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.

Reaction

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.

Sky

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.

Conclusion

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.

Goodwood Festival of Speed 2011

I spent two days at this year’s Festival of Speed and it was fantastic, this was my 5th visit but the first time I’d attended two days of the meeting (Friday and Saturday).  The extra driving, the red arms and face, and the still-aching feet from two days of almost non-stop walking, they were all very much worth it.

It is strange how perceptions change over time. I was always more into the cars and even at Goodwood always thought the drivers were far-off and hidden away. Not this year. I don’t know if it is because the drivers now emerge in the paddock from a new entrance, or if it was because I’ve seen some of the cars a few times now, or if it was because I was with people who have always been more driver-focussed. This year the personalities seemed a lot more interesting to me.

It was of course excellent to hear Formula 1 engines once more, both modern and historic. McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull, Renault, Lotus, Mercedes brought recent machinery to the event and ran them on the hill, whilst Williams had a static car. There were also classic cars from Ferrari, McLaren, Williams, Lotus and many more.

It was Vitaly Petrov’s first time at the Festival and he seemed to really get into the spirit of it, doing burnouts on the hill and being friendly with fans as he walked through the paddock. Mark Webber was doing a good job too on Friday, happily posing for photos and signing away.

Vitaly Petrov at Goodwood    Mark Webber

I also love seeing the big smiles writ large across the faces of the legends of the sport.

Réne Arnoux in the Renault RS01 of 1977

I was pleased to see the Audi R18 sweeping silently by, driven by 2011 Le Mans winner Andre Lotterer. There was also an R15 making runs on the hill with Marco Werner at the wheel. Peugeot sent their 905 but not a 908 in the paddocks, though there was a hybrid in the manufacturer strutures in the ‘infield’. Several classic sportscars were also present including Alfa Romeos – with Arturo Merzario – Jaguars, even a couple of Chaparrals.

There was also representation from WRC, IRC, BTCC and a variety of motorcycles. Ken Block was fantastic on the hill! Kris Meeke and Guy Wilks put on a show with sideways action, Block took it even further with lurid slides and donuts!

A big attraction for me this year was the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500. I’m as much a fan of Indy racing as I am of F1, so to see so many drivers and cars make the effort to come over was very special. What people don’t appreciate is that most of these people don’t ever make public appearances in the UK, even the British drivers, and only a handful of cars only usually make the trip. Johnny Rutherford being the notable exception, he’s been attending Festivals since 1999.

I believe this was the first time a contemporary IndyCar of any flavour (CART, IRL, current) has run at the Festival since it began – and maybe even the first in the country since the CART/ChampCar visits of 2001-2003 – so for me this was very exciting. But not half as exciting as seeing actual current IZOD IndyCar Series drivers come over here to drive them!

“I love it here. Invite me back!”
– Johnny Rutherford, 3-time Indy 500 winner

Goodwood regular Johnny Rutherford was joined by fellow legends Bobby Unser, Al Unser Jr, Parnelli Jones, Dan Sullivan, Bobby Rahal, Kenny Brack and Gil de Ferran, as well as current drivers Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves and Dan Wheldon – no current drivers are usually present as Goodwood frequently falls on a race weekend, but not this year (with due apologies to Watkins Glen). F1 and Indy legend Emerson Fittipaldi was present in his Indycar capacity to drive a Penske.

Dario Franchitti was a legend with the fans, as he is famous for being. My friend Kai isa big fan and after missing him Friday, made a vow to track him down on Saturday. We made a plan to watch the IndyCars return to the main paddock (though we didn’t think he was driving one), and right on cue a Lotus pulled up.. we tried to identify the driver.. and it was Dario! He’d stalled it waiting for marshals to signal him to move on, then got out and pushed the car. Here is the moment Kai runs off to chase him (she’s the one saying “I’m going”).

And.. here’s the result:

Not only that but when asked for a photo he said ‘one minute’ and turned away to consult his aide, who was trying to tell him where he had to be next. He went and had a photo with someone else and we thought he was gone.. next thing there’s a tap on Kai’s shoulder and it is Dario asking “did you want a photo?”. Well.. duh! Didn’t have to do it but still made our day.

