Flashback: 2000 French Grand Prix

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, these races are not being analysed 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, whilst 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.

Race two of this series takes us back to the millennium and a time in Formula 1’s history when McLaren and Ferrari were in charge of the championship. The sporting world was dominated by the football European Championships and the Olympic Games. By the time Formula 1 moved into July, the title battle was starting to shape up between Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari and the McLaren drivers.

On that note, we head to the 2000 French Grand Prix! The key broadcast details can be found below:

  • Date: Sunday 2nd July 2000
  • Channel: ITV
  • Presenter: Jim Rosenthal
  • Reporter: Louise Goodman
  • Reporter: Kevin Piper
  • Commentator: James Allen
  • Commentator: Martin Brundle
  • Analyst: Tony Jardine
  • Analyst: Olivier Panis (pre-race)

ITV’s team of seven had an unusual look for this round of the 2000 season. Murray Walker dislocated his hip prior to the French Grand Prix following his appearance at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, meaning that James Allen moved out of pit lane and into the commentary box for his debut alongside Martin Brundle. In Allen’s place was Kevin Piper, a recognisable voice to viewers in the Anglia region at the time.

Before the ITV F1 intro, quick snippets of David Coulthard’s and Michael Schumacher’s post qualifying interviews are shown, which is a cool way of introducing the show. Apollo 440’s ‘Blackbeat’ is the tune for ITV F1’s coverage, their best opener in my opinion and a tune that gets you ready for a Grand Prix.

Following the usual scenic opener, Jim Rosenthal greets us from ITV’s trackside studio alongside Tony Jardine and Olivier Panis. Panis is a guest on the show, working as McLaren test driver, adding a bit of variety to ITV’s pre-show. It is a good opportunity for Panis to explain how his McLaren role benefits the team. Panis also mentions his desire to return as full-time driver for 2001, having raced for Prost in 1999.

Jardine and Rosenthal briefly analyse the qualifying session, with various clips shown from Schumacher, Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen. Panis’ expertise is evident from early on in the programme, giving his opinion on Hakkinen’s form dip in qualifying. ITV’s grid graphics suit the era as Jardine talks through the complete grid with all teams mentioned.

From left to right: Olivier Panis, Tony Jardine and Jim Rosenthal in ITV’s on-site studio.

ITV’s programme continues the French theme with its next feature, as James Allen interviews Alain Prost about the struggles that his Prost team are having. It was a serious sit down interview as Allen asked the tough questions about Prost’s future in the sport (the team went bankrupt prior to the 2002 season).

After some studio analysis on the Prost situation, Martin Brundle talked us through one of Eddie Irvine’s qualifying laps in his Jaguar! I love this on-board lap as it shows how much of a handful the Jaguar car was to control with Irvine nearly losing control at one stage. Again, kudos to ITV for picking someone different for the on-board lap instead of the usual suspects.

On the other side of a Euro 2000 advertisement is a fascinating VT voiced by Louise Goodman looking at how the communication system between the teams and race direction has improved during the 2000 season. Ferrari’s Stefano Domenicali showed the viewer what benefits the system has and how the teams interact with it. This made me ‘wow’ having never seen this feature. Goodman remarks how all the timing used to be distributed using 11,000 sheets of paper, which no longer was the case.

There is a clear trend during the build-up: all the features are relatively small in length, but they are meaty and engaging enough to keep the casual viewer interested. They are not BAFTA award winning by any stretch, but they do their job perfectly. Rosenthal hands over to Kevin Piper for a news update concerning the future of the British Grand Prix (yawn), the 2001 calendar and Juan Montoya’s status. The usual pre-race grid interviews follow next, whilst James Allen talks us through the race strategy. After that, its race time!

The few minutes before the race consists of discussion between Allen and Brundle, focussing on the strategy and the qualifying performances of the leading drivers. One of the things I like, and miss in modern-day Formula 1, is the vibrant field: the red (Ferrari), green (Jaguar), yellow (Jordan), blue (Benetton) amongst others. So colourful, and Formula 1 looks so good as a result.

This is a tense time; you’re in the zone, the critical zone here where you must not make a mistake. You know that if you stall the engine, you’re going to be at the back of the grid. You’re looking in the mirror; you’re thinking that they’re taking an enormous amount of time to file in line behind me. Your temperatures are rising; you’ve got to stay very, very calm.

