The fun and games of predicting Channel 4’s brand new team for their Formula 1 coverage continues in earnest with part two of this series of posts. The news last Monday that Channel 4 were picking up the television rights following the BBC’s departure had caught many by surprise, with the expectation that ITV were going to broadcast Formula 1 not materialising.
I think it is probably worth outlining what I think the structure of the team would be at this stage:
– 1 x Presenter (on-site)
– 2 x Analyst
– 1 x Lead Commentator
– 1 x Co-Commentator
– 1 x Technical Expert
– 1 x Pit Lane Reporter
– 1 x Magazine (studio)
I’m hopeful that some of my predictions will turn out to be true, we will find out the answer in around a month from now. This part mainly focusses on the analyst roles because there are many possibilities, plus there is significant overlap with the co-commentator position. In part one, I predicted the following posts:
– Presenter: Suzi Perry
– Magazine: Jake Humphrey
– Lead Commentator: Ben Edwards
– Pit Lane Reporter: Nicki Shields
The idea that the lead analyst must be co-commentator has only been around since the beginning of 2011. When the BBC axed Jonathan Legard from their coverage, they promoted Martin Brundle to the lead commentator role, with both him and David Coulthard also conducting analysis before and after the race. There will be overlap, of course there will. Channel 4 may choose to do something completely different, but there will certainly be an analyst role in any structure.
The potential candidates are listed below in alphabetical order, with outsiders at the bottom of this post.
Allan McNish – The current BBC Radio 5 Live co-commentator and former driver in the World Endurance Championship had a sole season in Formula 1 with Toyota in 2002. McNish’s style of analysis makes him one of the favourites to pick up a role with Channel 4, plus his availability should no longer be an issue. I hope Channel 4 pick him up as he is one of the best analysts out there currently in my opinion, with a ton of experience in various different categories.
Anthony Davidson – The reason I am labelling Davidson here is because he is the main person that I want Channel 4 to try and poach from Sky. I’m not fussed about the remainder of Sky’s team, but if there is one-person Channel 4 should aim to get, it is Davidson. Davidson first came into the broadcasting foray full-time in 2009, commentating alongside David Croft for BBC Radio 5 Live. It was no surprise when Sky poached him for their coverage in 2012. I would like to see more of Davidson on screen, but as he is still an active race driver, I imagine he is happy with his current Sky workload. Davidson moving to Channel 4 therefore is unlikely, but never rule it out.
David Coulthard – Having retired in 2008, Coulthard immediately joined the BBC team for the 2009 season as analyst. As noted above, he has combined the analyst role since 2011 with being co-commentator alongside Brundle and then Edwards. As a successful ex-British Formula 1 driver, Coulthard is a no-brainer for Channel 4. His connection with Whisper Films makes this nailed on. However, Coulthard may want to move into a production based role rather than being in front of the camera to help assist the coverage. The issue with Coulthard becoming co-commentator is that it would be the exact same commentary line-up as the BBC had (we predicted Ben Edwards would be the lead commentator in part one). In the various UK Formula 1 broadcasting changes over the years, we have never had one commentary team successfully jump ship from one channel to the other. ITV brought in Brundle. BBC brought in Legard. Sky mashed up some of BBC TV and Radio. Are Channel 4 going to break that trend?
Eddie Jordan – Like Coulthard above, Jordan joined the BBC team in 2009 and stayed until the end of their coverage, although his commitments have reduced in the past few years during the BBC’s shared arrangement with Sky. Speaking to the Mirror, Jordan said “I’m in the twilight of my career I wouldn’t rule out anything for the future if it gives me a buzz.” If the other candidates in this post are unrealistic then Channel 4 could end up throwing money at Jordan to get him to commit to 2016. Although this post talks about 15 candidates, several of them are eliminated immediately. If Jordan is not going to be part of Channel 4’s team, you have to ask, who is going to fill his role? The list is not massive…
Graeme Lowdon – The former Manor Marussia boss left the team at the end of 2015 having been part of the operation since its inception. If Jordan decides not to be part of Channel 4’s team, and they want someone with recent paddock expertise, Lowdon fills the category nicely although there is one person who would be a better fit (see below). I suspect there are outside factors which will prevent this one from happening, however it is always a possibility.
Karun Chandhok – The former Formula 1 and Formula E driver has commentated on various motor sport events, filling in as co-commentator for both BBC and Sky at various points. Although not the most successful racing driver, Chandhok’s ‘dictionary’ has made him a favourite with viewers. Whilst Chandhok may offer better thoughts and opinions than the likes of Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill, I don’t see Chandhok forming part of Channel 4’s team purely because his Formula 1 résumé is not good enough.
John Watson – If Channel 4 do want to bring someone non-BBC/Sky to the Formula 1 line-up, Watson is an inevitable shout given his past commentary exploits with Edwards dating back the past 25 years. I am not convinced Channel 4 would approach Watson, and I do not think Watson would want a full-time 21 race commentary gig, he will be turning 70 next May. It is an option, but not a completely realistic choice.
