FOM Fan’s plans for 2015

With the 2014 F1 season coming to a close, i’ve been thinking up some tentative plans for this blog for 2015:

  • Starting at the very beginning of the year, i’ll post a thorough review of the 2014 Season Review Blu-Ray, which will be released around the end of December.
  • Before the season gets underway, I’ll be posting full season previews of the 2015 GP2, GP3 & Porsche Supercup seasons, with concise yet relevant information on the series’ drivers, teams & regulations.
  • Once the season gets underway, i’ll be reviewing FOM’s revamped Official F1 website, as well as any improvements to the Official F1 App.
  • Finally, they’ll be the usual opinion pieces & observations on what FOM are doing, aren’t doing and could be doing with their various productions & TV feeds.

Thanks to everyone that’s viewed the blog since its very recent rebirth, and I hope to continue throughout 2015 and beyond!

The official Formula One website is to be revamped for 2015

James Allen, in an excellent post on his official website discussing Bernie Ecclestone’s recent interview with Campaign Asia has revealed that the official Formula One website will be revamped for 2015 in a way that will “engage the younger audience, using all the social media tools Ecclestone refers to [in the Campaign Asia interview] and will have a level of personalisation and fan engagement which is way beyond what is there today”.

According to Allen, the official Formula One website received 67 million unique visitors in 2013, a number that is set to increase for 2014. Here is the full quote:

That’s why F1 has now got a social media department at Ecclestone’s base in Princes Gate; it’s why they are investing in a new F1.com for 2015 and in the official F1 app, which has sold over 3 million editions. F1.com had 67 million unique users last season and that is set to rise this year. The new site is set to engage the younger audience, using all the social media tools Ecclestone refers to and will have a level of personalisation and fan engagement which is way beyond what is there today. They are very late to the party and it doesn’t help if the message from the CEO runs counter to the work actually going on behind the scenes!

It’ll be interesting to see what the revamp will actually entail. Previously there have also been rumours from paddock insiders that FOM are considering launching a YouTube channel. Personally, the exclusive videos that are currently published on the Official F1 App would be perfect for YouTube. Additionally they’re not as restricted by the broadcasting rights in the same way that the actual race coverage is.

What to do about Formula One?

I was hoping to post a nice article about how FOM could promote/implement online coverage of live F1 events (similar to my previous posts about how F1 could promote online coverage of archive events), but sadly the news that Ferrari & Red Bull will *apparently* be fielding a 3rd car (bringing the total up from 18 to 20) has made me change tack, so what follows may be a slightly angry post about how Formula One has dropped the ball in this respect in my opinion.

I rarely lose my patience with F1 but now that day has come. F1 has had plenty of chances ever since Marussia & Caterham went under to fix this issue and sadly once again, nothing has been done. As usual F1, renewed talks & meetings between teams, rights holders, governing bodies etc. take place, and there is often renewed hope that issues will be fixed and drastic measures (like third cars) will not need be implemented, but as per usual these things break down at the last minute, and said drastic measures end up being implemented in some way shape or form. F1 must realise that it cannot keep burying its head in the sand every time there is a crisis and hope that it sorts itself out.

Now lets get to the issue at hand, that of Marussia & Caterham going under. No-one can realistically argue that it’s a good thing that Marussia, despite scoring their first ever points this year are out of the championship, but I feel less sympathetic for Caterham, in particular how that team was managed by it’s owners. Despite finishing bottom of the Championship for more than year in a row, with no hope of improvement and a steady decline, Caterham then go and partner up with a Le Mans team, a GP2 and a GP3 team, which makes one question where Caterham’s owners priorities lie, surely the finances required at setting up those 3 would have been better invested in their struggling F1 team? To add insult to injury, Caterham are now launching a crowd-funding fan, asking fans and other donators to fork up £2 Million in order to simply reach Abu Dhabi in 3 weeks. Aside from this being (as Bernie and others have correctly in my opinion described it) “A disgrace”, Why are they still focusing on 2014? There’s only 1 race left, it’s not like they have any points they need to defend. In my opinion their money would be far better spent on setting up for 2015 6 months or so away, not attempting to pointlessly enter the final race of the season with such tight deadlines. Anyway, that’s one side of the coin.