Your seatbelts seem a little bit too tight, your right boot seems a bit too loose, you’re moving the visor around and the lights are on… stay calm, put it in first gear, put it in 12,000 revs and just stare at those lights! (Lights off) Control the wheel spin, you’re away, see who’s doing well around you, are you on the attack or are you on the defence! – ITV co-commentator Martin Brundle calling the start of the race

Brundle called the start, which was different to your usual start sequence from the lead commentator. Frustratingly, the director held the opening shot too long meaning that we missed Rubens Barrichello’s overtake on Coulthard. The director chose not to air replays of the start either. To their credit, they did show us replays of the things we needed to see as opposed to frivolous activity: Nick Heidfeld poking his teammate Jean Alesi into a spin made the air.

Once the opening four were running in order, the director was not afraid to show viewers action further down the top ten if things were quiet up front, in this instance the battle between the younger Schumacher and the two Jordan’s. We hear from both Piper and Goodman early in the race before the first phase of pit stops, Piper reporting from Prost with Goodman reporting on Ferrari. Quickly when things are not easily noticeable on-screen, the ITV team are able to deliver the information through their pit crew on the ground, showing the instant benefit of having reporters in pit lane.

A shot from the Prost pit wall as driver Nick Heidfeld bodges a pit stop by stalling the car.

The curse of ITV’s advert breaks kicked in early during the race, the channel missing Coulthard’s overtake on Barrichello for second position. After the break, the first pit stop sequence started resulting in a flurry of activity. Without adequate graphics to explain who had made a pit stop, this sequence was not the best to follow, but Allen and Brundle do an excellent job to keep viewers on top of the strategy. The direction is okay, but the graphical side lets the product down.

One noticeable omission is on-board cameras. The F1 Digital product had exclusive access to certain angles, meaning that the World Feed was neglected. A very brief on-board is shown from Jean Alesi’s Prost as Alex Wurz attempted a “pathetic” overtake which resulted in Wurz going straight on at the final bend. The on-board shots from Alesi’s Prost and Irvine’s Jaguar are pedestrian, painting the sport in a negative light. Nevertheless, the director does manage to sneak in two in-car shots from Barrichello in the last two laps.

The director changed focus towards Coulthard and Schumacher, as the Scot hunted the German driver down for the lead. There are a few great helicopter shots showing Coulthard’s attempted moves on Schumacher at the Adelaide hairpin. The director catches the famous gesture from Coulthard to Schumacher; viewers sadly do not see on-board footage from either car though.

Allen: The biggest question marks of course after this Martin will be whether this is the point Ron Dennis and McLaren tells the team that it’s going to be David Coulthard that has to chase after Schumacher in the championship. [..] It’ll be the question that the press are asking in the morning.

Brundle: Well as the man who negotiates David Coulthard’s contract, I would like to claim the Fifth Amendment on that one, but it’s certainly a question that’s got to be asked.

Coulthard’s overtake on Schumacher is brilliantly captured from a camera on the inside of the Adelaide hairpin. The camera angles are amazing, and the sound helps show off the speed of the Formula 1 cars. Although the track is slow and cumbersome in places, the shots chosen help demonstrate the fast direction change that Formula 1 cars have.

ITV covered the battle at the front live, saving their commercial break until after the final pit stop sequence, when it was clear that the top four were unlikely to be battling again in the race. Outside of the top four, the order had not changed. Villeneuve, the two Jordan cars and the two Williams drivers completed the top nine. Both Allen and Brundle praised the performance of Jenson Button. With Schumacher out the equation, Coulthard claims victory in France!

Allen manages to shoehorn in a mention for the Euro 2000 final between France and Italy on the lap back to the pits, the game referenced sporadically throughout the broadcast. The World Feed director shows us the parc ferme celebrations, Brundle reminding viewers of the plane crash that Coulthard was involved in a few months previously. We get our first piece of analysis at this stage with Goodman interviewing Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn, Brawn calling the result a “disappointment”. Allen runs down the championship order as we see slow-motion clips of Coulthard winning the race.

The initial post-race replays show us snippets we had not previously seen, including a fantastic overtake from Button on Irvine at the hairpin. There is still a lack of on-board camera angles, but the new footage makes up for it as we head to the podium. After the champagne celebration, Rosenthal takes us into the first post-race ad-break.

The key moment: David Coulthard overtaking Michael Schumacher to take the lead!

On the other side of the break, Jardine talks briefly about Schumacher’s tactics inside and outside the paddock, Schumacher refusing to talk about the title yet as Ferrari know things can change in the latter half of the season. The press conference is next with the top three drivers: Coulthard, Hakkinen and Barrichello.

