Fans robbed by latest F1 TV farce, but do Liberty care?
If you thought Ferrari were the most farcical thing about the 219 Formula 1 season, think again. How is it possible that, a year into existence, F1 TV Pro can still rob paying customers of the chance to watch on-track action?
Whether for movies, sport or television series, most if us are now familiar with 'over the top' streaming services.
There can't be one that has been so ruinous as F1 TV.
A Liberty Media cornerstone in opening up F1 to new audiences, the service has been beset with technical issues.
The problems returned in force for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix to such an extent that F1 will issue refunds to subscribers – not the first time this has happened.
It's not just a case of streams falling down. Users have reported being kicked out of the system mid-stream, then being asked to register upon logging back in – all the while sending a monthly fee to F1.
On more than one occasion, it's been claimed that users have set up accounts for F1 TV Pro – the full, live race-airing shebang – only to be told they are in a region unsupported by the service.
This seemingly didn't happen across the board for Baku. A look at Reddit's well-populated Formula 1 sub-reddit shows the frustration.
⚠️ We are very sorry for the problems you have experienced with F1TV today.
We're still actively investigating the issue and we will be refunding a proportion of subscriptions for those impacted over the coming days.
"I was watching an pirate stream of F1TV while F1TV was down... What kind of shit is that..."
"It's just not letting me log in in general. Logged me out and now it wants me to log in again , but when I try it goes back to the home screen and tells me to log in."
"I also get logged out and asked to subscribe, but if you refresh enough eventually it works, but then the stream won't load. Other times I keep clicking "Log in" but it just reloads the page."
These issues affected both qualifying and the race during Baku, with a seemingly random nature of the failures pointing to the issues being a matter of poor infrastructure rather than anything else.
With the rise of streaming services, especially in sports, maybe Liberty thought that F1 TV was something they should do just to say they had done it.
What they perhaps didn't bank on is that F1 fans will remain loyal to F1 products – especially amid the rise of pay-TV deals which is increasingly taking live F1 away from more and more fans.
With this in mind, Liberty should be piling dollars into making F1 TV the best product it can be.
However, when TV stations are willing to fork out the kind of sums reportedly being paid by Sky Sports in the UK, why bother?
A report by BBC Sport earlier this year claimed that Sky "has effectively become the sport's biggest single sponsor" with a reported £1.2billion rights deal making up 11% of F1's total turnover.
The deal has robbed many UK fans of the ability to watch live racing. The apathy and idleness it seems to have triggered in Liberty's push to improve their own service means the knock-on effect is felt across the world.
Where is Ferrari's racing spirit?
Having looked strong favourites through practice, Ferrari's hopes seemed to vanish into the walls at the castle complex when Charles Leclerc tested the barriers in Q2.
The driver's error may have been caused in part by Ferrari's risky decision to run medium tyres for the segment, but make no mistake – it was Leclerc's error alone, as he owned up to in pretty brutal self-flagellating fashion.
However, with Leclerc having delivered a fine opening stint on medium tyres, there was an opportunity to pit the 21-year-old, bring him out right behind Sebastian Vettel and let him have a crack at the top three on soft tyres.
This was before mid-race and Leclerc would have certainly needed another stop. It might have done little but hamper Leclerc late in the race, but it would have shown more guts and fight than what transpired.
Leclerc was instead left out on-track until there were 16 laps left and he had already been passed by Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton and Vettel – losing time and giving the Silver Arrows a DRS boost in the process.
In the end, the second stint was cut short regardless to fit more fresh tyres and successfully chase the fastest lap from fifth position.
Perhaps Leclerc wasn't owed anything by Ferrari after his mistake. But a safety-first approach is not going to be good enough, with Mercedes having secured one-two finishes in all four races this season.
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