F1 TV Pro

F1 TV Pro is amateur viewing – for now

2018 F1 season

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F1 TV Pro arrived, four races later than planned, at the Spanish Grand Prix last month. Does Formula One Management’s eagerly-awaited live streaming service deliver on the hype? @DieterRencken had mixed results watching last weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix ‘over the top’.

Having elected to attend last week’s FIA Sport Conference in Manila, I skipped the Canadian Grand Prix as even the best connections would deliver me to Montreal late on Friday following after 20 hours in the air with 12-hour jet lag.

Thus the weekend provided a perfect opportunity of reviewing F1 TV Pro. As a Belgian I live in one of the 40 or so countries where it’s available, rights restrictions preventing

Formula One Management kindly provided media log-in credentials so I looked forward to a weekend of Over The Top viewing – as Netflix-style streaming directly to consumers is termed – from Montreal.

Since BBC lost the F1 television gig at the end of 2015 I’ve been unable to catch F1 in English. So the five or so races I’ve missed in as many years I’ve followed on RTL Germany with ex-F1 racer Christian Danner’s insightful commentary. However Friday’s practice sessions are broadcast on associate channel NTV and FP3 is skipped completely. The biggest downside to RTL, however, is a plethora of commercials that totally spoils the viewing experience.

Interruption-free F1 TV Pro would, I hoped, prove just the ticket for the Canadian Grand Prix. But while perusing F1 TV’s FAQs I spotted a snag: English commentary is not available in Belgium “due to existing rights agreements”…

Nonetheless I logged in on Friday shortly before first practice and started navigating my way around. The initial process was fairly intuitive, and I watched the session on my laptop in my office. At first I was struck by the excellent picture quality, a clear improvement over RTL’s broadcast.

An odd initial problem was the huge variation in volume between the four sound options. FX, the commentary-free atmospheric noise option, was loud, as if they had cranked up the car sounds. Curiously I was offered an English language option, along with Spanish, French and German. But the latter was inaudible unless I wound the volume right up, and even then still too quiet for comfort.

This trend continued throughout the weekend, even when I tried streaming via Apple TV, so I spent a lot of time fiddling with volume controls.

Many early users of F1 TV have encountered buffering problems. I began to experience them at around 5pm on Friday – 11am in Canada, thus two-thirds into FP1. I put it down to folk heading home via Waze or other internet-consuming Apps, but subsequently learned that users in other regions had similar issues.

I rebooted but the problem remained, on top of which the English language option had now disappeared. Had the system ‘forgot’ I was in Belgium and thus permitted English commentary? Or does my or media log-in had English commentary regardless of territory and the system ‘forgot’ that blocked a Belgium IP address?
Either way the inconsistent behaviour indicates something wasn’t working right.

I streamed second practice to my Philips LED 4K via Apple TV, but only after experiencing major issues with the latter. By now the mismatch between the pictures I could see and the commentary I could hear was beginning to grate.

F1 TV shows the world feed yet uses commentary from other broadcasters. These can, and do, incorporate their own footage which doesn’t appear on F1 TV.

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Watching the English-language Sky broadcast therefore became a frustrating experience as Sky’s own crew homed in on some detail, which Croft and co. then discussed, leaving me wondering what exactly they’d spotted. Ted Kravitz’s description of the ‘scrutineer in the green tabard behind the car who’s been tasked by (FIA Technical Delegate) Jo Bauer to keep an eye on Ferrari’ sounded intriguing – pity I couldn’t see it.

Most annoyingly the commentary team broke away regularly for commercials, leaving me completely without commentary. Crofty haters may view it as a blessing (sorry, David) but I’d prefer to choose for myself than have Sky producers dictate breaks when they needs to pay the rent. It makes F1 TV Pro seem a secondary service.

These aggravations continued throughout the weekend, reaching a peak when Martin Brundle embarked on his grid walk, yet all I saw were totally unrelated visuals of celebs quaffing away in the Paddock Club.

