn’t realised the footie viewership was so low, that’s a little worrying. Does it include people watching in pubs? I like the idea of showing GP2/GP3, but only if they bring Martin Haven with them. 🙂 Of course if you get Sky you get Eurosport included which has those already, albeit shunted all over the schedules nowadays.

    Greg – It is a lot of money.. Mind you if I can’t watch the races on TV I would have no reason to pay a fortune to go to a race. I already can’t afford to go to a GP annually. Sky doesn’t make F1 available to a wider audience at all, but BBC highlights might because they won’t need people to invest an entire afternoon in it.


  7. Hey Pat,
    Good post, but you have missed one minor point. Not only can I not afford Sky, I have a landlord who will not get it. So I’m stuck.
    The decision has been taken without me ever having an opportunity.

    Chances are I’ll just nab a stream or download, because i can and because it’s easy. And that’s the future… regardless of what Bernie, the BBC or Sky think.


  8. Leigh – You should be able to get it through Top Up TV if you can get Freeview, unless you’re in a place with a cut back Freeview service (like I am).


  9. i am a hardened F1 fan and have brought quite a few casuak watchers into the sport, i for one have canceled SKy at end of July after this news so do not see how you can suggest this is a win win situation for the real fan i can afford to pay but would rather have saved that money and gone to silverstone each year than pay for SKY, i have also canceled my Vodafone contract, Pirelli will be off the 2 family caars later this year and i will cease to watch F1 altogether next year, speaking to the 6 people that come and watch some races with me if i am not watching there is not much point in any of them watching (thier view- as i keep them informed on the races they miss )
    i would say F1 2012 RIP for the real British fan!!!
    i have always watched the races live no matter what time they are on!!
    and by the way most real F1 fans ahte Indy caar so would not want to see those 2 mix!!


  10. @Alan

    That’s a very good point. I was considering switching to Vodafone on my next handset renewal and I buy way too many Tyres than I should [grrr, London debris]
    Maybe I should publicly tell McLaren I’ve purposely avoided their major sponsor. It’s gotta be more effective than a bloody petition!


  11. I said it was only a win-win for fans with the ability to pay for it. I also said this:

    “For me the only true losers are those dedicated fans who can’t afford to take Sky Sports.”

    You had Sky, did you also have Sky Sports? Why shoot yourself in the foot and cancel the only means you’ll have of watching it live, and then go on the internet to complain you can’t watch it live?

    I remain hopeful the BBC will provide a tape delay, or that their extended highlights will run for over an hour. Anything less than an hour and I will be annoyed.

    It makes no sense that “most F1 fans hate IndyCar”, which I’m not even sure is true. The thousands lining the track at Goodwood to watch them run up the hill suggests it isn’t true. Anyway they are both open wheel single seater formulas with close racing among talented drivers at high speeds. I’m truly mystified why certain so-called “die-hard” F1 fans don’t like it, they are so similar. Perhaps they are scared to open their minds to other sorts of racing, in which case they probably shouldn’t be on this site.


  12. “most F1 fans hate IndyCar”

    So untrue it hurts. They might not care one iota about IndyCar, most likely they’ve never watched it (and the same can be said of GP2, F3 or any other F1 feeder series) but they certainly don’t hate it.


  13. i will leave a reply , berni ecclestone is a greedy person and has ruined the sport, well once i watched today how he built his empire. roger williamsons death it makes you sick, hope you old git go soon, you ruin the sport. go back to another country and give the lead to decent people. you are scumi am sorry i have nothing but disrespect for you now
    and that bbc and sky deal is the pits. pee off


  14. I class myself as a die-hard fan. I’ve watched almost every race live for the past 15 years, even getting up in the middle of the night when I’ve really needed to be sleeping, I’ve cried, I’ve shouted, I’ve jumped up and down, and i’ve lived every moment. I’ve been to Silverstone numerous times, and I’ve got untold amounts of memorabilia and autographs. I hardly watch any TV, and I’m not a “sports fan” in any sense of the word, on top of not being able to afford Sky in the first place. How can I watch highlights? How can I stand up and shout for my driver of the day to win when he’s already won or lost? My heart is broken.


