F1 Winter Break
A look at the BBC's F1 TV plans
A look at the BBC's F1 TV plans
Posted By:   |  24 Feb 2009   |  2:16 pm GMT  |  38 comments

The BBC today announced exactly how it plans to cover F1 this season, its first year as the UK rights holder after 12 years of ITV coverage.

They are certainly going for it – it’s a pretty comprehensive schedule and there are some interesting and innovative touches. By using TV, radio and the online service they provide what is called in the industry ‘360 degree’ coverage.

The first point to make is that all the qualifying and race shows will be on BBC1, which means that they are going for the big audience numbers. They have to justify the huge spend on Formula 1 to their critics in Government and elsewhere and the way to do that is by getting big audience numbers, which you would not get on BBC2, daft as that may sound. ITV was getting around 5-6 million viewers for the European time zone races last year as a benchmark, with a peak of 13m for the Brazilian GP.

The only the exception to the BBC 1 rule is qualifying in Brazil, which would fall at prime time Saturday night and so is shunted onto BBC2. Canada has been dropped, otherwise that would have presented the same problem.

Timings are given for races up to Monaco and it looks like the shows are roughly the same length as ITV’s so there will be around an hour of build up material before the race, but the post race element is a bit tighter – they will come off the air on the hour, which for some races leaves only 20 minutes or so, but as there are no adverts, that still leaves plenty of time. The qualifying shows start 50 minutes before the action.

Where the BBC departs from ITV is in its ability to use the red button interactive service to show all the practice sessions, which I imagine will use the commentary from Radio 5 Live, as I cannot see Martin standing in a commentary box for three hours on a Friday.

The innovation I like the look of the most is a post race switch-over show on the red button, which runs for an hour after the main show finishes. This will probably be a bit like the X-tra factor after X-Factor or the studio post-mortem after the Apprentice.

This is a great idea and it will allow them to pick up lots of material and stories in a more relaxed way after the race. This would have been great after Spa last year, for example, to examine a real talking point incident in more depth. There is no reason not to do this, as you have all the people on site and all the gear, you just lack the airtime, but with the BBC having this interactive space, they can do this and it will be really good.

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It all looks very exciting. And I read on the Telegraph that the Chain is back! I wonder whether James has been at the press conference that was held today.


Disagree about the post race schedule being tight due to finishing on the hour, as generally ITV themselves finished at about 5 minutes before the top of the hour, and that included at least 6-8 minutes of adverts,sometimes more, once the race finished (obviously for over-running races, eg Monaco and Singapore last year the coverage also over-ran, but i'm sure the BBC will also do that for races if it's required), so the BBC will likely get in total an extra 10-15 minutes of time to talk about the race.


Thanks for the update James. I'm sure the questions you have answered have been on the minds of British fans since the announcement last year. But one of the biggest will surely be - will The Chain return as the theme tune?


I noticed there is no mention of showing races on the BBC HD channel. I've noticed from the BBC's Internet Blog last year it was mentioned that this "might" be a possibility. Other sources are playing down the idea that it will happen at all this year.

I still don't fully understand the BBC's approach to HD. Currently their "preview channel" runs for feeble 9 hours a day so any F1 race would carve a huge hole in it's schedules (if it even has one)

Bernie mentioned the BBC could show the races in HD if they wanted to, in an interview last year.

So James i was wondering if you could shed some light on this. Do FOM currently have the capability to broadcast races in HD? I was under the impression from the Cinema showings in Odeon cinemas last year that they did. I would have thought the Beeb showing races in HD would be a fantastic use of the BBC HD channel.. although i am a tad biased!


mattanddebs: the BBC confirmed a few weeks ago that there will be no races broadcast in HD this year.


This looks great and there is certainly plenty to chew on but does anyone have any idea what is happening to the GP2 coverage this year?


ITV was getting around 5-6 million viewers for the European time zone races last year as a benchmark.

