INTERVIEW – On Sunday March 20, motorsport returns with the Bahrain Grand Prix. A first race broadcast live at 4 p.m. on Canal +. The opportunity for the sports journalist to share his expectations for this season.
Unstoppable. After an exceptional 2021 Formula 1 season both in terms of audiences and the script, Thomas Sénécal is back on the road for this new 2022 championship. Between anchored programs and novelties, the deputy director of sports on Canal +, accompanied by his team of journalists, is ready to hold on for the duration of a season of 22 Grands Prix. Each weekend of this championship, the former presenter of « Auto Moto » on TF1 will be at the head of « La Grille » or « Formula 1 le Mag ». The journalist, who will take over the management of sports for the Canal + group from next July, prepares each new season with the same passion as when he started on Canal + in 2013. Interview.
LE FIGARO.- How do you feel for this first Grand Prix weekend in Bahrain?
Thomas SENECAL.- I feel very excited and impatient, like the first day. It reminds me of the year 2013 when we obtained the Formula 1 broadcasting rights on Canal +.
What can we expect in Formula 1 for this 2022 championship?
The major change for the 2022 season is the spending cap for all teams. The primary objective of this regulation is to level performance as much as possible and therefore to bring about a certain level of equality of opportunity. From a performance point of view, the cars will be closer to each other. This year marks a turning point because more teams and drivers will be able to compete for victory, to climb on the podiums. From a technical point of view, the cars are quite different from previous years. The shape of their fins, their tyres… Each technical change aims to make the show even better and more undecided.
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How do you explain this growing enthusiasm for Formula 1?
In recent years there has been an alignment of the planets. I’m going to start by being immodest but we’ve all worked hard so what a joy to achieve these results! The spectacle offered by Formula 1 is excellent, especially in the last two years. The 2021 championship scenario has been crazy and unique. We also note a flashback in France thanks to the victories of French pilots like Pierre Gasly (in 2020 at the Italian GP Monza) and Esteban Ocon (in 2021 at the Hungarian GP). Our Canal + team was there: on the air where I am thinking in particular of our very identified duo of commentators: Julien Fébreau and Jacques Villeneuve. We were also very present on the digital side of all platforms. We really consider Formula 1 as a whole. We want to address our subscribers but also the twelve million fans on all sports platforms and MyCanal.
What new features are you putting in place to allow everyone to follow Formula 1 as well as possible?
This is our whole challenge. The work that we provide between the championships (from December to March, Ed.) is intended to find the best formulas to address our different audiences. For each program, established or new, we have reinforced our team of consultants. We want to satisfy both the public from the start, those absolute fans who actively follow the news or even our journalists like Margot Laffite, Franck Montagny on social networks. For them, we broadcast for the first time, last weekend, the winter tests in Bahrain. They were able to listen to the expertise of Julien Simon Chautemps, engineer alongside Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen. During almost nine hours of airtime in three days, we had never reached such a level of technical explanations. For the new audience that includes men and women of all ages, we’re maintaining formulas like « Meet 1st Corner » on Twitch. After each Grand Prix, Julien Fébreau explains and interacts on the social network, allowing anyone interested to better understand the challenges of the championship. We have also launched new programs that should appeal to everyone. Since Saturday, “Gasly Inside” has greatly appealed to our subscribers. The driver tells us about a race he experienced. We plan to repeat other issues of this show.
How do you prepare a show like “La Grille”?
After two years of pandemic, “La Grille” will regain its uniqueness and will be presented most often on the site of each Grand Prix. The team of journalists who present it is without a safety net. Being in the midst of drivers, team bosses and cars allows us to offer total immersion to viewers. The program must prepare with the greatest possible vision in order to collect all the information that could interest viewers half an hour from the start of a race. Part of “La Grille” is prepared in a classic way: in anticipation and improvisation. We have a planned path but it is often revised. Our only objective is to finish the show next to the car in pole position. Before going on air, viewers must have the feeling of being the 21st driver with all the information in hand to take the start of the Grand Prix themselves. What tires? Which pilot is in good shape, which is less so? What is the latest strategy? The mood in the audience? All these questions, we answer them.
Moto GP is also becoming an increasingly popular championship on Canal +. You expressed your desire “to combine these two mechanical worlds as much as possible”…
Yes to Canal +, we like cross-overs! In sport, the best incarnation of this fusion is Fabio Quartararo, French motorcycle racer. Friend of Lewis Hamilton, he goes to Grands Prix a few times a year as a fan but above all as a Formula 1 expert. questions to our guest Charles Leclerc (Formula 1 driver at Ferrari). Fabio Quartararo asked him how many Grands Prix he wanted to win in 2022. Against all odds, the latter answered frankly that he hoped to postpone five and even added that “it might be enough to be world champion”. We thought it was great and it’s really the kind of fusion that we like to offer.
In what formats can these mergers be multiplied?
Inevitably through encounters. On May 15, Franck Montagny, Formula 1 journalist, will go to the French Moto GP, which promises an exceptional meeting. We could also bring people from the world of motorcycling to the Castellet circuit in France for the Grand Prix on July 24. At each Formula 1 race in France, we have twenty to thirty hours on the air, it’s the time when we can go further and offer this kind of encounter to our subscribers.
You said you wanted to “integrate radios between the pit wall and the drivers” for the Moto GP, something that already exists in Formula 1 and which fans are fond of…
In motorcycling, the format of the race is very different. There are no pit stops, fewer decisions to be made. The only way to speak to the driver is through panels on the pit wall. For the radio, tests have been carried out. If possible, we would be happy to offer even more immersions. But this choice must be made with the authorities, the regulations while ensuring the safety of the pilots. We are a supporter of this kind of evolution but not a decision maker.
As a journalist, what is your best memory of Formula 1?
The one that comes to mind right away is the very first Australian Grand Prix in 2013. We got the broadcast rights very late, the people on the team barely knew each other. We were all very excited but also dizzy at the magnitude of the task ahead of us. Despite the unexpected, there was magic at every moment of the weekend. First, Saturday qualifying took place on Sunday because of a storm AND we were in the water! We also encountered some last-minute technical surprises. Thirty seconds from the launch of “La Grille”, the camera was dismantled next to Jacques Villeneuve. As if by magic, it ended up in one piece and we took the air without anyone noticing. At the end of the weekend? the feedback was glowing. We were often told that we gave the impression of doing F1 for years, that everything was already well established, well oiled. This weekend also marked the birth certificate of our team which is still alive today: Franck Montagny, Julien Fébreau, Laurent Dupin, Margot Laffite, Jacques Villeneuve and myself had a bright future ahead of us.
In 2014, you were already talking about a “Formula 1 effect”, what are your expectations for motorsport this year?
In Formula 1, our audiences have seen a 50% increase over the past two years. On average, more than one million viewers attend each Grand Prix. The most breathtaking figure is the audience for the last round of the final race in Abu Dhabi last December: 2.4 million people watched the outcome of this crazy season. For motorcycles, the year 2021 has almost doubled in audiences compared to 2019. These figures are a great pleasure. We want to extend the beautiful love story between motor sports and our subscribers and we’re off to a nice lease! Canal + has the broadcasting rights for Formula 1 until 2024 and 2029 for Moto GP.
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