On Friday I spotted Helio Castroneves in the crowd and he stopped for a photo with Kai. On Saturday she returned the favour, spotting Helio a mile away and running after him, I gave chase and I got my own photo with an Indy 500 winner!

How cool is that?!

So that was that, I thoroughly recommend attending the Festival of Speed especially with like-minded souls, the more pairs of eyes the better for spotting people or splitting into groups to track them down! It is all about being sure to be in the right place at the right time.

Do check out my photo galleries for more, there are some interesting nuggets in there even if I’m not a great photographer and I only have a budget point-and-shoot camera. There are videos in the galleries but as they aren’t easy to distinguish you may prefer to look at them on YouTube.

Friday / Saturday / YouTube

I’ll leave you with these videos. A lot of TV coverage of the Festival is professionally made and as a result is very well-polished, so much so that I always feel it doesn’t get across what it is ACTUALLY LIKE to walk around in the paddock. Well.. it is like this. Enjoy.

You just don’t know where to turn next. Famous person there, famous car there, engine suddenly bursts into life in front of you.. Why yes.. that is Adrian Newey about to get into a March Indycar he designed in the 80s… And Bobby Rahal about to get into a 1931 diesel car.. And Dan Wheldon hanging around the Target Chip Ganassi car which genuinely is the one scheduled to be raced by Scott Dixon at Edmonton in a few weeks.

Any complaints? Too many people on Saturday, it felt uncomfortably overcapacity in places. Track commentary needed to stop talking about cars waiting at the start and tell us what was in front of us.  It was very hot at times, I didn’t drink enough fluids and didn’t realise how much it took it out of me until Sunday when I was at home resting! And my feet are killing me still despite wearing walking shoes!
Was it worth it? Oh yes. Absolutely. If you’ve never been, you need to go. Add it to your bucket list. Kai is from the US and had never been to an F1 race or an IndyCar race I think, yet here there were stars and cars from both.

Just go.

Was the 2011 European GP boring?

I’ve seen all manner of opinion across a variety of internet feeds, be it Twitter, Sidepodcast’s comments, and more, that the 2011 European Grand Prix was the most boring motor race of all time. But was it?

No.

Don’t be silly.

This kind of reaction seems to have become a hallmark of internet discussion and especially in ‘real time’ fora such as Twitter or Facebook. Knee-jerk overreactions just because someone is bored with a race and there is a keyboard in front of them.

Was the race boring? Well, half of it was. The first half actually really interesting, but the second half was awful. It seems people with a keyboard in front of them lose all sense of time and perspective after 25 boring laps, and by the chequered flag they had forgotten the first part of the race wasn’t actually that bad. They seem to have applied 3 previous years of boredom to this year’s event. I’m sorry, you just can’t do that.

The only person I saw with a different opinion was Lukeh in this excellent post, a beacon of common sense. It was not a great race. It might not even have been a good one, but I tell you something, it wasn’t a bad one either.

Afterwards I posted the following comment to Sidepodcast’s ‘Rate the Race’ thread:

I give this a 5 out of 10 simply on the basis that I really enjoyed the first half of the race and it was only from halfway onwards that it got boring (really boring).

People must have such incredibly short attention spans to level the vitriol I’ve seen about this race. There is nothing wrong with having a 5/10 race once in a while.

I’ll admit I didn’t watch live and because I had it fullscreen and was too lazy to boot up a separate device, I wasn’t following internet reaction as it happened (i.e the live thread), so I was just left with my own thoughts. I found the first 40% of this race to be just as interesting as any other. There was racing. There was passing. There was a 3-way fight for the lead which could have resulted in a pass at any time. That it didn’t was neither here nor there, at no stage in the first half of the race did I think it was a foregone result (apart from actually already knowing the result.. but you know what I mean).

There was a battle for 4th. Racing between McLaren, Mercedes, etc. There was a colossal battle for 7th-14th which I loved, Force India, Toro Rosso, Williams. There was split strategy among midfielders, with Jaime in particular proving a lot of people wrong, he shouldn’t be written off. Sutil had a good run as well, no crashes, top ten result.

