MotoGP to BT Sport in 2014 (IndyCar & NASCAR too)

UK TV coverage of MotoGP will be switching to the new BT Sport channels from the 2014 season. IndyCar will also be on those channels later this season. I’ll focus on MotoGP as that is by far the bigger series in terms of fans and ratings.

Err, What?

BT Sport is a new venture from the telecoms company after it bought ESPN UK & Ireland, which itself grew out of the ashes of Setanta Sports. The line-up will be BT Sport 1 and BT Sport 2 – each with HD and SD simulcasts – and the existing ESPN channel will be retained, but it’ll be run by BT instead of ESPN. The existing ESPN Classic and ESPN America will be discontinued. MotorsTV has moved on the Sky EPG to make way.

Is this a good thing? The elephant in the room is Sky Sports, the dominant player in subscription-TV sports. If Setanta nor the mighty ESPN could make it work against Sky, could BT, despite little experience operating linear TV? BT already offer an on-demand service via IPTV (it beat Sky to that by a couple of years), could that make the difference?

Given Thursday’s announcements they are certainly giving it a damn good try!

No Free-To-Air MotoGP

Now for the bad news for many – no more BBC or Eurosport MotoGP coverage.

The free-to0-air* BBC2 airs all races live, and Moto2 and Moto3 races, and MotoGP qualifying, are live online and on the red button.

* excluding the Licence Fee but since everyone has to pay it anyway it is moot.

British Eurosport – but I believe not many other branches of Eurosport across the continent – air all sessions live for all 3 classes apart from the MotoGP race, which is delayed to give BBC2 the priority. Eurosport only requires a £5 extra fee on Sky (along with a whole host of other channels in the Entertainment Extra pack), and is on a fairly reasonable tier on Virgin Media cable TV, I think? It also has a very affordable web and app presence costing only £2.99/mth which is how I watch it.

The sharing agreement was set up in 2009 specifically to boost ratings by giving priority to the more widely available BBC2. It seems priorities have changed at Dorna!

As of now the only UK TV coverage is exclusive to BT. Sadly this means, unless a highlights deal is announced, MotoGP will no longer be available on free-to-air to the whole population.

This is a huge loss for MotoGP’s UK fans. I am sure Dorna took this option for their own reasons, possibly financial. The BT deal will inevitably result in far lower viewing figures. BBC2 gets about 1 million people per race, this is sometimes higher than F1 races on Sky! BT would be doing extremely well to reach 20% of that and it might be more like 10%.

There are some people who will get it free-to-air, effectively. More on that in a minute.

What MotoGP Will They Air?

Everything. All sessions and races will be covered live. Tthey’ll be covered live from site and from a London studio, perhaps they’ll send one or two pit reporters (and crew) and keep the presenting team at home? That’s a backwards step, the interaction you get from Matt Roberts, and previously Suzi Perry, is very much worth the investment. Talking heads sitting in a remote studio is not interesting to me.

What is interesting is the promise of extra programming between races, they’ve not given specifics but I imagine that might include profiles of legends of the sport, insights into GP history, a tour of a team HQ.

How.. And How Much?

First things first – the hook:  If you have BT Broadband you will be able to get BT Sport’s channels as a free extra. I’m a BT Broadband subscriber so this makes me quite happy! Effectively MotoGP remains ‘free-to-air’ if you are already with BT.

There are those who complain it isn’t “free” but that is only valid if you are now with a competitor at a lower rate – you’ll end up paying more by switching. That’s fair enough. For those of us already paying BT’s higher rates, this offer makes those prices better value. I’m paying them anyway so anything extra is a bonus. Ok it isn’t ‘free’, it is a new feature that makes my higher cost more bearable. Believe me I was seriously considering switching away at the end of my contract and this deal will heavily influence my decision.

Don’t have BT Broadband? A subscription costs £12 per month or £15 for HD but at the moment you can only get it on Sky.

Here are the four options. They say three but there are four, I consider the web player to be separate from the app. There’s a possible fifth.

