If you have not already, I suggest you read the full Channel 4 announcement regarding their Formula 1 team from this morning before diving into this piece. I was going to cram quotes and thoughts into there, but realised that this probably justified a separate more thought out piece. I’m listening back to the recording as I write this, so it may be in a jumbled order or look like a ramble.
Arriving at 09:00 for a scheduled 09:30 start, Jay Hunt (Channel 4’s Chief Creative Officer) started proceedings around 09:50. She mentioned what Channel 4 had done to cricket and horse racing in the past, and that she wanted the broadcaster to do the same with Formula 1. This led into a trailer showing what Whisper Films have produced so far interspersed with the Channel 4 team shots and The Chain. The trailer included clips from an RAF feature with McLaren and Jenson Button, which will air during the Australian Grand Prix weekend. “We really believe that it is the greatest, extraordinary and most dynamic line-up yet for Formula 1,” Hunt said. Hunt introduced Steve Jones to the stage.
Jones described himself as “hugely excited” to be Channel 4’s presenter and I think that was noticeable throughout the morning. Jones blended in with the remainder of the line-up, there was no “us and them”, it felt like “we” and that was important, cracking jokes with the remainder of the team. Jones said that since he found out he was the chosen one at the beginning of January, he has watched every race from last season back-to-back. I’m confident that Jones will translate well to viewers on the television. Jones went through the line-up one-by-one. Given that I run this blog, there were names on the screen that were not too surprising!
As I discussed in the main piece, the surprises were Eddie Jordan, Bruno Senna, Nicolas Hamilton and Alessandro Zanardi. Senna has defected from Sky, what we don’t know is whether he was poached by Channel 4 or if Sky dropped him. Hamilton and Zanardi will link in with the Paralympics coverage, whilst Jordan will be juggling both Top Gear and Channel 4. Lee McKenzie was not necessarily a surprise, but given her other commitments, was inadvertedly ruled out by myself in the beginning. McKenzie will not be present for the races that clash with Six Nations and Wimbledon. Only three members of the team will be at every race, they are Jones, Coulthard and Edwards. Karun Chandhok is the other permanent member but will be missing Montreal and Baku due to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Chandhok is being billed as a ‘Technical Analyst’. I have no problem with that, but does it do a disservice to the likes of Craig Scarborough and Giorgio Piola by adding him to the same category?
When this blog asked Mark Webber how many races he will be doing with Channel 4, he said around half a dozen… although his jaw did drop when I informed him that there were 21 races this season! My understanding is that the amount of on-air talent will differ race-by-race, irrespective of whether it is live or highlights. If a story dictates that more on-air talent is required (or talent need to be switched around/mixed up), then Channel 4 will adapt. I’m a fan of that. When there were 16 or 17 races, having the same people was fine. But with 21 races, you have to mix up the faces and bring in different opinions. Having the same opinions across 21 race weekends will end up getting samey. What Channel 4 need to be careful about is that they don’t go down the opposite route and have too many talking heads. There will no doubt be some experimentation in Bahrain, and there will be room for improvement, but as always in this game, it is a learning curve, no matter how experienced you are.
The expansive team supports what we heard a few weeks ago about Channel 4 taking one extra camera to each race, allowing them to mix things up and change things where necessary. Regarding Zanardi and Hamilton, I think both will only be appearing in features around Channel 4’s coverage (cross promoting with the Paralympics), but I cannot confirm that.
Younger viewers and making it different
A phrase that was heard multiple times amongst different fora. Tapping into Channel 4’s younger audience. The press release references Channel 4’s presenters putting “celebrities through their paces on the tracks”. My opinion on this is quite clear: if a celebrity adds value to the coverage, go for it. If they don’t, then leave it. You have celebrities who are genuine fans of Formula 1. See Benedict Cumberbatch. See Chris Hoy. Then you have people who may turn up to races, but in reality are only there to promote their latest product. I have no problem with category A, but the moment you drift into category B, you are adding no value.
Channel 4 want to make their coverage different from the predecessors and also different from Sky’s current output, although as Murray Walker stated, you can only do so much. Having a wider range of personalities can only help in that respect. Jones describes as wanting to make the coverage “more fun” and “cooler”. In terms of cross-promotion, we are already seeing link ups with Guy Martin. Coulthard explained “There are things we’ve been working on, that we can’t say today, that will broaden the appeal. Formula 1 is very entertaining, but there’s still an opportunity to add layers to that entertainment whilst using the Formula 1 theme. With Guy Martin we did bike versus car. There’s some obvious limitations for the bike but that doesn’t take away from the fact that we had a really fun time discovering that. Hanging out with people, sharing passion for motor sport is entertaining.” Coulthard suggested that there could be further episodes with Martin to come down the road.
It was alluded as well that there are ideas floating around for the week leading up to the British Grand Prix in that regard (a potential Come Dine with Me Special won’t surprise those that were looking at Channel 4’s F1 Twitter feed during testing), but nothing has been finalised as of writing. Any cross-promotion that can bring new fans to Formula 1 is a great thing in my opinion. One change is that there will be a third commentator for some of the live races. Although he did not specify who the third person would be, Coulthard said that there will be other view points in the commentary box “during the race”.
Expect Channel 4 to focus more on the human element. As Mark Webber described it, “more colour and flavour” to get under the skin of the personalities and gladiators involved. “You look at the people they’re talking about, Alain [Prost], Alex Zanardi who haven’t done a lot in the UK. I think they will offer a completely different perspective. You’ve got a different type of audience with terrestrial viewing, we have to be conscious of the audience that are watching Channel 4. We’re trying to draw entertainment viewers, football viewers,” explained Chandhok. Chandhok went on to explain that Channel 4’s viewers (and a new audience) will be wowed by Formula 1 the first time they see it, a reference to Jones being wowed when he watched testing from Barcelona.
Scheduling, interactive and was I right?
The noticeable absentee from any of the material released today concerned anything surrounding the interactive extras that the BBC had previously, including the popular post-race F1 Forum and Red Button feeds. I am chasing up an official word on this, but based on comments made by Lee McKenzie, it appears that Channel 4 will stay on their main channel longer on Sunday afternoons to compensate for no ‘formal’ Forum. McKenzie confirmed that Baku will air on Channel 4, with the final day of Royal Ascot being bumped to one of the supplementary channels (More4). Practice sessions will air on Channel 4, where possible, with Lee McKenzie presenting these. I’ve asked the question on the whole scheduling aspect, and I will update this part as and when I hear anything.
Lastly, to end on a fun note. I predicted Channel 4’s team on January 2nd, consisting of eight people. Of those eight, three people are in Channel 4’s final team (nine and four if you include Susie Wolff). I’ll take that! Overall, my initial thoughts surrounding Channel 4’s coverage are positive. The first time we will see some of the new team on screen is Saturday 19th March. Not long to wait now.