RaceFans Exclusive: Sean Bratches interview

Bratches exclusive: Why Liberty is “struggling to keep up with our vision” for F1


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Sean Bratches, Formula 1’s commercial managing director, freely admits to not being a hardcore petrolhead. In fact, he almost makes a virtue of the ability to take a helicopter of the view of the sport without clouds of passion hindering his vision.

He is very much a marketing man, one steeped in entertainment marketing, and clearly believes F1 lacked a cohesive marketing strategy under its previous caretakers. In an exclusive interview with RaceFans two years on from Liberty Media’s takeover of the sport, Bratches tells Dieter Rencken how the reality is measuring up with their vision.

The Italian Grand Prix marked exactly two years since Liberty Media’s takeover of F1 became known, with the subsequent race in Singapore marking the first formal appearance of CEO-elect Chase Carey on the F1 grid. At that stage Bratches was not on the scene, but was clearly on Carey’s radar, having worked with him in various capacities over the years. Bratches was confirmed in the role the following January.

So it was entirely fitting that we should sit down at Monza to survey Liberty’s progress so far. Given his marketing background, it seems logical to structure the interview around the Five Ps of marketing: Promotion, people, product, place and price.

Bratches is highly visible at races he attends, so we had already greeted each other during the weekend, so I move straight in to question time: How has Liberty done so far from a promotional perspective?

Despite being in F1 for a little under two years, he well-known for his use of Sean-speak, and doesn’t disappoint: “I look at this as a journey and not a destination. We were starting from a place where there was much opportunity. Liberty acquired Formula 1 for three primary reasons: First, [it’s a] global brand, with over 500 million fans.

“Second, in an era where technology is disintermediating the way consumers ingest content, the thesis is that sports is the last bastion of content that on a predictable basis can aggregate large audiences to be monetised.

“And the third is the belief that it was an undermanaged asset. While Bernie managed this thing famously as an individual, there are no other models in the modern world where a global sport, even a regional sport, is managed by an individual.

“They are managed by an organisation that underpins many of the business lines that propel companies. And so, from a promotional standpoint, I think we are in the process of repositioning this from a motorsport brand to a media and entertainment brand. Or a motorsport company to a media and entertainment brand.

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“We’ve done a body of research on a global basis that is underpinning the direction that we’ve had in that. We still have limited bandwidth. We don’t have the resources – both human or economic – at this point in time to put our shoulder behind our full vision.

Sean Bratches, Monaco, 2018
Not a petrolhead, but he’s learning
“I think that one of the challenges that we’re having as an entity is struggling to keep up with our vision, and prioritise where we deploy people, where we deploy economic resources and our time. As we manage through that, I think we’re putting the fan in the middle of every conversation that we’re having. We’re making a tonne of progress in what we’re doing.”

See what I mean about Sean-speak? But he’s in full flow, so I don’t interrupt…

“We’re re-launching a new non-live app, we’ve done a ‘Daily Fantasy’ platform with Play-on; we’ve launched an Esports series, we’ve launched the first marketing campaign in the 68-year-old history of Formula 1. If you’ve gone down into the transportation hubs of Milan, they’re adorned with Formula 1 iconography.

We did a car run down every night at 9, 10, 11; there’s a laser light show and party going on. We had about 80,000 fans that were there. Ferrari, Sauber came through. I just had a meeting where we outlined what our vision is for our fan festivals for 2019.”

Bratches touches on F1’s “Engineered Insanity” campaigns as proof of further marketing activity before concluding: “I think from a promotional standpoint there’s a lot of work that’s been done, there’s a lot of work to be done, but television ratings are up, attendance is up, digital audiences are up, engagement’s up, the metric we’re looking at in terms of where we’re going to drive the business is starting to move in the right direction.”

What sort of numbers is he, though, saying are ‘up’?

“When you look at qualifying and the grand prix, I think it’s up nine per cent to date over last year, which was up. I don’t know what the roll-up is, but we had Russia ticket sales are 4 X (very American that, rather than the time-consuming ‘times’) to date what they were last year; Japan is 50% up…”

I suggest we’re talking off low bases, though.