According to the http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/f1-information/f1-tv-audience-figures/2008-itv-f1-tv-audience-figures/" rel="nofollow">BARB it was usually below 4 million.

And I second Lee in wanting to know about GP2. Is it going to be back on Eurosport?


JA writes: On HD the answer is no, because FOM TV does not supply the feed in HD. BBC say they would like to broadcast in HD.

To Keith, I'm not sure what year's figures you are looking at but since 2007 they were higher than that. You might be looking at averages, rather than peaks (peak refers to how many watched the race, average covers the whole show from start to finish) British GP last year we had 6 million, Spa was 5.6m, 4.75m for Singapore and so on.


great use of the red button, i'm really looking forward to being able to access more on-board footage rather than it invariably cutting away as soon as the driver approaches a corner, and also for the extended post race stuff, that will be really welcome to get some interviews with the drivers etc.

according to several websites, the BBC are using the chain - i've not seen it officially from the beeb yet tho.

finally i hope FOM sort out the on screen graphics, there was far too little info and poorly presented about driver positions and times, for those without live timing.


This is from the BARB's weekly top 10s by channel [ http://www.barb.co.uk/report/weeklyTopProgrammes?" rel="nofollow">click here ] I can't see a distinction between 'average' and 'peak' figures made by them, but I'm sure you know what you're talking about!


JA writes: Yes they are using the Chain. Of course, why would they do anything else? But remember, it was only the theme tune to the highlights in the old days, F1 was an insert into Sunday Grandstand.


Hi, James! Could you, please, clarify about "no adverts" ? No advert at all during translation or no adverts only in the afterrace add-on ?


I like the sound of the coverage, seems the BBC really do want to provide a top quality F1 broadcast.

James, do you know if the ITV F1 website is going to remain running for this season or are they planning to wind it down? I've always liked that site as it provided useful information from yourself and others.


I really hope they dont go 'Lewis-centric'. This was my biggest hate of ITV's coverage! I cud live with the ad breaks, mainly because I cud turn to Setanta! However Lewis this, Lewis that really got on my nerves! I know this was ITV's decision and I always enjoyed James views on the race on the ITV website after a race as he was much more balanced there!

Lets remember there are 19 other drivers out there, and as a massive Kimi and now Vettel fan I hope for balance.

I am also hoping James will continue to do race reports on here!!


It sounds a great package, however being an avid fan of the sport I am concerned whether the presentation side will be another year of fortnightly documentaries solely about Lewis Hamilton, world champion or not, home favourite or not, formula 1 has too many points of interest to justify focussing on one element (unlike a 2 side football match, f1 has potentially over 20). I enjoyed ITV's coverage immensely 97-06, with great presenting and excellent commentary from james, murray and martin, in-depth ground breaking coverage covering all aspects of f1, only for a most of it to be binned and dumbed down in 2007 onwards in a hamilton focussed marketing / ratings attempt.

Also, are FOM going to upgrade the on-board cameras as the picture quality is really poor (pixelated and fuzzy), resulting from using a cropped 4:3 camera image then zoomed to fit a 16:9 frame? a bit cheapskate.


100% agree with Stephen. No Hamilton specials all the time pls it is sport and not a celebrity broadcast. It was far over the top last year. thanks


Are they going to revamp their website as the current offering is poor to say the least when compared with the ITV set-up. And whilst the red button sounds nice, for us poor mortals who cannot get freeview and cannot afford sky I guess we will just have to muddle on as best we can and visit this blog more often!


James, this was very nice article from you considering you virtually lost the job by F1 swithing to BBC. You have my respect. I met you couple of times in press centre, because 2008 was my first year for our local TV as commentator. Obviously my experience is incomparable to yours 🙂 Frankly, I love reading your articles and I wish you will stay in touch formula one world. Bloody hell, I have your site in my bookmarks 🙂 btw: I had no chance to see your races on ITV, of course, but on YouTube some of them appeared ... I just loved your style. And of course, unlike me, you didn't miss Timo Glock in Brasil 😀 But for this race, I was not there, we were doing it locally and I was alone with poor connection to live timing.... I am your regular reader. Hold on *thumb up*


I promised myself i wouldn't do this but..... it won't be the same without james


I could be in a severely disliked minority here, but I for one, am dreading the return of The Chain! I prefered the ITV theme of late (Moby's Lift Me Up, which I know many bemoan!)