There was genuine passing as well as DRS-assisted passing. Just because the DRS was useless among the top 5 – and we have to say the FIA got this one wrong with the distance between detection and activation – it doesn’t mean it was useless for everyone.

We also can’t expect the FIA to get the zones right first time at each venue.. they are going to get some wrong in the first year, they got it wrong here. But on the few occasions a car was close enough in the zone, there was a pass.

So it fell flat in the second half. That’s not an excuse to write off the entire thing. It was by far the best F1 race at this track I have ever seen. That’s not saying much but it is positive progress. We had half an interesting race here, that’s half more than we had before. Change the DRS zone next year. Problem solved.

In the second half of this race we’ve proven conclusively – without the effect of rain as per Canada – that the old aero problems still exist and cars can’t pass without DRS (even with KERS and Pirellis). That’s a problem.

By 2009 standards this would’ve been a good race. Leaders sailing off into the distance, bit of battling in the midfield as a sideshow, just like 2009 with different players. We’ve been spoiled this year. Frankly if this was the worst race of the year, we’re very lucky. People are acting like this was Bahrain 2010 and it was nothing of the sort.

And I’m not saying the latter half of the race wasn’t boring, far from it, it was terrible..

I should also add… it probably says something about how low my expectations were, that I was watching on delay in the first place, having prioritised a golf game with my Dad over it. And I always prioritise F1 first.

Let’s just have a sense of perspective, shall we? Two years ago we’d have loved this race and here we are with people saying it is dull. I think that shows just how far we’ve come in such a short time. What a great result that really is for the sport of Formula 1 and motor racing in general.

A Web of Confusion

A hot topic at the moment is the issue of web streaming of motor racing series, specifically concerning IndyCar and the American Le Mans Series as they diverge in their approach to online coverage.

ALMS

The ALMS announced that it was ditching live TV coverage for this season with their races being streamed live via various ESPN websites worldwide and at www.americanlemans.com for areas with no ESPN service, like here in the UK. That’ll be followed up by highlights packages on ABC or ESPN2 usually the following day. I think most ALMS races will again air tape delayed on MotorsTV in Europe.

This received a mixed reaction from the fans. A section of fans though this was a great idea because a large number of people have access to the web with a fairly decent connection nowadays, and growing numbers of the population both in the US and elsewhere are turning to watching TV – live or via timeshifting – via the internet perfectly legally online. Offering official web streaming is a fantastic idea and is essential today, I think everyone is agreed a service like this is a good idea.

The problem here, which angered a great many fans, is that this expanded web coverage comes at the expense of live TV. Removing coverage from TV is suicide because whilst online coverage may be growing fast, it isn’t fully mature and doesn’t attract the numbers of TV. Furthermore, not everybody does have reliable fast internet connections yet. Live TV coverage is essential for retaining eyeballs on the series. The other issue here is that their chosen partner within the US, ESPN3.com, is not available on all ISPs. It seems they want partnership agreements with ISPs to allow content to be streamed through them. Crazy. This does not help the sponsors in any way at all. Read here of the trouble one of the competing teams at Sebring is having trying to get race coverage in their hospitality trailer and their pit area (with thanks to Dex of RLM for the retweet earlier bringing it to my attention).

The best solution is for coverage live on TV and live online, people can watch using whichever method suits them. I suspect even with TV highlights the ALMS will be negatively affected. Just look at Indy Lights when it fell to a tape delay in 2010 – a mass loss of sponsors, and consequently a significant drop in the entry list. Okay so Lights is a junior series and ALMS is the top sportscar series in North America, but the point I think still stands.

A separate issue is the dropping of Radio Le Mans which to me is unthinkable. Thankfully Hindy and Shaw will be doing the commentary for ESPN3.com and AmericanLeMans.com, but it won’t be the full service we’re used to. Admittedly I can’t watch many ALMS races live due to the timing of the races but Sebring and Petit I always try to follow, for those I like to turn down the stream volume (yes I had to watch an illicit stream for pictures) and listen to RLM because their information and commentary are almost always superior.

