Formula 1 has a rich history but has bizarrely been opposed to granting fans access to explore it. However, with their latest innovation, Liberty Media has liberated the archive.
F1 TV Pro has launched ahead of this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix. The platform is accessible to fans in 58 territories across the globe to reach a cumulative 1.12 billion people and will provide subscribers access to live streams of practice, qualifying and races.
In countries where existing television rights dictate exclusivity of coverage, F1 TV Pro is currently unavailable. That rules out F1 fans in the UK from purchasing the service, with Sky owning exclusive rights to F1 until 2025.
However, UK fans along with the rest of the world who are locked out of the Pro service are still able to subscribe to F1 TV Access. This service permits entry to what is already a rich archive at launch, including 72 past races from 1997 to 2017 which are uploaded in full. Highlights of other races have been lifted from the end-of-season review ‘documentary’ and are part of the service.
This is a revolution for F1 coverage. F1 TV Pro is a brilliant step in the right direction, opening up the category to a wider audience who are becoming less and less inclined to switch on a TV but more inclined to watch content on laptop, phone and tablet screens.
More interestingly, particularly for UK fans in the short term is the archive access. Watching past F1 races is a critical means of attracting new fans and burying the motorsport bug in what would previously have been a channel hopper.
Watching old races and understanding the relevance to today’s action helps to cement a core understanding of what is a very complex series. It also allows fans to engage in F1 content between race weekends to ensure that interest continues to develop.
When BBC owned broadcasting rights in the UK, the network uploaded five to 10-minute highlight reels of races past and present. These may have been lacking in detail but they provided a shop window for F1 to be showcased and all for free. When BBC lost broadcasting rights, these snippets disappeared albeit leaving the web pages which once housed them behind as a reminder of the treasure trove that used to be available.
Sky Sports F1, meanwhile, did a fantastic job of attempting to unlock the archive with its Classic F1 series. The library of races shown on the channel was impressive but has seemingly dwindled over time with only a handful of races now shown each week in the build-up to a grand prix weekend. Frustratingly, none of the previously showcased classic races can be found on demand, which seems like a missed opportunity.
With no on-demand service provided by Sky and simply the ghosts of highlights’ past on the BBC Sport pages, fans were left with no access to any historic F1 content.
F1 TV fills that huge void. Priced at £20 per year or £2.49 per month, it is unmistakably good value even at this early stage, with a modest cost that hopefully encourages newcomers to unlock the content and enjoy some of F1’s classic moments from recent years.
Excuse me while I head off to watch the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix.
What a time be an F1 fan.