  15. I’m sorry but every Formula 1 fan I have ever spoke too, (not a small number), hate Indy Car because it’s rubbish in comparison to the the shadow F1, even GT2 casts over it. Not all fans hate it, but it is considered by most as substandard in comparison.
    As for Sky even if I was a millionaire I would not pay a penny to Murdoch and his abhorrent company. With all the current scandals revolving around the News of the World etc. As a former Sky subscriber I wouldn’t use their substandard product again anyway, even without the moral issues.
    This deal is not good for any fan, Sky customers pay twice, once for a whole season and again for half a BBC season, and for the rest of us die-hard fans get half a substandard season on BBC, with 5 live cometary and 10 races of highlights. Even an hour cuts races by a 1/3 on average.
    Highlights only give you what they think is important to see, what if you are a lotus fan, do you think you will see much of their team on highlights apart from when they crash, or are lapped.
    The importance of seeing a live race is that you see the race unfold corner by corner, the nuances that led to an overtake, not just the overtake itself. when the action jumps 5 or ten laps into the race, then another 3, the flow of the race is disrupted. Years wasted putting money and time into F1 for them to treat the fans like this is disgraceful, without the fans F1 is nothing. That’s 17 years of my life wasted, for my father-in-law nearly 45 years. He wont be buying the Mercedes he had planed to next year.
    I and many others will not watch sky or put up with highlights. Also many others wish to boycott as many sponsors as possible.

    If F1 cant support it’s fans, then why should they support F1.

    RIP F1 1950-2011!


  16. This level of ignorance and unjustified so-called “hatred” is really mind-boggling, and seems to have no basis in fact. Maybe you dislike it or are not interested in it, both of which are fine, but to actively *hate* it… that’s really mad in the head. The only reason that would be the case would be if you were still bitter over “the split” but honestly it sounds like you’d have hated it before that too.
    It seems not to have occurred to people that IndyCar is not trying to be F1 or F1-lite and shouldn’t be considered its equal (despite what some in the US MidWest would say). It is just different, that’s all.
    Not sure where you get off trying to pass off your opinion as “it is considered by most”, when you what you mean is it is considered by you and your friends. Well, me and and my friends like it.

    As for the rest, standard-issue Murdoch-bashing, which is all good fun and games, and if we’re talking about The Sun or NOTW or Fox or Sky News I’d happily join in. Fact is, the actual delivery platform of HD TV is the best around for those of us outside cabled areas.

    Last I heard there won’t be highlights, it’ll be a full tape delay (or even both). Not that this is ideal either but it is better than what many feared.


  17. I apologise for being so insulting about Indy car, I went too far. To be honest I don’t care how good or bad Indy Car is, the issue is F1 and Sky. Your absolutely right Pat W. I’m sorry to anyone I insulted. Indy deserves as much respect as any other motor-sport whether you enjoy it or not. 😦

    Back to the real issue F1 and Sky.
    I think to hit the sponsors hard is the only way the fans may make a difference. If as many sponsors can be boycotted as possible then the pressure will be on. They will pull out. Already the sums don’t seem to add up just on viewing figures. The sponsors work on how much air time they get X the viewing audience. So less people over all watching of a full race, plus on the BBC no qualifying to view sponsorship, and some smaller teams hardly being shown in highlights. Surely many sponsors will be paying less to the teams.
    If as many of us boycott as many sponsors as possible then this will put more pressure on the sponsors to have the situation changed. Without a fan base or sponsors then there is no Formula 1.
    At this time with all the SUN and NoTW scandal it’s sickening that Bernie would team up with such a despicable company. I also find it insulting that none of the drivers or teams, from and based in Britain haven’t got the balls to stick up for their countrymen, or the fans of their host country. It seems many of them are thinking of their pockets rather than the fans that have followed the sport through thick and thin, scandal after scandal for years.
    There are many more things. How will this affect British industry with many from the UK working in F1, and ticket sales at Silverstone. With less interest in the sport both will dwindle. I wonder if in 5 years time with almost no casual fans, and and a smaller hardcore fan base, Lewis an Jenson will appreciate the tiny fan base in the UK, many not knowing or caring who they are.

    I apologise once more to fans of Indy Car fans, their was no excuse!
    Once again take this fight to the sponsors. They are the only one’s that have any real power over Bernie if their income is threatened. let the sponsors know how you feel, and that you will no longer buy or use their products, It may be the only weapon we have.