Option 1)  Sky. If you have Sky you can ring up BT and give them your viewing card number. You DO NOT have to be an existing BT customer – the difference is only in cost. If you are with BTB you’ll get Sport free, if you’re not you’ll be charged £12 or £15. Seemingly you can only get it direct from BT (don’t call Sky), I bet this is to check you’re a broadband customer which Sky wouldn’t know.

Option 2) BT TV. BT have a couple of TV options of their own. You’ll need their broadband to get either.

They want you to get YouView but that requires some hoops to be jumped: You need to have BT Infinity (“superfast broadband” as they call it), their fibre-optic system which is slowly rolling out across the country.

If like many people you currently can’t get Infinity you can have BT Vision instead. For that you will need normal BT Broadband, or ADSL as most of us may know it. There appear to be no other restrictions on getting Vision. (Annoyingly there’s also a Vision-branded section on YouView – don’t confuse the two).

BT Sport will be delivered by encrypted Freeview channel needing a viewing card in exactly the same way ESPN is currently, but it’ll be the SD channels only and there’s a £10 fee for the card.

Update – more details here.

Both systems are focused on ‘On Demand’ services so I hope BT Sport content will appear there for free.

Option 3) Web Player. Seems to be BT subs only. Go to btsport.com and login with a MyBT username (the one you use to look bills). A big concern here is the use of unreliable Microsoft Silverlight which is my main bugbear with ITV Player.

Option 4) App for tablet or smartphone again needing a BT login.

I hope options 3 and 4 become available to non-subscribers. If BT are serious about bringing sport to the masses at lower rates than Sky, they would surely allow people to subscribe only to the web player and/or the app.

Potential Option 5) Virgin Media cable TV. No deal has been agreed right now but you can bet they are working on it.

Away from BT, another option for fans is the VideoPass on MotoGP.com – real diehards only though, a standard pass costs £85 per year or £21/month! A ‘MultiScreen’ pass is £30/mth.

Existing ESPN subscriber? I’m pretty sure I saw that your subscription will only run until ESPN changes hands at the end of July. If that means you have unused months I suggest you ask ESPN for a refund.

The Takeaway

Depends on what you have already.

++ for anybody with BT broadband and a Sky dish or YouView. Just ring BT and get all this stuff for free. If you currently pay for ESPN you’ll save £10-15 per month.

+ for anybody with BT broadband but no Sky dish. You (and I) will get the web player and the app for no extra fee. Most of us are perfectly used to watching BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD or Eurosport Player so this is a very good thing for us.

~ for people with Sky but not BT. £12-£15 isn’t going to break the bank if you only want BT Sport, but if you want Sky Sports too it’ll soon mount up. If you pay for Sky Sports and ESPN right now nothing will really change, a sport or two will have moved from one place to another as they do every year.

– for those who can and would pay for BT and/or Sky but are currently with other providers – switching is a hassle.

— if you can only afford one set of premium sports channels, do you choose Sky for F1, or BT for MotoGP & IndyCar? It’ll fall on your preference of racing and other sports.

— for anybody without BT or Sky and are unwilling or unable to switch for whatever reason. Cost is likely the main reason as both BT and Sky are expensive. There are a lot of people who just can’t afford it.

MotoGP’s ratings are going to drop substantially in 2014. ESPN’s ratings at the moment are dire and that will not change for a while. Even Sky Sports, the market leader in subscription sport, usually has poor ratings compared to Free-To-Air.

The increase in shoulder programming is a good thing – will anybody watch it?

I applaud BT for not only allowing their current customers access for no further fee – remember how often people complain the sweet deals are only for new customers – and also for keeping the monthly cost at a minimal level for non-broadband customers.

On a Personal Level

I have BT Broadband with BT Vision TV – unfortunately the Freeview part is broken so I can’t get ESPN, but even if the box worked I live in a transmission blackspot – if you pick up a main transmitter you see all Freeview channels but if you use a local repeater transmitter you only see half of them. Guess where I live! I must get an engineer to move the aerial.