On Saturday I came to appreciate how convenient OTT can be. I watched final practice in my garden under sunny, 25C skies, streaming the footage over wifi.

Given how stable the picture was, I decided to experiment with some of the settings. I found the menus difficult to navigate, and could not watch timing and track action simultaneously.

Either I’m stupid or F1 TV Pro is utterly unintuitive – or both. Whatever, I followed qualifying and race I watched with the pictures on my television and my laptop on the timing screen – but neither provided ‘unplugged’ radio. After the flag I switched to F1 TV Pro on my laptop and simultaneously watched podium stuff on RTL. Lo and behold, the latency between the two was over 40 seconds. Thus most television audiences knew the outcome 40 seconds earlier than those using F1’s own ‘pro’ service!

Suddenly in mid-Croft-sentence the service stopped, with a brief message telling me the broadcast was terminated. No thank you, no goodbye, no see you in Le Castellet: just, boom, black screen.

The acid test: Would I subscribe? Probably, but only if it had a British commentary option in Belgium without commercial breaks during the race (sorry Christian, but English is my ‘main’ language and German my ‘home’ language). But on the basis of the current offering I would do so most reluctantly.

Would I subscribe if I had the option of a premium broadcasting service such as Sky? Not yet…

Indeed, I would go as far as suggesting that “F1 TV Pro” falls foul of trade descriptions acts, for “F1 TV Amateur” is where the service currently is. For example, FAQs openly admit that there “will be great features in months to come”. Come on, this is allegedly a Pro product, for which full price is being charged.

Yes, it has potential – massive potential – but the touch and feel is of a beta service, with the overall direction clearly steered by F1 outsiders with no clue about the audience. When all is said and done, it seems churlish to demand subscriptions for what is patently a work in progress. My suggestion is that Formula One Management select beta testers by ballot, then perfect the service. Only then can it be considered “Pro”.

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51 comments on “F1 TV Pro is amateur viewing – for now”

  1. Thanks for the review. As f1pro isn’t even an option yet in Canada, I have to settle for F1 access. Even it is beta in feel and function.
    At least I can listen to sessions and races as a radio broadcast while working which has been worth the cost.
    I’m looking for much a more polished experience for the same money. I sincerely hope F1 can deliver.

    1. I have been canvassing my friends abroad and in the states … here in Canada we get equal value with TSN and F1Access. Still not enough (Quality) live coverage for my liking. Have to wait and see how all things evolve I guess.

  2. The replays stream fine, no buffering, however there are a few audio drops where the commentary will stop.

    Also I’ve noticed this year that no matter the source, the Sky team no longer gets warned when team radio happens and inevitably talk over it.

    1. That’s what I noticed, too. But, I think it is related to sound-to-picture synchronization. You can hear that when the commentators react “too late” on some exciting moments in race.

      1. Yes, the commentary feed Sky send to FOM for use in F1 TV is behind the rest of the sound & pictures by a few seconds. If you watch it on Sky’s own TV & Streaming service, the delay is not present.

  3. with ex-F1 racer Christian Danner’s insightful commentary

    I literally choked.

    1. But other than that, my experience has been exactly the same. I’m not that bothered by the silent breaks during Free Practice, when Sky has to make some money – in fact, I was astonished because of how short those breaks were. They used to feel so tedious with those mind-numbing commercials aimed at a target audience I’m not a part of, but now they just seem to breeze past.
      As for

      Either I’m stupid or F1 TV Pro is utterly unintuitive

      Yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s the latter. Or we’re both equally inept.

      But the one point where I have to disagree, and furiously at that, is the quality of RTL’s German broadcast. It’s far south of terrible. I’m literally paying money so that I never have to listen to them ever again. And I’m a notorious freeloader.

      1. I note though, that if the unprofessional unclarity over what language options there are continues, we might be stuck (not sure from where you are watching @nase), with only the German language commentary.

        Guess who provides that – you guessed right, we’d all like it if it were the Austrians, ie. Alex Wurz, but no, it’s RTL Germany, so you would then be paying for the privilege of hearing Danner!