The other side is about how blind F1 is to the fact that 3rd cars, less teams, alongside all this ridiculous uncertain public bickering that changes tack every day ultimately has to have a negative affect on the fans’ ability to tolerate and watch F1. Fans will eventually get bored of the “Will F1 be around in the same form next year?” saga and ultimately switch off. The fact that Formula One has got itself into such a legal quagmire regarding contracts, meaning that according to Ecclestone even CVC’s funds cannot be used in an emergency to prop up struggling teams is a bad idea in my opinion. I can understand the fact that Ecclestone appears to have cut more favourable deals with the larger teams, as one assumes they’d leave the championship if they felt they were getting a bad deal. After all for fans worldwide, a championship with Ferrari and no Caterham is indefinitely more of a draw than one that has Caterham but no Ferrari, and no-one wants a FOTA/GPMA-style breakaway series. Still, the fact that F1 teams still cannot pull their heads out of their asses and realise that all this bickering & egotistical self-interest is destroying their sport is extremely worrying. I hate fear-mongering, but this is a serious issue and must be looked at from a universal, neutral perspective or F1 risks becoming a shadow of its former self.

How Formula One Management could promote Classic F1 – Part 2

Last time, I talked about how Formula One Management could promote their classic archive content via the physical release of the Official Season Reviews, in a remastered form with new extra features on Blu-Ray discs. Today, I’m going to talk about how FOM could promote their archive content online, this time in the form of full sessions & races (rather than the highlights as seen in the Official Season Reviews) available through a dedicated online portal.

As I’ve mentioned previously, FOM’s archive contains masses of raw footage, both from finished productions to footage shot from individual cameras. As a result, at the very least they have the world feed for at least the qualifying and races for all Grands Prix since 1981, and from 1997 to 2002, all 6 or 8 F1 Digital+ feeds (as UK viewers gained exclusive Studio and a dedicated Highlights channel when their F1 Digital service launched for its only season in 2002) for each session during those years. As the world feed is produced without commentary (so that local broadcasters such as the BBC, NBC, RTL etc. can pipe their own commentary in at their end), the world feed would exist in a commentary-free form. Formula One Management also have commentary in a variety of languages, from a variety of broadcasters, not just on Television. For example while they would have BBC commentary featuring Murray Walker and James Hunt, they may also have little-heard live radio commentary from Simon Taylor for example. This is where I believe in lays an advantage.

In my previous post, I advocated remastering and making new transfers (regardless of their original format) of the individual elements that made up the classic season reviews for release on blu-ray. When streaming on demand over the internet however, this is less of a draw and would probably be a waste of time for full seasons spanning over 30 years, although it may depend on the quality of the material currently available.

That issue aside, an ideal solution would be to offer all classic seasons on demand, as much sessions as they are available, providing at least some form of English commentary remains. The commentary is an area which I feel could be exploited more. Providing FOM can get international rights sorted out for the different commentary streams, it would be lovely to be able to have a choice of English Language commentary teams (BBC TV, BBC Radio, Eurosport, ESPN for example during the 90s). So many of us simply hear Murray Walker and James Hunt now, and while no disrespect to them of course, it would be fascinating to hear the other little-known commentators, such as Simon Taylor on BBC Radio 5 Live during the mid 90s, and I feel it would give many different insights and perspectives towards the action happening on screen. As well as this, there should be a no-commentary/ambient option available for any purists. Of course, the user will be able to switch between all these audio tracks at will throughout the video.

That’s audio covered, now onto video. During the mid-90s (before F1 Digital was launched), while the World Feed itself was produced by a local broadcaster at each race, FOM themselves handled all onboard content, producing a separate Onboard feed, which the local director would cut into whenever he wanted to show some onboard action on the world feed. As a result of this, much of the live onboard footage in those seasons remains unseen, as the full onboard feed was only seen by those producing the footage, and never shown publicly. If such footage remains, it would be fantastic to see that alongside the World Feed, and in sync with each other of course.

Finally, onto F1 Digital. This ran from 1997 to 2002 on various services in Europe (with various commentary teams) and featured 5 Channels, the “Super-Signal” (essentially a souped-up version of the World Feed, with its own direction, angles & graphics & the feed which the commentators commentated on), a “Track A” feed (focusing on the front-runners), a “Track B” feed (focusing on runners further down the order), a “Pit Lane” feed, showing footage from the pitlane, plus interviews conducted by Nick Daman among others, and drawings of technical changes throughout the season, alongside a highlights loop every 20 minutes. A “Data” channel showed live footage from the timing screens. Finally, there was a dedicated onboard feed. For 2002, UK viewers got an additional exclusive “Studio” or “Master” channel, which was fronted by Matt Lorenzo among others, which featured live discussion and analysis throughout the sessions, and exclusive cutaways and interviews from Peter Windsor among others. Finally an additional exclusive dedicated highlights channel was added, bringing the total up to 8 for UK viewers.