I should be able to see a lot On Demand for free with Vision which is good. Anything I want live I can see on my PC or iPad for no extra charge, also brilliant.

Alternatives? I’m in a rented property so I can’t have a Sky dish – I might be allowed at this address but who’s to say how long I’ll be here and if my next landlord would let me? I also live well outside Virgin’s cabled area. These are the reasons I went for BTV in the first place.

Is this deal any good for you? Let me know! It certainly feels better than the Sky F1 deal but is that because I’m now used to that idea, is it because I know I’m getting availability for no extra cost?

Other Racing

IndyCar – BT seem to have taken over ESPN’s current IndyCar deal right off the bat, from channel launch this August. Good news. IndyCar fans were faced with having no coverage at all so it is a very different position to MotoGP which is reducing viewers. I’m *VERY* happy to finally be able to watch one of my favourite series completely legally for the first time since 2002!

NASCAR – There has been mention of NASCAR which I presume to be the 1-hour highlights show of the Sprint Cup. Time will tell. If so it might even mean I’ll stay with Cup for a season for the first time.

At the moment that seems it for motorsport but anything could change between now and the 2014 season.

Other Sport

Football, football, and more football: English Premier League, Scottish Premier League, FA Cup, UEFA Europa League, Serie A, Ligue 1, Bundesliga, MLS, English Women’s League.
English Premiership Rugby. WTA tennis. Red Bull ‘extreme sports’ (interestingly including Red Bull Crashed Ice!). UFC. And these from the head of digital production: “Our confirmed list of US sports: college basketball, Indy car, NASCAR, college football, MLB, Red Bull, MLS.”

It seems like a very decent line-up if you like those sorts of things. I’m not too into the different types of football so I wouldn’t pay for the channels, but since they are free-to-me I might dip into a few things to see if I like them!

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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.

The Killer Years

I urge any fan of any branch of motorsport to watch this programme.

It will not be an easy watch, although it may be easier if you are accustomed to watching war documentaries with the detachment that brings.

It tells the story of Grand Prix racing, and racing generally, in the 1960s and 1970s and the attitudes that persisted at the time. It tells of the battle fought by Jackie Stewart and others to change the attitudes by all means necessary. The shock after Clark. And it shows the courage and bravery of these drivers to continue what they were doing as their peers were being killed off.

As Stewart says, “it was like the circuit owners were holding a pistol to our heads”.

It also tells of the immense bravery of David Purley and the stupidity and futility of those who either couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything to help Roger Williamson, and so many others through the years.

On a different note, aside from the valuable history lesson, it is also worth watching for the other period footage (most of which I had never seen before) and the contemporary interviews with ‘names’ from the time and notable racing historians such as David Tremayne.

If you are in the UK you can watch on the BBC iPlayer before Sunday by using this link:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00z8v18/Grand_Prix_The_Killer_Years/

If you are outside the UK or are reading this after Sunday, you can find the programme on YouTube in 4 chunks of 15 minutes: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. I urge UK residents to please use the BBC video above – it registers a viewing with the BBC and will encourage them to air more motorsport documentaries.

Like any documentary it may have a few faults, things it misses for brevity.. but it is still worth a watch.

Do watch it.

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.

An Easter Sunday

How did I spend my Easter Sunday?

Watching racing – hey you know me, what did you expect? I had no plans all day and this was the first fully-stacked motorsport weekend of 2010, there’s no way I was going to miss it.

I woke at 7.45am when my alarm beeped, a cleverly-timed alarm designed to get me downstairs for 8am for the BBC F1 pre-race show. I hit the off button and promptly fell asleep until 9am. 9am.. The race starts at 9am! Cue a mad rash downstairs. I arrived as the cars rounded the last corner on their warm up lap. That was close. I watched the race in a bit of a daze, trying to fire up the live timing which was having troubles of its own, as well as trying to find the 5Live commentary feed and other accoutrements to enjoying F1.