In many respects the new deal is exactly what I asked for in the past and I am very happy with the web side of it. Official web video coverage with commentary from Hindy and Shaw? Yes, please! No more illicit feed, no more trying to get it and RLM synced up. Frankly it suits me very well indeed, as someone outside the US I’m not complaining about the web coverage at all. The problems here are the removal of the TV coverage and the restricting of the web feed to certain users.

IndyCar

The dust was settling on all of this when IndyCar casually mentioned as an aside at the bottom of a press release about something completely different, that they’d be dropping their existing free web stream for 2011. This time there wasn’t a single fan in favour – everybody was against the loss. The TV deal for IndyCar within the US involves a channel you have to pay extra to receive, apart from five races on ABC which are available to all. This means more people had been reliant on the web stream than with ALMS up until now.

Now, anyone who tried to watch IndyCar online over the past few years knows just how unreliable their service actually was and how bad the product was. I’ve complained about it a lot. It buffered, stuttered, froze and sometimes just gave up working at all. It did get better in 2010, a more reliable useable service. The focus then shifted to the actual coverage, which took the IMS Radio Network and overlaid the audio over some apparently random camera shots unconnected to what IMSRN were discussing. They weren’t even TV pictures – they seemed to be set-up shots as the camera got into position ready for the director to go to them. So many times we looked at an empty track or a pointless helicopter shot where the cars were too small to see anything.

All this and yet… it was still better than nothing. I and others always said it was better than nothing. Now we have nothing. The chances of watching any live IndyCar this year seem remote. I will try to catch a Justin.tv stream or others elsewhere, but if they get shut down, that’s it. In the UK, coverage is provided by Sky Sports 3 which is an expensive channel to obtain if like me you don’t already have Sky installed. You can only use Sky’s web streaming service if you are already a subscriber to their TV service. That option is out of the window for many of us.

This was a decision from Comcast/NBC who own the Versus network which hosts IndyCar in the US. What’s particularly sad is that IndyCar had already mentioned last season (via Twitter?) that for 2011 their service would be improved. There is evidence that’s actually the case because members of their free fan club ‘IndyCar Nation’ – which you had to join to watch streaming last year – received an email the other day announcing a new live timing and scoring system, a new live track map showing car positions, new pre and post-event videos and an integrated Twitter feed. It looks for all the world like the rug was pulled from under them.

GT1 WC and Superleague Formula

The FIA GT1 World Championship and Superleague Formula are two series which do web coverage very well. Both offer the exact same product as appears on the TV screen, as a free web feed. You get the same pictures, the same commentary, the same pit reports. A1GP used to do the same thing. I highly recommend trying out their services. What’s even better is something I’ve not seen since Champ Car did it a few years ago. The races are archived! I’ve not yet watched much of the 2010 FIA GT1 World Championship but I plan to go back through that archive and watch every race.

You might say these series are watched by far fewer people than either ALMS or IndyCar. You’d be right. That doesn’t mean the latter series can’t learn from them. If I had my way every series would have live TV, live web streaming, and past races available on their websites. That includes Formula 1 as well, which is currently hiding behind the excuse of ‘licensing agreements’ despite FOM holding copyright on every broadcast (check the post-race credits). For some series I’d pay a nominal, non-bank-breaking fee, too.

That way none of us would have to resort to illicit streams or torrent downloads – and I think even the streaming and torrenting communities would rejoice at that.

Further reading:

– Two posts from Allen at Grab Bag Sports, the first following the initial announcements and the second citing sports offering web coverage.

Pressdog on the process behind the Comcast/NBC management decisions.

Meesh captures the immediate reaction of most IndyCar fans who rely on streaming to watch the races live.

Leigh has some interesting thoughts too.

Blogathon 2011 is This Weekend!

I can’t believe it has come around so soon, this weekend from 8pm GMT it is the 3rd Annual Blogathon at Grab Bag Sports!

