BBC F1 is great but motor sport coverage in Britain is getting worse

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Few motor sports are covered anything like as well as F1
Few motor sports are covered anything like as well as F1

BBC F1 are doing a marvellous job in their first year back as F1’s broadcasters in Britain. That much is clear on the live blogs whenever fans outside Britain get a glimpse of BBC’s work and comment on how good it is.

But although it’s great to finally see some improvement in Formula 1 broadcasting, it’s getting harder to watch other quality racing series in Britain.


Before 2009, GP2 spent three years on mainstream satellite channel Eurosport and one year on major British broadcaster ITV.

However BBC elected not to pick up the GP2 broadcast rights, which were instead acquired by subscription service Setanta.

Setanta’s subscription costs are steep, and they aren’t committed to showing all the races live.

But that pales into insignificance given that the company is now teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. If that happens, will anyone sweep in to pick it up? Or will the most popular feeder series for F1 be without a broadcaster?

Indy Racing League

Sky Sports’ commitment to its Indy Car contract has noticeably waned since it started broadcasting NASCAR.

Fewer races are now broadcast live, and those which are shown are often missing replays and other video elements, making following the races much more difficult. This was even the case for the Indianapolis 500.

Given how many British drivers are in Indy Car this year, and how much closer the sport is much to European-style racing than NASCAR, I think Sky have their priorities wrong.


The German Touring Car Championship, home of some of Britain’s most promising up-and-coming talent like Paul di Resta and Oliver Jarvis, is also lost in the GP2 wasteland.

It was poached off Motors TV, which had a great community following for its slightly eccentric style of coverage.

Formula Three

Motors TV’s loss of the DTM to Setanta has also led to the disappearance of the Formula Three Euro Series from our screens.

This has sent many drivers in the direction of F1, including Lewis Hamilton, Robert Kubica and Adrian Sutil.

Britain’s F3 championship has not been broadcast live in a long time, though bizarrely I managed to stumble across an old race from 2006 being broadcast on Channel 4 a few weeks ago.

World Series by Renault

Renault’s major single-seater championship, which promoted the likes of Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, was on Setanta last year.

It has now moved to Eurosport where it may be exposed to a bigger audience, but there’s little point if they aren’t showing the all races live.

What’s next?

Britain is not completely bereft of motor racing coverage beyond Formula 1. ITV’s comprehensive British Touring Car Championship coverage is very good, and Sky do a much better job with A1 Grand Prix than they do with the IRL.

Eurosport are broadcasting all of the increasingly turgid World Touring Car Championship live. More interestingly they’ve also picked up the rights to the nascent Formula 2 championship, which is definitely worth keeping an eye on. And we will be able to see much of the Le Mans 24 Hours this weekend.

But if it weren’t for BBC’s exemplary F1 broadcasts, British motor sport fans would be much worse off in 2009 than 2008. If these championships want their races to be seen by British viewers, they need to start broadcasting them live online.

Is motor racing coverage any better where you are? What other motor sports besides F1 do you follow?

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53 comments on “BBC F1 is great but motor sport coverage in Britain is getting worse”

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  1. I have been watching Motors TV for years, great for insomniacs, Setanta were allways doomed to fail as their business plan was about subscription, Sky have consistently stayed ahead of the game, now we have to wait and see who will pick up the rights for DTM, Gp2 etc, in the end it gets down to money….

  2. What i would like to see is the bbc create it’s own sports channel free to air (well paid by the licence fee i guess).
    Then maybe they could show more motorsport comprehensively.
    I’d like to see them show GP2 during the F1 weekend and DTM properly. WTCC and BTCC, though the race series themselves need to be improved. I stopped watching BTCC a couple of years ago because the coverage was intermittent at best and the series itself was getting less competative.
    It would be nice to have Indy Racing League shown properly.
    Also i’d like Australian V8’s with the Bathurst 1000 shown.
    World Rally would be nice to see too.

    It would be nice if motorsport was shown on tv in a way that does not patronise the fans. A consistent and long running coverage is needed.

    In britain there has never been a place to to watch motorsport for adults to appreciate.

    Europsort tried in years past, but just got to a point where you couldn’t rely on a race being shown when it was supposed to have been.