    2. @nase, I have to say, I get what you mean, and that would have been my initial reaction too.

      Nevertheless, in Baku and, I think China, I happened to have access to Sky footage to amend my commercial ridden RTL Germany TV coverage – I turned the sound off, they were awful. Sky, that is; Christian Danner actually gave (comparatively) great, because limited to racing, commentary. I much prefer the channel4 coverage when it’s around to Sky.

      Also, pre- and post-race, the Sky stuff has gone down from ‘not to miss’ to somewhere between ‘ok’ to ‘meh’ or even ‘ugh, have to switch off’ for me, while Timo Glock on RTL is good, and in interacting with him, even Nico Rosberg is interesting.

      1. Though I’ll add that the rather boring Canadian GP was made worse for me by trying to watch it on RTL Germany, I guess having Vettel at the front triggers them into going back to default inaneness, and Monaco wasn’t great either.

      2. Sky, that is; Christian Danner actually gave (comparatively) great, because limited to racing, commentary. I much prefer the channel4 coverage when it’s around to Sky.

        agree, @bosyber.
        C4 best,
        CD 2nd,
        Sky last (only because a few tools ruin it for the rest of the highly qualified team).

        1. Well put @coldfly, though I think the rotten apples spoiling the bunch effect takes hold too; and it’s a matter not just of what’s said, but what attention is put on where it goes wrong with both RTL and Sky at times.

    3. Christian Danner’s insightful commentary

      – I literally choked.

      Well indeed, me too.

  4. What bugs me the most, since the SKY commentary is delayed, but the team radio is “live”, by the time, the commentators realize there is a team radio transmission and stop talking, the radio is usually over and we didn’t understand either.
    The quick fix would be to delay the radio messages in correlation with commentary.
    Shouldn’t be too hard to accomplish, I imagine?

  5. Thank you @dieterrencken for the review!

    from what you describe and what I have so far heard of the service, i cannot but agree with your verdict

    Yes, it has potential – massive potential – but the touch and feel is of a beta service, with the overall direction clearly steered by F1 outsiders with no clue about the audience. When all is said and done, it seems churlish to demand subscriptions for what is patently a work in progress. My suggestion is that Formula One Management select beta testers by ballot, then perfect the service. Only then can it be considered “Pro”.

    I guess it is a good thing then that it is only available for those that do not have a broadcaster already, to avoid giving people the choice.

    On the other hand, I would probably consider taking the offer already, if only it would be available. Why? For several reasons
    1. The only option to get F1 officially here is to get O2 TV with their sports package (or maybe a sattelite package). But since I don’t watch TV much at all, that would be pretty much only for F1.
    2. Is listed second, but is actually more important. In the past I have tried watching the local coverage – 2-3 guys in a studio commenting on what they see on a TV screen in Czech. More often than not missing the action, misinterpretating what is happening, or mixing up their drivers. Unwatchable for most people who know footage from the UK, or at least from Germany (or Austria, where Alex Wurz does a solid job).

    So even when it was still free to air, I have always preferred watching foreign signals, either with sattelite, or through streaming, for the last 10-15 years now. Despite the unreliability of streams, I’d rather watch commentary that makes sense (currently the Channel 4 team are on top for me, sky is good and German is ok, but shame about regular ad breaks) than having sub par commentary.

    This review does a great job of highlighting what the service is missing though:
    After the obvious things (make sure that it actually works, and does not suffer such lag), and that includes a functioning timing screen as well, since F1 has done a miserable job so far to make that available (the app was far too unstable too),
    to me the most important one is the quality of commentary and giving fans the language options we prefer.

    But yeah, so far this has been far from convincing an effort.

    1. Oh, i remember watching some races in czech it was pretty bad, but the Sky coverage isn’t much better due to David Croft. Nothing personal against him, but most of the times his commentary makes me want to stick nails in my ears and hammer them in. The rest of the team aren’t bad, but i get the feel that they are pushed to talk up stuff and create fake drama. The C4 commentary feels a lot more natural from the few races i could watch, shame that the official videos use the Sky feed…

  6. As a Belgian

    I thought you were South African, @dieterrencken

    simultaneously watched podium stuff on RTL. Lo and behold, the latency between the two was over 40 seconds. Thus most television audiences knew the outcome 40 seconds earlier than those using F1’s own ‘pro’ service!

