Flawed F1 TV launch was way too early

The much-hyped F1 TV service made its first appearance in the Spanish Grand Prix, but all fans could do was endure a half-baked product that didn’t work – resulting in F1 refunding its users.

When F1 TV was announced for the 2018 season, there was genuine cause for excitement. It was long overdue that Formula 1 introduced its own OTT service, something other sports like NFL, or MotoGP, one of F1’s main competitors within the racing world, already did.

Finally, there was going to be a way to watch F1 sessions online, and for people in certain countries a way to enjoy ad-free, live broadcasting.

But F1 TV promised so much more beyond that – viewers would be able to switch to any driver’s onboard, and listen to their radio, effectively experiencing a race from the perspective of a single driver.

With a splitscreen option, one could watch two drivers battling at the same time, as well as receive information about laptimes and tyres. Press conferences, as well as pre- and post-race interviews, were also promised.

There was also the long-awaited introduction of an archive of previous F1 races, something all true F1 fans craved and have desperately searched for at one point or another in the past.

How much of that materialised when F1 TV was finally made available for last weekend’s Spanish GP? Barely anything.

Difficulties experienced

Watching a session live over the weekend was, simply, not feasible. Starting with FP1, the main stream was not functional, with users being greeted by a series of buffering and ‘initializing’ messages.

The interface offered no help for the user to fix the issue. More sophisticated streaming platforms allow you to change the quality of the stream or the size of the window to lessen the likelihood of errors. But in the F1 TV stream, there was no way of changing such things – it just kept adapting to the quality of internet connection.

While that was probably not the biggest issue of what seemed like a very much broken system, it just added to how unprepared the service felt.

FP2 seemed to represent improvements, but only for about 10-15 minutes before it was back to its FP1 shape. Qualifying was no better. For the race, a message was put out saying live streaming is not available.

Despite that, it was actually possible to watch the last few laps of the race, but that didn’t change the fact that not a single session was possible to follow in its entirety.

Onboards, if way too stuttery to enjoy, worked most of the time, but they were poorly implemented – at the same time, one could only listen one of the onboard’s audio, the TV commentary, or the team radio.

And all of these issues were widespread – social media was so filled with complaints and reports of problems, it’s likely not one person was able to enjoy the service.

The only real selling point at this point is the archive, but even that is an unfinished project. It offers three or four full races per season, with reviews belonging to the rest, from recent times, and the oldest one available is the 1997 Hungarian GP.

It’s a good starting point for a collection that’s gradually going to be completed, but not if everything else is so problematic.

A long way to go before Monaco

F1 TV is clearly at a very early phase of development. It was introduced in March between the two pre-season tests, and the first four Grand Prix of the season were used for closed beta testing.

Unfortunately, for Barcelona, it felt like an open beta – which would be fair enough, except that subscribers like me had to pay money to get access to it. 

Fortunately, the developers made sure we didn’t feel ripped off, as they offered a refund the equivalent of two weeks – the timeframe between the Spanish and the upcoming Monaco Grand Prix.

“With this refund, the Grand Prix this weekend is on us,” said their apology letter. That’s fair game, but with that, even they admit that F1 TV was launched too early.

There wasn’t really anything to gain from making it live for the Spanish GP, and it was quite damaging in some aspects, leaving a lot of previously excited fans disgruntled. Even if they have an operational live streaming service by Monaco, that would be only the bare minimum.

It still doesn’t have the splitscreens, it doesn’t offer any data on drivers or tyres, doesn’t show press conferences or interviews, the audio configuration of onboards needs to be fixed and the archive completed.

The live timing is only accessible on the main site, which means there is no way to follow the race with just one tab open.

F1 TV’s mission for Monaco has to be to make watching all sessions live possible. But the service that was promised back in March looks like it is still very far away unless there’s a drastic turnaround.

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