Big part of the Formula 1 weekend are the Free Practice sessions. The three sessions, two on Friday and one on Saturday morning are a good preparation for teams and drivers to set up the car perfectly for the upcoming weekend. It’s also the time when teams try to collect data about their new parts. The lack of testing makes it very important for teams to get into the track on the practice sessions. Such an event are not for regular fans, This is the reason, the broadcasters normally avoid this kind of sessions. But is the lack of coverage a reason for the lack of awareness of such events?
For many fans, the Practice sessions are like a warm up for the upcoming race weekend. You will see cars on the track and know: yes that’s it, race weekend is here once again. Practice sessions have been broadcasted in many countries for years. Different channels from different countries, give fans the possibility to watch the sessions. The trend seems to be that specially pay channels offer fans the possibility to see all practice sessions in live. Good examples are Sky Sports F1 from the UK, MTV3 Max from Finland and SportTV from Brazil. Also Finland, for example, there is a 30 minute long review about Friday’s practice sessions on a free channel MTV3. Meanwhile in Asia, many countries do not have this luxury to watch the Free Practice sessions, Although the broadcaster in these Countries promises to change this for upcoming season, things are certainly not guaranteed. But the broadcaster for these countries have always been providing exciting stuff during the Singapore Grand Prix and also during the Indian Grand Prix. Their strategy in these two weekends is quite similar to Sky Sports.
Even though it’s nice to start a weekend on Friday by watching Free Practice sessions, it can sometimes be a little bit boring when there is no action on the track. There are times when the track is quiet, and specially on wet sessions when there usually isn’t very much to see. At this point, the broadcasting channel should give some entertainment for the fans. Finnish and Brazilian practice broadcast show the international coverage all the time and there are two commentators commentating. Specially in the Finnish television, the Free Practice coverage should be better than what it is. The commentators sometimes seem to forget that they are in live tv as it feels like they are having a regular conversation with each other in the commentary box. There are also loads of quiet moments if the track is quiet, too. This could be changed if they added some own coverage. With just hours to go to the official start to the season, Many broadcasters in many countries are promising to change certain things in the coverage. Only Time will reveal it all.
A good practice session coverage, as many would point out, comes from Sky Sports F1. Although, there will be certain people who would disagree to that, They show the action on the track, but their coverage is also filled with special interviews and features from the pitlane, while the practice action is on. It’s very good to have this kind of coverage and show these features when the track is being quiet. Sky’s commentators also have interesting topics to talk during the sessions. It’s something that keeps fans interested. Of course, there are also minus sides on the Sky coverage. Sometimes they move the coverage to the pitlane even if there was action on the track. Another thing that might annoy fans are commercials during the sessions. In Finnish and Brazilian pay channels, there are no commercials shown during the practice sessions or any other session. Fans will see everything, but as mentioned earlier, there needs to be something more special added to their coverage.
Something special that Sky Sports F1 has created, too, was the winter testing coverage. Once again, not much action on the track, but the coverage was very similar to Free Practice coverage. It’s a good idea to show the fans a little bit as to how does the winter testing look like. It might be difficult to succeed with coverages like that, but once again, Sky made it interesting for the fans by having drivers and team members visiting the commentary box and making comments. This is a great idea and hopefully it’s a tradition that continues.
Both Finnish and Brazilian television have started to add more special live features to their other coverages. In Finland, before qualifying there is a 20 minute live coverage from the paddock that usually includes interviews and facts, and speculation before the qualifying. Before races, there will be similar live coveraging, but the length of the coverage is 50 minutes. The coverage starts from the paddock and pitlane. It has both live, and also earlier filmed features and interviews. When the pitlane opens, the coverage moves into the start-finish straight and has a similar pitwalk with live interviews as the Sky Sports and BBC have been providing. Brazilian television does live interviews before races, too.
As these channels that we used as examples have changed the coverage to more and more similar to British coverages, maybe they will add something special to Free Practice coverages, too. It would be a big pleasure to the fans, and adds more interest for people to watch these sessions. Even if practices and testing won’t tell everything about everyone’s speed, it’s a pleasure for fans to see the cars going around the track.
Written By: Sini Salminen