On a weekend when the long-term future of F1 continued to look unclear in several directions, the World Rally Championship showed itself capable of projecting compelling images when covering their opening round, the Monte Carlo Rally.
There is a similarity between the two sports now that rally coverage has gone completely behind a pay wall following the axing of evening reports through Britain’s Channel 5. For F1, the only live free-to-air F1 in the UK will be the British Grand Prix; the rest of the season on Channel 4 restricted to highlights, leaving fans with the choice of SKY or coverage via F1’s over-the-top (OTT) streaming service, F1 TV Pro.
Rallying has gone down this route with WRC Live. It may not be cheap but, on the evidence of last weekend, the service provided is superb; live special stages covered by helicam and cleverly selected ground shots conveying the unbelievable speed and commitment of the leading runners, interspersed with on-board images covering every angle from the driver’s feet at work to his view of the roller coaster road ahead. All of this is played out to a backdrop of the co-driver’s pace note delivery and more than enough split time graphics to keep the viewer fully informed about how the leading positions are playing out.
A significant final ingredient on the Monte Carlo Rally was the leading pair being separated by just 2.2 seconds after more than 300 kms of on-the-limit stuff in conditions ranging – sometimes within 100 metres – from dry tarmac to ice and snow. There were niggling complaints about some of the presentation but, overall, it was an enthralling example for F1 on how a complex division of motor sport can be seamlessly handled across such difficult and expansive terrain.
That may seem unfair when F1 has nothing like the inbuilt drama associated with a rally car being taken to the edge on a narrow road you’d think twice about tackling at modest speed in your family saloon.
The irony is that such a comparison actually highlights how F1’s on-board cameras have become so sophisticated that they make driving one of these nervous thoroughbreds seem easy and effortless. The picture today may be crystal clear and technically brilliant but there could be an argument in favour of that wonderful 98 seconds in 1989 as the roll-hoop camera recorded Senna’s lap of Suzuka in all its blurry fury (helped, it must be said, by Ayrton’s need to constantly go for the manual gearshift and control that McLaren one-handed for significant parts of the lap. Plus, of course, the Honda V10 sounding like a racing engine should. But let’s not go there...)
Modern technology is what it is, both for the F1 driver and the TV production crew recording his progress. Having relied on Sky’s comprehensive coverage, I can’t comment on F1 TV Pro but, judging by the flood of complaints last year, many fundamentals apparently need to be put right before demanding money for the privilege of watching not very much.
F1 says it’s work in progress, the comments have been taken on board and all will be put right. Good luck. The WRC has set the 2019 motor sport ball rolling – at a stunning speed.