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. Hey, yea last year I watched a few rounds of the british formula renault and it was very gd, just a shame I can no longer get it on freeview. I think it was actully more interesting to watch than F1. I know that Dave does a very good coverage of the WRC which I follow allthough I do feel that if the WRC want to become bigger and more popular then they should think of moving to a more main stream broadcaster like BBC or ITV.

    I know aswell that ITV does some coverage of smaller races like the ginetta championship, but they put it on at like 12.00 in the night. ITV4 also had the TT on the other day which was good coverage although the TT is only a one off event so its not quite the same thing.

    I wish there would be more motorspot coverage in the UK and on Freeview, and on sensible times, that all I ask.

    1. You can see the Ginetta Championship as well as the Juniors, Porsches and some form of single seaters (I forget which) live on ITV4 during their BTCC coverage. It’s a really good afternoon’s worth of racing, especially now as they show it consistantly and live, unlike previous years.

      Thats the beauty of having more channels at their disposal, I guess.

  2. I think we already had some discussion on racing coverage in India :( will not go details here!
    1. ESPN/Star sports broadcast F1 quali and race day live with lots of addverts (even in between 10 min time of Q3, they show adds :( ). No further comments on that.
    2. Zee Sports shows WRC, though not live.
    3. Ten Sports (sometimes Star Sports as well) shows MotoGP live
    No other racing is available in India, I can see most of you guys are being able to follow a lots of them! :(

  3. Here in Asia, GP2 and Formula 1 coverage is very good. Also WRC and Moto coverage is full.

    But other than that they focus more on Asian racing series (GT3 Asia, etc).
    DTM, Formula 3, World Series by Renault are not shown live but all results are mentioned with just the highlights.

    Also we get highlights of Le Mans Series and Indy Series, not full races.

  4. The FIA GT Championship was good on Motors TV last year, but they have lost the rights to Setanta now. I think you can see very limited highlights on Channel 4 or watch it streamed live from the website, but I think a series such as this has the potential to be popular and deserves a bigger profile.

    Looks like Setanta is in big trouble now so who will pick up all ofthe motorsport it has the rights to?

  5. We in the UK do get a good bit of motorsport on TV, such as GT’s and Motorsport UK covering the BTCC support races, but why do British broadcasters always put it on at three o’clock in the morning? Some of those are the best domestic series support races in the world, and they put it on when no-one is watching it. They should put it on instead of some rubbish repeat of something they have already shown earlier in the week. Or if it’s Channel 4, it’s normally on Saturday morning at about 6.30 or 7.00am. Surely it would be better to broadcast these at a reasonable time instead of repeated programmes these times.

    Even the BTCC highlights are on at about 2am. And if you don’t have Freeview television – your screwed! People on the main terrestrial channels should have more access to motorsport in the UK.

  6. I believe the biggest downgrade in coverage we’ve had from 2008 to 2009 is the move of GP2 to Setanta. As much as the BBC must be praised for their superb coverage of Formula One, they are also responsible for the loss of GP2. What’s more, if they had at least elected to show highlights (the minimum standard of GP2 coverage offered by ITV) then live coverage would likely have ended up on Eurosport, who – unlike Setanta – didn’t require exclusivity.

    If Setanta do enter administration, then the best hope for decent GP2 coverage would be for a general entertainment channel (such as Virgin 1 or Dave) to pick-up the rights. The problem with a dedicated sports channel is that at this late stage they would likely have a number of clashing scheduling commitments.

    On a more positive note, the IRC hasn’t been mentioned yet but coverage of the series this year has been revolutionary. Further information can be found here and here.

  7. …interesting you mention Dave – they evidently have an interest in broadcasting motorsport, as their coverage of the WRC has shown. Its better than when C4 had it IMO.

    Maybe we should petition Dave to up the ante and try to get some of the lesser open wheel formulae on there too!

  8. Formula 2 races are live on the F2 web site if you don’t have Eurosport.

    The BBC could still make more use of their Red Button. The bikes coverage (Moto GP, NW200 and TT) is great but not publicised much, you kind of stumble across it.

    It’s crying out for the GP2 races – the radio commentary and banter in F1 practice is great, but nothing much happens; I’d rather see a race.

  9. Can’t be as bad as we have it here in the US. When I search for “motorsports” on my channel guide, I’m flooded with NASCAR and the odd Monster Truck show.

    I have to say that Speed Tv does do a decent job of covering F1, with the exception of the races that are broadcast on tape delay on the Fox channel. GP2 races are shown tape delayed and usually at 5:00am on Sunday mornings before the F1 race. Thankfully I have a dvr.

    Indy Car is now on a new channel called Versus. They signed a 10 year multi-million dollar deal for the broadcasting rights and I have to say that they’re doing an incredible job of it. The downside is that the channel is only available in a limited number of markets, so indycar is getting very little tv exposure.
    They do broadcast the Indy Lights (Their equivalent of GP2) on tape delay on Mondays after the races, which I enjoy.

    Speed TV will be broadcasting 18 hours of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The other 6 hours will surely be NASCAR crap.

    We also get some races of the ALMS (American Le Mans Series) and the Rolex Grand-Am Daytona Protoype series.

    No WTCC, no WRC, no F3, no V8 Supercar, none of the great racing that’s out there around the world.

    1. V8s and DTM are usually shown off season in the winter on SPEED.

      Speed, since being bought out by Fox, has gone down hill. Used to show every racing series under the sun, and then shows relating to them. Now, it’s just 22hr a day of NASCAR, Reality programing, and infomercials, with the last 2hrs being actual racing.