Coulthard apologised for his “hand gestures” stating that his emotions were high at the time, his description of the incident making Hakkinen and journalists laugh during the unilateral, “there’s children watching so I won’t be showing it again.”

Straight from the press conference into a live link up with McLaren technical director Adrian Newey, Rosenthal asking Newey questions from the studio. The main difference between this and a present day paddock interview is that the questions and answers are far more structured and concise, rather than a discussion based format where the analyst would chip into proceedings. From Newey to Walker we head as we get an update from Walker live from his home. Walker compliments Coulthard’s victory and Allen’s commentary saying that Allen did an “absolutely superlative job.”

Back from the second post-race ad-break, Rosenthal and Jardine analyse the key overtakes and moments from the race including Coulthard’s middle finger moment and eventual overtake on Schumacher. We cut to a recorded paddock interview with Piper in the middle of a media scrum interviewing Schumacher, a lot less organised than the media pen of today. Contrast the Schumacher interview to the next interview as Louise Goodman holds a lone microphone interviewing Jacques Villeneuve without any surrounding media!

The usual promotion follows, and that is a wrap live coverage of the 2000 French Grand Prix.


Scheduling: The 2017 Race of Champions

Sky Sports have confirmed that they will broadcast live coverage of the 2017 Race of Champions from Miami.

The Saturday programme will be simulcast across the dedicated F1 channel and Sky Sports Mix. Sky are wrapping the World Feed around with their own studio coverage presented by Natalie Pinkham, with Marc Priestley and Max Chilton alongside her.

Jennie Gow and John Hindhaugh will present the World Feed coverage, with Neil Cole and Bob Varsha on commentary.

Race of Champions – Miami (Sky Sports F1)
21/01 – 20:00 to 23:00 – Race of Champions (also on Sky Sports Mix)
22/01 – 17:00 to 20:00 – Nations Cup

Channel 4 will be airing highlights the weekend prior to the Australian Grand Prix.

If anything changes, I will update the schedule.

In conversation with Louise Goodman (part one)

Louise Goodman (@LouGoodmanMedia) has been a familiar figure to motor racing fans for the past twenty years through her ITV F1 commitments and more recently through her British Touring Car Championship role.

I sat down with her at the AUTOSPORT show to chat about her career in motor sport, starting with her various PR roles.

LG: I actually started out with Tony Jardine. I was Tony’s first employee when he set up his PR company Jardine PR. It’s been through about four different guises but it’s still under Jardine.

F1B: You and Tony have known each other for a long time then.

LG: Well I met Tony through powerboat racing, as I was the editor of Powerboat Racing magazine at the time. It’s thanks to Tony that I’m involved in motor sport; Tony had a history in motor sport. My first client when I was started working for him funnily enough was Derek Warwick and I say funnily enough because we come from the same town, a place called Alresford in Hampshire. As a kid, I walked past Warwick Trailers, the family business on my way to school each morning.

F1B: Did the PR thing for you then move on from there, stepping up the ladder as time moved on?

LG: Tony had motor sport clients; we launched Camel as a new sponsor when they started sponsoring the Lotus team back in the day. I worked with BP, who were very involved in the Leyton House team so I was the Leyton House team press officer. I was, briefly through Camel, press officer for Eddie Jordan in Formula 3000 with [Jean] Alesi and [Martin] Donnelly as the drivers. I was approached by Eddie to go and work with him full-time, which is when I moved up to Oxfordshire.

F1B: With Leyton House and then Jordan, what did the day-to-day activity involve?

LG: It was a bit of everything. With Jordan Grand Prix, I was employee number 47, which was the entire team! Formula 1 was very hands on in those days; Ian Phillips was the commercial department for Jordan. There was no such thing as a marketing department. During an event, I would write the press releases, I would also take the drivers to any appearances, I would do garage tours, you name it. It was a bit of everything, even sewing badges onto drivers’ overalls! The teams were much smaller; people had a much broader knowledge. The cars are much more technical these days so the knowledge has become more specialist and the areas are more delineated. Nowadays you have a communications team, a marketing team, it was almost ‘make it up as you go along’ back when I first started.

F1B: I guess it was a lot more intimate, a lot more camaraderie back in those days for the smaller teams because of the relative size.