You can read my thoughts on the F1 race elsewhere, the important point is that as soon as it was over it was time to flick over to ITV4 to catch some BTCC action from their first meeting of the year at Thruxton – but wait, what’s this, Superleague Formula’s first race at Silverstone was on at the same time? Which to choose?

The answer of course, is both. I had Superleague’s official free web stream on my PC, with the BTCC coverage on my TV. I found I was more into the Superleague so I muted the TV. To be honest I wasn’t really following either race all too well, if you combine following two races with keeping up with Twitter and other sites which were reporting on the BBC F1 Forum happening at the time which I’d abandoned, there was a lot of information to take in.

Eventually there was time for a break for shower, breakfast and a cup of tea at something like 1pm. Perfect for a Sunday normally, the hunger hurt a little after being up since 9.. The BTCC support races were playing out during this time and I watched a couple of them, the Porsches were as tedious as ever despite their larger grid – and the Clio Cup was as madcap as ever despite their much reduced grid!

At 2pm came another decision. SF race 2, or BTCC race 2? I took the same solution as before since the internet had become awfully quiet, I’m guessing people were off doing family things for Easter. I muted the TV again and again barely followed the touring car race, I’ve found no reason to get interested in it this year.

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Conversely, I’ve never watched Superleague Formula before and I’ve been openly critical of the entire concept. I still don’t like the concept and their timing and scoring system is very confusing with the three letters representing teams not drivers, but I tell you what, they’ve made the right choices on the car and engine package and on the driver choices. There was top notch racing in race 2. Bourdais fought his way up, Montagny passed several cars from the back to finish 8th or so, and this Dolby fellow is quite a find isn’t he? I thought it was a very good race, lots of passing yet it was nice and clean.

Not like BTCC race 3 which was the last race of the day at Thruxton, after a couple more support races. I watched this with the sound off as well because I was listening to ‘Giggles Radio’ on Sidepodcast, but since listening to music is a little less taxing than watching a race I was able to follow this encounter a little more. It seemed okay other than what looked to me to be very slow-looking touring cars, until Matt Neal decided to get up to his tricks and just rammed Rob Collard into the barrier. He claimed he had nowhere to go, which is nonsense. 3 cars, 1 ahead and 2 side by side with Neal one of the two. He just rams the car in front such that it loses momentum and the 3rd car knocks it into a spin because he genuinely can’t avoid it. Had Matt backed off and remained side by side behind the first car, they’d all make it round and he’d have a good drag race on the front straight. Crazy behaviour.

I used to be a Matt Neal fan until a couple of years ago when he seemed to ramp up his antics. He’s just a knobhead, and so are the BTCC stewards for not clamping down on him. I used to dislike Plato for similar things but he seems to have got better recently.

Literally minutes after this race ended, the WRC Rally Jordan review was beginning on the Dave channel (for non-UK people, yes we have a TV channel called “Dave”). I half-watched this but the antics with the penalties to get a favourable road position left a bad taste.

After this I went out for some clear air and a walk and came back to write my Malaysia review. On the whole a rather exceptionally lazy day of watching racing and while there were some negatives it was a thoroughly enjoyable day.

One of the more interesting sub-plots was seeing the work being done at Silverstone. I’d seen pictures but nothing in video, and it was very strange seeing the current front straight with a gravel trap where the grandstands used to be, and some new stands erected outside of it. Being up close was part of that area of Silverstone but I guess what you lose in proximity you gain in being able to see more of the straight. The place looked a bit raggedy in places as there is still work ongoing, but generally much more modern than before, and I expect to see it looking somewhat nicer come the F1 and MotoGP events in the summer.

A good day overall then. What did you do?

Thursday Thoughts: Borrowing Ideas

This week’s Thursday Thoughts question comes from the intriguingly-named Turkey Machine:

What features or regulations from other racing series would benefit F1, and why?


Sounds like my kind of question! Generally-speaking F1 does a good job, yet there are areas from other series it can learn from.

