How the pitlane TV ban will affect F1 fans

The past 48 hours has seen a flurry of reaction to the accident in the pitlane during the German Grand Prix.

None of them would have stopped the accident. None of them deal with the cause of the accident. And all will impact the way in which you receive your information on Formula 1.

I dealt with the FIA’s first response in yesterday’s blog. It was a perfectly useless statement which changed little. However, FOM’s announcement late yesterday afternoon that all TV crews would now be banned from the pitlane for all sessions, was a far bigger blow. Here’s why:

For qualifying and the race, only FOM employed cameramen – those who worked directly for Bernie – were allowed in the pitlane. They roamed free. The immediate reaction after Germany was to restrict them to the pitwall. This would mean a less than ideal view of pitstops, but should theoretically have ensured greater protection.

Regular TV crews from the likes of NBC, Sky, the BBC, Canal + etc were not allowed in the pitlane during qualifying or the race anyway. We, as pit reporters, were not allowed into the pitlane either. Few, and I mean very few, pit reporters were granted access to certain team garages in order to garner information from press officers.

The only time that TV crews and pit reporters were allowed into the pitlane was during practice. This allowed us time to see with our own eyes the modifications that teams were running. It allowed us to look at tyre wear, talk to team personnel, engineers, PRs, and conduct interviews live on air with team representatives. Many TV crews also took this opportunity to film what we term as “B Roll.”

Practice is the safest period of pitlane activity. It is not the competitive arena that it becomes in a race or qualifying.

The announcement from FOM yesterday is that we, as broadcasters and FOM pass holders, will not now be able to enter the pitlane to provide this insight or gather this information in any of the three practice sessions during the weekend. However, FIA media pass holders with pitlane access, will, I believe, still be able to enter the pitlane during practice sessions. It is unclear whether FOM cameramen – those working directly for Bernie – will still have pitlane access for practice, and if so whether they will be limited to pitwall, or even garages.

The issue, from a broadcast perspective, lies now with how information is disseminated from the teams to the TV media. I cannot foresee every team allowing every TV crew in the paddock to wander freely into the back of the garage, past engineers pouring over telemetry, past KERS units, fuel cells, engines, gearboxes and into an already crowded workspace. It isn’t feasible. It certainly isn’t safe.

During a race we have, for many years, had to rely on what the teams tell us, or are willing to tell us. This information is limited and often hard to come by as press officers often prefer to remain in their garages than to come out and give over any information that may help us, and in turn their rivals, understand what is going on.

I’ll give you an example. During a race, driver X has retired. There is no sign of a press officer in the hospitality unit. A text message is sent asking what was the issue for the retired driver. The response says that this press officer does not know, and so to ask the other press officer who is in the garage. Cue a reply from us which says we do not have garage access. After 15 minutes a reply arrives saying somebody will come out to tell me what is going on. But by this point, I’m down the other end of the paddock interviewing another retiree.

If we have no access to the garages, nor to the pitlane, then the teams are going to have to buck up their ideas tremendously from Hungary onwards.

I would like to see, and I have been pushing ever since my election to the FIA Media Communication Group (formerly known as “The Press Council”) that teams are forced to keep one press officer in hospitality and one in the garage, such that the easy flow of information can be established between TV crews in the paddock and what is going on in the garage.

Teams have been quick to embrace social media, but many have done so to the detriment of the dissemination of information to those of us on the ground who rely on it in real time to update our TV viewers.

I hope that the new changes to pitlane access will only sit in place for the Hungarian Grand Prix. I can think of no TV station that will be happy with what has been announced, and furthermore I cannot see how any teams will be happy with the drop in coverage their teams, sponsors and partners will receive as a result.

While it is better to be safe than sorry, the ban on TV crews from the pitlane does not address the issue which remains the speed and safety of pitstops themselves in race situations.

If I genuinely believed these changes would make the pitlane safer, I’d accept them in a heartbeat. But I don’t believe they will. And I fear the people watching F1 at home will suffer as a consequence.

At the end of last year, we as pit reporters lost a key tool with the end of Fanvision’s deal in F1. Having lost one critical link to real time information we had to rely on what we could see again with our own eyes in the pitlane in practice. Now this tool has been taken away, too.

FOM is, I’m sure, simply looking out for the broadcasters it has accredited for the races. And we must be thankful for their swift action. Should this change negatively impact the broadcast as much as I and many of my paddock colleagues fear it will, however, I do not envisage it will be long before a more workable solution is met.

15 thoughts on “How the pitlane TV ban will affect F1 fans

  1. Will,
    As a professional makeup artist there is one thing I can tell you about great photographers — when they are in the zone & see something they like through their lens, they will often do whatever it takes to get the shot. That’s not a bad or good thing, it’s just a photographer thing. The photographers in F1 are very aware that they are placing themselves in potentially dangerous situations to get the shot, and that’s a risk they are willing to take, just as the pit crews and drivers willingly face the dangers of the sport. So IMHO, the FIA ban makes no sense…yes, there are measures that can be taken to increase safety, but to completely insure it is impossible.