LG: Well all the teams were smaller. The bigger teams at the time McLaren, Williams and Ferrari would have had a couple of hundred people working there whereas now you’re into the thousands. That’s just the team and then you’ve got the engine manufacture and everything alongside it. There was a lot of camaraderie. I knew next to nothing about Formula 1, I enjoyed it as a kid and I loved James Hunt. Ann Bradshaw, who was Williams press officer at the time, helped me out greatly. I have pictures at home still of all the press officers getting together and having dinner at Imola during the Grand Prix weekend. The press officer at Minardi would invite us all to his house as we all fitted in his apartment. Back in the day, all of the girls would get together every year in a motor home for dinner in Monza. It was a whole different ball game back then.

F1B: That sounds quite amazing, so much has changed since then. You were with Jordan in the early 90s and then you get a call in 1996…

LG: Various different production companies were bidding to get the contract to make the programmes for ITV. I got the approach from Mach1, which was a consortium of Meridian, Anglia and Chrysalis Television. Mach1 turned into North One Television. They were looking for a girl to put down on their bid. All the production companies had to put a bid to present to ITV to say how they’re going to produce Formula 1. It was a very theoretical thing so I said “go on, put my name down.” There were two people involved in getting me on-board. The first was James Allen. James was press officer at Brabham and he then moved onto AUTOSPORT and ESPN. James said that [I] would be a good person and that she knows her way round the paddock. The other one was a guy called Kevin Piper, who was a reporter for Anglia Television and Jordan was in the confines of the Anglia region. Kevin was a TV journalist who I had done a lot of stuff with so we had a strong relationship. Kevin also said that she’d be a good girl to have on-board. In the latter stages of the process, one of the other consortiums approached me as well. It was perceived that this other group was going to be the ones who got the contract.

LG: So, when it was announced that North One had got the contract, that’s when it became a reality, that’s when I went “oh my god!” This abstract concept quickly became very real. There was a gap between Mach1 winning the bid to officially being unveiled, as ITV had to present their proposal to Bernie Ecclestone to sanction what they wanted to do, how they were going to do it, the logistics of it all. There was a gap between me being part of the presentation team and them officially offering me the contract. By the time they offered me the job, everyone assumed that I was doing it anyway! Which I think was a good thing, because I never actually had to make the decision, it had already been made for me. I had no television experience, they didn’t employ me for that, they employed me because they thought I had the potential to be able to do that. Most importantly, I had contacts, the experience and knowledge of Formula 1, the paddock and the way the sport worked itself, I knew what to ask and how to ask it. The broadcasting bit they could teach me as we went along.

F1B: With things like football or rugby, you could have dry runs, but you can’t really dry run a proper F1 race. How did that work, were you just in front of a microphone in Melbourne and that was that?

LG: They presented me with a microphone in Melbourne and said, “We need to do a sound check so if you just wander up and down the pit lane and give us something for level, just give us some chat”; I didn’t even understand the technical terms! I thought, “What do I do?” James would give me a few tips on how to ask questions and how to phrase it, don’t ask a question in a way someone can say yes or no. I distinctly remember Damon Hill going out on the formation lap; he was my first live interview. I did a piece with Eddie Irvine on the grid, who I knew well. I remember with my squeaky voice asking Damon “what happened?” which is the worst way to ask a question and Damon explained what had happened, followed by a squeaky “thank you”! Damon was thinking, “You’re supposed to ask me a follow-up question.” The drivers were all very good with me; they all knew me, so they were all quite kind.

F1B: If you came in from the outside, it might have been different.

LG: Yeah, it would have been a different kettle of fish. I remember at the point of the British Grand Prix that year when Johnny Herbert said to me “you’re getting a bit of a hand with this now”, and I said that it’s getting better, which was a huge mistake as Johnny said that I’m in trouble now! That was when the fun started. Standing on the grid for that race, I waited for them to throw down to me for a live interview; Johnny was poking me off camera. They were all very kind to me and the guys within Mach1 were great, they helped me as much as they could. Nobody can tell you what to ask, but they can tell you how to ask it. I can remember our executive producer at the time Neil Duncanson saying to me “low… and slow… low… and slow…” When you’re excited, your voice goes up and you speak faster or you sound nervous. So, that was my big foray into broadcasting, in at the deep end.

F1B: Did you have any regrets about the first season, or did you ever think that this isn’t working?