“We think there is an opportunity to grow. In terms of how the attendance is, I guess you can bifurcate [Sean-speak for split] it as we look at it. Race promotion fees, which really underpin the economics are one aspect, I would say the race promotion part of Formula 1, and then attendance is very important, but it’s more important for the promoter because they’re selling tickets.”

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Milan, 2018
More F1 fan festivals are planned
And, of course, the promoter pays Liberty what are usually eye-watering fees…

Bratches does not flinch at that comment; indeed, makes clear that in future fees could be even higher: “So the critical aspect as we go into renewal cycles, that we can go and tell a strong story about the value that we’re provisioning to the sport that’s going to underpin the promoter’s business, because we can extract more revenue because we’re providing more value.

“So our objective here is to insert more value into the system, that accrues to us directly and indirectly, but ultimately elevates Formula 1’s business, and allows Liberty to continue to invest more into the sport.”

Does that mean F1 will eventually hit 25 races per year? “That’s a high bar,” says Bratches. “I guess one of the benefits that we enjoy here is that there are more locations that want to host a grand prix than we can possibly ever entertain.”

All good and logical, this virtuous circle, but what sort of timeframe are we talking?

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“One of the things we’ve done is, we’ve created a strategic plan for Formula 1. It’s a five-year plan. We do have a 10-year plan, but I think it’s very difficult in any business to with any degree of accuracy predict 10 years. But from a five year standpoint we do have projected metrics for all the businesses that are incumbent, and then the businesses which are myriad that have not been exploited under the auspices of Formula 1.”

Any clues to the five-year numbers?

“Well, we’re a public company and I would be derelict in my responsibilities if I mentioned that…”

Indications, maybe? We banter about the direction of travel, but it’s clear Bratches won’t divulge any numbers for fear of incurring the wrath of NASDAQ. Hence we move onto the product Liberty is selling: the world’s fastest, highest- tech sport.

“We’re encouraged by the future of this sport, both from an on-track standpoint and also from a business standpoint.,” he says. “Every day is a school day and we all learn, and one of the things I’ve learned is that Formula 1 fans, as you said, they’re about speed, speed, speed…

Start, Spa-Francorchamps, 2018
Improving F1’s sometimes processional races is a key goal
“One of the things that we’ve found in this global research study we did was that fans’ expectation of racing, of Formula 1, is that these cars go really fast. But what they’re really interested in is racing. And there’s a difference between speed and racing. They want wheel-to-wheel, livery-to-livery racing. And we’ve got one of the greatest architects of racing in the world as my co-pilot in Ross Brawn here, who’s working on that aspect of the business.”

I venture that fans are also into hi-tech, so how is F1 TV Pro, the Over-The-Top streaming service performing? From my own experience and checking with friends and associates in the limited number of countries where it is available, that there are perceptions that F1 TV Pro is a beta product being sold at premium pricing.

Credit where due: Bratches explains the technologies deployed, and, believe me, these are highly complex, oft diverse systems that are reliant upon instantaneous integration with interfaces across the globe to provide a seamless viewer experience. It is all highly impressive, but the burning question on fans’ lips is: “Will it improve soon?”

“We’re looking at this first year to build a platform, candidly to get the platform correct across multiple devices. It’s probably the most comprehensive, complex OTT service of any sports league in the world. So we are going to continue to add elements to it. We are going to materially increase the number of feeds next year, the number of languages.

“A year ago, when I asked what do our contracts permit from a television standpoint, and before last year’s season, we could not have launched Formula 1 Television in one market around the world contractually. And now we’re in 51 markets. So we’ve negotiated agreements that have come out of contract, or we’ve abrogated incumbent agreements to permit the facilitation of the product.

“So it’s iterative, it’s going to get better, and I think it will be better in three weeks than it is today and that process will continue. But you shouldn’t expect a point in time where we flick a switch in Biggin Hill and it just morphs overnight. It’s going to be an iterative process and I think we’re doing a better job serving the fans today than we did last year at this point in time.”

So, the $101m question: How many subscribers does F1 TV Pro have?

“That’s confidential.”

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Mmm – NASDAQ? I try another tack: Netflix is also a public company and they’ve got no trouble telling the world they’ve got 101 million subscribers…

“That’s true, but that’s their business, and at some point in time we may decide to reveal these numbers, but it’s our decision not to and we’ll manage through it.”

