When quarantine hit and I found myself itching to watch race cars again, I made a decision: I bought a subscription F1 TV, the series’s bespoke streaming service that also boasts an archive of old races and feature shows. I was thinking, how could would it be to watch some high-quality races from the good ol’ days? And I’ll be honest: It’s a massively disappointing service—for now.
Chances are, if you live in North America or Europe, it’s super easy to watch F1 races on TV channels you already get in a slightly advanced cable package. If you don’t indulge in cable anymore, it’s just as easy to find someone streaming the race for free on Twitch, YouTube, Reddit, or other websites. It doesn’t make sense to pay money to stream something you’re either 1) already paying for, or 2) don’t have to pay anything for.
The big draw for me, though, was the race archive. Fans were promised an ever-growing archive of past F1 races available to stream any time (so long as you bought the Premium package). As someone who spent most of her high school career diving into the very depths of the internet just to watch a scrap of races from the early 1970s, F1 dusting off and digitizing never-before-seen races was huge.
That, though, is a process that takes time, and over a year into this F1 TV project, races only extend as far back as 1981. And even then, you’re only getting a handful of races from those older seasons. Which is frustrating. Yes, broadcasts of older racing events can be pretty rare since most television coverage was done via highlight reels without being aired live, but I just cannot believe that F1 has no coverage at all. Upload literally anything at all from the 1970s, and I will consume it with the passion of one thousand suns.
There must be interviews and race reels that are tucked away in the archives somewhere, just begging to be unearthed. Why not just provide fans with a multimedia extravaganza? I will literally spend hours on your website if only F1 TV were to throw us even the tiniest of bones.
These more contemporary events are ones I can already find on YouTube or Vimeo, and it’s not really an era of F1 racing that I’m keen on, anyway. If you have a hankering to watch the entire 2006 season from start to finish, then I won’t blame you. But I just don’t think it’s worth paying for.
And the live race coverage itself is really hit and miss sometimes. I was honestly pretty excited to watch the first event of the pandemic-rescheduled season from a comfy bed nest instead of trudging to the TV, but F1 TV was down. That’s not super surprising, considering that’s been a problem since the service debuted. But you’d think that, by this point, F1 would have made a priority out of equipping the stream to handle all that extra traffic.
The race itself airs alongside a sidebar that allows you to select a driver and watch from their in-car camera, which is cool... when those in-car cameras are working. Sometimes, they just aren’t available, leaving you to just watch the race like any other Plain Jane with ESPN, minus commercials.
There’s a feature that allows you to toggle between languages if you’re so inclined: English, French, Spanish, German, Dutch. I do not speak a foreign language, but it can be nice to listen to literally anything but the Sky Sports broadcast. And, if you get really sick of it all, there’s an option to just listen to ambient race car noises without any commentary at all. That right there is probably the best part of the whole deal. But other than that, it’s just not spectacular. Especially not for $10 a month.
Once older events start making their way into the archive, this subscription service is going to be something really special. For the people following F1 during the Bernie Ecclestone era, it’s still pretty mind-blowing that The Powers That Be are not just allowing its licensed content to appear online, but it’s the one willingly putting it there. It’s cool that they’re trying to create a wider appeal, and hell yeah, I’m going to walk around touting F1 TV as soon as I can watch François Cevert win the 1971 United States Grand Prix.
Until then, though, it might just be worth it to save your money.