To celebrate the fifth anniversary of The F1 Broadcasting Blog, we are looking back at five races from the archive and chewing over them. Being a broadcasting site, we’re not picking these races from a racing standpoint, but instead from a media perspective.
The five races include Grand Prix from the BBC and ITV eras, crossing over from the Americas, into Europe and Australia. Some races picked are your usual affair, others have major significance in Formula 1 history. I did think about looking at five ‘major’ races, but each race has equal merit from a broadcasting standpoint, irrespective of how great the race was.
We are time travelling back to the mid-1990s for the start of the 1995 Formula One season. After a controversial championship decider in 1994, Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher are ready to do battle again, starting with the 1995 Brazilian Grand Prix! First things first, the key UK broadcast details:
- Date: Sunday 26th March 1995
- Channel: BBC Two
- Time: 16:45 to 19:00
- Presenter: Steve Rider
- Reporter: Tony Jardine
- Commentator: Murray Walker
- Commentator: Martin Brundle
- Analyst: Jonathan Palmer
1995 was the first year that the BBC aired the Brazilian round live. In previous years, the channel had only aired highlights of the race from Interlagos. Qualifying was not aired live, instead the session was delivered through a ten-minute slot in Grandstand, the norm for Formula 1 in 1995. If you were lucky, you probably watched Eurosport’s coverage of Formula 1 instead, with Ben Edwards and John Watson at the helm.
After the bass riff that is Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ and a reminder of events the previous November in Adelaide, Steve Rider welcomes us to proceedings from BBC Television Centre. We are shown Schumacher’s two accidents from practice, which is one of the key strands of the weekend. Rider talks through the leading drivers on the starting grid, before a snippet of Damon Hill’s post qualifying press conference interview is shown.
Rider hands over to the World Feed in Brazil, with Murray Walker taking over proceedings from this point forwards. It is clear that the commentary team are in Interlagos as they are talking down a telephone line. Rider notes that Martin Brundle is alongside Walker, which is possible as a result of Brundle’s drive share at Ligier with Aguri Suzuki. I believe Brazil 1995 was the first time that Brundle and Walker were together in the commentary box, the two working well together from the get go, without any issues. I imagine BBC would have liked to have him a bit earlier instead of Jonathan Palmer if they had the choice.
Walker’s role as lead commentator is different to that of David Croft or Ben Edwards in 2016: Walker has the job of introducing viewers to the sights and surroundings of Brazil, whilst also explaining the rule changes (such as the engine size and changes to the fuel tank). It is a difficult job to summarise all the key stories from the Winter and keep the viewer engaged within a very small time period. It does mean that the smaller teams are neglected somewhat at this stage in proceedings. For example, a story regarding the demise of the Larrousse team prior to Brazil is mentioned briefly in passing as the cars are lining up on the starting grid.
A cameraman in the centre of the starting grid greets the 26 cars as they pull away. Amusingly at this point, Palmer reiterates that this isn’t the start proper, which is something you couldn’t imagine Croft or Edwards say in the present day. There is the assumption that the casual fan knows more nowadays than the mid-1990s. Whether that is necessarily true or not, I don’t know, but it is an interesting observation nevertheless.
Pierluigi Martini in the Minardi is the first casualty of both the race and our local World Feed director (Rede Globo) who managed to miss his retirement on the formation lap. To the credit of the director however, the start of the race was handled well, managing to capture briefly the aftermath of an accident at turn one involving Olivier Panis whilst also getting in an on-board shot with Hill as the first lap came to an end. No replays were shown of the start, nor of how Panis spun at turn one.
In the early laps, the director is fixated on the battle between Schumacher, Hill and David Coulthard which given the close gaps is understandable. The decision paid off, as an attempt by Hill to overtake Schumacher failed, but most importantly was captured live as Walker reminds viewers of the history between the two drivers. The battle does mean that Walker is having to recite the running order and the relative gaps to viewers regularly, as the graphics provided do not display this information.
A consequence of the battle up front meant that other activity down the grid is ignored. Johnny Herbert’s fall down the order in the early stages is missed by the director. Frustratingly, the director is not relying on replays to show viewers the overtakes that were not aired live. It is clear that the director cares about the leading drivers and little else. If you are below tenth place in the race, you’re not being shown on television (unless you’re a Forti and being lapped), the equivalent of neglecting anyone McLaren downwards in F1 2016. Crumbs for the lower teams, really.
Just watch, the next time we have some in-car shots, the amount that the steering wheel is moving. I’ve never seen that kind of movement in a Formula 1 car in all the years that I’ve been around. – BBC co-commentator Martin Brundle
Walker and Palmer do a good job to keep the battle between Schumacher and Hill interesting, but it is Brundle who is the stand out, analysing the on-board footage and his own driving expertise to comment on the various styles during the race. Two years before his permanent broadcasting debut and you can see some of his brilliant commentary traits starting to come to the forefront.