Previously known as Furious Wedge, GBS will again be hosting the 24.5-hour blogging marathon. The original was set up ostensibly to follow the Daytona 24 Hours but also to check in with a bunch of other sports happening the same weekend, including the Australian Open, basketball, even cricket.. anything vaguely sports-related happening over the weekend. The focus is generally Daytona, tennis and American sports but really anything goes, if a way can be found to watch it or talk about it, it’ll be watched and talked about. Don’t forget to follow that link and leave your guess for when Scott Pruett says hello to his family – prizes are at stake.

This year’s event is bigger and better than ever, featuring as it does these special guests:

– IZOD IndyCar Series driver Alex Tagliani (#77 FAZZT Racing), one of the most ‘social media’-aware drivers from possibly the most SM-aware paddock in the world, and also a great guy.
– ESPN senior writer Ryan McGee who covers motorsport and college football, which seems an odd combination but there you go.
– NZR Consulting’s Tony Cotman, he’s the man charged with bringing in the 2012 IndyCar rules, did the same for Champ Car, and is also the chief steward for the Firestone Indy Lights series.

There will be Q&A chat sessions with each, check the site for times as well as a schedule of sports occurring this weekend, a slightly different schedule is here for UK/European-types and those elsewhere who find a way to watch.

A regular feature has become the guest bloggers posting throughout, this year includes (but is not limited to):
– Steph and Paul from More Front Wing;
– Tony from Pop Off Valve;
– James from 16th & Georgetown;
– Shane from Australia (regularly contributing to Curt Cavin’s Q&A and radio show);
– and… me. While the above are IndyCar fanatics I can struggle to keep up with it so I guess I’m there to provide a different dimension.. or something? Er. Thanks for the invite!

We’ll be posting regularly alongside our esteemed hosts: Allen Wedge, Mike Furious, and Andy ‘The Speedgeek’.

There will be a blogger Q&A too, come along and ask questions. Primarily ask them to Tags and Cotman, but if you get there at the wrong time ask us blogpeople instead.

Let’s not forget the Mario Kart tournament featuring a live chat room! It may be a bit late for me, it didn’t stop me staying up until 5am last year but I may not go that far this time.

I really do hope you join us, even if you have no idea about Daytona, NFL, the Aussie Open, or whatever else might crop up. It’ll be fun!

Head to http://www.grabbagsports.com/ from 8pm GMT Saturday until 9pm Sunday for much fun and merriment.

Swap Shop: Too Much Racing?

Too Much Racing?

I am really excited to be guest writing for Pat’s blog as part of the Bloggers’ Swap Shop series as I am a regular reader of this blog – like Pat, I’m not just a Formula 1 fan, but a big fan of all Motorsports.  It’s amazing how different each form of Motorsport is and what makes these series so enjoyable for different reasons.  The long-term strategy of Endurance Racing, The wheel banging of Touring Car Racing, the ‘Maximum Attack’ opposite lock slides of Rallying and the madcap daring of MotoGP to name a few.  If it’s got wheels and an engine then I will probably like it…

Back when I was a kid, when I lived in the UK, we watched F1 on Sundays only (no qualifying sessions were shown on TV) and the RAC Rally.  Then when Nigel Mansell moved to America, we started watching Indycar.  Then the BTCC started getting really popular too.  Then a chap called Carl Fogarty started looking quick on a motorbike and so we started watching Superbikes.  But with most of these series showing half or one hour highlights and usually at the weekends, so these were quite easy to watch and didn’t take up too much time.

Then in my teens, I moved to NZ, which back then was a Motorsports moratorium! F1 was on Sky only, no WRC, no bikes and not even any V8 Supercars coverage except for Bathurst itself! Thankfully this situation slowly improved, and Sky in particular started to show more of the series I was used to – including Indycars, as soon as Scott Dixon had a ride…

So now I live in Europe again and I have access to all of these Motorsports if I want to.  But the main difference is that the way they are shown on TV has changed – while they used to be short highlights packages, we now get full live coverage, Not only that, but we have access to the whole season of racing, so for example the RAC Rally expanded into the WRC, Le Mans into Sebring, Petit Le Mans, ALMS and LMS, MotoGP has the 125’s and Moto2’s, Indycar has the  Lights series, plus F1 has all the practice and qualifying sessions live on TV.

