Hitting the apex, but who does it better?

A theme across BBC’s and Sky Sports F1’s recent output has centered around racing cars, both single seater and rally cars. You might be thinking that the previous sentence is ‘captain obvious’ given that this sport is about fast cars. Developing a VT that actually features their own personnel racing around a track takes a bit more thought. The who, the what, the which and the why all play their part.

The first question is who. For the BBC, it is bound to be David Coulthard, with Martin Brundle part of Sky’s piece. But, to avoid sameness, could it be someone else who is part of the VT, maybe either alongside Coulthard or in place of Brundle, for example, Johnny Herbert or Damon Hill. Okay, we’ve identified who want to take part in the feature. But what about the car? If you were to conduct a piece with Hill, having Hill drive one of his old Wiliams cars would make for a fantastic feature. Next year is twenty years since Hill won his only championship, and a great feature would be him driving his championship winning Williams FW18 around Silverstone. You could then spruce that into a longer VT with insights from Sir Patrick Head and Sir Frank Williams, again focussing on the who.

That leads us into the which, specifically which circuit should filming take place at. And most importantly: why? “Because fast cars” is not a suitable explanation if there is no back story. We can have ‘fun’ pieces, but the viewer needs to be invested in the product at the same time. There is a lot more that goes into a VT, but those are your basic principles if you want to get a good feature with solid foundations off the ground. BBC and Sky struck different approaches to their most recent features.

Interviewee: David Coulthard
Personnel: Jenson Button
Filming Date: August 26th (1, 2)
Broadcast Date: October 10th
Link: BBC website

Jenson Button has a go in one of his Dad's old rally cross cars...
Jenson Button has a go in one of his Dad’s old rally cross cars…

Airing during the Russian Grand Prix weekend, Jenson Button’s feature with David Coulthard focussed on Jenson’s Dad John as the subject. The VT started with the two analysing John’s rally cross races from the 1970s, with commentary from Murray Walker playing. From there, Button raced round in his Dad’s rally car with Coulthard as passenger, before the two raced each other. The VT touched on the emotional aspect towards the end, with intertwining shots of present day Jenson and archive footage of John, both with Walker’s distinctive commentary in the background. Like the feature with the Verstappen’s in August, this clocked in at eight minutes. It was another high quality, superb piece from BBC’s F1 team which made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. As you may expect during the current deal, BBC take quality over quantity. I would happily take five pieces that are eight minutes long which focus on the subject in detail than six or seven four minute pieces which may skim over the subject, but do not get the viewer emotionally invested in the piece. At eight minutes in length, it allows the piece to breathe around the sixty minute build-up.

The Button and Verstappen pieces are memorable. Viewers will look back at these pieces in time and think 'wow'. They stand out from the crowd, and that is a credit to the team that meticulously slice the feature together. Pieces like this are lifeless, they do not have an expiry date. Aside from VT's, BBC's latest output is a new 30 minute show called F1 Focus. Airing on Thursday evenings live from the paddock on the Red Button and presented by Tom Clarkson, the show looks ahead to the race weekend. To date, it has only aired for USA and Mexico, and on both occasions, it was an informative preview. I think this is a trial run for 2016, with the intention to get rid of Inside F1, but we will see. Obviously someone somewhere has decided that a Thursday night preview show is worth doing. It also helps improve Clarkson's presenting skills, which is important should anyone in the current line-up wish to move on any time soon.

Sky Sports F1
Presenter: Martin Brundle
Filming Date: October 6th (1)
Broadcast Date: October 25th
Link: Sky Sports website

...as Martin Brundle took the Mercedes W06 for a spin around Silverstone.
…as Martin Brundle took the Mercedes W06 for a spin around Silverstone.

Over on Sky Sports, Martin Brundle hit the big 40. Not age, but the number of Grand Prix cars the commentator has driven in anger. There are not many better ways to hit number 40 than to drive this year’s championship winning car, the Mercedes W06. As always, it is fantastic to see Brundle driving these cars, irrespective of age. At the Italian Grand Prix, it was the BRM P160. Both that and the Mercedes piece, which was broadcast during the United States Grand Prix weekend, showed off some wonderful camera angles, both internal and external. In both cases, it is easy to see the beauty of the machinery, thanks to the angles used. The BRM feature was part of a wider range of segments focussing on the 1971 Italian Grand Prix story with Peter Gethin victorious for the only time. Italy was a good weekend for Sky’s F1 team, the channel opting to stay on air until 17:00 to cover Mercedes’ potential disqualification from the race, which is exactly what a dedicated service should do. The channel was endlessly filling time in Austin last weekend as well, again they should be applauded for staying on air.

Unfortunately, the inherit problem with some of Sky’s VT’s is the lack of storytelling and choosing to run shorter VT’s so that they can fit multiple trailers around it. Time should not be a limited resource, and we should not be in a scenario where the time hyping a specific feature is longer than the actual length of said feature. Whilst Brundle driving the Mercedes was a very good feature (more so considering the weather was not in their favour), I am not convinced it justified the hype that Sky gave the segment beforehand. Arguably, it is a better when a feature creeps up on you and amazes you rather than one that turns into a let-down. I’m not saying Brundle’s feature was a let-down by any means, but it is something I have noticed with Sky this season.

Looking at the dates outlined earlier in this piece, an interesting observation that Brundle’s feature was turned around in three weeks, whereas BBC’s feature went to air six weeks after being filmed. Is this simply a result of where BBC’s live races fall in the year, or is it because Sky attaching more resource to their features so that they can be turned around quicker? Following up on that line, does it mean Sky’s features are of a lesser quality than BBC’s features as a result?


3 thoughts on “Hitting the apex, but who does it better?

  1. BBC do better VT’s than SKY almost every time. The BBC concentrate on the emotion, the personal journey of those involved, and as you have pointed out, they tell a story.

    1. This is actually the biggest reason why I dislike the BBC’s output more often than not. I’m not interested in the “journey” and emotional BS. If I wanted that, I’d watch X Factor or The Voice.

      The BBC have the ability to produce maybe one or two excellent VTs per year – but the rest of them are utterly dire (Hamilton parachuting into Silverstone in 2014, for example – why??). Sky, on the other hand, seem to produce good VTs all the time. They’re consistently good, but they can’t hit the excellent point the BBC can once or twice per year.

  2. I can tell you exactly why the BBC’s VTs are nearly always better.

    The BBC VTs appear to be made by passionate F1 fans who also work in TV.

    The Sky VTs look like they were made by a corporate video company who used the Fast and Furious as reference material.

    The Beebs VTs have substance, they focus on the people and cars, Sky’s VTs are just editors self gratifying themselves. Generic pap bulked up with pointless edit effects and slow-mo shots.

    A good VT should touch your emotions, which the Beebs do. Sky’s are like a camera demo reel, full of technical shots and edits but pointless, emotionless and creatively barren.

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