I would like to know what the BBC's plans are for GP2 and F2, that's assumuming they have any at all. Is GP2 infact bound to ITV still? Will it be getting a show similar to Motorsport UK?.

Anyway, both GP2 and F2 look to be mouthwateringly good this year for racing (much like F1).


Just to clear up a couple of questions that are being thrown about...

1) Mark Wilkin, BBC's F1 producer, has confirmed that coverage will NOT be Hamilton-centric. In his own words:

"We want to personalise these guys because we don't know who they are. The British public knows who Lewis Hamilton is now, but there are 17 other drivers that we need to get to know as well."

2) The BBC say they're launching a new-look F1 website, although what I interpreted is that it'll still be a part of their wider BBC Sport website which in general is pretty poor. I guess it remains to be seen how well they pull it off.

On the whole it sounds great. I honestly can't think of many reasons to fault ITV's coverage, but it really does sound like the BBC are going all-out on their coverage.


JA writes: Predictably a lot of comment on this one. One other fact I heard tonight is that the BBC also plan to have a children's commentary channel - basically C Beebies. That will be something worth tuning in to!

Don't know the answer re GP2 but it's always been a contractual obligation with the F1 rights so I imagine it will be there, but I'll find out.

To Ivanoff, no adverts means no adverts, BBC doesn't have them, it's a pretty unique situation. I think that there is only one other station in the world that doesn't have ads in F1 races.

To Tomys and Guy, thanks for your kind words. Stick here on this site, I've got some great things planned for 2009.


Of course the coverage should be 'Hamilton-centric' and it will be if the BBC want to maintain the ratings boost that ITV enjoyed. Like it or not half the audience is there for Lewis and will soon disappear if he's not heavily featured - just like Spain for Alonso, Italy for Ferrari and Poland for Kubica - face it guys the world's chauvinistic and to be frank we have a lot more to be chauvinistic about than Poland does with Kubica. Hamilton's unprecedented feats in F1 should be cause for rejoicing not churlishness anyway for those that can't bare a british broadcaster majoring on a british world champion, tough! Try living in Spain Italy Germany Brazil Poland or pretty much anywhere that has a top line driver and get real perspective on what bias is.


Yes I agree, it won't be the same without James's commentary. I find Martin tends to sound bored sometimes, almost to the point of nodding off. Maybe that's just his style. Will be interesting to hear Eddie Jordan's views though, he's a character.

Agree about the BBC's website - it's currently not a patch on the ITV-F1 site - let's hope they pull their finger out before next month.


Don't like 'The Chain' - first bad sign to me. They should have come up with something new.

One of main reasons I watch F1 is Lewis Hamilton. It's British TV and he should be featured most as Alonso is in Spain and Kubica in Poland, etc. One of the highlights of the ITV coverage was the exclusive interview with Lewis every race weekend. A lot of new F1 viewers, especially kids, were drawn into the coverage because of their love of Lewis. It will be disappointing to many I think.


Again it's very disappointing that no access to F1 archives is planned, particularly with what the BBC has for the year 1979-1996.
And no High Definition F1 coverage once again.

Thankfully other sports like UFC gives its fans a better deal.


I hope they don't put commentary over the practice sessions, i enjoyed watching them last year with just the car and pitlane sounds.


ORF has no adverts during the race, Q or practice.


And that one other channel in the world is probably Supersport in South Africa!! (and now pretty much all over Africa)

For the last 9 or so years they have had it since it moved from SABC (SA's equivalent to BBC), where there were Ad Breaks, and they weren't even synced with ITV, so during the coverage times, we had nothing to listen too as ITV took a break! Plus when you did a recap of what happened during the break, the commentary didn't make sense with the pictures we had watched.

