Watching Formula One online is something a lot of Formula One fans have asked for in recent years, and just prior to the start of the 2008 season, Bernie Ecclestone reached an agreement with UK broadcaster ITV to show races live via the Internet. Three races into the season I feel it is time to look at the services on offer and give my opinions on online viewing.
Currently, the viewing service is only available to UK residents via the official ITV F1 website. It is free and is definitely a step forward to opening up the sport to more fans, offering more ways to view and enjoy Formula One. It is interesting though, that the announcement came so close to the start of the season, officially unveiled on March 13th, the Thursday before the first race of the year in Australia. The apparent lateness of the announcement leads me to think that it was a long negotiation before Ecclestone’s company could agree to the terms. That is pure speculation, but you would think that had it been easily arranged during the off-season, ITV would have said something sooner to ensure as many people knew about the service as possible.
Did the last-minute announcement mean a poor service for the first race? I think not. There were a few issues last weekend during the Bahrain Grand Prix, which I’ll get onto later in the post, but comparing this to the first race, watching the Australian Grand Prix online was pretty good. I only used the new service to see what it was like, and I primarily viewed the TV for the action; my TV being larger than my laptop screen and having a vastly superior picture quality. But for fans who may be away from the television, the online experience would have certainly sufficed.
ITV have also allowed the footage to be watched up to 30 days after the event. While this isn’t as perfect as a permanent archive, it is definitely good and falls into line with other online TV players, such as the BBC’s iPlayer. I imagine also that Ecclestone is hoping that the introduction of the online viewing will slow down the amount of footage uploaded to popular video-sharing sites like YouTube. I personally can’t this happening as the convenience and potential longevity of YouTube et al vastly outweighs that of the ITV player.
I mentioned earlier that a few people were experiencing problems while viewing the Bahrain Grand Prix, complaining of a long delay and troubles in getting the player to load properly. I didn’t tune in to the ITV site during the race, content with watching on my TV and my monitor taken up with the LiveBlog, Live Timing and the admin area of this site. But from what I’ve read and heard since Sunday, it is possible that given the time of the race was more in tune with British ‘awake hours’, more people went online than they did in Australia or Malaysia. It is perfectly possible that the service was simply overwhelmed. Good news for ITV, less so for the viewers who struggled to watch it.
I’m certain that ITV will do all they can to resolve any issues they may have, the service after all appears to be popular. But one question keeps coming up over and over again. “I don’t live in the UK, how can I watch the race online?” With difficulty, I’m afraid, but it isn’t impossible. It may, however, be illegal.
Some people have had success with using UK-based proxy servers to view the ITV feed online, and others use TVU Network’s online player. TVU often pick up StarSports from Asia and Speed from America. It is a shame that currently, viewing Formula One 100% legally online is limited to just the UK. As far as I’m aware, at any rate. However, now the service has been tried and tested, I’m certain other broadcasters will be knocking at FOM’s door asking for a similar contract to that of ITV.
Aside from viewing the action live, I almost always use Formula One’s official live timing. Available via the F1 website, the live timing screen is a digital-angel during ITV’s advert breaks. Essentially showing users the position order at each sector, as well as lap times, fastest lap, sector times and a basic commentary, I must offer praise to F1 for this. The system is ideal for qualifying as you can see when a driver does a personal-fastest or outright-fastest sector. The service also tells viewers when a car is on an out lap or has stopped on-track.
Live timing is also handy during a race when viewing battles further down the grid. The TV cameras tend to show the most important drivers/battles in the race, which is fair enough. But often there can be some mighty tussles in the midfield that one rarely gets to see. While Live Timing doesn’t show any images, it is possible to tell from this exactly what is happening just from looking at the fluctuation in sector times between drivers. The post-pit stop positions are also made a little easier to figure out with live timing, the positions of each driver shaking out at the passing of sector one on the track.
So if you’re a fan of, say, Anthony Davidson, who rarely gets a showing on the TV, live timing may help you to understand his race a little better.
The third online service that I’m yet to really try is Renault’s live data feed. In 2007, the Anglo-French squad published, live, their car’s telemetry. I’m sure it isn’t as detailed as what the team views, but it was, from what others have said, an excellent addition to the whole race experience. I say ‘from what others said’ because last year I didn’t get a chance to view it myself. And now I’m regretting that decision because it would appear the service has declined somewhat in 2008.
As I mentioned in a recent comment, it would be great if all the teams would publish their data to one centralised site, say F1.com, and could be viewed by more fans. It was only last weekend that Fernando Alonso was hit from behind by Lewis Hamilton and sparks started to fly out of the ITV commentary box about brake-testing. As it transpired after the race, Alonso had remained on the throttle pedal and was thus exonerated from any wrong-doing. However, had the service been available (and working sufficiently) then there would have been no question at the time as to what happened. We would have all seen what Renault Technical Director Pat Symonds saw, and thus the accusations wouldn’t have happened.
Formula One is definitely progressing in terms of online viewing, but it still has a long way to go. Live timing has been around for a while and for the best part, works well. ITV’s online broadcasting also, for the best part, works well considering it is only three races young. Of course, it won’t get too old as the BBC will be taking over from ITV in 2009, so we’ll have to reassess their attempts twelve months from now.
The lack of international viewing via the Internet is still a drawback though. During my stint of modding F1Fanatic’s LiveBlog, I was asked by a visitor from India how he could watch online. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help him too much simply because the services aren’t yet available. And if they are I doubt their legality at the moment. It would be a masterstroke of genius if Bernie Ecclestone could aggregate online viewing, live timing and car telemetry into one online service that didn’t fall over at the merest hint of a spike in traffic. Until then though, we’ll have to put up the slow-pace at which the current services are implemented and improved upon.
A few links:
- ITV Online
- F1 Live Timing
- TVU Networks
- Sirius Radio – For US listeners.
- With thanks to F1Fanatic’s detailed FAQ page
Courtesy of Jesús Dugarte who wrote a post about viewing Formula One online (in Spanish), I am now aware you can also view animations of races via the VisionF1 website. While it isn’t quite the same as watching the actual action, it is quite neat. Replays, at the time of writing, go as far back as Germany 2005.
Now that the BBC has taken over the broadcasting of Formula One to British audiences, the ITV feeds no longer work. However, the BBC are showing sessions online via their iPlayer. It is only available for UK residents, and those not residing in Britain have few options. Although perhaps not entirely legal, JustinTV and TVU often have Formula One on one of their channels.