Being a Motorsport fan has changed a lot with the advent of satellite/cable TV and the internet – seeing a short highlights programme and maybe reading a small clipping in a newspaper (or Autosport if you were lucky enough).  Can you imagine following the sport like this now?  We spend hours watching footage, reading articles on the web, writing blog posts and arguing the toss on various internet forums – we analyse, scrutinise and opine in ways we never dreamt of before.  As a viewing pubic we have welcomed this move with open arms and consider that if you don’t watch the whole coverage, then you aren’t following the sport properly.  These have been big changes over the last 10 years.

Another big change has been the number of series – I have mentioned some of them above, but you can add A1GP to that mix, along with the IRC to supplement the WRC, DTM, WTCC, Superleague Formula and various other Feeder Series like GP2, GP2 Asia, F2, F3, AutoGP, GP Masters, Formula Renault 2.0 and World Series, and many more.  All of these have unprecedented TV coverage and it’s hard not to feel as a racing fan that you should be watching these.  All racing drivers say they want to get to F1, but I wonder if there are those who wouldn’t mind a career where as long as they get sponsorship, they are happy just to compete year after year in this multitude of series having a laugh?  They’d never admit that to though as it would surely upset their sponsors…

I do wonder where all of these series have come from – and they keep coming too.  Granted, some of the above have failed as quickly as they have started, but plenty of others have happily taken their place.  You do feel as though there is critical mass now and at some point that the bubble will burst, a lot of sponsors and money will just disappear from the sport and we will be back to the old days again.  I feel sorry for the young guys wanting to get to F1 – in the old days it was simple how to get there, but now there’s no clear path at all.  It’s especially hard to see drivers with talent not doing as well as they should do just because of a lack of funding, but that’s another story…

One can only conclude that there are simply aren’t enough hours in the day to follow all of the Motorsport we want to any more, which means that we have to pick and choose what we follow and what we don’t because we just can’t watch them all.  And as I said earlier, with no clear path to F1 any more, it’s hard to prioritise which ones are more important to watch.  At the end of the day this can only be a bad thing – there are so many series all competing for the same turf that they are taking fans and sponsorship monies away from each other.  This is why I said earlier that I think the bubble will burst – and that a consolidation of the many series on offer is just over the horizon.

So I leave you all with a question: Do you think we have too much racing?

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Rubbergoat is the author of the popular stats blog Making Up The Numbers, is a regular commenter across the motorsport blogosphere and Twitter, and is a regular caller/emailer on multiple podcasts. This post appears as part of the 3rd instalment of the fantastic Bloggers Swap Shop by VivaF1. Thanks to Gavin for writing it!

How Would You Change the Public Perception of F1?

This post is part of Thursday Thoughts which this week is hosted by Gridwalk Talk. You can see the full set of responses in this Bit.ly bundle.

If you succeeded Bernie Ecclestone with controlling and owning Formula 1, how would you change the public perception of F1?

In many respects I think what poor perceptions F1 does have is down to the FIA as much as Bernie and FOM. The two go hand-in-hand. The poor stewards decisions of the last several years have had a bad effect on the perception of the series, particularly outside of what you might call the ‘heartlands’ here in Europe, I’ve noticed many IndyCar fans in particular have been quite negative towards it (though you may rightly argue those in glass houses shouldn’t be throwing stones).

Jean Todt’s FIA Presidency has taken large strides towards fixing one half of the image problem and I intend to write a post soon about the recent World Council decisions and not just those relating to F1. I really do think F1 is moving in the right direction in terms of the officialdom and stewardship by the FIA. Now it is time for the commercial arm to catch up.

One of the things which makes F1 different to other championships is that it is quite exclusive, in some ways I agree with it yet it doesn’t need to be taken to the extremes that have existed for a few years now. It isn’t necessary to have the whole paddock fenced off is it? Teams like Virgin and Lotus have done well to break down these barriers with paddock tours, while McLaren, Red Bull and others offer similar although I think maybe only to fan club members. I am sure there are areas which can be opened up a little.