Anyways, since Supersport took over, we have had ad free F1, and we get all the practice sessions, qualifying and race, always live! Thought it was worth a bit of a brag! Hopefully the 'red button' feature will come with the package and we'll have these cool features included!

Now if only we could get a Grand Prix to go along with the package!

Great site James, I have to admit I too found the British Love a bit too much to bear when thrown Hamilton's way. But having read Murray Walkers book, I can understand the excitement, and what is a very challenging job. I do find your writing exceptional, and it's great to get a non watered down correspondence from the inside world.

All the best for your future endeavors.


James: I'm with you. I really hope the BBC don't bring back an outdated, 1970's mediocre theme tune. I also liked the Moby remix, although tbh, anything BUT that horrible Chain cacophony will do 😉

How about "Boy Racer" by Morrissey?


JA writes:Predictably a lot of comment on this one. One other fact I heard tonight is that the BBC also plan to have a children’s commentary channel - basically C Beebies. That will be something worth tuning in to!

WHAT!!!!! That borders on Outrageous!! That's surely not why Jake is presenter .... Children's commentary- here's a debate how would they conduct that one......"this is a wheel....."

Your children will be sufficiently catered for James 🙂


To all the "Lewis haters" out there. Soothe your anger by placing a bet now on the http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/tv_and_radio/sports_personality_of_the_year/7782818.stm" rel="nofollow">BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award for '09. If Hamilton can come second in an Olympic year ...


I will not miss the Panasonic adverts. I hated that ACDC riff (if that's who it is) and as for Sigue, Sigue, Sputnik... aaargh!

Nice blog, James. You may be about to muscle out Dave Gorman a #1 F1 blogger (don't worry Keith, F1 Fanatic doesn't count as a Blog, IMO). [ Have you voted in our F1 Soundtrack poll? -- Moderator ]


alastair, don't you mean the sony ads? 😉 i'll miss the iveco truck ads.

as for the chain, for the UK this music was the soundtrack to one of great periods in F1, with mansell and senna etc, that great clip of two cars side by side with sparks pouring out the underside. the moby song was awful in comparison. lift me up lift me up higher nah nah nah. why should they have come up with something new to replace an undisputed icon, it would have been compared to the mac and would have come up short, whatever they went for.


Can't wait for the return of 'The Chain'. Will take the original verison of that rather than any of ITV's offerings any day! For me it captures the essence of what F1 is all about - if it ain't broke, don't fix it!


Has there been any further announcements on the races being broadcast in HD? [ It appears HD format will not be available to the BBC at the outset. Scroll down for details - Moderator ]


I hope that the BBC do some of the F1 Insights that we saw on ITV. They were some of the most factual and entertaining items along with Martin's grid walk which always made it seem as if you were part of the F1 circus, brilliant.


Didn't even know JA was doing an F1 blog, thanks to KC for leading us here.

I'm really happy to see James Allen show his true colours as a genuine F1 fan. Always something insightful and interesting to say. Look forward to see the blog follow the season.

The only issue I have at the mo is everyone banging on about 'The Chain'.

Come on, it's 2009! We are now officially in the future - F1 has moved on and so has thankfully the coverage. Ad breaks aside ITV did a lot of good keeping F1 on our screens and given the feeds they well and truly brought it up to date as a premier front-line sport.

Everyone's nostalgic memories of the pre-ITV beeb coverage is getting quite tiring. It really wasn't that good. Dig out your old VHS tapes (or download off some torrent site) and there wasn't much to it.

'The Chain' needs to be left back there in the past, where it belongs. A piece of 'middle of the road' rock trivia from ultimately a pop-rock group with very little lasting influence.

I hope so much that the beeb uses similar sound people to those they employ for some of their fact based shows (such as indeed Top Gear, and I mean incidental music production). Always interesting and current.

That's what BBC F1 2009 really needs...

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