This guide is all about how to watch a Grand Prix. You might be thinking, “how hard can that be?” You would be right — all you really have to do is switch the telly on and sit back. But sometimes that just isn’t enough.
The approach I outline in this post will not be for everyone. For many, it will be too stressful. For some it will be a case of information overload. Often it’s information overload for me! But somehow just watching the race on television just feels wrong. I need all the extra bits. In time for the European season, here is how to extract the most from a Grand Prix. It’s worth remembering that most of these options are also available during practice sessions and qualifying.
Most people watch the race on television, but have you thought about radio? This can be very useful for two reasons. First of all, you can switch on the radio whenever ITV goes to a commercial break — this way you will hear live if something major happens. Secondly, if you really can’t stand James Allen, it might be worth turning the volume down on the TV and giving the radio commentary a whirl.
You will be best off with a DAB Digital Radio. This way you will be capable of picking up BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra. The Grand Prix may be on either station. Radio 5 Live can be picked up with a coat hanger, but here the race is more likely to be interrupted by periodic updates from the football / golf / tennis / you name it. 5 Live Sports Extra is a digital-only station, but the race is more likely to be uninterrupted here.
It depends on my mood, but often I will opt to listen to the BBC Radio commentary rather than put up with ITV’s coverage. However, if you do this be prepared for a slight annoyance. Usually, the radio is a couple of seconds ahead of the TV coverage so you will hear the action before you see it.
Qualifying and practice sessions are also often covered on Radio 5 Live Sports Extra. Check the schedule here.
Live video feed
For the first time this year, ITV are providing live online coverage of practice sessions, qualifying and the race. (Programmes broadcast on ITV are also available to watch on the ‘catch up‘ service for 30 days.)
Unfortunately, Saturday practice wasn’t included in ITV’s agreement, but Friday practice sessions are shown in full. What you get is essentially a clean FOM feed. There is no commentary, which is possibly a good thing. But if you prefer commentary you can always listen to the radio at the same time.
Qualifying and the race are also covered live online, but don’t think it will be a way to avoid the adverts. During the race the online feed is essentially the ITV1 London feed, with adverts and all. However, here is a good tip. After the chequered flag is waved, the feed switches to the FOM feed.
If you want to immerse yourself in F1 for as long as possible, watch this. After the podium ceremony a short highlights package is shown. Then you see the press conference live and in full. This is certainly more than you get on the television. I usually record ITV’s post-race analysis to watch the FOM feed, then catch up on Blundell’s mangling of the English language after.
One major drawback is the poor quality of ITV’s online feed. Even during practice sessions the feed can stutter and stall to the point where you are several minutes behind the live action. ITV must improve this for future races.
Official live timing
For the past few seasons, the official Formula 1 website has carried a live timing facility. It has become a staple for the wired Formula 1 fan. The live timing screen gives you access to a lot of the same information that the teams and commentators use, and it is surprising what you can learn about the race from the live timing screen.
Full instructions are on the Formula 1 website, but the basics are simple. Times in white have just been set (they are the most recent information to come from that driver), times in green are personal bests and purple times are the fastest overall. This is the origin on the phrase “to go purple”, which people sometimes say when a driver has set the fastest time.
For me, live timing is a must. However, it suffers from a similar problem to radio, but even worse. Because of the broadcast delays (especially on digital television), TV and radio can be noticeably behind live timing — sometimes by as much as ten seconds. This is especially problematic during qualifying, as the tension as the driver comes up to the finish line is rather dissipated by the fact that you have already seen the result on live timing.
Renault are very good about this sort of thing — they have a system that basically lets you watch the race live from the viewpoint of the Renault team. A circuit diagram shows you where the Renault drivers are right at that second. But most impressively, you can see live telemetry of both drivers. It is a refreshingly open approach — if only other teams were like this!
However, the Renault telemetry is not without its problems. First of all, as Sidepodcast noted just yesterday, the website is now rather bloated and buggy. One little niggle I have is the fact that the site was obviously originally written in French then translated into English rather hurriedly as snippets of French are littered all over the place. Also, the service fills up the entire screen and there is no way to change this. That is a bit annoying if you have several windows at once, as I do during a Grand Prix.
This is a great service, but ultimately there are better things to be keeping your eye on. If you are a Renault fan, though, it must be a joy. I really wish other teams would offer similar services.
If you have been reading vee8 before, you may have noticed that each session has its own liveblog. These are set up by Keith from the excellent F1Fanatic blog using a nifty facility, CoveritLive. A number of prominent F1 bloggers are involved, and it’s the place to go for informed comment and chat throughout the race.
The liveblog can be particularly useful for gathering up information from people’s knowledge and experience. And because many people use the liveblog around the world, it is also the place to gather insight into what commentators around the world are saying.
This has often meant that we knew about certain events before the ITV commentary team did. For instance, during the Australian Grand Prix we knew pretty quickly that Rubens Barrichello had run a red light — several laps before the ITV crew knew about it. The screenshot attached here shows another instance where information from BBC Radio 5 Live was posted on the liveblog to enlighten the livebloggers.
There are liveblogs for every Formula 1 session. Keep an eye on this blog to participate in them.
Twitter can also be a place to pick up on some extra insight. During some races there are a few people updating, but other races can be quite lonely. I think as Twitter becomes more popular throughout the year more and more people will be using it to discuss the race. Follow my Twitter updates for vee8 here.
Are there any other novel ways of following the Formula 1 action? Post your thoughts in the comments.