Okay, but are the numbers on target?

“We’re tracking quite nicely,” nods. “We’re very encouraged, not only from a subscriber standpoint but also from a product standpoint, notwithstanding your friends!”

Chase Carey, Susumu Yamashita, Monza, 2018
The 2019 F1 calendar includes a new deal for Suzuka
So, to price – in this case, it’s share price I’m looking at: Is Liberty comfortable with its performance, notwithstanding some peaks and troughs?

“The marketplace is mercurial on a global basis,” he acknowledges, “and I think it’s indicative of the performance of many stocks in this global economy. The stock price is up. I think also that Formula 1 was such a neglected platform for so many years in terms of investment.

“We are in an investment stage to unleash what we think is extraordinary potential for not only our shareholders, but for all the constituents of the Formula 1 community, including the fans.”

Bratches tots up various investment areas: new offices, research and marketing teams, technology. “It’s kind of an anathema to what anyone would logically think or believe.

“In many respects it’s like trying to go from the [US mail order and retail giant, now in decline] Sears and Roebuck catalogue to the internet in light speed. There’s some investment process that goes through that. But we’re encouraged about the future,” he says.

Any idea of the numbers involved? After all, public companies usually trumpet their investments…

“Right, but what they’ll do is say that on an earnings call, or something that goes out to all investors at the same time. We’re investing in human capital, in real estate to house that, we’re investing in research, we’re investing in technology, we’re spending a lot of time in the development of businesses.

Sean Bratches, Circuit of the Americas, 2017
Liberty Media has brought an American touch to F1
“It’s not a binary thing, you’re not going to wake up one morning and decide you’re going to have a global licencing apparel strategy in place. These things take time. The unfortunate thing was when we arrived there was really nothing in the pipe per se.”

So to the bottom line: the reaction of the fans, the people who make up the fifth P How are they reacting to all this?

“Incredibly encouraged. We had this car run, and 80,000 fans turned up on Wednesday in downtown Milan. I walked through the fan festivals; I’m the least known of the triumvirate and people are coming up to me and thanking me for what we’re doing for the sport. So we’re very encouraged about our progress to date.

“The fan reaction has been terrific. We’ve launched a number of initiatives to engage with fans and get their feedback. We have something called F1 Fan Voice, where we talk to fans, ask them questions, ask them their opinions. It’s a big number. So not only are fans responding well, we’re actually engaging with fans and asking their opinion about what we’re doing, how we’re doing, what we should be doing and it’s very constructive feedback.”

If that tallies with your experience of Liberty Media’s tenure in charge of F1, whether at the track or through the race broadcasts, you can let us know in the comments.

Follow Dieter on Twitter: @RacingLines

F1 TV Pro: Still amateur viewing?

We last took a look at F1 TV Pro in June and concluded it was “amateur viewing – for now”. Has it improved since then? @Josh5Holland tested it during the Belgian and Italian Grands Prix:

Unlike Dieter’s experience three months ago, during live sessions I found very few problems. The transition between different feeds was smooth with minimal loading time in between.

There is periodic lag in the stream but it lasts no longer than two to three seconds. One noticeable fault was that on some tracks the signal repeatedly cut out at the same point on every lap, such as La Source at Spa, which became frustrating after a while.

Race replays still have a few problems that disrupt from the overall user experience. The replays are available between thirty minutes to an hour after the session. Sometimes it took several attempts to get the channel to load, though once the feed began it usually played smoothly with limited buffering.

The mobile app introduced prior to the Italian Grand Prix gives users the ability to view two driver onboards side by side with sector times displayed to the right. The mobile app offers more seamless replay footage until you try to watch two onboards at once. The app struggles to match the time of the feeds and you end up watching two different points of the race most of the time.

It’s clear FOM have made some progress with F1 TV but fixes are still needed for some of its basic functionality and its new features don’t work flawlessly either.


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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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  • 54 comments on “Bratches exclusive: Why Liberty is “struggling to keep up with our vision” for F1”

    1. Wow.
      It seems that Sean-speak is the more dense version of Ron-speak.

      1. A noisy barrel is an empty barrel.

      2. “Second, in an era where technology is disintermediating the way consumers ingest content, the thesis is that sports is the last bastion of content that on a predictable basis can aggregate large audiences to be monetised.”

