Like most other Formula 1 fans, I have been spending part of this winter seriously considering whether it’s worth continuing watching every race live. With half of the races now being exclusively on Sky, for the first time in my life I need to seriously ask myself the question: I love F1, but enough to pay for it?
Early on, I decided that I would only consider buying the Sky Sports F1 channel if it would also broadcast GP2 and other support races. It is now known that the channel will broadcast GP2, GP3 and — surprisingly — IndyCar.
So it was time to crunch the numbers.
Buying the channel on Virgin Media
I am currently a Virgin Media customer. I have been ever since I moved into my current flat, in late November 2010. When I signed up, the contract was for a minimum of 18 months. This means that, no matter what, I can’t leave Virgin Media until June. By this time, six of this season’s races will already have taken place.
Thankfully, Virgin Media will be carrying Sky Sports F1. But there are a number of downsides. One is that the channel will not be broadcast in HD. But more importantly, the cost is downright prohibitive.
The only way to buy Sky Sports F1 is to buy the entire Sky Sports package. I need to buy five expensive channels just to watch one. There will probably be nothing on the other four channels that will interest me, particularly since IndyCar will now be broadcast on Sky Sports F1.
The cost of the Sky Sports package on Virgin Media is a ball-twisting £22.50 per month on top of whatever you are already paying. I already pay £38.90 per month to use Virgin Media.
There are other costs to add. There is the anticipated £1 per month hike in broadband fees. Then there is the cost of having a TiVo box. This will be necessary to make full use of the BBC’s red button options next year. The cost of having this box installed is £50 (in my calculation, I have spread this cost over 18 months). Then you must pay a further £3 per month for the privilege of using the damn thing.
All-in-all, the monthly cost of using Virgin Media would rise to £68.18 per month. This is just far too much.
When you consider that Sky Sports F1 will not be broadcast in HD on Virgin Media, therefore it would be better to watch the BBC’s ten live races. Essentially I would be paying over £20 per Sky-only race, and it won’t be in HD either. It is not even worth considering.
So it has been decided. Until at least the Canadian Grand Prix, I will have to rely on the BBC’s output alone. I will miss three live races.
Moving to Sky
When June comes, I will be able to move to Sky. I have crunched the numbers for this too. Thankfully, these numbers are significantly more promising. However, I am also wary as I have been told that Sky’s offers change quite frequently. But when I checked it out a few weeks ago, here is how the figures stacked up.
Sky Sports F1 HD is available to all Sky customers that buy the HD pack. So there is no need to buy the Sports pack. A TV package that includes Eurosport (a must, so that I can watch other motorsport events) can be bought for £25 per month. Add HD for £10.25 per month. Telephone line rental is £12.25, and you can get unlimited broadband for £7.50. An M&S voucher is also offered (again, I have spread this benefit over 18 months).
This comes to a grand total of £52.78 per month. This is an additional £13.88 per month on top of what I currently pay for Virgin Media. It’s still not ideal, but it is much more within reach.
In 2002, the F1 Digital+ venture cost £12 per race. Considering that Sky Sports F1 HD will probably offer even more than F1 Digital+ did, this actually seems like a bargain in comparison.
A side benefit is that I would also have access to channels that I currently do not on Virgin Media (such as Motors TV).
I have not yet decided if I will move to Sky in June. A lot of that depends on how I feel after the first six races.
What will I do in the meantime?
I have not yet decided if I will attempt to consume the races live. It seems to me sensible to wait for the BBC’s highlights of the Australian and Malaysian grands prix. Due to the time difference, the highlights will probably be broadcast at 2pm. So with a bit of care, it wouldn’t be too difficult to avoid spoilers. Of the first six races, the most tricky to avoid would be the Bahrain Grand Prix. But whether this race will even go ahead is under debate.
Of course, one possibility would be to listen to the excellent coverage on BBC Radio 5 Live, which will still be broadcasting all of the races live. It will be interesting to see how this year pans out for 5 Live’s F1 coverage. Their entire on-air team has been poached by Sky, so it will certainly be different.
However, 5 Live’s producer Jason Swales remains in place and is bound to do his usual great job. Commentary duties will be shared between James Allen and Jonathan Legard, two experienced commentators that know their stuff when it comes to F1.
It’s definitely a viable alternative. But whether it’s worth getting up at silly o’clock to listen to an early morning race without pictures is another matter. I will ponder it between now and Australia.