F1 needs an exciting year after Red Bull swept the board in 2013 – and if you’ve been following the pre-season tests then 2014 could be delightfully unpredictable.
Most teams have their fingers crossed that their radically changed engines and power systems will even finish the first few races. You won’t want to miss them, but it’s become an expensive sport to follow.
The Mercedes-powered teams look fast and reliable (good news for British drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button), Ferrari power looks thirsty up against a small fuel allowance, and the Renault-engined cars are least-prepared of all.
There are new tracks to look forward to: the Russian Grand Prix on a street circuit in Sochi and the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring, but we bid ‘annyeong’ to the boring Korean GP.
Admittedly, new aerodynamic rules have given us F1’s fugliest cars so far, and the 1.6-litre turbocharged V6 engines sound like a fart in a tin can.
There aren’t too many new drivers this year, but it feels like almost everyone is driving for a new team in 2014, which will only add to the fun.
The big question for British motor racing fans is whether to pony up more than £500 for complete coverage on Sky Sports F1 or settle for half the season on the BBC.
Or do you? We’ve done the sums and found out an alternative that could get you every race for under £100 a year. Read on to find out how.
BBC: half a season of free F1
Once again, Suzi Perry leads the BBC’s TV coverage alongside chief analyst Eddie Jordan, with David Coulthard and Ben Edwards in the commentary box, and Lee McKenzie and Tom Clarkson in the pits.
The BBC will show nine live races and qualifying sessions in 2014: Malaysia (March 16), Spain (May 11), Canada (June 8), Great Britain (July 6), Belgium (August 24), Italy (September 7), Japan (October 5), Russia (October 12) and Abu Dhabi (November 23).
The BBC will also have live radio coverage of every Grand Prix, practice and qualifying session on Radio 5 Live or 5 Live Sports Extra, with commentary from James Allen and Allan McNish.
Interactive TV options include four alternative screens – pit lane camera, driver tracker and timing data – plus the option of Radio 5 Live commentary instead of Coulthard and Edwards.
It’s a thin selection from 19 races, but with the licence fee under pressure like never before it’s not bad for a deal which secures free F1 on British TV until 2018.
Sky Sports F1: the complete package with Sky, Virgin or TalkTalk
There’s no doubt that Sky is the only choice for F1 completists, with coverage of every practice, qualifying and race session, plus The F1 Show and extra interviews and features such as daily coverage of the pre-season tests in Jerez and Bahrain.
The 2014 season starts in earnest at 1am on Friday, March 14, with first practice from the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
Sleep-loving fans might not be tuning in live until April 4, when the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend begins at 11:45am UK time, while both qualifying and the race are floodlit evening events starting at 4pm on British TV.
The Sky Sports F1 team is unchanged: Martin Brundle and David Croft are in the commentary box, while pundits Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill are anchored by Simon Lazenby or Natalie Pinkham, with in-depth pit reporting from fan favourite Ted Kravitz.
Red button multiscreen coverage is undiminished, with an alternative race stream, driver cams, live highlights, pit cams, driver tracker and timing screens.
There’s also the Sky Sports for iPad companion app, with an F1 zone that includes live multi-stream coverage, instant highlights and replays, interviews and timing screens. It’s free for Sky Sports subscribers.
Sky Sports F1: how much does it cost?
Once a bonus with Sky HD, Sky Sports F1 is now part of the Sky Sports package and HD an extra, but it is available across Sky, Virgin Media and TalkTalk TV.
Sky Sports F1 on Sky
The cheapest Sky Sports F1 option: £522/year
You’ll need a basic Sky TV package to start with, and the cheapest combination is Sky Sports (£22/month) & Sky Entertainment (£21.50/month) – a total of £43.50/month.
This will also get you all of the Sky Sports channels and around 35 Sky entertainment channels, including Sky 1 and Sky Atlantic, plus the UK’s biggest on demand catch-up library.
Sky Sports F1 HD on Sky: £714/year
For Sky Sports F1 in HD, you’ll need the Entertainment Extra+ package (£32/month), Sky Sports (£22/month), and the premium HD Pack (£5.25/month) – £59.50/month.
Entertainment Extra+ is Sky’s biggest package, with more than 80 subscription channels, including 50 channels in HD, access to Sky 3D, and more than a hundred box sets through Sky On Demand.
Sky Sports F1 on Virgin Media
The cheapest Sky Sports F1 option: £477/year
You’ll need to add the Sky Sports Collection to a TV subscription, and the cheapest option is to get it with the TV M+ pack (£14/month) at £27.25/month – totalling £39.75/month. Although Virgin’s better-known as a broadband and phone provider, we haven’t included that here.
Sky Sports F1 HD on Virgin Media: £561/year
HD costs an extra £7/month for Sky channels, making £46.75/month.
Sky Sports F1 on TalkTalk TV
Just the F1 season: £544.80/year
The Sky Sports channels are available pay-as-you-go on a monthly basis with TalkTalk, on top of the Essentials TV combination of broadband, phone and TV, which costs £7.50/month plus line rental of £15.40/month.
All of Sky Sports costs £30/month on TalkTalk – a total of £52.90/month – but you’ll only need these channels during the F1 season, saving three months from the annual bill (you still have to pay for a year of Essentials TV).
Sky Sports F1 on Now TV: pay-as-you-go
Now TV is Sky’s pay-as-you-go broadband TV option for people who don’t want or can’t get a monthly or annual subscription via Sky, Virgin Media or TalkTalk.
You can get it through a variety of devices like smartphones and tablets, or through the NOW TV box, which costs £9.99/day, with a Sky Sports day pass also priced £9.99.
Combine Now TV and BBC for every F1 race: £99.90/year
If you watch the whole season on NOW TV it would be £189.81/year, but use it to fill in around the BBC’s race weekends and you can get the F1 season for under £100.
Combine Now TV and BBC for every F1 race weekend: £199.80/year
If you just want to match the BBC’s qualifying coverage on Sky weekends, that’ll cost you twice as much – still less than half the cost of a full pay-TV sub.
So there you are: how to watch every F1 race for under £100 (you could also walk to the pub on Sky Sports F1 weekends and have two pints).
Just one more thing…
Free Euro satellite TV: all the races, commentary on the radio
German viewers haven’t yet succumbed to the charms of pay-TV, and with the country’s huge motorsport following you can still watch every race and qualifying on free TV.
Satellite TV’s also the most popular way for Germans to watch TV, which has the advantage of spilling across Europe – at least for the next few years.
You can buy a satellite receiver and a dish for under £150, and installation will cost around £80. It won’t be in HD, and you’ll need BBC Radio 5 for English commentary, but it will pay for itself in a couple of years.
Any competent satellite TV installer should be able to install a dish which will supply both Freesat and German TV. Contact the Confederation of Aerial Industries.