    1. Mark Hitchcock
      10th June 2009, 14:49

      You should check out the BTCC now, it’s still not massively competitive but the coverage is brilliant. A whole 6 hours of live BTCC and support races.

      I agree with you about the V8s, there are highlights on 5 at some ungodly hour but I think they keep switching what day and time it’s on.

  3. It would be great if the BBC gave a free live global internet feed. I’m in Australia, so I’ve got Channel 10 broadcasting, 4 hours delayed, with 20 minutes of ads and no qualifying or build up. I don’t watch live F1 anymore, I just download a copy of the race (BBC feed) the day after and sit back with some popcorn.

    1. Svlad Cjelli
      10th June 2009, 9:01

      Glad you don’t get our BBC feed live. Bloomin cheek, we have to pay a license fee for the privilege.

    2. Depends on the location but for the European races delay is more like 2 hours. But then that changes depending on how long their crappy reality TV shows overrun. I used to think the Channel 10 coverage was OK but the delaying was poor…

      Until on Sunday arvo I downloaded and watched the BBC coverage of qualifying. It was informative and enjoyable, not like Channel 10 which almost makes watching a chore. From now on I too will be avoiding Channel 10 and any news the next day until I have downloaded the BBC coverage to watch

    3. In Australia we have channel one, which is a sub channel of channel ten.

      One shows the F1 qualifying, most of the time it isn’t live. It was especially frustrating when channel one was also broadcasting the Indian Premier League, and the qualifying got squeezed in between matches in the middle of the night.

      One also broadcasts the F1 races with a pre race show. This is broadcast live. I think it’s also broadcast on a delay on channel ten. The race is also replayed during the week on one, on a Tuesday I think at about 7pm.

      As for other motor sports series, channel seven broadcasts the V8 Supercars and some of the support races. SBS has a weekly motor sports show called Speedweek. It’s quite good. It shows different national championships, and occasional speedboat racing. Channel nine sometimes shows some drag racing. Channel one also broadcasts Nascar Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup qualifying and races. The Australian Rally Championship is also shown on channel one, as is as show called raceworld or something, and the World Rally Championship is also shown on SBS I think.

      Then there is pay tv, which I don’t have, although I do remember waking up in a hotel room one morning and turning the TV on to find motor racing on at 6am in the morning. I was impressed with that.

      1. We don’t get OneHD yet in the seventh largest city… instead we get a HD demo loop showing various country towns :(

  4. I’m in Canada, and it’s pretty terrible here to be honest. The only channels which show racing, as far as I know, are TSN and Speed TV, both of which you can only get through subscriptions to the more expensive cable packages. Neither of them stream the F1 races. As for other racing series, I’m not entirely sure, but I’m pretty certain that if they are shown, they’ll only be the IRL or NASCAR, and none of the Eurasian based series like GP2 or the WTCC etc… so yeah, pretty bad here… the internet is a godsend.

  5. Eddie Irvine
    10th June 2009, 8:12

    You are very lucky to have the ability to watch these series, in Greece (my country) the only motorsport events that are being covered are F1, MotoGP, WRC and SuperLeague Formula last year.

    1. yassou, philosmou!

  6. Jonesracing82
    10th June 2009, 8:12

    aside from F1, we dont get any of those here(oz)!
    we get delayed quali (was even chopped up to accomodate the IPL) and this is on our new dedicated sports channel, they have somehow managed to show f1 races live tho.

    1. They should pause playback of the race/qualifying and insert the ads in, rather than cutting out 20 minutes of racing to accommodate ads.

  7. Here in New Zealand it’s on Sky Sports which you have to pay for, but it’s on the main sports channels, they show every race live, and all practice and qualy sessions either live or delayed. Sky also shows GP2, IRL, NASCAR and WTCC regularly. So no complaints from me!

    The feed is the BBC so it’s good quality. I suppose my only gripe would be they don’t show any of the studio stuff, just straight to Legard and Brundle (or Croft and Davidson). But I’m not that bothered about missing out on EJ to be honest.