Unfortunately, very little of this service is available aside from poor quality VHS recordings. The interactive nature of the service meant that unless you had 6 – 8 VHS players and the same number of digiboxes, you were never going to record all channels simultaneously!

The choice of channels was originally controlled via a “Red Button” style interactive app, shown here (plus you could full-screen each channel if you wanted to watch an individual one rather than see them all in a grid):

F1 Digital+ 2002 UK Menu

F1 Digital+ 2002 UK Menu

Such an interface could easily be implemented as a web app nowadays, and Web Apps such as the F1 on Zume service have proved that you can watch sessions on-demand through multiple video feeds (each with their own audio track), in sync with each other, so technically it is possible, especially as the 8 feeds are available in standard definition. Showing the standard analogue World Feed alongside would also give the optimum amount of coverage available.

In keeping with my recommendations of including multiple commentary tracks, these would all remain with the F1 Digital sessions, as from 1997 to 2001, there was no official English commentary team for the Digital service, as no English channel took it until 2002, when it was launched on Sky in the UK). Plus, during 2002 on the Track A & B Channels, commentary sometimes used audio from the “Studio” channel, rather than the session commentary on the “Super Signal”, and as a result, the user may want a choice what to listen to when he’s watching a particular channel.

Anyway, those are my ideas of how FOM could promote classic F1 sessions on demand, via the use of multiple commentary track where available, and the re-creating the F1 Digital service online.

How Formula One Management could promote Classic F1 – Part 1

1983 Season Review Blu-Ray Concept Cover

1983 Season Review Blu-Ray Concept Cover – This is a 100% unofficial mock-up created by myself and in no way represents any release coming to market or already on market.

1981 Season Review Blu-Ray Concept Cover

1981 Season Review Blu-Ray Concept Cover – This is a 100% unofficial mock-up created by myself and in no way represents any release coming to market or already on market.

F1 is a sport very much obsessed with its past, from iconic drivers such as Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, former circuits such as Kyalami, Brands Hatch and Imola, and famous on-track battles such as Dijon 1979, Suzuka in the 1980s and Senna’s opening lap at Donington Park in 1993. As a result, content from the ‘classic’ era of F1 (Anything older than the current season) is popular, something that the broadcasters such as the BBC and Sky are cottoning onto by regularly airing classic races, either online or on their TV channels, sometimes highlights and sometimes the entire race.

One aspect of F1’s past that is always a useful resource to any budding F1 Historian, or simply a fan wanting to watch F1 from the old days, are the Official Season Reviews, released on VHS (and for a brief period LaserDisc in Japan) and later, DVD and Blu-Ray. Released yearly by FOCA ever since the 1981 season, the tapes provide an overview of the completed season, containing highlights from each race, information on the teams and drivers and any stories developing over each Grand Prix weekend, as well as interviews, footage and camera angles never shown on TV at the time when the races were first broadcast live. Such content provided the viewer with a wealth of information and analysis, most of which the viewer would have never seen before on TV.

All releases contained exclusive commentary throughout, however a variety of approaches were tried over the years, sadly some more successful than others. Bob Constanduros & Tony Jardine’s commentary from the 1989 Season Review is excellent (cod-Italian accents aside!), as is Clive James’s often darkly humorous commentary from 1982, 1984 and 1986. A less successful example is the 1983 review, which features decent commentary from Brian Kriesky, yet awful supposedly-funny asides from Barbara Rosenblat.

Once we get into the 90s however, the commentary & production style of the reviews as a whole start to become increasingly slick, with good use of music (Although some reviews from the mid 2000s can go a little over the top in this respect) to really drive up the tension (as listening to a commentator dryly announce: “Alonso then spins off!” over the same footage without any music or sharp cutting can be rather boring).

Production quality aside, on the whole the reviews offer a fascinating contemporary resource into F1 seasons of the past, yet unfortunately it is a shame that they are not widely available. Aside from a few re-issues of the 1980s season reviews in the early 90s, the reviews were released only once, meaning that any VHS reviews are only available on the original VHS, and nowadays can be quite rare & expensive to get hold of.

As a result, one way that Formula One Management could promote the classic era of the sport, as well as the F1 in general, is to re-release all the previous F1 Season Reviews on Blu-Ray.

Why release videotape footage shot as early as 1981 on Blu-Ray you may ask? Surely a DVD would be perfectly fine, and any rate the footage is certainly not High-Definition…

Not so. While the source footage is only Standard Definition, Formula One Management have recently completed (or have completed a large chunk of) digitising their massive archive, containing broadcast footage from all races since 1981, both in their final form as well as all footage shot at the track from each individual camera, all on the original tape. The results of this can be seen on programmes such as Sky’s “The Last Team-mate”, showing astonishingly well-preserved upscaled footage from 1994, a massive step up from previously shown historic footage, showing the progress that has been made in up-scaling standard definition video, providing a definite improvement over grainy-VHS style footage that has swamped the internet.