  10. BBC is a vast improvement on ITV but, in truth, it couldn`t have got much worse.
    However, there`s still too much time spent on speculation & opinion & not enough on real fact & explanation, IMO.
    The national press are pretty appalling. Their interest seldom gets beyond scandal & bitching.
    For those that can also read/watch coverage in non-English speaking countries it really pays to do so. Things which we never get to hear about through our own media get reported there.

    Bernievision looked promising but, probably for many reasons, was never exploited to the full.
    As Bernie holds all the footage rights there should have been some way to use that as the basis of a dedicated F1/motorsport channel for those willing to pay.
    I suppose there just aren`t enough of us willing to cough up.

  11. ITV’s comprehensive British Touring Car Championship coverage is very good.

    I beg to differ.

    I was watching and it cut to an advert break. When it came back they were 2 laps into the Formula Renault race!

  12. For anyone whose interested, highlights of the current british f3 season are shown on C4 on saturday mornings but the coverage is quite short because they have to fit two races into 30 mins.
    Some times GT and FFord are shown as well.

  13. You know guys, I used to receive a channel called Supersport from South Africa. I don’t know whether the international and local broadcasts are any different, but if the local ones are anything like the international, then people in South Africa have it good. Even when F1 was with ITV (those guys used the ITV feeds, even using J.A and M.B as the commentators), they would never take ad breaks. And the guys in the studio were very knowledgeable. They’d also show GP2, A1GP etc. Too bad I don’t get it anymore :(

  14. Speed Demon
    10th June 2009, 22:54

    I regularly catch Speed TV’s coverage of the Grand Am Series, which is well produced and the racing (if not the cars) is exciting.

    But for me though, the ultimate in motor racing commentary is V8 Supercars. A great commentary team, with Mark Skaife joining Neil Crompton and others in the box, allied to a team of knowledgeable pitlane reporters (a la Nascar), lots of cameras in the cars, teams and drivers who are willing interviewees and access to lots of in car radio. It’s not difficult to get motorsport tv coverage right – but it does require a lot of resources.

  15. I seriously considered getting the Setanta subscription for my Sky just to be able to watch GP2. I don’t care for football. But then someone mentioned that for Virgin subscribers it is included in the regular sport package. That annoyed me and I decided against it. I hope Sky Sports or Eurosports or ITV4 pick it up if Setanta go belly up.

    I should have said that I agrees with much of what has been written in the article. Lets hope DTM comes back to a decent channel. The IRL coverage on Sky is a disappointment. I’ve sent a complaint to Sky already. I like to watch my motorsports live and not “delayed as live”. This term should not be banned. Something is either live or it is not live.

    I’ve noticed Eurosport are not always showing the main MotoGP race live. Why? It’s the big draw! What are they playing at!

    Rival channels used to buy the rights to highlights but this practice happens less and less. What a shame…

  16. Maurice Henry
    11th June 2009, 1:23

    I watch/watched:

    Motors TV – Japanese Super GT – gone in 2008 to god knows where. I want it back! I have to survive on the 2007 season which I have on disc and the odd race from 2005/2006; DTM Live – gone to Setanta who only seem to show a delayed race repeat. Now have to watch the races I recorded 2005-2008; MotorsTV seems to have become an MX channel with the amount of off road bike racing they show. However, I am looking forward to the Silverstone Classic which was covered superbly well by the Motors team, assisted by Murray Walker and Toby Moody

    Eurosport – Le Mans Series – Gone missing this year; Le Mans – I’ll record virtually the whole thing on a portable PVR (Archos 705); MotoGP – Dorna realised very late in the day that the BBC treat MotoGP like crap. MotoGP qualie, 125cc/250cc qualie and races consigned to the red button. They never show the podium ceremony. Last race (Mugello) you could only hear the podium ceremony in the background and then they went over to show a canoeing event!!! That’s the only reason British Eurosport was given any MotoGP coverage. The top team of Moody, Ryder and Mamola has sadly been broken up by Eurosport reducing their trackside costs. Most commentating seems to be done remotely now; WSBK – Great racing so far this year. Thoroughly entertaining.

    Sky – A1GP – coverage is comprehensive and some of the races weren’t bad. Has the feel of a Sunday league pub fixture list with race dates changing at the last minute and others being dropped at short notice. Definitely not F1; NASCAR – Watch it occassionally but I don’t go out my way to watch; IRL – ditto but somehow even less interested now; World Motorsports – gone now. But it was a great way to watch races from all over the world you wouldn’t normally see.

  17. Not sure if anyone knows this but UKTV (the owner of DAVE) is part-owned by the BBC. Without getting too technical its a joint venture between Virgin and BBC split stright down the line 50:50.
    It allows the BBC to act in a commercial manner without getting in to trouble with the licencing regulators and in return UKTV gets first dibbs on BBC programming.
    If the BBC were to try to launch a sports channel it might have to be through UKTV to ensure it could raise the money to buy the broadcastling rights through advertising. Unfortunately this would mean that all of the plaudits the BBC has rceived for its F1 coverage being free of ads could be tainted.

  18. Here in Germany the broadcasting situation is even worse, I think. As I mentioned before the BBC coverage is much better and especially much more professional than the one of German broadcaster RTL (a private network).
    At least they have Christian Danner as a commentator and Niki Lauda as an expert, however the rest is just Germany-focused commentary over and over again, which is really annoying.

    The situation with other racing series isn’t much better:
    DTM is broadcasted by a public broadcaster, a few GP2 races by Eurosport (rest on Eurosport 2) and for almost all other series you have to have “Premiere”.

  19. Would love to incessantly get updated outstanding blog ! .

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