The driver signing sessions at each GP have helped fan-access too and more of this sort of thing is to be encouraged.

I would also make sure the KangarooTV units were readily available at every race. I attended the Belgian GP and it was very useful indeed, I have no idea how I’d have kept track of the race otherwise because you can’t hear the circuit tannoy over the engines (and the circuit feed is available on it too, so the locals can stay informed too).

Online

Speaking both as a fan and as someone with a blog, the decision not to make better use of YouTube is frustrating. The ‘race edits’ and single-lap onboards at F1.com could easily be re-blogged by many a site with all the promotion that would bring, yet they’ve chosen to keep it locked to their own format complete with threatening copyright notice. There is the danger it could be used by every F1 fan site out there, but isn’t that better than denying the use of any F1 video at all? Many sites often resort to using ‘unofficial’ video, because there are times when you can’t get away with just not including what you are talking about. There should be a means of fans being able to locate and watch clips of moments in history, and for bloggers to be able to use them.

This is already happening elsewhere, all sorts of series, teams, drivers, and even race track owners are getting in on the action but their F1 equivalents have to navigate the minefield of what FOM will let them use. The same for TV companies who don’t have the rights to the coverage but wish to report on the latest happenings, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen reference to current F1 in some documentary or other – even reputable ones – yet they are using stock footage from 30 years ago, from before the restrictions came in. You have people making positive content showing F1 in a good light and they can’t use footage to showcase it. This is absolutely crazy.

The website itself is okay as a structure, could probably use a bit of work here and there. What it really needs is far more video. It should be possible to either watch the race live online or at least on a delayed basis, without commentary if that is a sticking point contractually (I am sure someone can provide it). If there is anything at all that is controversial a replay should be online within 24 hours for fans to review and form their own opinion, or even non-controversial things which are notable, at a director’s discretion. Get people talking about it – even more than they already do – without the need for those pesky unofficial YouTube videos. And upload them to YouTube officially.

Locations

Many complain about the ‘new’ venues in F1. While I am one of them I do like to give circuits more of a chance than some people do. It is worth trying to go to Korea because that is a big tech market, and while I’m sure it is little secret the race only exists because of a major sponsor of the series there is no reason why the Koreans can’t be big F1 fans in time. I have a gut feeling they’ll take to it better than the Chinese, who haven’t.

Ultimately every venue should be given the opportunity to grow and develop. If it doesn’t, it is time to move on.

The cost of race tickets needs urgent attention. F1 is seen as being far too expensive to follow in person. The sole cause of these costs are the fees charged to the circuits, who can only recoup that loss through ticket sales (trackside advertising revenue goes to the F1 Group). Lower the fees to a respectable level, allow the circuits to make a viable profit – even only a minor one – and the ticket prices will fall and the stands will fill once again. It doesn’t look good when even the most well-attended races have gaps in the stands.

I’d also have a word with the teams to get them to stop selling such extortionate merchandise. Who’s going to pay £75 for a fleece or £40 for a polo shirt? Particularly if you can’t wear the thing because it is plastered in bright logos? I’m not saying devalue the F1 association, just allow people to actually buy the stuff.

Other

‘Casual fans’ and non-fans complain F1 is too boring. This is potentially being addressed by almost-annual major rule changes. They didn’t necessarily work in 2010 when many races were pretty much just as unexciting as 2009 (interesting in their own way, just not exciting), although this year the championship battle was among the best there has ever been. Again, for 2011 there are some major rule changes – we all await the outcome of those. That’s mainly an FIA decision mind you.

I do think the new-for-2010 teams have done a lot to breathe fresh air into F1 in their approach to fans and this has helped F1’s perception as a whole. If the other teams take this lesson on board, and if FOM/FIA do too (which would be a minor miracle), I can see an even brighter future ahead.

It is amazing that F1 has enjoyed such phenomenal growth without such concessions to fans. Imagine what it could’ve done with more openness.

If you succeeded Bernie Ecclestone with controlling and owning Formula 1, how would you change the public perception of F1?