  18. We have Sky, but not sky sports as we don’t watch football etc. only motorsports. We already get sky movies as a premium channel, and will not be forking out extra for sky sports when the only thing we would watch would be the f1. we probably will not be watching the championship at all in the future, as there is not much point in only watching some of the races of the championship. it all depends on what the BBC show as their highlights. I would always watch the bbc for preference as a) it has no adverts so does not disturb your viewing pleasure, and b) i think martin brundle and david coulthard are excellent as commentators, and Jake is better than I thought he would be. Chris


  19. i AGREE with most you say. Like you I do have sky but not sky sports as i don’t watch football or cricket or rugby. I do watch F1 & have done since i was 7yo.

    I won’t be paying to view this either


  20. you can pick up free to air on french channel TF1 on Eurobird 9 deg east.

    buy a satelitte kit from screw fix for 70 quid poit it at eurobird and tune it in to TF1 and your away, all sessions live, if sadly not in HD. couldn’t find any of those free to air. check out “king of sat” website for tuning details.

    best wishes


    ps if your really strapped buy a second hand sky set up off ebay and point it at Eurobird 9A


  21. Don’t fall for the trap. I’ll not be taking sky sport just for F1. it will hurt, but I won’t be held to ransom by Bernie Ecclestone.
    I was priced out of going to the British GP, now it looks like out of the sport altogether.
    It wasn’t that long ago that Mr Ecclestone was threttining, not to have a British GP.
    Let the likes of Santander and Vodaphone know you won’t be watching anymore.
    It should only take one season If we all stick together.


  22. I just wanted to reply to add a type of person to your list, those who are die-hard F1 fans, who don’t enjoy watching any other sport, and can’t afford nor justify the full sky + sky sports package just for two thirds of the races, which at £40 a month, works out as £480 a year just to watch 20 races! I’d rather save that and watch the GB race live!


  23. Oh, and an extra £15 a month to get those 20 in HD, meaning another £180 a year! £660 a year is outrageous! Two people can watch a GP live for that.

    I’ll be damned if I’m going to wait for the “highlights” each day, with things like Facebook, the lack of thrill and the lack of consistent easy watching that comes from jumping over entire bits of the race without notifying the user. No, I shall either watch every race religiously (without paying huge amounts just for the privilege), or take the hit and not watch any, leaving me without a sport I very much love.


  24. Hi I’m a F1 nut and have followed it all my life
    Like another comment I only watch Rugby and F1 , actually I do watch the rugby down the pub but F1 has always been watched at home and every race, including getting up at silly times .
    I must admit I don’t need the hour in front or the hour later that can be as highlights .And why so many pundits . or was that Bernies deal ?
    I like the grid walk then I want to watch racing . okay maybe a small post race report.
    I won’t be buying sky, and if more of us stopped supporting Mr Murdock maybe we would see more live sport on the telly l .
    Its not so much the money as the principle . But I guess this is how all sport will go eventually
    I really will need to see what happens next season , if the figures aren’t that good the sponsors will soon make a fuss ,especially as most of the F1 teams are based in the UK .
    When I have to miss a race I know my trusty Humax box would of recorded it.But this measns that I have to avoid all TV radio for that day (really stressful) just in case I hear the result.. I’m sure others can relate to this


  25. Love your post about this some very good points the top one being cost

    I would like to see what Sky can do for the sport i can not comment on there coverage of other sports as i only really watch F1 sometimes some of the support races if i have time and can find them on TV

    I guess i could be classed as a diehard wife thinks i am mad when i got up at 1am (i think it was) to watch the preshow and qualifying that was washed out at Korea 2010 then stayed up to watch it on race day

    but i agree very few fans are going to move to sky I am considering it but there prices are very high for the amount i watch Personally i think they are high priced in general

    The coverage I do hope the currant team will continue Jake DC etc however i do see sky muscling them out to place there own team in there which will be a shame

    Excuse the term but i really hope Sky don’t Fuck it up that would be a real shame for the sport with its record high on viewers


  26. I agree with all said about F1 and Sky. DEPLORABLE.
    Do be carefull about sending messages regarding ganging up on sponsors.
    It could lead to a charge of conspiracy. Anyone legal out there who could check this?


  27. only sport i like is fast cars and living on the edge. but now all on sky? i cant afford 30 quid a month for that,,, wot a joke


  28. I hope it goes pay-per-view and dies a natural death like cricket did on sky.

    I used love F1, but one greedy man seems to want to milk every little penny out of it for himself and his two very spoilt brat kids.

    It’s now a minipulated and somewhat overrated sport, sanitised by a few rich men that desire money over the true contest.


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