    I did this as well (albeit during the Monaco GP). Easy to solve: pause your TV for the latency difference. You’re still 40sec behind but this is an easy way to have different feeds on TV and laptop (e.g. on track action & (40s late) live timing.

    1. I’m proudly dual national – Belgian and SAfrican – and my wife is German. We met and got married in London.

  7. When a service receives this kind of review from a source like @dieterrencken it could be very hard to regain potential customers trust. Not a problem for me at the moment, since in Italy the service is unavailable: but sure thing even if it will become available next year I’ll wait for another review from a similarly influential personality to subscribe.

  8. most television audiences knew the outcome 40 seconds earlier than those using F1’s own ‘pro’ service

    Sky Go is usually well over a minute behind.

  9. I would never bother with this kind of service until it had decent reviews. what they’re doing now is beta testing but charging full price. by contrast, I’ve heard good things about the eurosport pass but I think this is a much simpler product. either way, every time i’ve wanted to watch something on eurosport (typically cycling) I just stream it with incredibly minimal fuss, so I’ve never actually paid. ditto for GPs that are only on sky (i’m in the UK).

    what people might like is a decent free-to-air broadcast, with every race live and uninterrupted. is that so much to ask? the BBC had this, fleetingly, but when it was good it was goooood.

  10. Has anyone heard what Whisper films will do when the channel 4 coverage ends? I’d love to watch those guys on F1TV Pro. Then the “world feed” won’t be Sky and could be a bespoke product worth the pro moniker.

    1. Will Buxton and others as the best NBC coverage had + the best of Channel 4 to F1 TV pro would be an awesome product @cavman99!

      1. @bosyber, I agree, Will Buxton is great! I am glad he has the gig with F1. His paddock passes are cringe-free viewing, unlike Ted’s Notebook…

        1. And importantly for me, freely put on youtube/facebook for me to view, rather than find them illegally @cavman99, though I just stopped doing that, obviously.

  11. Corneliu Heljiu
    15th June 2018, 14:48

    the framerate of the stream is a dissappointment, you just can’t have 30fps in sports.

    1. 👆 this x 1000!

    2. Soooooo true!!! I find it hard to believe that so many comment about this because in a sport like F1 this can be noticed just seconds after viewing some of the racing, instantly I would say. And yet I am surprised because the official F1 channel has plenty of highlight videos (qualifying and race) which are uploaded using 50fps, providing the same experience you get from regular broadcasted stuff.
      I seriously think someone did a great technical mistake here, this is going backwards in quality compared to TV services. The differences are pretty obvious, take a race for which Channel4 has the rights for example an make the comparison with the streaming F1TV service, you will see a HUGE difference in smoothness.

  12. Mickey's Miniature Grandpa
    15th June 2018, 15:51

    Rumour has it that when the launch date for F1TV was announced, so many technically-aware F1 viewers facepalmed simultaneously that the event registered on seismographs around the world.

    It was always going to be beset by myriad problems right from the start, and it was always going to take months to get on top of them and have a finished product ready for market. Whomever told FOM that it was a good idea to go live with it this year needs to be lowered head first into a giant vat of boiling Marmite.

  13. Joeri Marcelis
    15th June 2018, 16:16

    As a fellow Belgian, and a subscriber, I regret my purchase.
    During race and qualifying, you get the same broadcast on the free stream of the RTBf station who holds the rights in the French part of the country. Except you don’t get buffering if you use that.
    English isn’t available, even though it’s the preferred language to watch the races in Flanders.
    They really need to improve, because right now I’m considering a refund.

  14. It appears rushed when the obvious customer focussed and technology based decision was to roll out through beta testing first to get to grips with the delivery and take customer feedback on the product before launching.

