Yesterday’s Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, the season opener for the premier international open wheel series, provided a lot of validation for the positive steps Indycar has taken lately. F1 has done two things poorly that Indyccar has done correctly. First, the halo. Yikes! Second, the US television situation. The messenger is definitely the problem there.
The halo, a bar attached around the front of the cockpit, was rushed into service this year. It may deflect some flying debris, but Indycar’s windscreen, which is still undergoing testing, makes a lot more sense. The halo ruins the esthetic of the cars. At some angles it makes them look WEC prototypes. It intrudes in the on board camera shots. Does the driver have that same obstructed view? If so, that may negate any safety benefit the device is supposed to provide. Another issue I noticed during the pre-race- when a crew member was strapping a driver in the car this morning, he had to bend over the halo to tighten the belts. He looked very uncomfortable doing his job. I would not be surprised if the crew members who did he belt tightening don’t all have sore ribs today.
Indycar is taking their time testing the windscreen. Since the first on track test at Phoenix, they are evaluating the feedback from Scott Dixon, and plan to test on track at a road and street course before putting it on the cars next year. Formula 1 seemed in a hurry to get the halos on the cars this season. I think it would have been in their best interest to evaluate it longer.
The US television rights for Formula 1 are no longer in the very capable hands of NBC. Instead, ESPN is carrying the Sky Sports feed from the UK. Why a network that doesn’t care about motorsports received the right to do this is beyond me. First, Sky Sports airs the races commercial free. ESPN does not run programming that way, so ads were inserted into the commercial free broadcast. Many were side by side, but they were in a break at the restart and the return from breaks offered no review of anything that may have been missed. I don’t see why Sky should have to alter their practices for ESPN. ESPN needs to figure out a way to have all the ads pre and post race.
As far as the Sky Sports broadcast, I liked their presentation and the graphics. Paul di Resta is difficult to understand with his heavy Scottish accent, and the announcers were sometimes not keeping up with the track action. There was some good tracking of the battles going on, and in this race, there were many.
Indycar’s new TV deal with NBC next year, as I and others have said, is a huge boost for the series. NBC’ s coverage and promotion should help exposure grow considerably. Formula 1 in the US has always been a small niche within the small motorsports niche, and it will likely shrink more with this broadcast arrangement.
The race itself was better than most Formula 1 races. There was a lead change for the win, and some good battles throughout the field, including a fight for the lead. The problem is, there are maybe three F1 races a year that are considered good, and one has already been spent in Round 1.
The next race is Bahrain on April 8, the morning after the Indycar race in Phoenix. If the Phoenix race is as good as anticipated, the side by side race comparison can only help Indycar further. By the way, Phoenix will be on NBCSN. The tv side might look better also.