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Sky's F1 coverage making Liberty's Ecclestone curse worse

Sky's F1 coverage making Liberty's Ecclestone curse worse

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Sky's F1 coverage making Liberty's Ecclestone curse worse

Sky's F1 coverage making Liberty's Ecclestone curse worse

Although Liberty Media have carried the can for Formula 1's near-total disappearance behind the Sky Sports paywall in the UK, we must remember the man actually responsible for this – one Bernard Charles Ecclestone. Having swallowed money over exposure, Ecclestone's decision has already decimated the audience in one of F1's most fervent fanbases, but the broadcaster's output is only making matters worse.

With just the British GP to be aired on terrestrial television this year, the pressure is on Sky like never before to keep fans engaged, and willing to shell out the hundreds of pounds now needed to watch 95 per cent of the season live.

Ecclestone's decision to give Sky exclusive rights was a hospital pass and the American owners are the ones taking the bruising as more and more fans are tuned out.

However, the product is about more than what's happening on the track, and this is where the greatest frustration lies.

Competing across a network that includes live Premier League matches, the NFL, most of England's cricket and golf's majors, Sky F1 has often seen the need to throw in pizazz to match the muckier oil-stained analysis of what makes 20 cars go around the track at mind-melting speeds.

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It seems Sky's coverage is only getting worse in this regard and the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend came and went with numerous troughs to clash with the peaks that we saw when action on the track was unfolding.

Ups and downs

It was not all bad, and when Sky take F1 seriously, the product remains superb.

In the gap between FP3 and qualifying – a torturous stint to fill the airwaves at the best of times – Sky knocked it out of the park, with lead presenter Simon Lazenby and Karun Chandhok strolling through the paddock, discussing the key points heading into quali and grabbing a few notable F1 names to get their opinion.

Jacques Villeneuve and Mika Hakkinen were successfully door-stepped, while Moto GP legend Mick Doohan was quizzed on his views of the weekend and gave an update on the progress of his son Jack, signed to Red Bull's junior programme.

There was nothing fancy about this, just good analysis sprinkled with some genuine stars – and relevant ones too – for an extra depth of coverage.

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But following qualifying, it was time for The F1 Show – a wretched attempt at wackiness and off-the-wall sideshows which has previously featured drivers… playing Jenga… playing computer games… racing remote-controlled cars.

Wretched.

There is probably a time and place for this show to be aired, but is it really immediately after qualifying, which gets next to no analysis from Sky? Almost certainly not.

Oh, the crux of last week's episode? Esteban Ocon being asked his favourite type of cheese.

Race day

Sunday followed along similar lines. Early in the broadcast an absolutely superb segment was aired featuring Nico Rosberg discussing the 2014 'Duel in the Desert' with former team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

Rosberg lifted the lid on the mental anguish he suffered after coming up short and 10 or 15 minutes more of the feature would not have been overkill.

However, it was back to the broadcast after five minutes, where Lazenby was tasked with interviewing three children in Paddock Club.

What's that they always say about television, children and animals…?

The increasingly exasperated Lazenby, to his credit, worked his backside off to fill the dead air that the trio of mites left us with, because OF COURSE that is what happens when you shove a camera and microphone in a child's face.

One wonders what feedback was sent back to the production truck when 'off-air' was called following the toe-curling segment.

With pre-race excitement at fever pitch comes Martin Brundle's grid walk – a phenomenal creation two decades ago which has been ruined as counterparts from across the world cottoned on and copied the former racer's chats with drivers and the great and good of the sport.

The segment has now become some bizarre twisted parody, where Brundle seems to do his best to ignore anyone relevant to the sport and simply ask a cast of often disinterested celebrities: "Who are you supporting this weekend?"

The segment actually began with a quick word with Charles Leclerc, but soon descended to tedium.

David Beckham was followed by Guy Ritchie (via another fella that Brundle mistook the film director for) and then British TV chef James Martin – the whole while Brundle was scrabbling around, desperate to speak to the Crown Prince of Bahrain, presumably to blow smoke up a leader who perhaps actually ought to be asked about human-rights abuses of those who oppose the race being held in the country.

Again, the impression is not that Brundle has overseen this feature being run into the ground – his passion for talking racing is undimmed and most in evidence when the lights go out and sharp, concise analysis becomes the order of the day.

It would be hard for Sky to mess up post-race, let the 20 drivers talk and fill the gaps with a few of your own contributors.

However, the bits that go before are becoming increasingly difficult to watch – and with people being turned off in record numbers already, can Liberty really afford for it to continue?

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