  8. God bless the internet – without it, I wouldn’t even know about F1!

  9. Svlad Cjelli
    10th June 2009, 8:57

    It’s not often I can praise ITV sports, but I have to say I’m glad they’re still televising all the BTCC races live. OK, it’s not the greatest series anymore, but there is still lots of great racing.

  10. Michael Schumacher
    10th June 2009, 9:02

    In Slovenia we only have Formula 1 and Moto GP (without 125 and 250 cc) and to be honest, comentators are lousy (F1 comentator Miran Ališič hardly ever hears Team radio transissions, but he doesn’t stop blabing when the sign comes on screen & he talks about non-race related things for most of the race).

    and, since the International signal is now for digital TV, the ratio of the screen is distorted if you watch on older TVs.

    And one more thing, that bothers me the most…in recent years there has been more and more graphics during live covergae, but it is mostly unusefull. I have a 7 years old Tv with 22inch screen and if i watch the race from my bed (3 metres away) i just can’t see the text show in graphics. soi sit behind my computer and i have to watch live timing to see relevant timings between drivers. they show times for a couple drivers, just so they say they ws better 10 years ago, they timed what needed to be timed!

  11. ConcedoNulli
    10th June 2009, 9:17

    In UK terrestrial Five shows the V8 Supercars highlights show, ITV4 does the WTCC highlights, Channel 4 does F3, FIA GT, FIAGT3, FIA GT4, British GTs. Rolex Protos, NASCAR, IRL are also shown. Dave does WRC. In Northern Ireland Ulster TV does RPM for Irish Tarmac championship and various other Irish track series (I don’t know whether RPM is available across the rest of the UK).

    I think we’re pretty well served – however you need to scan the EPG to record them as they are mainly shown in dark hours.

    What really annoys me is Autosport’s TV pages don’t include these programmes on their TV schedule – they only detail Eurosport/Motors TV/Sky. But they do include Roary the Racing Car!

    For live coverage BBC Northern Ireland do the North West 200 live and stream on the net. It might be bikes but it is real road racing and the camera work is excellent.

    I think a very well done to BBC and ITV for their live F1 and BTCC (including supports). Coverage is pretty good but unfortunately its up to the teams/competitors/rules makers to make the races truly engaging.

    Sorry for the long post

  12. I watch it in Britain luckily and am very pleased with the BBC coverage but I swear I could shoot Jonathan Legard any day of the week. What an idiot!!

    1. He is incredibly annoying.

      1. Lest we forget, many were annoyed by Murray in his pomp also.
        I’m not suggesting Legard is fit to lick the boots of a man who could read out the positions as ‘Patrese, who has overtaken Patrese’ – but no-one’s unanimously liked.

    2. If you do, I hope you shoot him in the arm ;)

  13. Of course to really enjoy the BBC coverage you have to watch the TV coverage but listen to the 5 live broadcast since I can’t stand the BBC1 race commentary!

    1. Svlad Cjelli
      10th June 2009, 9:51

      Do you get the feeling Brundle isnt that keen on Legard?

    2. Except “That`s not a monkey just an enormous chip on my shoulder”, Ian Phillips.

  14. Got to agree, the time ITV devote to the BTCC is to be commended. But Motors TV which was once great, slowly gets worse every year, theyve lost the DTM. They used to show V8’s live, then last year it fell to delayed till the next day, and now its delayed by a week.

    GP2 and DTM going to a broadcaster who cant be bothered to show them live? Whos signing the contracts? ridiculous! Glad Setanta are about to go belly up.

    Despite the BBCs commitment to F1 Motorsport in general remains a 3rd class sport after men with balls.

  15. Actually, if you look closely at the terrestrial channels in the UK there is a wealth of Motor Sport being broadcast. You just either need to stay up late or program the old VCR. So you can get IRL, NASCAR, FIA GT, Britsh GT, A1GP, and a great mixture of grass roots British club racing which I regard as quality racing. Highlights, admittedly but that’s all I need for my fix!There is life beyond F1.

  16. The situation in Sweden is totally screwed up from this year.

    F1 – moved from a free-for-all channel to a pay-channel not available in the terrestrial network. Quali and a one hour show about the event (shown a few hours afterwards) is on a free-for-all channel,

    MotoGP – moved from the free Eurosport to a pay-channel not available in the terrestrial network.

