The dust has settled (sort of) on the news that Channel 4 will be broadcasting Formula 1 from the 2016 season. With just three months until the Australian Grand Prix, it leaves very little time for the broadcaster and the chosen production team to negotiate with talent and put in place a strong team that can challenge Sky Sports F1’s team on screen.
When I did this with BT Sport’s MotoGP team in 2013, the post was chunks of paragraphs, which I don’t think is going to work this time, when the talent pool is big. You have BBC’s Formula 1 team (both TV and radio), anyone from ITV’s old Formula 1 team that realistically could jump. The chances of anyone jumping from Sky Sports to Channel 4 is unlikely, but still a possibility. And then there are those that are not currently tied to a broadcaster that could become part of Channel 4’s team. You have to assume that Channel 4 will want a mixture of existing BBC talent, along with some fresh faces. Channel 4 have their own 4Talent scheme, and it is plausible that they may want to groom someone from within that scheme to become part of their Formula 1 coverage, I don’t know.
I need to state from the outset that the points below are my opinion. Given that the deal has only been in the public domain for a day, I have no inside information on who Channel 4 are planning to sign up to cover Formula 1. Of course, some predictions will be wildly out, but it is definitely worth doing to compare with later.
Suzi Perry – The BBC Formula 1 presenter from 2013 to 2015 and before that MotoGP presenter in the mid 2000s. Perry must be one of Channel 4’s number one targets for the presenter role, given the way that she had settled nicely into the role, improving compared to the start of 2013. Whether Channel 4 would want a new face up front, I don’t know, but they will certainly want a steady ship at the top of the programme to lead it with control, and I feel Perry is that person – potentially.
Jennie Gow – The current BBC Radio 5 Live pit lane reporter and Formula E presenter for ITV is bound to be in the frame for some sort of role at Channel 4 given that she is a hot commodity for the majority of broadcasters’ at the moment. She did have some experience presenting a season of MotoGP with the BBC in 2010, but was replaced by Matt Roberts. If she moved, she would obviously no longer be BBC’s pit lane reporter. This is a tough one. My gut instinct says no, certainly for the main presenter role.
Jake Humphrey – The former BBC Formula 1 presenter from 2009 to 2012, and currently BT Sport’s Premier League presenter. As Humphrey is part of Whisper Films, this is viable, but unlikely. The rationale behind Humphrey leaving BBC’s Formula 1 team was to spend more time at home, understandably. Unless Channel 4 take a studio based approach to proceedings or create a magazine show, I don’t see Humphrey being involved.
It is difficult to think of any other presenters currently involved at the top level. Matt Roberts (current Eurosport’s British Superbikes presenter) and Charlie Webster (ex ITV GP2 presenter) are other possibilities, but outside shots, if that for the role. Webster did present the Race of Champions for Whisper Films/Channel 4 in November. The name Clare Balding is bound to crop up somewhere given her links to Channel 4. And lastly, Chris Evans who first mooted the Channel 4 deal last month. Realistically though, I think it is difficult to look past Suzi Perry getting the presenter gig. Quite frankly, Channel 4 cannot afford to “do a BT” and mess up getting the glue correct. No one really noticed the whole Melanie Sykes saga with BT Sport in the non-motor sport media, but if you attempt that with Formula 1, it may not end well. Channel 4 need someone with experience to steer the show.
The F1 Broadcasting Blog predicts: Suzi Perry to become Channel 4’s Formula 1 presenter. Jake Humphrey to present a Formula 1 magazine show to air during the season.
Ben Edwards – The BBC’s Formula 1 lead commentator from 2012 to 2015. It was the first time Edwards has covered Formula 1 on terrestrial television in this country, having previously covered the likes of A1 Grand Prix. He should be Channel 4’s number one choice. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if he is actually their number two choice…
Jack Nicholls – Currently the lead commentator on the Formula E Championship, Nicholls has also sporadically been lead commentator for BBC Radio 5 Live in the past two years. Remember the point I made about Channel 4 being a station that reaches younger viewers? In my opinion, that means Channel 4 need someone on their team to help them achieve that. Is Nicholls the person to do that, probably. Nicholls is a fantastic commentator at the age of 25, and could be Channel 4’s number one choice. The problem is getting him out of his Formula E and BBC Radio commitments, which I don’t see happening fast.