        For me, this one makes ron-speak look like children’s pictionary!

        1. I was going to highlight that exact sentence. What nonsense.

          1. He lost my interest completely at the very point.

            1. He lost my interest with: ““I look at this as a journey and not a destination.”

      3. @nickwyatt:

        Sean-speak is the more dense version of Ron-speak

        Makes sense since it appears Sean is much denser than Ron as well.

        1. Lol @jimmi-cynic-cynic. A nice one-liner that’s in perfect contrast to the effusiveness of Mr Bratches’ effluent.

    2. ”“Every day is a school day and we all learn, and one of the things I’ve learned is that Formula 1 fans, as you said, they’re about speed, speed, speed…”

      Is he enlightened or just utterly blind to the audience like me ? People on racefans are all about speed ?

      1. Well, he does go on form that point to mention that really, speed is seen as a must but what people are looking for is having cars racing Kole

    3. Just wondering, what’s there to hide concerning the number of subscribers? That type of info isn’t normally confidential, i.e., off-limits to tell in public. I’ve never heard or read about any other occasions in which someone would’ve attempted to avoid giving out that type of info, LOL. Usually, the numbers concerning that aspect (whether it’s for a TV channel, YT-channel, online service, etc.) are open information.

      1. The point is that there are things you are not allowed to tell only a specific group of people when those are numbers that can be critical to stock markets @jerejj (to avoid a @dieterrencken or Liberty staff like Bratches himself etc buy stock to profit when the the news gets out when they can expect stocks to rise on positive news etc).

        So when they give an exclusive interview that will be published at a later date, they have to be carefull that potentially important information is immediately shared with everyone interested or be at risk of violating the rules at the stock market (and laws)

        1. @bascb OK, that explains it. I get it better now. Concerning most of the cases in which someone attempts to avoid telling something in public and or is careful with his/her words, I can quite easily figure it out straightway why and understand it, but not on a few rare-ish occasions.

      2. Similar to what BasCB mentioned above, I think digital subscribers might be bit different than TV ratings. If you’ve ever seen Silicon Valley’s “Daily Active Users” episode, you’ll see what I mean. It’s a volatile number. Both in its figure but also in its significance to shareholders.

        1. @rpiian No, I haven’t, but might do so since you brought up to see whether by watching that episode I’d figure out your point or not.

          1. @jerejj The show’s hilarious, I promise you won’t regret it!

            I was just making the comparison, what with this digital age and all.

      3. @jerejj really not. Especially if you are in the process of building a new service and that the reach is still below the expectations. I work for a public television and we’re launching similar streaming services but still those numbers are kept under the hood. Once (and if) it’s a success it will be used for marketing.
        Furhtermore, those numbers are far below the numbers reached on TV (10x or even 100x factor). It can be interpreted as a failure and I guess it’s the same for F1 that has an aging audience like ours. Despite that, establishing a good quality of service takes years and changing customers habits too. It is necessary to continue the efforts even with a relatively small reach.

      4. Ronald McDonald
        13th September 2018, 6:48

        Remember now that this guy’s boss, Chase Carey, was Rupert Murdoch’s right hand man and helped Murdoch launch Fox News. So fiddling with facts and hiding information probably comes with the territory. What I fear is that we end up with an organization that’ll be run like the current White House. YIKES!!!

    4. We don’t have the resources – both human or economic – at this point in time to put our shoulder behind our full vision.

      Says the guy from a company who bought F1 for 6bn Euros!

      1. they bought the debt-ridden. they actually paid about $400M cash

    5. Those eyebrows are mighty!

      1. The sideburns aren’t too shabby either.

      2. Look who’s talking 😁 @greg-c

        1. My eyebrows are quite tame compared to Bratches, but my teeth! @phylyp

    6. I detest people who speak like this.

      1. WHOOPS – I don’t mean you Dieter – lol – you keep on doing what you’re doing Sir ;)

    7. Can’t stand this guy or the other 2 stooges. They have failed and set for more failures. Liars, hypocrites.

    8. This bit really interests me –

      “We’re re-launching a new non-live app, we’ve done a ‘Daily Fantasy’ platform with Play-on; we’ve launched an Esports series, we’ve launched the first marketing campaign in the 68-year-old history of Formula 1. If you’ve gone down into the transportation hubs of Milan, they’re adorned with Formula 1 iconography.”

