After a good first season covering Formula 1 last year, Sky Sports’ coverage headed into year two with improvements already evident from the outset. Before the crew had even arrived in Melbourne, they had covered the final test live and in 3D for the first time ever. Overall, the coverage was well received, as Sky succeeded in keeping viewers interested for the entirety throughout their live shows.
From there, the road show moved to Australia, where the benefits of producing testing live soon became evident. As I have said earlier, broadcasting testing was not a simple matter of Sky placing a few cameras around the circuit. Sky needed permission from Formula One Management (FOM) to broadcast testing live, which was finally granted to them so they could broadcast the third test live. In my opinion though, Sky producing testing was them saying to FOM “here is what we can do, if you give us the opportunity”. Although FOM produce the majority of the races, apart from Monaco, Sky taking over the testing coverage for Barcelona meant that they could display their own on-screen graphics. The result of this appears to be that FOM have ‘loosened up’ for 2013, and given Sky a bit more freedom in what they can and cannot do.
The changes were noticeable immediately in Australia, as Sky overlaid a few graphics on the FOM feed, such as Mark Hughes’ predictions and captions at various points. Hughes’ predictions are a great little addition and soundbite to the sessions, which I hope continues throughout the year. Another addition included the use of split-screen when Sky cut to an interview, or to show something separate. A gripe of mine last year was Sky cutting away from the World Feed too much and becoming ‘trigger happy’ with the ability to do so. The split-screen is therefore the best of both worlds where this is concerned. FOM loosening up has definitely changed their coverage for the better, in my opinion.
Outside of the World Feed, and down in pit-lane they have been helped by the addition of Rachel Brookes, which coincides with the Sky Sports News team looking more integrated into the Sky Sports F1 product. I don’t know if this is a result of Georgie Thompson’s departure, but for me, Brookes is definitely the better pit-lane reporter on the Sky team, therefore I was pleased to see her getting airtime during their first two race weekends. On the flip side, I did not spot David Garrido during their Australian Grand Prix build-up. Last year, Garrido presented many Sky Sports News segments from a downtown studio in Melbourne – both Garrido and the downtown studio unfortunately appeared to be absent from proceedings this year.
On the subject of Thompson, I felt that she would be a loss to the channel, because her and Ted Kravitz were fantastic presenters for The F1 Show and she was necessary for the Sky Pad segments with Anthony Davidson. As I said in my 2012 verdict last December: “In my opinion, the answer is that Davidson is not a natural broadcaster, so whilst he may be able to describe a particular incident very well, he may not be able to lead an entire segment, hence why Thompson is there to help guide the segment and bring a steady ship on-board. I personally don’t have an issue with their being two people there, arguably it works better with two people than one.” I couldn’t have been more wrong. Alongside with moving the Sky Pad outside for Malaysia, it turns out that the Sky Pad works better with one person than two. What was a good segment last year has been turned into a fantastic segment, and Davidson is turning into a natural broadcaster quickly. Whilst that is great, her absent is felt on The F1 Show, I’m not keen on Natalie Pinkham’s style of presenting, as I have said before.
Scheduling wise, the channel appears to have stuck with the same schedule for practice and qualifying, but it will be interesting to see if this changes into the European season. Their qualifying coverage in Australia began with a baptism of fire, thanks to technical difficulties as the TV compound was struck by a power failure. On the whole, their pre-race coverage does not appear to have changed – for better or for worse – compared with 2012. Unfortunately, the ad-breaks still are a bugbear of mine and ruin the flow of the pre-session build-ups.
Whilst there are negatives, the reason I entitled this piece ‘a bright start for Sky’ is mainly because of the post-qualifying and post-race coverage, which has vastly improved compared with 2012. The post session debrief now has a flow to it that was not seen last year, with neat segments for Anthony Davidson’s Sky Pad and Kravitz’s Notebook, along with in-depth analysis with the main players. Furthermore, Malaysia shown that they are not afraid to divert from the formulaic approach, Malaysia’s post-race show was easily one of the best yet for Sky Sports F1. The team appears to have improved and gelled more compared with 2012, with Simon Lazenby now blending in with the remainder of the team nicely. The package is more polished versus 2012, and it is clear for all to see.
Overall, it has been a great start to 2013 for Sky Sports F1, and I hope that continues as the season progresses.