LG: The first season was terrifying, but the biggest thing I felt is that, when you work for a team, you have a home in the paddock, that’s your motor home. There’s an unwritten rule that you don’t go into other people’s motor homes, you stick within the boundaries and it was less delineated in those days than it is now. But now I was a journalist, I didn’t feel comfortable crossing the threshold and going into the Williams or McLaren motor home, because that wasn’t my home. That was my upbringing in the paddock, within the confines of the [Jordan] team. That felt odd, and by the same token, I didn’t feel like I belonged in the TV compound because I didn’t know the technicalities. In many ways, it was great starting off in that role alongside Martin Brundle as I used to be Martin’s press officer at Jordan the previous year and we were both suddenly in the same situation that we didn’t quite have a home any more. All the teams were very welcoming and said “of course you can come in”; it just felt odd to me to just wander into another team’s motorhome. That first year was a struggle; I won’t deny it and anyone who watched it probably noticed.

They presented me with a microphone in Melbourne and said, “We need to do a sound check so if you just wander up and down the pit lane and give us something for level, just give us some chat,” I didn’t even understand the technical terms! I thought, “What do I do?”  – former ITV F1 pit lane reporter Louise Goodman

LG: Bradley Lord, who is now Head of Communications at Mercedes, reminded me, I stop him halfway through the conversation every time because I don’t want to hear it, he says “I remember watching your first…” and I say I don’t want to hear it! (laughs) By the end of the first year, I remember thinking that I’m getting to grips with it all, I’m not very good at not being very good at things and I was aware of the fact that I wasn’t a particularly good broadcaster in those days. I did have great moments, like electing to go to the Arrows garage in Hungary and being the first to deliver the not very good news that Damon wasn’t going to win that race. That was a feather in my journalistic cap, as I had the access and the foresight to go into the garage, that was where the story was going to be. Some of my grid interviews, in fact sitting down with Eddie Irvine in Melbourne. I thought “I’m not going to ask him to stand up”, so I just sat down beside him. We had a relatively cosy chat, and the guys in the studio compound said that’s exactly what we want!

F1B: From the outside, it probably looked like that the ITV team had just been ‘plucked together’, but in reality, you knew Allen beforehand, you knew Jardine beforehand.

LG: Absolutely. Mach1 were very clever I think. They knew about television, they knew about making programmes. If you look at North One as it has now become, they make all sorts of great programmes. They knew they had that side of it covered, what they didn’t know was how Formula 1 worked, access to the people. It takes time to build a relationship; they bought in people who already had that relationship.

Coming up in part two, we talk about the highs and lows of ITV’s Formula 1 coverage, the demise of ITV’s coverage in 2008 and more recently ITV’s BTCC coverage.

Nicholls and McNish to remain with BBC 5 Live for 2017

Jack Nicholls and Allan McNish are to remain with the BBC for the 2017 Formula One season, it has been confirmed.

Speaking to Henry Hope-Frost at the AUTOSPORT show, McNish said that he would be continuing his Radio 5 Live commitments in 2017. McNish said that he hoped to commentate on around eight or nine races this season, a similar number to last season.

McNish said: “5 Live has been good fun because it’s a very tight knit group. Last year it was busy, I did eight or nine races and I’m hoping to roughly work out the same number to fit in with the other schedules. I really enjoy it, so I’ll be back in the chair talking about it with a bit of passion.”

Update on February 8th – Jack Nicholls wrote the following on his Twitter this evening: “Contract signed and flights booked for Melbourne for another season with #BBCF1, every F1 race live on @bbc5live”

In conversation with Simon Lazenby

The F1 Broadcasting Blog kicked off the AUTOSPORT show weekend yesterday by chatting to a familiar face. Simon Lazenby (@SimonLazenbySky) has presented Sky’s Formula 1 coverage since its inception in 2012 having previously anchored their rugby programming.

Here, we chat to Lazenby about his tenure with Sky, including how he found the transition to Formula 1 and who within the broadcasting landscape was on hand to give him advice…

F1B: How did you start off in the media?

SL: I came straight out of University, where I was studying biochemistry and I became a commodity trader for about a year and a half. My sister, who worked in TV and still does now, works for Channel 4 funnily enough as one of their Heads of Entertainment. She was having such a great time on the initial stages of The Big Breakfast, I thought “that looks like a lot of fun”, I’d like to get into that.

F1B: This was about the mid-90s then.