The leading pit stops are all captured live (including Schumacher having to avoid a very slow Rubens Barrichello on his way into the pit lane). It is noticeable that there are no references to soft or hard tyres, just one set of tyres off, another set on. Palmer does describe the effect degrading tyres can have on the car, but no reference to the specification of the tyre. Instead, the focus back in the mid-1990s was on the refuelling strategy, with drivers also refuelling whilst stopping.
The commentators do well with the equipment that they have: a lack of television graphics mean that they have to explain repeatedly why Mika Hakkinen finds himself in a Hill and Schumacher sandwich during the first round of pit stops (different strategy). Tony Jardine’s first input into the Grand Prix comes on lap 24 following the pit stop sequence.
I’m surprised Jardine was not used earlier during the stops to get a first-hand insight into whether there were any issues that were not caught on the World Feed. As with the race as a whole, very little pit stop action is shown regarding the midfield teams. On-board shots are shown from the leading teams sporadically throughout the Grand Prix, adding to the spectacle and the speed of the show. Hakkinen’s overtake on Jean Alesi’s Ferrari heading down to turn four was captured from Hakkinen’s car, showing how close Hakkinen was to going off onto the left-hand side grass.
The race settled down after the retirements of Hill and Benetton’s Johnny Herbert. Walker notes that Mika Salo in the Tyrrell has climbed to third position, which is unfortunate because his rise wasn’t captured by the local director. Brundle called Salo’s performance “stunning”, with Walker noting that he will be a “potential world championship contender for the future.”
It’s going to get extremely confusing from now on because the Brazilian Grand Prix, as every Grand Prix will do this year, has become a series of sprint races interspersed with tyre and refuelling stops. – BBC lead commentator Murray Walker
Salo was only on-screen for a couple of laps as he chased Hakkinen, but ended his chase in a spin, losing time. Salo’s name was unrecognisable to the wider audience, meaning that the Tyrrell driver rarely received airtime during the Grand Prix itself. It is a shame, but a sign of the era where great drives went unnoticed because the director was focussed on certain teams or drivers.
The camera shots used throughout the Grand Prix are distant, long shots with some angles used to capture multiple bends, in particular at the start of the infield section. The positioning is strategic to capture advertising hoardings as the main focus of the shot rather than the racing cars (that line probably sends familiar to regular readers).
Nevertheless, while the cars look slow through the infield section, they look fast where they need to: down the long start finish straight, with the camera panning in to the Benetton and Williams on multiple occasions. A static camera placed above the start-finish line shows off the speed of the 1995 cars.
There are no long holding shots of either the pit wall or the paddock, with the focus of the director only on the race track or the pit lane. I’m missing team radio, although Brundle notes later in commentary that team radio is used as little as possible and is only in used in “emergency transmissions”. The different fuel strategies mean that Coulthard briefly leads the middle section of the Grand Prix, but once Schumacher makes his final stop, the German retains his lead despite making one more stop.
The race turned into a race of attrition with the majority of the midfield being decimated: the retirements of Forti’s Roberto Moreno and Taki Inoue in the second Arrows were both captured by the director. Following the final stops, the director followed Schumacher and Coulthard round until the race conclusion, but the gap was static at around five seconds. The next question mark was around the fuel irregularity for both the leading contenders which meant that they were racing under appeal, as referenced in commentary on multiple occasions.
Inoue’s team-mate Gianni Morbidelli was another driver who rose through the order to sixth position but suffered the same fate as Salo earlier in the race, with the director disregarding Morbidelli’s attempts at closing in on Alesi’s Ferrari. Unfortunately, the director then ignored Morbidelli’s car slowing down and dropping down the order, instead choosing to focus on the front-runners.
There is no team radio so we see the cars head back to the pit lane as usual, with Walker summarising the order in the background. No immediate interviews from anyone at Benetton and Williams in the pit lane. We do see the Forti team a few times with Pedro Diniz running down pit lane holding a Brazilian flag. There are a lot more shots of Diniz and Forti here than in the race itself!
Between parc fermé and the podium, holding shots are shown of the pit lane and the circuit before the podium proceedings begin. The analysis starts as soon as the champagne is sprayed on the podium with Walker and Palmer looking at Jordan’s disappointing race amongst other topics. It is a good chance to reflect on some of the performances that went unnoticed down the order, Walker praising the performance of Keith Wiggins designed Pacific car, with Andrea Montermini at the wheel.
The BBC aired the first half of the FIA post-race press conference, which is the same format as the 2016 post-qualifying press conference with the top three drivers speaking: Schumacher, Coulthard and Gerhard Berger. The BBC broadcast goes back to Steve Rider is London before Berger can speak, with Rider running down the points order. A replay is shown of Hill’s crash half way through the race, before Rider closes the programme.
And that, is a wrap.
Until the two leading drivers are disqualified and then reinstated two weeks later…
Note from David: This is the first time I’ve run content like this on the site – please leave a comment if you would like to see more reflective pieces going forward.