For 2018, there will be big changes in regards to how you can get your Formula 1 fix. Sports Business Daily is reporting that coverage of Formula 1 will return to the ESPN family of networks for the first time since 1997 starting next season.
The agreement, which has not been announced as of yet, is a multi-year deal.
All on-track sessions will be televised. Race-wise, 16 races will air live on ESPN2. Three more will air on ESPN, while two will air live on ABC. In addition, the Grand Prix of Monaco will re-air on ABC. Qualifying and practice sessions will be broadcast as well and replayed.
While the article does not state where they would air, the likelihood of ESPN making use of its ESPN3 streaming platform is substantial for practice sessions.
It is unclear what ESPN will do with the broadcasts as far as personnel is concerned. The article indicates that ESPN will be using FOM’s World Feed, but does not indicate whether they’ll have their own commentary or not.
Previously, Formula 1 coverage aired on ESPN or ESPN 2 from 1984-1997. Over that time, ESPN-exclusive commentators such as Bob Varsha, Derek Daly and David Hobbs called races. They were on-site at races for a time. When on-site at races, their broadcast booth was rather cozy at times.
— Bob Varsha (@bobvarsha) May 9, 2015
ESPN also had John Bisignano on-site as a pit reporter, similar to Will Buxton’s current role for NBCSN. Eventually, the broadcasts were cut back so that the broadcasts were done fully from the United States with the booth commentators in a studio and no pit reporter.
The 1997 Grand Prix of Europe at Jerez was interesting for a number of reasons. There was a three-way tie in qualifying for the pole. Michael Schumacher was disqualified from the entire 1997 World Championship due to contact with Jacques Villeneuve at the Dry Sack Curve.
Mika Hakkinen claimed his first career victory for McLaren in a controversial finish. Later on, Pedro Pacheco, mayor of Jerez, “disrupted” the podium ceremony. That resulted in the track being banned for a time from hosting a Grand Prix. Ultimately, this is the most recent Formula 1 race to air on an ESPN network.
After ESPN lost Formula 1 rights following the 1997 season, the rights were awarded to Speedvision and FOX Sports Net in a split scenario for three years. Speedvision aired all the races live but didn’t have the reach of FOX Sports Net. FOX Sports Net would air three or four races live (typically the first and last races of the year, plus Canada and Brazil). The rest would air via tape delay at 10 a.m. or noon local time.
In 2001, Formula 1 moved to Speedvision only, but a couple of races a year would air via tape delay on ABC (prior to ESPN taking over ABC Sports). Other than a brief period around 2005 in which select races aired on CBS, the series was exclusive to Speedvision (later SPEED Channel, then SPEED and FOX Sports 1) until the end of 2013, when the current deal kicked in.
About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.
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