    Clearly the decision has been made based on earliest possible revenue stream, to the detriment of the service quality.

  15. Don’t really share Dieters opinion. There are so few buttons how can you not find out how it works… First race stream didn’t work, now it works fine. Great to not have listen to the local bulgarian commentary (never stop talking nonsense).

    It can be improved, but as a first service it works fine.

  16. Definitely room to grow here for the service, but very glad they’re moving in the right direction. I’ve found live stream quality to be very dependent on the performance of my local system. I was having trouble on my laptop over WiFi so switched to my gaming desktop over cat5 and it was nearly flawless running race feed, two onboards and live timing at once. Just my anecdotal two cents.

    Agreed that the disparity between the Sky commentators and our video feed is sometimes frustrating. I’m hoping a dedicated commentary team is on the roadmap in the future. Maybe snatch up that NBC team!

    Finally, an observation about the term “over-the-top”. People love throwing this term around when describing internet-based services, but it’s quickly becoming less relevant to reality. Over the top of what, exactly? I don’t have a cable TV subscription. I get the feeling that broadcasters label stuff OTT with the hint that they intend to treat it as a “second class” service, or a favor they’re doing for customers. They’ve got to get out of that mindset quickly as this will soon be the primary viewing method for the demographic that they covet.

  17. Bruce (@mountainbiker)
    15th June 2018, 17:41

    I started to watch the Canadian race on F1Pro but the buffering problems were enough that I ended up watching the rest of the race on ESPN. I am not impressed.

  18. It lets me watch the races when I want, where I want, and costs 1/10 the price of Cable TV (less if you don’t get pro). I can excuse the sloppy login process and occasional stream glitches. It needs work, but it’s adequate and worth the cost to me as is.

  19. I’m in the U.S. and I’ve also had many “amateur” issues. The most consistent problem is the that the Sky commentary is about 1 or two seconds behind the action and it frequently drops out for several seconds. The lag also results in the commentary covering up the beginning of the pit radio feed. VERY annoying. There were some buffering issues.

    I also had the problem with the grid walk video being completely unrelated to the commentary. I suspect that there are contract issues with Sky re: what F1 TV can show and that Sky content other than the race itself isn’t part of the deal. That’s a shame: I really like the Sky pre race features.

    On the positive side, I emailed F1TV support and they were very responsive. They refunded 1/2 of the monthly fee. Not ideal: I’d rather have fully baked service but it’s a positive sign.

    I’m on the fence about continuing with F1TV Pro. I’m very adept at finding high quality streams on my own. The main reason I’m keeping for now is easy access to replays but if it doesn’t improve, I’m going to cancel it.

  20. What about the non-live service? I often will not be able to watch it live and the download would surely be free of these issues? Is there even a download or ‘off-line’ mode?

  21. I have been using it since it launched & while there was a lot of problems with buffering & such over the Spanish Gp weekend & a little bit during Saturday for Monaco, For Canada it was flawless for me all weekend & the quality was also great.

    I would also say that the service is very simple to use, You click on the live session & then the F1TV live/replay page comes up where you have ‘Live or Replay’ (Depending if your watching live or in replay) at the top to display the world feed pictures with driver names listed underneath to display there onboard camera video.

    i would say my only gripe with it so far would be the audio sync & how basic it all is, You can just pick a video feed, an audio track & then watch in the single video display. Would be nice if we could watch multiple video feeds with some timing & telemetry information. And would also be nice to have an option allowing us to listen to onboard audio as well as team radio chatter rather than one or the other.

    i would also like more video feeds, I mean where is the onboard-mix that is directed by FOM & features on-screen telemetry?
    i know we have access to all car onboards but i would rather just load the directed onboard-mix up and then leave that on my laptop alongside the primary tv feed, especially for qualifying & the race where i don’t want to be manually switching between onboard cameras.

    also where is the pit lane channel, timing, driver tracker & this data channel i’ve seen images of?

    these are video feeds which are been produced by FOM & which many broadcasters show so they should all be on F1TV, Especially since places like Germany used to have access to them (via sky germany which aired them) but now don’t.

