The art of broadcasting Free Practice sessions in F1
A big part of the Formula 1 weekend is the Free Practice sessions. The three sessions, two on Friday and one on Saturday morning, are a good preparation for teams and drivers to set up the car perfectly for the upcoming weekend. It’s also the time when teams try to collect data about their new parts. The lack of testing makes it very important for teams to get into the track on the practice sessions. Such an event is not for regular fans. This is the reason the broadcasters normally avoid these kind of sessions. But is the lack of coverage a reason for the lack of awareness of such events?
For many fans, the practice sessions are like a warm up for the upcoming race weekend. You will see cars on the track and know: yes that’s it, race weekend is here once again. Practice sessions have been broadcast in many countries for years. Different channels from different countries give fans the possibility to watch the sessions. The trend seems to be that, specially, pay channels offer fans the possibility to see all practice sessions live. Good examples are Sky Sports F1 from the UK, MTV3 Max from Finland, and SportTV from Brazil. Also in Finland, for example, there is a 30 minute long review about Friday’s practice sessions on a free channel, MTV3. Meanwhile, in Asia, many countries do not have this luxury to watch the Free Practice sessions. Although the broadcaster in these countries promises to change this for the upcoming season, things are certainly not guaranteed. But the broadcaster for these countries has always been providing exciting stuff during the Singapore Grand Prix and also during the Indian Grand Prix. Their strategy in these two weekends is quite similar to Sky Sports.
Even though it’s nice to start a weekend on Friday by watching Free Practice sessions, it can sometimes be a little bit boring when there is no action on the track. There are times when the track is quiet, and specially on wet sessions when there usually isn’t very much to see. At this point, the broadcasting channel should give some entertainment for the fans. Finnish and Brazilian broadcast show the international coverage all the time and there are two commentators commentating. Specially, in the Finnish television, the Free Practice coverage should be better than what it is. The commentators sometimes seem to forget that they are on live TV as it feels like they are having a regular conversation with each other in the commentary box. There are also loads of quiet moments if the track is quiet, too. This could be changed if they added some own coverage.
A good practice session coverage, as many would point out, comes from Sky Sports F1. Although there will be certain people who would disagree to that, they show the action on the track, but their coverage is also filled with special interviews and features from the pitlane, while the practice action is on. It’s very good to have this kind of coverage and show these features when the track is being quiet. Sky’s commentators also have interesting topics to talk during the sessions. It’s something that keeps fans interested. Of course, there are also negative aspects of the Sky coverage. Sometimes, they move the coverage to the pitlane even if there is action on the track. Another thing that might annoy fans are commercials during the sessions. In Finnish and Brazilian pay channels, there are no commercials shown during the practice sessions or any other session. Fans will see everything, but as mentioned earlier, there needs to be something more special added to their coverage.
Something special that Sky Sports F1 has created, too, was the winter testing coverage. Once again, not much action on the track, but the coverage was very similar to Free Practice coverage. It’s a good idea to show the fans a little bit as to how the winter testing looks like. It might be difficult to succeed with coverages like that, but once again, Sky made it interesting for the fans by having drivers and team members visit the commentary box and make comments. This is a great idea and hopefully it’s a tradition that continues.
Both the Finnish and Brazilian televisions have started to add more special live features to their other coverages. In Finland, before qualifying, there is a 20 minute live coverage from the paddock that usually includes interviews and facts, and speculation before the qualifying. Before races, there will be similar live coverage, but the length of the coverage is 50 minutes. The coverage starts from the paddock and pit-lane. It has both live, and also earlier filmed features and interviews. When the pit-lane opens, the coverage moves into the start-finish straight and has a similar pit-walk with live interviews as the Sky Sports and BBC have been providing. Brazilian television does live interviews before races, too.
As these channels that we used as examples have changed the coverage to make it similar to that of the British coverages, maybe they will add something special to Free Practice coverages, too. It would be a big pleasure to the fans, and adds more interest for people to watch these sessions. Even if practices and testing won’t tell everything about everyone’s speed, it’s a pleasure for fans to see the cars going around the track.