Formula One in the United Kingdom is back at it’s rightful home; the BBC. For years and years, whether it have been through 30 minute highlight shows to multi-hour live programmes, the BBC provided the masses of British F1 fans with the opportunity to watch one of the world’s most daring, thrilling and exciting sports in the world. However, the announcement in 1996 that their foes ITV has stolen the rights to broadcast the sport from 1997 onwards had taken many by the surprise, including the BBC themselves. What was to come for us? Were ITV going to take this sport, produced professionally by the BBC, and take it down a route us fans didn’t want or ask for? Personally… ITV did a wonderful job. For a few years. Then it started to go downhill. Faster than a Jamaican bobsled team.
Opinions are a wonderful thing really; we all have one and we’re all entitled to one. Many people may be saying to this blog entry ‘But ITV were terrible! Don’t give them credit!’; it would be criminal to simply class them as terrible when, from the year they started up their coverage, they brought many new elements into the coverage of Formula 1. Gridwalks, for example, are the brainwave of ITV with Martin Brundle scrambling his way through an anxious crowd of the F1 world, and gave us viewers a greater insight into the preparation of the races from their point of view. We saw the shows being presented from the races themselves, adding an atmosphere some studio in London could never produce. There were other little additions to our coverage that we never saw with the BBC and yet are now being used alongside some of the fantastic additions we’ve seen since the BBC’s regaining of the formula 1 coverage.
Where did it all go wrong for ITV though? They had the guts to use their money towards f1 and they didn’t hold back with it, they gave it the attention it deserved. For me, it all began to come very tiresome that the coverage we were being provided with was not as interesting as it should have been. After the American Grand Prix of 2001, the infamous Murray Walker retired from the sport his voice was so famous for being associated with, and ITV replaced the unreplacable with James Allen, formerly a member of the ITVF1 team as a pitlane reporter. His job within the pitlane worked to great effect and provided us with more information, but sadly, following up such a legend as Walker provided no help. Allen seems a nice enough bloke, there’s no doubt that he loves the sport and he has a massive amount of passion for the sport. As a commentator, however, he never fully lived up to what he could have grown into. An obvious bias for British drivers, Hamilton and Button specifically, began a tiresome annoyance for many fans, as well as repeating information unnecessarily and generally not providing a service that so many had gotten used to under the perhaps clumsy-but-lovable Murray Walker. However, it is not just James Allen who dampened ITV’s coverage – other factors such as the pundit work provided by Mark Blundell and the awfully dry presenting of Steve Ryder, both seeming uncomfortable in their roles with Ryder’s presenting style far too rehearsed and stiff whilst talking alongside a badly spoken, annoying pundit in Blundell. I have absolutely nothing against any of these individuals, but they just were not Formula 1 – what we had in Tony Jardine’s punditry work alongside Jim Rosenthal’s vampire-esque stares worked personally, although Jardine was a lot more satisfying to listen to than Rosenthal I must admit. The final contribution to the downfall of ITV F1 began from the day it started – adverts. We all knew that adverts were going to be a part of the sport because of ITV’s stance with advertising for revenue, but my my, did advertising become a bit annoyance in the coverage. Whether it be that moment in 1998 where an advertising break caused viewers to miss Mika Hakkinen’s world championship win, or just random annoying advert breaks when a race becomes exciting or when watching overtaking or action occur on the track, plus the general paranoia of knowing as soon as the adverts came on you’d miss something big, they tended to cause a serious lack of fluidity when watching a Grand Prix only to be constantly interrupted annoyingly. It was these things that, for me, provided much relief when I heard the BBC had finally bought back what they always should have had.
However, this is all in the past and now we have a bright future in BBC F1. We’re 4 races into the season and I can safely say that I’m utterly delighted that we have a refreshing new stance of programming to view for our loved sport. The entire team is almost completely new on the BBC; the addition of Jake Humphreys as a host was very brave personally as his experience in general sport on the BBC is there, but most associated him with CBBC and children’s programming in general. However, Humphreys has been an absolute star when us F1 fans has gotten used to Steve Ryder’s beige presenting. You may be asking, beige? He seemed to always wear beige, his hair was beige, and his speech and general presenting style was so boring that it can only be described as beige. In comparison, Humphreys feels like a spectrum waterfall gushing into our living rooms with a vibrant, interesting presenting style, and we’ve seen him with drivers, at press conferences, and generally jumping head first into the world of Formula 1 and absolutely bloody loving it, just as much as I’m loving watching him present the BBC’s F1 coverage.