      -F1TV archive sounds like a go – and tbh I am completely happy to pay the pittance I have to throw at them anyway for the dysfunctional live timing for it because the archive, even in the UK, is absolutely brilliant (honestly, fellow Brits, there’s shedloads of it)
      -Not anyone’s favourite thing but gambling tie-ins are a staple of sport and fair play on the ‘Daily Fantasy’ thing
      -Esports is a genuine move forward and a way to have non-rights-restricted broadcastable racing

      …and then there’s ‘turning up in Milan and putting up some posters.’ I get that they’re trying to make the events bigger and more integrated, which is possible at Monza or, say, Mexico but having a parade through the centre of Milton Keynes would not have quite the same effect. I find it interesting they’ve got this ‘F1 festival’ idea after Ross Brawn praised FE’s events as ‘street parties.‘ (in the process of damning the racing, obviously but it’s something that’s on Liberty’s minds, maybe)

      Must admit to being horrified at the concept any more fees could be extracted from the Grand Prix events. That’d be the end for non-state-supported tracks, surely?

    9. The thing that concerns me a bit is how they talk about doing research & survey’s to get fans opinions because the one I got from them was very leading & felt like they were done to get the answers they wanted rather than the answer’s i’d have actually liked to give.

      For example if you look at the points system, The survey I got gave options only to increase how many cars scored points. I’m perfectly happy with it staying as the top 10 yet I had no way to say that as ‘stay the same’ wasn’t an option.

      Same with all the questions about the racing, Everything was aimed at getting an answer that I wanted a lot more overtaking when I in fact don’t. I’m far more interested in the quality of the racing than just seeing more overtaking.

      I’ve done the surveys put forward by the FIA, GPDA & Autosport before & felt I was able to put across my views because questions were clear & where multiple choice answers were used I always felt they were done in a way that let me get my views across. The one’s i’ve seen from Liberty this year have been the opposite to the point where I feel like there intentionally trying structure them to get the answers they want to then use to change things with the excuse ‘It’s because you wanted it’.

      I was optimistic when Liberty took over, However i’m starting to get discouraged about the direction they seem to want to take it to the point where for the first time ever i’m beginning to wonder if F1 is for me anymore as it almost feels like the future is been catered towards a different audience.

      1. Here’s a screengrab of the points question:

        To add there was also a line of questions about Sprint races & Reverse grids where I could vote for reverse grids for a sprint race been ‘less appealing’ among other things but couldn’t say that I didn’t like the idea of a sprint race. The whole line of questions came from the point of view that I liked the idea of a sprint race & was just asking if I felt points should be awarded etc…


        I feel like I should have been given a question about liking/disliking a sprint race where disliking locked off these sort of questions, Or at least provide an option for these questions where I can be very clear in not wanting a sprint race.

        1. +1 many times the available options are leading and misleading…for one, I thought so about the GPDA surveys that were done few years ago as well.

        2. When Liberty is in Chapter 11, wonder if they’ll state to the administrator that: “It’s not our fault – we gave them exactly what we told them they could ask for.”

          Those ‘polls’ are so incredibly pathetic, that only a poll could determine the extent.

          Select from:

          A) Liberty F1 fan polls are incredibly pathetic

          B) Liberty F1 fan polls are incredibly pathetic

      2. @stefmeister I didn’t know that. That’s seriously depressing!

      3. Yes, I’ve also felt that the surveys tend to be leading and are often missing questions that amount to “do you even like this idea at all”. The Sprint Race/Reverse Grid and Points surveys were especially bad about that.

        They often have write-in boxes, but I must wonder whether that information is actually given as much weight as the multiple choice answers or even actually read through individually.

    10. Impressive, but ultimately irrelevant.The whole house of cards is build off the base that is the quality of the product, that is the racing.

      That they’re referring to it as a media and entertainment brand as particularly opposed to a motorsport company doesn’t give me much hope. Sounds to me like they’re heading in the direction of maintaining the status quo of essentially “scripted” winners where the top teams remain the top teams, as long as there’s story-lines and interest being generated.