  22. They’ve released a paid for service that for all intents sounds worse than an illegal streaming option.

    I’ve said for a few years now if F1 was on Amazon or Netflix I’d subscribe to them. They don’t quite tempt me currently and there’s no way I’m paying that amount just for F1. If they could get on one of those services it’d bring in the F1 fans to them and also some of their existing subscribers to F1 as new fans, something F1 sorely needs.

  23. John Gilmartin
    15th June 2018, 20:57

    Can you watch an in-progress race from the start, before it has finished? e.g. Start watching it an hour after the race started?

    If not, HDRs still have one advantage there.

  24. YUP, it’s F1 thinking …. “Want it?, OK, Paid For? OK, done, we’ll get on perfecting it later…OK?”

    1. “Oh, wait … Grab your ankles, people, ya didn’t see this comin’, did ya?!

  25. Ok. For years i am watching rtl with the english commentary with the f1 timing app Dieter. It makes me wonder how you can watch a F1 race without the timing app and make proffesional analysis? I am really surprised. And Danners insightfull commentary… Well i am apparently not the only one that nearly died of laughing…

    1. Because I usually watch in the Media Centre where we have numerous channels including timing. When not at a GP I use visual feed, the attendant commentary, timing app and live text feed. But for the review I put myself in the position of a fan. As for CD, you have your opinion and I have mine. I enjoy the way he explains things – again for the average viewer.

      1. There’s a lot of people on Twitter #Formel1 that don’t agree, but as you say, each to their own.

  26. At least you found something to keep you busy when not travelling @dieterrencken!

  27. Maybe it will be better when/if it eventually comes to Australia, if I haven’t moved-on from F1 due to lack of access by then (likely) I’ll give it a go.

  28. Firstly it sounds like it is still in Alpha, never mind Beta stage!
    Secondly can you not get UK Channel4 for the English broadcast, an excellent service for half the GPs? Or the BBC still do th efull commentary on Digital radio and internet. You may need to use tor or a VPN to reach it on the internet.
    The delays between streams are bemusing with the actual time bearing little relation to the tv broadcast picture, the BBC commentary or the subtitles (I am deaf and use the subtitles which the sadist in charge gleefully puts on top of the leader or time listing blocking out the right hand characters. ) So if you have a countdown to the end of a practice session you may experience it at three different times.
    We used to have than problem in the UK, but then the concept of Grenwich mean time was introduced so we had the whole country on the same time. For the internet and streaming feeds there is a thing called UTC which Liberty need to hear about.

    I still find it ironic that Bernie tried to introduce all this way back in the 80s and the 100 year agreement was a way, at least partly, of paying him back for all the investment in digital equipment he had made so many years before its time.

  29. After the flag I switched to F1 TV Pro on my laptop and simultaneously watched podium stuff on RTL. Lo and behold, the latency between the two was over 40 seconds.

    I too was watching on RTL and found that the picture and audio was about 12 seconds behind the Live Timing Android app, which is invaluable during the many advertising breaks. So that makes F1 TV Pro even further behind than you thought.

    To be honest, though, since I paid Sky Germany largely for F1, even a poor F1 TV Pro service seems cheap just to get away from RTL again. Timo Glock seems the only one with any sense there. But if only take the monthly option just in case I change my mind.

  30. I don’t know what Dieter was on about re. the Sky commentary being silent for advert breaks. Sky’s commentary on F1 TV definitly does include commentary during when Sky TV are on an ad break, the commentators just go silent for a few seconds when the break starts & finishes.

  31. I knew it would be underwhelming when they announced that F1TV Pro would launch at the beginning of the 2018 season with minimal development and testing time. Even after missing the first couple of races and starting with what amounted to a soft launch, I’m surprised at just how badly Liberty continues to miss the mark.

    Also, it makes me sad that Sky has dumbed down their coverage this season in an attempt to cater to ESPN viewers in the US.

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