A presenter’s perspective on patriotism in F1 broadcasting

The British Grand Prix this weekend marks round nine of the 2014 Formula One season. Realistically, two men walk into the race with any hope of winning this year’s Drivers’ Championship: Germany’s Nico Rosberg and Britain’s Lewis Hamilton. In one corner, you have RTL. In the other corner you have the BBC, whilst on both sides there are the respective Sky broadcasters. In two weeks time, we head to Nico Rosberg’s home land for the German Grand Prix. Traditionally, having a home driver performing well does boost viewing figures. The UK’s viewing figures jumped significantly from 2006 to 2008, and Germany’s ratings hit a crescendo in the early 2000’s thanks to Michael Schumacher’s domination.

Steve Rider was presenter of ITV’s Formula 1 coverage during that time period before coverage switched to BBC. Rider seen Fernando Alonso win his second championship, followed by Lewis Hamilton’s rise in 2007 and championship winning year in 2008. In his biography, Rider talked about the logic behind ITV taking a more patriotic approach when Hamilton came into the fold. “The growing attention on the sport was, of course, very welcome for a British broadcaster, but over the months to come ITV, and probably myself in particular, were accused of becoming obsessed with Hamilton, so that television coverage simply revolved around his prospects and performance. There was never an obsession and hopefully I never lost sight of editorial balance, but I would certainly plead guilty to arguing for Hamilton to be the dominant story, and enjoying the fact that he was driving the audience so strongly,” Rider explained.

As a commercial broadcaster, it should not be surprising to see Sky Sports in the UK getting behind Hamilton, just like ITV did. Sky would say that they are just reflecting the views of their viewing audience – although perhaps interestingly, a poll on The F1 Show last Friday suggested a split of 50/50 on who will win the championship. ITV were just as patriotic in 2007 and 2008, and were widely derided for it at the time across various outlets, as Rider alluded to above. In some instances, it was amusing and accepted, Ted Kravitz unravelling the British flag in front of the Brazilian crowd in 2008 will always remain a highlight for me, and a lighter moment. As a whole, I do not want Sky’s coverage turning into a mini version of The Lewis Hamilton Show. Despite my reservations, I can see the editorial stance for that happening, a British driver winning brings in higher audiences and potentially more advertising revenue, hence the change of focus that may occur. BBC tends to be more neutral where the programming is concerned, and I don’t think their coverage is an issue.

Whilst Rider’s point is valid, switching back to 2014, @SkyF1Insider‘s tweets from Canada came across as a little obsessed, to use the same word as Rider. @SkyF1Insider is an official, verified feed from Sky Sports. Early on in the race, showing their patriotism, or bias, the feed tweeted: “Come on Lewis. Turn it up – lets get this race ON!” Now, the question is, do we mind or care about that? Is @SkyF1Insider the views of someone on the Sky team being aired on an official channel to add to their coverage. It may be harmless, but it’s not exactly a neutral message halfway through the race, although it does add a human element to the feed, which is a popular subject at the moment in another part of the forest. The latter message was looking for a conspiracy theory, in my opinion, especially coming off what happened in Monaco: “I’m confused. A radio message went through to Rosberg telling him both cars were unfixable…. Lewis retired, Rosberg still leads…”

Aside from the Twitter messages, the other major grate where Sky is concerned surrounds Johnny Herbert, and feeling the need to refer to Hamilton as ‘our Lewis’ in Sky’s coverage. Rider, in his book, goes on to explain that, had ITV’s pre and post race coverage been broadcasting to the entire globe, the stance would have been different. “Certainly if our audience was global you should expect to hear more from Nick Heidfeld and Jarno Trulli, but the British story was Hamilton; ITV had the access, and after all those years standing on the sidelines politely applauding the relentless genius of Michael Schumacher, they were determined to deliver the story as comprehensively as possible,” notes Rider. I think it is worth concluding by saying that in reality the patriotism that the UK coverage provides is nowhere near as nationalistic compared to other countries, for example Germany.

Whilst I don’t live in Germany, nor consume any of their coverage, reading comments on various sites leads me to believe that Sky Sports F1 is actually quite mild in comparison to RTL’s over the top reporting for Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel and Rosberg. In a piece last month that I wrote, one such comment, left by Lukas, suggested that RTL’s coverage is significantly worse than Sky’s, with heavy bias towards Vettel and Rosberg. Different audiences perhaps willing to tolerate different amounts, and different emotions perhaps, the German audience may well appreciate the patriotism whereas the UK audience wants a wider variety from their coverage. I don’t know, but it is an interesting and emotive subject nevertheless.


11 thoughts on “A presenter’s perspective on patriotism in F1 broadcasting

  1. I can’t stand Sky’s coverage anyway Hill and Herbert are so dull and can’t stand Lazenby.I can’t believe people pay for them I would expect more for my money. Where as on BBC DC has really grown on me and EJ although he acts the idiot he does know know his stuff especially when explaining how teams are run and the commercial side.

    1. It’s the opposite for me. I can’t stand EJ or DC. DC is especially boring in commentary these days, none of his input seems useful. I love Sky’s coverage and happily pay my money for it, Hill and Herbert’s banter is a love/hate thing I guess.