Openness
F1 is notorious for its secrecy. On the one hand it has been an integral part of the game for many years. On the other, we are in a different era now and fans expect a certain degree of openness, and thankfully some F1 teams and drivers are responding, with Twitter accounts and roadshows and so forth. But what at a GP weekend? BMW had the Pitlane Park, and I think it was Indianapolis that pioneered the pitlane walkabout at an F1 race (it having being commonplace in US racing for years).

Other series are still far better at this than F1. I recognise this is semi-deliberate in order to retain F1’s percieved ‘superiority’ and ‘exclusivity’ compared to other series, yet I feel it can be more open while still remaining top of the pile. How?

Let’s have a pitlane walkabout at EVERY Grand Prix, and on EVERY DAY of that GP. There isn’t a packed race schedule at most events (exceptions I think being Albert Park and Silverstone) so time can be found. You can mandate that teams must leave their garage doors open and unobstructed during the walkabout – because as we already know from past walkabouts, some teams put up screens. Some time before an ALMS race starts they line the cars up on the pit straight and allow the fans to walk up and down the straight, taking photos and meeting team personnel and drivers. I’m not necessarily suggesting going that far, but it could be an option.

Then let’s bring in mandatory driver signing sessions in an area outside Bernie’s security wall, with a fine for those who don’t show. This seems to go down very well in IndyCar and NASCAR. I’ve read reports of murmurings from some drivers that ‘extras like this aren’t part of their job’. If any drivers still feel this way, they need to have their attitude adjusting. They are paid millions in order to show their teams and sponsors off to the paying fans, they should give an hour of their time on a Sunday morning to meet them and let the fans get to know them. I argue that if a fan gets to meet their favourite driver they are more likely to associate themselves with that driver’s sponsor/s, whereas if the driver brushes them off that fan may decide to lessen their support or even drop it completely.

Media
HD TV needs to come in and it needs to happen immediately, from Bahrain onwards. No more testing the systems or whatever they are doing. We’ve been promised it every year for the last three or four and the excuses are wearing thin. IndyCar, NASCAR and even World Touring Car are in HD. Admittedly the other series that have gone HD have close relationships with broadcast partners, and F1’s coverage is produced in-house by an subsidiary of FOM – yet surely FOM makes enough revenues to be able to make this investment. I know, because they’ve blogged and tweeted about it, that the broadcasters are pushing hard to have an HD feed released to them – they can’t show what isn’t there. HD channels are currently ‘upscaling’ the standard feed.

The F1.com website needs improving. It is getting there, yet other series sites have tons of photos and videos available, either free or paid-for. Live timing is reasonably good though there’s room to include more information as some other series do.

Consistency of Rulings
Okay, I know you’d be hard-pressed to find a series anywhere that has consistent decision-making when it comes to things like penalties for blocking or running someone off-track. Wishful thinking. It would be nice if they could keep the decisions consistent, whatever those decisions are.

Finally, I’d make the numbers on the cars bigger. Maybe take up the whole rear-wing endplate like in IndyCar. Have you tried identifying drivers by looking at helmets? It’s not always easy.

TM went on to expand to a further question, let’s see if we can answer that as well:

If you can’t think of any that way, what about vice-versa, i.e. what’s F1 got that would benefit other borefests (sorry, motor racing series) around the world?

Certainly with IndyCar and NASCAR I’d bring in the yellow flag rules – don’t throw a Safety Car out there just because a car slowed down for 10 or 20 seconds and cleared the track immediately. I can see why you would do this on ovals where the speeds are so high and laptimes are 25 seconds – on road courses you definitely shouldn’t be going to a full-course yellow unless there’s a car in a dangerous position. It seems both IRL and NASCAR apply their rules to both types of track rather than making adjustments for each, which is a mistake. On a road course you usually have a bit more time and a bit more leeway to let the incident develop and see if it clears itself.

I wouldn’t necessarily take F1’s safety car procedure though, F1 has never really got the hang of when to deploy the car, or run the wave-by.