In my opinion, FOM could remaster the season reviews by going back to the original master-tapes (where possible) from each clip used throughout the reviews, and then re-editing the remastered clips together to match the original season review (similar to how many classic TV shows such as Star Trek: The Next Generation have been remastered from their original film footage).

By going back to the original video-tape elements, the best quality video could be achieved, as well as allowing for a commentary-free review to be produced, which brings me on to my next point: extra features.

Not only would Blu-Ray offer vastly improved picture quality (even for SD video), but it and DVD allows for extra features such as Multiple Audio tracks. By recreating the reviews from the original footage, it would create a commentary & music free track, to which could be added a new commentary (say by a respected historic F1 figure such as Simon Taylor). The Review itself could contain both the original commentary, a commentary free track, and a new commentary, which the viewer could switch too if they did not like the original commentary for whatever reason (The example I gave for 1983 being a valid one). By including both original and new categories, it would also satisfy the purist who doesn’t like to see any original content left off a new release. Other new features such as inboard laps for each race could also be included.

I’ve mocked up a couple of Blu-Ray covers for such a release (please excuse my poor Photoshop skills – and the actual title of the 1983 VHS is simply called “The Official Season Review” – others had more imaginative titles), which you can see at the top of the page, and I hope it makes my suggestions and reasoning clear – It’s certainly a package that would appeal to both fans of the originals, and those fans who maybe want a bit more than just the same old tape again.

Next week will be Part 2 of this article – focusing on how the Internet & online apps could be used to promote F1’s past.

Why Niki Lauda’s comments are a load of hot air…

Over the weekend, Niki Lauda has come out saying that the main reason why F1 Fans aren’t visiting this weekend’s German Grand Prix is due to F1’s failure to embrace new media, i.e. the Internet.

“Formula one is seeing a serious cultural change,” the Mercedes non-executive director told Germany’s Die Welt newspaper. “The audience wants to watch sport in a different way than before, due to the rapid growth of the new means of communication.“

Essentially, he’s saying that because you can’t watch F1 online (a myth – as I will now prove) and because F1 does not have a Twitter presence (also a myth), people don’t want to visit F1 at the circuit. Niki says that:

“The problem is that today, there is no alternative. You can’t just sit on the beach and watch the race highlights on your smartphone.”

To imply that you cannot watch F1 live or as highlights on your phone is wrong. As with practically every other sport out there, online rights are held by the broadcasters that show the sport on TV, whether that sport is Football, Formula One or British Touring Cars. Many of those broadcasters (for Formula One in Germany, RTL and Sky Sports) also offer some way of watching the show online on a variety of devices, so it is perfectly possible to “sit on the beach and watch the race highlights on your smartphone.” – Just go to RTL’s or Sky’s website. Niki used to be a pundit for RTL so he should know this already.

In the UK, both the BBC (for their live races) and Sky offer the choice to watch the Main program (containing the World Feed), Pit-lane Channel, Onboard Mix, Driver Tracker, as well as a variety of highlights clips after the event itself. This is not a new thing either. I’ve been able to watch every session live (legitimately) since 2008, when ITV streamed each session’s World Feed on their website.

People are calling for F1 to offer an in-house online platform, saying F1 is ‘lagging behind’ other sports in that respect, assuming that F1 has no online coverage – which as I’ve just shown, is an incorrect assumption – but how many other sports have their own online hub where you can watch live events independent of any broadcaster? The answer is not many. Sports only tend to do this when their broadcaster cannot offer streaming coverage online, such as Motors TV with the World Endurance Championship. I see no complaints over football (which F1’s online offering is often compared with), the Barclay’s Premier League’s YouTube channel only has 23 videos, and you can only watch matches live through Sky or BT Sport (which you have to pay for).

Maybe the real reason why people don’t want to watch F1 at the track this weekend is the fact that the weather is absolutely scorching, with track temperatures approaching 60 Degrees Celsius? Maybe most of the German fans who would have otherwise travelled to Hockenheim have travelled to Austria instead earlier this year? Maybe (with such comprehensive multi-screen online coverage already offered by RTL and Germany) fans would prefer to see the race at home, in comfortable seats with a choice of coverage options available, while not melting from standing outside in the sunshine at swelteringly-hot temperatures? Maybe the ticket prices are too high? I certainly don’t think that people aren’t going to watch F1 at the track simply because they can’t watch it on YouTube…