      One thing I would say, is that while Sky focus heavily on Lewis Hamilton, they present a balanced argument for and against him. When he’s made a mistake, Sky won’t drop it and continue to mention it. When he’s drove a brilliant race, they give him recognition. They aren’t completely biased in my opinion.

  2. Sky are always on Lewis back they have ago at him every time especially Simon lazenby he is obsessed with it.sky never says thankyou for watching they take it for granted, where as the bbc appreciate there audience .Suzi perry always says thankyou for watching every time.

  3. That ’07 season was crazy! Every driver would have to have a Hamilton question in their interview. Even the drivers at the back of the grid.
    ITV’s tongue was so far up his a*se it was unreal!!

  4. Regarding RTL: I’m Dutch, and the races that aren’t broadcasted on the BBC I watch on RTL. The pre-show coverage is indeed quite ridiculous: every race there is a feature on Rosberg and a feature on Vettel, usually mixed with cringeworthy PR footage from Mercedes and Red Bull. I’m not sure whether German fans enjoy it, but as a non-German it’s really annoying. The only sensible thing I can say about it is that if a Dutch broadcaster would exclusively focus on the Dutch drivers (essentially like RTL7’s GP2 coverage), I would just keep watching BBC.

  5. Just to add to your point about Johnny Herbert, i have noticed that when the pundits are asked for their pre quali and race predictions almost every time he says hamilton, even if it is clear it is more likely to be rosberg. This could suggest that really he is a massive hamilton fan and also shows why he would speak about him as ‘our lewis’ because he is obsessed with him and feels the whole british public is as well.

  6. The truth is you are always going to get a national bias in ANYTHING! This year particulary so with MERCEDES winning EVERY RACE! But you have to remember HAMILTON is NO PATRIOAT He is not driving for ENGLAND he is driving for a team from GERMANY! So I will support any driver in Formula 1 who drives for ANY BRITISH TEAM! Would you support Hamilton,if he played for Germany in the 2014 FIFA World Cup? Thought not yet the idiots at siverstone 2014 DO NOT SEEM to understand that!!!

  7. “BBC tends to be more neutral where the programming is concerned, and I don’t think their coverage is an issue.”

    Take a look at http://i.imgur.com/UlMzoMj.jpg – The number of times they mention Hamilton is unreal. Sky’s website, however, has more variety. Are you sure they are neutral?

  8. Sadly, Sky f1’s coverage has become increasingly Hamilton biased to an unacceptable degree. One can forgive a little pro British bias, but it has become the Lewis Hamilton show. Brundle being the worst culprit. When rosberg and Hamilton collide it is always rosbergs fault! When Hamilton forces rosbergs off the track ‘he has a perfect right to do so’. Etc. I am neither a rosbergs nor a Hamilton fan, but I expect unbiased reporting of these matters not hamiltonfanboy brindle saying that it’s 80 percent rosbergs fault.

  9. Thanks to the author for writing this piece. I agree with what Richard Szydelko’s post above. Hello. I’m from Nepal and have been following F1 since the early 90s.

    In the early days, the broadcasts we would get were delivered by Steve Slater and Chris Goodwin through Star Sports. Both of them were highly professional and evenhanded in their commentary. Steve Slater used to be an excellent commentator – very enthusiastic about the sport and a pure petrol head. On top of that, he was very knowledgeable about F1’s history and knew everything about the regulations of the sport as they changed over the years. On every GP, he would ask Chris Goodwin to take a moment of silence, so that we could hear the engine sounds of those mighty V10’s and the later V8’s. We all shared his enthusiasm for the sport and found the coverage to be both educational and lively. It was fun time. Chris Goodwin used to be an open-wheel, formula racing driver (if not a F1 testing driver). He would fill in insights about the races from a driver’s point of view, which was also educational and entertaining. Note that both commentators were British.

    As soon as the coverage was handed over to Sky, Star Sports started giving us SKY coverage. F1 commentary went from 10 to 0 in a scale of the same gamut. There was very little technical insight, no excitement, bad reading of events as they played out. On top of that, there was so much pro-British bias, it only came second to a sperm’s inclination to dive into an egg.

    I’ve noted the author’s revelation that German broadcasts are even more biased. What I would like to point out, however, is that F1’s official language is English, not German, Spanish, Italian, Hindi, or Clingon. SKY is the official broadcaster of Formula 1 races and events. Formula 1 is a global sport. The FIA is an international governing body. When an international governing body hands its broadcast rights to SKY (In English), one expects the ensuing coverage to be unbiased and professional to a global audience. In SKY’s bid to sell more subscriptions to British audiences, it is making a mockery of all thing British to the rest of the world. Starting this season (2016), Star Sports has ditched Brundle, Croft, Kravits (the attacker) and the other clowns and replaced them with the BBC coverage. Oh, this is much, much better. There’s still a weak link here in DC. His co-commentator is far better than everyone else combined. I’m not against the British since I have praised two excellent British commentators. All of this has to do with BE and SKY running a caper (for greed) at the detriment of F1 and the good name of the United Kingdom.

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