  2. Firstly, I hope Paul Allen is making a speedy recovery. That is the most important point. I have watched the aftermath unfold since Sunday’s race waiting for ill thought out knee jerk reactions from the FIA and FOM. Well the scatterguns have been out and negligently discharged. The fact that the Media Communications group were not consulted at all is a woeful disgrace. We followers surely will be starved of relevant info and footage of pit lane action during race weekends. I am not happy with most of the changes imposed as they focus on the effect not the cause. I have read RBR’s intended changes to their wheel guns and release procedure and should be applauded. We need to see a more realistic solution and I urge those in the media that have a voice, to campaign to achieve it.

  3. I would imagine that when broadcasters are negotiating for broadcast rights, part of their bid takes into account the amount of access their broadcast team will have. Since that has now changed, maybe the broadcasters should demand a partial refund? I know that for me personally (in US) your info & insight is a major part of the reason I enjoy the broadcasts. Will I stop watching? No, but its hard to believe this won’t adversely affect my viewing experience.

  4. Why not make better use of the social media output the teams are already providing? Sure, that isn’t perfect, but then having one person in the pi…paddock isn’t perfect either. The sport has moved on a lot since one needed to have a pit lane reporter in order to know what was happening down there. Now might be a good time to take stock and ask how best to report on a race.

    That comment isn’t just restricted to the pits. For example, television broadcasters seem to be struggling with the ever more strategic nature of F1 races, where watching overtakes is now far less revealing of a race than analysing the timing screens. Teams have a raft of people trawling through data live-time, and it might be worth the broadcast media doing something similar.

    In short, your aim shouldn’t just be to try and do what you’ve always done.

    That said, I’m inclined to agree that the change is highly problematic in the practice sessions. In these it is especially helpful to be able to poke around the cars, see or hear what widgets have been added, and so on – for me, that’s the interesting part of those sessions. FOM’s rather generic shots of cars on circuit or drivers in garages are nothing more than background. I’d hope for some pragmatism on these sessions, but (un)fortunately they don’t attract big audiences, so I don’t expect anyone influential to be too concerned about them.

  5. Fully agree with your points. Its amazing how large organizations miss the point by “treating the symptoms and not addressing the cause of the problem”. Hope your words and others from the media and fans get the right balance with the FOM in terms of safety and access

  6. Don’t tell me anybody cares about the TV viewers especially in Canada!

    With Speed we always got to see the races, including quali, that were shown live on Fox. Speed F1 live broadcasts were blacked out if ESPN was covering F1 at the same time (usually just quali+race) BUT Speed always ran a replay of ALL their broadcasts. Also we could go to Speed’s website for the videos from Bob, David & Steve.
    NBC changed all that!
    NBC broadcasts on their Sports channel which is NOT available in Canada.
    The races they put on their network feed it’s just the race & NO REPEATS.
    The first 2 races we were able to pick up their live feed on the Internet’s free channels.
    AFAIK that feed is now only available to their US sports channel subscribers.
    Videos are on NBC’s Motorsports website but they’re not a fraction of what they used to be.

    ESPN shows one of the UK feeds for practice sessions with commentary from RADIO 5 Live!
    Quali+Race they show the Sky UK feed. NONE of these include commercial breaks so ESPN does a picture-in-picture ad break at random intervals! The pictures are too small to continue to follow the F1 action properly &, of course, the commentators don’t know there was an ad break! The final nail in the coffin is if the race overruns their time slot – they will cut away literally 2 seconds after the winner goes past the chequered flag!

    Having found your blog Will (by accident from a link in an NBC Motorsports report!) I’ll be back, at least I can catch up with one of my favourite commentary team :-)

    • Hey. Sorry to hear of your problems in Canada. All I know is from a US perspective figures are through the roof, the races are replayed often and there’s loads of additional content being made available online.

      • Seconded, here. The Speed coverage was great; the NBCSN coverage is even better! It really IS as if the powers that be at NBCSN actually listened to the suggestions of the broadcast team, and implemented them! I now watch using BOTH TV and internet coverage, and find there is a lot more content!

      • Yes, sort of, but it’s lousy Jodum5. It’s on the ESPN sports channel, they take the UK feed which has no advert breaks & insert ads. This breaks the commentary, often in the middle of a sentence, then picks it up again 2-5 minutes later! IF they show a re-run it is frequently cut short or simply not shown because their previous program overruns!

        Speed channel is available in Canada NBCSN is not.
        We get the coverage shown on the main NBC network (Monaco, Canada, USA, Brazil) but just the live race, no practice, qualifying or repeats!

  7. Thanks for the clarifications, Will. I certainly trust you’ll fight the good fight for all of us who appreciate your coverage.

    Hopefully FOM continues to look to you, and your colleagues of their other global broadcast partners, to provide feedback on how to best assemble and deliver the storylines that are most relevant to your specific local audience.

    Part of what makes F1 practice must-see-TV is that the viewers develop an appreciation for the unique goals, challenges, and drama facing each team going into that specific race weekend. Here in the states where we lack access to the pit lane channel to draw our own conclusions, we’re totally reliant on your work to help us figure out what to watch for as the weekend progresses.

  8. It’s a sad move ‘cos these images really matter, I love to learn about a new front wing endplate and to see it real, or about the tyre deg during practice.

    For the races, could FOM put micro-cameras onto the ground ahead of a pitstop spot so we still could see all four wheels from the front?

    Is those changes only goes for F1 or GP2/3 aswell?

    Great paper, like always. Just misses ‘very warm goodbye’ at the end.

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