    Nascar – only on a pay-channel not available in the terrestrial network.

    IRL – only on a pay-channel not available in the terrestrial network.

    GP2 – sometimes shown on Eurosport.

    World Series by Renault – shown on Eurosport.

    WTCC – shown on Eurosport.

    STCC – moved from a free-for-all channel to a pay-channel not available in the terrestrial network. A show about the event is free on public TV some days afterward.

    DTM/BTCC – not sure if it’s on any Swedish channel.

    With all F1, MotoGP, STCC, Nascar and IRL on the *same* channel, they will sometimes have to prioritize on what to show live. And as I stated, this channel is not even available as a pay-channel in the digital terrestrial network. It’s only available in some cable-networks and from satellite. The fee for me to get it through the cable network is about $40 per month if I subscribe for 24 months or more – which is a bad idea since many major housing companies put this service up for grab every two year, thus making a subscription and the digital box useless if the operator is changed. And, of course, I have to subscribe to about 40 useless channels just to get to that one motorsport channel with F1. I just refuse to do that.

    So, all in all, both FOM and Dorna made a pretty good job in trying to kill most of the interest in Sweden for motorsport.

  17. Robert McKay
    10th June 2009, 9:25

    Sky show the F3 Euro Series now, although it’s not live.

    I think you’re harsh on Eurosport’s WsBR coverage, too, as we’ve gained live races there. They are showing most of them live, which might not match Setanta but noone has it anyway, so that’s a net gain for most people. I think there’s a couple races around their excellent Le Mans 24 hour coverage this weekend.

    Eurosport do a very good job and indeed it’s very difficult to watch everything broadcast sometimes. I think there was a recent weekend they had live Porsche Supercup, live Formula Master, live Formula 2 and live WTCC. They also show a ridiculous amount of motorbike racing and some weekends they don’t actually have enough room even with 2 channels, if there are car and bike racing clashes.

    But on the negative side Motors lost live ALMS and are now only doing it delayed a week later, I think. Obviously the loss of GP2 to Setanta is the biggest blow, and Sky’s IRL coverage is pretty poor now.

  18. Just wait til Abu Dhabi (hopefully) and next season when BBC will be able to broadcast the races in HD! Woohoo!

    I think the idea of a BBC Sports channel will gain momentum over the coming years and that’ll be great… but they will need to be able to compete against the big players in the market for broadcasting rights… admittedly, that’ll only be Sky in the near future, but it would be great to have a bit more live sport of all kinds on the BBC as well.

    As for the F1 coverage… so far it has been superb from the Beeb. I’m not that keen on Jonathan Legard, I have to admit, but Brundle’s still top quality. It should so be David Croft in the commentary box though.

  19. I’d love to follow more motor racing series if I could, but I refuse to pay for subscription TV, and it’ll be a cold day in hell before I give any money to BSkyB. Pricey subscription fees AND THEN near-American levels of advert breaks? I don’t think so…

    I watch as much of the F1 broadcassts as I can every other weekend, and try to catch ITV4’s coverage of the BTCC weekends, what with them showing 6 hours-or-so of action with all the support races.

    I sometimes catch the odd motorsports catch up shows that get shown in the small hours or at weekends on the ITV and Channel 4 networks. They usually have snippets from the WTCC and various single seater and GT championships, but they are just that, snippets.

    I would be watching Eurosport this weekend for the Le Mans 24 hours if I was still living at my parent’s, as they still recieve it free through their old Astra satellite service.

    I’d love to watch more series, but they’re just not out there, and rarely do any find their way onto torrent sites for download. might give them a search later, see what I can find.

  20. I think it’s worth mentioning HD again here, A1GP in on HD on Sky, and the WTCC is on HD on Eurosport HD (which oddly is part of the Sky HD package even if you don’t have the sports package and hence can’t get standard Eurosport). I’m sure the BBC would be all over F1 in HD if Bernie would pull his finger out and get it sorted. When reading that interview with Bernie that Keith linked to the other day, I was struck by the mention of watching the GP with Bernie on his 60 inch TV. Surely even Bernie can see it looks crap at that size in SD?

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