James Allen – If Formula 1 was going back to ITV, as was rumoured, this might be more certain. Unfortunately for Allen, that did not happen. Allen is currently BBC’s Formula 1 commentator for Radio 5 Live, however as noted above, Allen does not commentate (and therefore attend) on every race. The only way Allen would be lead commentator for Channel 4 is if he was willing to attend every race, assuming Channel 4 are going to have a presence on-site, the assumption would be that they are. I don’t think this is likely, unless Edwards rejects Channel 4 and Nicholls falls through completely. But never say never.
Other outside candidates are Toby Moody (ex Eurosport MotoGP lead commentator) and David Addison (current ITV BTCC lead commentator). Will Buxton is locked down with NBC covering F1, as is David Croft, so I don’t think those four options are realistic. If you are hoping for fresh faces, I do not see it happening where either the presenter or lead commentator roles are concerned.
The F1 Broadcasting Blog predicts: Ben Edwards to become Channel 4’s Formula 1 lead commentator.
Pit Lane Reporter
Lee McKenzie – With a background in motor sport, McKenzie was BBC’s pit lane reporter for the duration of their coverage. McKenzie is going to be part of BBC’s team at the Olympic Games, and presumably Wimbledon again. I don’t see McKenzie moving to Channel 4, I imagine there are more opportunities for her at the BBC as it currently stands, both on TV and radio. Alongside this tweet, I think McKenzie will stay with the BBC and will not be part of Channel 4’s coverage.
Nicki Shields – The current Formula E pit lane reporter for their World Feed, and before that presented Escape to the Country for the BBC If you don’t watch Formula E, you probably will not recognise the name. From what I have seen, Shields has fitted in well to the Formula E role, describing herself as a petrol-head and environmentalist. I’ve liked Shields contribution to Formula E’s TV team and the interviews that she has conducted with the drivers. Given one of Channel 4’s points in their ten point plan from 2011 was to create “high impact factual programming”, I think Shields could be the perfect fit for the channel: a pit lane reporter alongside other commitments surrounding their programming outside of a race weekend.
Rachel Brookes – A Sky Sports News presenter, Brookes has become integrated into the Sky Sports F1 set-up, presenting The F1 Show alongside duties in the pit lane during practice and interviewing drivers before and after each race. I think Rachel is one of the better interviewers on Sky Sports F1, and should be a target for Channel 4. If the opportunity arose, I would like to see Brookes part of the Channel 4 team. I don’t think it would happen though: her current role at Sky Sports role allows her to cover events outside of Formula 1, and future opportunities there are present, which is not the case at Channel 4 beyond horse racing and the Paralympics.
There are probably three or four other candidates, notably Natalie Pinkham (current Sky Sports F1 pit lane reporter), Jennie Gow (current BBC Radio 5 Live pit lane reporter) and Louise Goodman (former ITV F1 pit lane reporter and current ITV BTCC pit lane reporter).
The F1 Broadcasting Blog predicts: Nicki Shields to become Channel 4’s Formula 1 pit lane reporter.
Did I miss anyone out? Mention it in the comments or on social media and I’ll add them below…
– Abi Griffiths (current BT Sport MotoGP presenter/reporter) – Jonathan in the comments
– Andy Jaye (current Eurosport speedway host and has hosted shows for Channel 4) – @PurpleSectorGP via Twitter
– Azi Farni (former BBC MotoGP pit lane reporter) – myself after writing this post
– Craig Doyle (current BT Sport MotoGP and rugby host) – Joe in the comments
– Georgie Ainslie, née Thompson (former presenter of The F1 Show for Sky Sports) – @sjbosher via Twitter
– Rick Edwards (presented the majority of Channel 4’s Paralympics coverage) – Jonathan in the comments
– Steve Rider (former BBC and ITV F1 presenter) – Gaz in the comments
Given the closeness to the festive period that this has been announced (and as the word count is close to 1,500 words already), I’m splitting this article across multiple parts as there is a lot to cover. Part 2 coming up at some point before the New Year…