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Was Mercedes' Television Coverage Intentionally Cut at the Bahrain Grand Prix?

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistApril 26, 2015

Lewis Hamilton leads Nico Rosberg at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton leads Nico Rosberg at the Bahrain Grand Prix.Hassan Ammar/Associated Press

At last weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix, Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton cruised to his third victory in four races this season. Meanwhile, his team-mate, Nico Rosberg, spent the evening battling the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.

After the race, one of the talking points was that the television coverage seemed to miss some of the key moments and, in particular, that the Mercedes cars did not get much screen time.

"Inside the press room," wrote ESPN F1's Kate Walker, "the director's decision to avoid broadcasting footage of the Mercedes pair unless it was unavoidable to do so for the narrative of the race was so apparent that we took to shouting out every time a Silver Arrow appeared on-screen."

Meanwhile, longtime Formula One journalist Joe Saward wrote on his blog that "it is pretty hard to avoid showing the leader of a motor race, particularly if there is a fight going on at the front, but it was very definitely what some people thought as we watched Saubers when the battle at the front was tense and interesting."

The implication is either that Mercedes have been too dominant recently (they have won 19 of 23 races since the beginning of 2014) or that the team did something to anger F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone and therefore had their TV time cut.

A cameraman films a Bahrain Grand Prix press conference.
A cameraman films a Bahrain Grand Prix press conference.Hassan Ammar/Associated Press

Either theory is plausible: Few fans want to watch the same car touring around unchallenged each week, while Ecclestone's influence over all things F1 certainly encompasses the television broadcast, which is produced in-house by Formula One Management.

But despite plausible motives, is the premise actually true? Did Mercedes have less screen time in Bahrain than at previous races?

To answer that question, I grabbed my stopwatch and rewatched the last three grands prix—Malaysia. China and Bahrain—timing when a Mercedes car was featured on-screen. Before you see the (admittedly unscientific) results, here are a few notes.

The screen time was counted from the time the lights went out to start the race until the winner crossed the finish line on the final lap. Any time a Mercedes was featured on-screen, even in wide-angle shots, it counted as screen time—if it happened to be in the background while another car was being shown, it was not counted. Finally, shots of the Mercedes pit wall and garage also counted as screen time for the team.

Here are the results:

Mercedes On-Screen Time
Malaysian GPChinese GPBahrain GP
Amount of time on-screen20:2910:2722:08
Percentage of race20.3%10.5%23.3%
FOM world feed television broadcast

If there was any race where Mercedes were having their TV coverage limited, it was the Chinese Grand Prix, not Bahrain. In Shanghai, viewers saw the Silver Arrows for 10 minutes, 27 seconds, or about 10 percent of the race.

In contrast, at the Bahrain race, the Mercs were featured for nearly a quarter of the grand prix.

In Malaysia, Mercedes' first loss since Belgium last August, they featured in more than 20 percent of the broadcast. For comparative purposes, Ferraris were on-screen for just under 30 percent of the race, with Vettel taking the victory.

So what is going on?

It is clear that Mercedes' screen time was not cut in Bahrain—at least not relative to the two preceding races.

In China, though, Mercedes might have a legitimate complaint. Despite Hamilton leading the entire race, their cars were featured on the broadcast for about 10 minutes (and more than two minutes of that came once the safety car was called out and there was nothing to show but Hamilton taking the chequered flag).

Hamilton and Rsoberg follow the safety car in China.
Hamilton and Rsoberg follow the safety car in China.Andy Wong/Associated Press

Compare that with Sauber, which received almost five minutes of coverage just from Lap 41 to Lap 44 while Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson were battling Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo, respectively, in the midfield.

Rather than attribute the Chinese coverage to a sinister motive, though, it seems there was just less exciting Merc-related action to show in Shanghai. In Bahrain, as mentioned, Rosberg spent a lot of the race fighting the Ferraris, while in Malaysia, Hamilton and Rosberg chased Vettel for most of the afternoon.

At the Chinese Grand Prix, the Mercs were relatively unchallenged on their way to a one-two finish.

Still, this storyline bears monitoring as the season progresses, particularly if the Mercs keep up their dominance. At this time, though, it is too early to say that their television coverage is being purposefully cut—and it certainly did not happen in Bahrain.

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