The producers of the TV feed for most series could probably learn how to cover a race, certainly a road course race, from the FOM crew. The way F1 races are shot is generally very good these days, this has been one of the biggest improvements F1 has made over the last ten years I think and that’s all down to bringing it in-house, not relying on ‘host broadcasters’ as we used to.

Great question. There’s bound to be plenty of other suggestions, feel free to add them either here or in a blog post of your own.

Weekend Preview: 27-28 June 2009

Feature Events

IndyCar Series

– SunTrust Indy Challenge
– Richmond International Raceway, Richmond, Virginia, USA
– (8/17)
– 300 laps
www.indycar.com

A Saturday evening race as darkness falls at the short oval where traffic will be an issue, it could cause problems or it could help the racing as the better drivers through lapped traffic will run well.

TV Guide:
UK – LIVE on Sky Sports 1 at 1:30am Sunday morning
USA – LIVE on VERSUS at 8pm ET Saturday night for an 8.45pm green flag (why not a nice easy 9pm??)

Support races: USAC Silver Crown, USAC Sprint Car


MotoGP

– Alice TT Assen
– Assen, Holland
– (7/17)
www.motogp.com

MotoGP is also on a Saturday as is the tradition at Assen.

TV Guide:
UK – LIVE on BBC Two at 12:40pm Saturday afternoon
Delayed on Eurosport

Support races: 250cc and 125cc available on the BBC Red Button

Other Events


NASCAR Sprint Cup

– Lenox Industrial Tools 301
– New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Loudon, New Hampshire, USA
– (17/36)
www.nascar.com

TV Guide:
UK – LIVE on Sky Sports 1 at 7pm Sunday
USA – LIVE on TNT at 1.30pm ET Sunday

(The Nationwide Series at Loudon on Saturday night, Trucks are at Memphis also on Saturday)

For all other events I will list the UK time (BST not GMT) and channel only, if you are elsewhere you will have to look it up (check their website).


World Rally Championship

– Rally Poland
– (5/10)
– Eurosport and Dave
www.wrc.com
This is the first time Rally Poland has been a part of the WRC.

DTM

– Norisring
– Nuremburg, Germany
– (3/8)
– live web streaming: just before 1pm Sunday
www.dtm.tv
The UK TV deal collapsed when Setanta Sports did, let’s hope someone else picks it up. Check the webstream if you can, Norisring is nuts!
(supported by F3 Euroseries)

Superleague Formula

– Magny-Cours, France
– (1/6)
– Eurosport 2: Race 1 at 10am, Race 2 at 1pm followed by the new ‘extra time final’
– there may be live streaming on the website? I refuse to look at it.
www.superleagueformula.com
The whole idea is a bunch of hokum clearly, but it features interesting if unspectacular drivers such as Enrique Bernoldi, Giorgio Pantano, Antonio Pizzonia, Yelmer Buurman, Adrian Valles, Tristan Gommendy and Ho-Pin Tung, all in powerful V12 single-seaters.

(also on the bill: Euroseries 3000, this is the series which picked up the old Lola A1 cars, no telly coverage as far as I know)

FIA Formula 2

– Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
– (3/8)
– Eurosport: Race 1 live 12pm Saturday, Race 2 delayed 11:30pm Sunday night but there is live streaming online
www.formulatwo.com
The first visit to Spa for this series should be a bit of fun!
(with the International GT Open and the Dutch Supercar Challenge)


Formula Nippon

– Fuji, Japan


Grand-Am Rolex Series

– Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio, USA
– (6/12)
www.grand-am.com


Super GT

– Sepang, Malaysia
– (4/9)
www.supergt.net/en

* * * *

For those in the UK, don’t forget Top Gear on BBC2 at 8pm Sunday!

I will be quiet on the blog and on Twitter for a few days because I’ll be offline, if anything crazy happens I’ll text it in but won’t see responses until Sunday at the earliest. Enjoy the weekend!