      It just doesn’t speak to me as if they realise the importance of having not just the racing but the competition at its core as a solid product that drives the rest forward. Hopefully though, as he says, this is his job in the organisation, to push and focus on this aspect of the brand so it makes sense that this is his perspective.

      I’d be much more interested in hearing how Ross Brawn feels things are progressing and if or why he thinks they’re failing to keep up on that front.

      1. That they’re referring to it as a media and entertainment brand as particularly opposed to a motorsport company doesn’t give me much hope.

        That’s exactly what I took from him as well, @skipgamer. Hopefully what he means is maximizing the marketability of F1, rather than turning it into some dreadful spectacle like WWE or similar.

      2. @skipgamer Yeah I think you answered your own question when you point out Bratches is the marketing man. You are right that for the answers as to closer racing amongst cars and a closer grid altogether, those questions need to go to Brawn, and have. He has spoken eloquently on the topic so far and I’m sure will keep us in the loop with progress.

      3. @skipgamer that’s the thing that has me concerned too.
        I still can’t help but get the feeling that they’re trying to develop a “sports media/broadcast” cookie cutter service that they’ll want to on sell to a range of sports and ultimately drop F1 from its range as it withers and dies.

        Trying to leverage a framework to become the “Netflix of Sport” doesn’t really lend itself to F1 being developed as a series. It will be interesting to see whether Ross Sticks around or whether they’ll drop him out of the group once their plans start to develop.

        Have to give Dieter props though for being able to absorb that much Sean Speak and not run from the room with bleeding ears.

    11. Did Sean have to ask his wife for permission before talking to you?

    12. Gosh he’s a good talker.

    13. Wow, that man had quite the vocabulary!

      Great article and further encouraging for us fans.

      Dieter, you might need to edit the note to self still present: “(link to news story)”

    14. A lot of talk not much substance, but seeing what Liberty have done and is proposing for the future so far. They may be bringing the P. T. Barnum style of promotion to F1, getting bums on seats but at the cost of the essence of the sport.

    15. “get the platform correct across multiple devices”

      Wake me up when can connect from the UK…

      1. @falken Enjoy your seven-year snooze, then…

    16. I think it’s wrong from any point of view to say that fans want speed. I think they want action and drama along with speed. It’s not only speed. It could be the fastest thing on earth and still be boring as hell. A lot of people I know who are not die hard fans stopped watching because it got bland. Personalities raise up the game, even if they could be going half a second slower.

    17. Many good comments here, but surely the key issue to me is being ignored: I want from 10 to 15 teams on the grid and financially able to complete a season without collapsing, and at least 60% of the car/driver combinations quite able to score a podium occasionally. This would surely attract more fans, not only to the races, but also the Liberty TV offerings? Core to this is I think more shared and inexpensive components, where they can’t be seen. Gearboxes, MGU H, K etc, just have the ICU unique to each team ( or a small group of teams). I watch Indycar races, and marvel at how they have a very fast, exciting series, where even rookies or small teams can score podiums. And a team like Carlin can join in and actually have good results in the first year!

    18. oh god, some of his words are scary…

    19. I want to be positive, but hearing crap like this makes me think they have no clue. Potentially even higher fees for race promoters? So far, they’re just rearranging deck chairs. 2021 will come and go without any significant fixes, won’t it. How long before Ross Brawn (who’s showing signs of frustration) just throws his arms up and quits?

    20. YellowSubmarine
      13th September 2018, 2:54

      Typical talking-head corporate-person gobbledygook.
      These are the people running F1?
      No wonder.

    21. Those novelty sideburns always make me chuckle. His ‘management-speak’ is legendary. He can talk for an hour and say absolutely nothing.

    22. Bernie having the last laugh.

    23. Sorry Dieter, I had to give up on this article half way through – what a load of utter tripe. Not surprised that Engineered Insanity came from the team led by this goober.

    24. Thomas Beccerich
      13th September 2018, 10:48

      “Words empty as the wind are best left unsaid.”

    25. Forget all that double/triple/quad speak.

      Every F1 TV Pro live and replay stream has maddening commentator drop outs for several seconds at a time. These occur dozens of times in every race. Channel4 doesn’t have that problem. Now TV doesn’t have that problem.

    Comments are closed.