Mark Blundell – The former ITV F1 pundit was part of their team throughout the majority of their coverage, but became main analyst from 2006 until the end of 2008. Blundell was not universally liked during the end of ITV’s coverage, mainly a victim of “wrong place, wrong time” with ITV focussing on Lewis Hamilton at that time. By the looks of his Twitter, Blundell is certainly interested in getting back involved with F1 TV coverage. I would not be surprised if Blundell turns up here and there, like he has on The F1 Show over on Sky, but I’m afraid I don’t have much interest in seeing Blundell as a permanent analyst.
Mark Webber – The former Formula 1 driver, notably Williams and Red Bull, brings with him bags of experience, both driving and broadcasting. Those of you who watched BBC’s coverage of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix would have seen Webber part of their line-up for the entire weekend, Webber doing an ad hoc walk around Red Bull’s garage at one point. I would love to see Webber part of Channel 4’s Formula 1 team. My issue, and this stands for quite a lot of people, is whether Webber would want to commit himself to around 17 or 18 races (taking into account his WEC exploits). I get the impression that Webber is happy to do the gig here and there, but not on a full-time basis.
Martin Whitmarsh – There are not many people up and down the pit lane who can say they have gone from a championship winning situation to being fired a few years later. Whitmarsh is well qualified (more so than Jordan, it could be argued) to comment on the modern day dealings of Formula 1 having been in the paddock with McLaren for over twenty years. Again if Jordan decides he does not want to be part of Channel 4’s setup, Whitmarsh should be one of the first people on Channel 4’s list to contact given his high profile position in recent years. Whitmarsh has given an interview to the January 2016 issue of Motor Sport Magazine, I haven’t read it so can’t comment on what was or was not said in the interview. What I do know is that Whitmarsh is the CEO of Ben Ainslie’s racing operation, and, as quoted in an interview with CNN in June 2015: “As for whether F1 will see Whitmarsh back in the paddock, that is highly unlikely. He has been offered repeated chances to come for the odd race weekend but has opted to stay away.” There is probably a higher chance of Stefano Domenicalli joining Channel 4’s team than seeing Whitmarsh join them, based on that…
Max Chilton – Following his Marussia exploits in Formula 1, Chilton joined Carlin for the 2015 Indy Lights season, with the intention of jumping up to the IndyCar Series for the 2016 season. As of writing, nothing has been announced regarding Chilton’s 2016 plans. With Nissan pulling out of the World Endurance Championship, no IndyCar or Indy Lights drive for Chilton would mean that his 2016 schedule is empty. So Channel 4 is a possibility if Chilton’s other options fall through, it also means Chilton would remain sniffing around the F1 paddock.
Paul di Resta – My opinion of di Resta has changed significantly in the past year. I’ve never found him the most exciting voice on television, whenever he was being interviewed after a race. Last season, di Resta was part of Sky Sports F1’s coverage for several races, conducting analysis on the Sky Pad and discussing key incidents. To my surprise, I found myself warming to di Resta more than I expected and he was welcoming to hear a different voice in Sky’s coverage. di Resta would not be suited to commentary, but there is scope for Channel 4 to bring him in as an analyst during 2016.
Susie Wolff – The former Williams development driver announced her retirement from active motor sport participation at the beginning of November. I can see Channel 4 wanting to involve Wolff in aspects of their coverage to help encourage women get involved in motor sport. I don’t see Wolff being an analyst commenting on the driving aspect as she has not raced in Formula 1. I do think Channel 4 may want to do special features with her to get the ‘Women in Motor Sport’ message across, so I would expect her to turn up at some point during their coverage, probably outside of race weekends.
There are also a few outsiders that may be considered. Rubens Barrichello currently presents a motor sport programme called Acelerados for Brazilian television, Nigel Mansell always gets mentioned whenever a new broadcaster comes into the fray, but the fact he was either not considered by BBC or Sky previously or rejected both roles indicates he is not interested. I’m noting Ross Brawn here, but will focus on him in the technical expert role in part three. The only omission in terms of recent F1 drivers here is Eddie Irvine, anyone who knows his views on current Formula 1 will know he is unsuitable for any broadcasting role. Lastly, anyone with an F1 journalistic background to fill a Simon Taylor or Tony Jardine role could be in the frame. Naming names is difficult, it could be literally anyone who covers Formula 1 in the print and online media who is coherent in front of a microphone.
The F1 Broadcasting Blog predicts: David Coulthard to become Channel 4’s Formula 1 co-commentator. Eddie Jordan and Allan McNish to become Channel 4’s Formula 1 analysts. Susie Wolff to join Channel 4 to help promote ‘Women in Motor Sport’.
Edwards and Coulthard is the obvious commentary pairing, which is why I think it will happen. But historical evidence tells us that Channel 4 may take a different route. Therefore, any combination featuring Edwards, Coulthard, McNish and Jack Nicholls should not be ruled out.
The problem Channel 4 have is time: time is not on their side. There is not much time to negotiate with talent. The easiest option is to take the majority of BBC’s existing line-up as it is, because they will already have dates set aside for Formula 1 in 2016. Anyone new who comes on-board will need some negotiation to get them out of existing contracts, especially if they work for different series. If this deal was announced six months ago, there would be more room for manoeuvre and more room for Channel 4 to broaden their horizons. But with so little time to Melbourne, I don’t see it happening. The biggest change for Channel 4 in my opinion will be how they actually present their coverage as opposed to the talent involved. As always, just my opinion.
The third and final part will be up within the next week…