Next up, David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan were appointed with the roles of punditry work alongside the wonderful Jake Humphreys, and so far, it’s a case of love and hate it seems. Coulthard has been charmingly funny but also strikingly interesting to listen to, with his insights and experiences as an F1 driver being massively helpful in improving his role as a pundit race by race. His improvement over the Grand Prixs as the season as progressed so far as been a pleasure to gel with, but the problem herein lies with Eddie Jordan as a pundit. It does not work, and I fear that many others agree with this. It’s a shame because the presentation of BBC F1 has been immaculate, it has been professional and interesting, a joy to watch and a pleasure to talk about. Jordan’s punditry work is just extremely contrived and forced in an atmosphere that feels incredibly chilled. I feel that he deserves more of a chance because I personally don’t mind him as a formula 1 personality, I just am yet to be convinced that his outspoken and often arrogant views of Formula 1 and the people within it could be a shadow over a team that have been amazingly smooth in their introduction to the world of F1.
Once again, we have issues with the commentary of Formula 1 within the UK when it comes to the BBC’s new lease of life with the sport. It would have been a huge, huge mistake for the BBC to have not acquired Martin Brundle as part as the race commentary team, and thank goodness, they knew what the people wanted and they went straight for him successfully. He may have jumped from ITV’s team to BBC’s team but there’s no doubt that he is the absolute star in the world of Formula 1 commentary right now, and always has been since he began his role with Murray Walker in the late 90’s. However, the new ‘main’ commentator we now have, Jonathon Legard, have been a huge mistake from the BBC’s choices with the BBC F1 team. I am not a fan of him, not at all. I hate to be arrogant or miserable about his role in the team but he is not what the fans are looking for in a commentator at all. Sadly, we seem to have gone from an annoy but passionate commentator into a boring and uncomfortable ‘talker’ of the events unfolding in front of him. His commentator is extremely dry, as in it just has no passion behind his words, and he often seems completely lost in the world of formula 1 when talking about the races. I appreciate he will want to learn more and more about the sport but he’s done Formula 1 commentary in the past – it simply is not a new experience to him! The radio 5 commentary team of David Croft and Anthony Davidson are a humorously fun team to listen to and take you through the race, and one I feel deserve far more credit than are given but are easily accessible with the red button service (something I will go into greater detail soon). If Croft was promoted up to the main commentary setup with Brundle, I feel it would be pure bliss to witness. David Croft is exactly what we need in a main formula 1 commentator – he is interesting, he watched the race without a degree of uncomfortability in his words, and he actually seems to have a degree of knowledge in what fans are wanting to hear as a commentator when compared to Legard’s often inane comments. The final additions of the BBC f1 team are seen in the pit lane via Ted Kravitz and Lee Mckenzie, as well as Holly Samos on Radio 5 pitlane reporting, but concentrating on Kravitz and McKenzie both I feel have provided a service that has been extremely useful and insightful, but unbelievably underused! If there’s one thing so far ITV did better than the BBC, it’s using the pitlane to get quick interviews with retirees and going down to Kravitz at the time more than once or twice a race and get a grand amount of information back.
So what makes the actual coverage so impressive now we’ve jumped back to the land of the Beeb? Well let’s get the obvious out of the way so far – NO ADVERTS! It’s feels so incredibly nice to watch a Grand prix in the knowledge you can sit down for 3 hours knowing the fact that you will not get interrupted, you can simply get engrossed in this beautiful sport known as Formula 1 without seeing who’s sponsoring the television program with an annoying jingle every 20 minuets following by 5 minutes of pure advertising hell. Furthermore, the presentation is a wonder to behold. The very first piece of video we saw with the new life of BBC F1, in the early hours of the morning before Australia’s Qualifying session, was a gorgeous video flying through valleys and oceans with the sounds of sights of Formula 1 occupying, an epic orchestral piece running through our televisions and computers accompanying the video and a voice booming out just why formula 1 is formula 1. Then, of course, we got The Chain. I can do no justice to the song in saying how good it feels to hear that legendary Fleetwood Mac song hauntingly boom out that bassline when the programmes come on for F1 – it is the F1 theme. Nuff said. Furthermore, we know longer have the Lewis Hamilton show, but rather a deeper look at the creation of the cars we see in front of us, deeper insight from all teams whether it be the minnows of Force India, the refreshing family attitude of Brawn or the frustrated giants Ferrari, everyone has been welcomed into the presentation of BBC’s F1 coverage and it’s just very refreshing. Of course, we have the new interactive settings with the red button, but here is one area that has a huge, huge amount of potential for the BBC to take advantage of but one area that does need improving based on the unresponsive, often poorly setup feeds that it should be providing but often tends not to from experience. That said, there is so much potential for improvement and they can make a truly remarkable service from this. There are many more little areas that have been lovely to see, including the respectful inclusion of the Grand Prix host’s national anthem being played before the race start rather than ignored, a lovely montage video being played after every race and the fantastic idea of a discussion Forum going on beyond the race for another hour between the various pundits, and it’s these little touches for me that have made BBC’s coverage so far an absolute delight to behold.
So onwards and upwards we go into the European portion of the season with BBC F1 being rapidly impressive in their work for us f1 fans… and I’m loving every single ruddy second of it. Let’s just hope they keep up this good work!!