SL: She got in around ‘97 and I came across from Cargill around 1998 as well. I started off doing some work experience, making the teas and coffees at Sky in rugby. And then after three months, I moved back in with my parents and got a job as a runner, and then an editorial assistant job. At that point I said “can I have a go at reporting” and that led to a bit of presenting. I remember I was in an edit suite one day and they said “go home, you’re on this evening!” After an hour’s training with autocue, they put me on Sky Sports News, I should imagine the tape exists somewhere. I’ve never been so nervous.

F1B: Would you like to see the tape again?

SL: I don’t know, it probably exists somewhere, but hopefully they’ve burnt it!

F1B: That seems like a similar way for people to get into the industry, I know your colleague Ted Kravitz came through the ITV F1 route, similar kind of thing.

SL: Yeah, he was in radio with Capital and then into ITV. He’s always been there [for me] and Ted is one of my closest friends. On the circuit, we hang around a lot together. He has a good habit of stitching me up in interviews, so if you asked me what his bad habits were, I’d probably point out a few! He got into the industry in a similar way to me. He’s an absolute nut for anything mechanical whether it flies, goes on water or as a car, if it moves, he loves it.

F1B: You became Sky’s rugby presenter in the early 2000s and you were doing that gig for a good ten years.

SL: Yeah, we were doing that for ten years. And then we got the [F1] contract, and Martin Turner who was my boss on the rugby, asked if I would be interested in it. I said “of course I’d be interested in it”, I mean who wouldn’t be interested in it! It’s an amazing sport. You know how quickly this sport changes, so you come in and think “wow, I’ve got a lot to catch up on.” When I was in on a Sunday, I’d always watch the race, half the time I was working. I got into it in the early 90s like most people did with [Nigel] Mansell. I love the way he drove in that era of so many greats. He epitomised the British spirit. He was strong, brave, everything. And then Damon [Hill] came along, he’s become a really good friend of mine now, as is Johnny [Herbert] and Martin [Brundle]. It was a good era for British sport. Williams had an extended period of success, and of course McLaren earlier, it was great to see.

F1B: During that time, you were honing your presenting skills and so on and so forth, you did a lot of studio based work. Did you think about jumping ship before the F1 offer came along?

SL: One of the frustrations of being a TV presenter is that, depending on your time slot, you might be squeezed into two hours for rugby. I might go all the way to the ground, to “hello, here’s the commentators”, to three minutes at half-time and then straight off at the end. That can be a little bit frustrating, so when I found out that we were going to have a dedicated channel [for the F1] with loads of time to talk around the issues, that was really exhilarating for me, but also one of the biggest challenges.

Everyone when we came in, you’ve done it yourself, Sky versus BBC, you get your fair share of criticism, I do understand that because people have got to get used to you and you’ve got to work on your on-screen chemistry.

SL: I remember at the time, you’ll know that the sound of the V8 is a lot different to the sound of the V6 Hybrid, that first race in Australia, the nerves were massive with the start of a new channel. Trying to hear what you were doing in the pit lane with all that going on around you was the toughest thing I’ve ever done in presenting. I still think it’s one of the toughest things in sports broadcasting because it’s such a movable feast, anything can change at any point. That’s one of the things that gives you a real high, a real adrenaline rush.

F1B: Was the transition from rugby to F1 more difficult than you expected?

SL: I think inevitably when you come in to a new sport from something else, people are used to what’s gone before. The guys at BBC and ITV did a fantastic job, and Channel 4 continue to do so. I think what we’ve always said is that we hope we offer something different to them and I think they hope to offer something different to us. We know from the information that we can gather now, from demographics and the way that TV is so digital now, you can get information on the type of viewer that you are getting. Everyone when we came in, you’ve done it yourself, Sky versus BBC, you get your fair share of criticism, I do understand that because people have got to get used to you and you’ve got to work on your on-screen chemistry. It inevitably takes time, I hope five years down the line, we’ve got it reasonably honed into a good product now. We’ve been nominated for a broadcasting award for Best Sports Programme last year, we’re against the Paralympics and the Olympics, it’ll probably be a tough category to win. It’s nice to know that people appreciate our product.

F1B: It doesn’t matter whether it is rugby in the studio or F1 in the paddock, it’ll always be the same, if you put out a bad show, people will criticise you.

SL: It’s like anything David. You’ve got to accept that not everybody is going to like what you do and that doesn’t matter who you are, whether you’re the President of the United States, or the incoming President of the United States, or your muggins like me! I consider it a great privilege to have this job and I love it. I find myself institutionalised, it’s only taken three or four years but I get to the off-season now and I think “oh god, when do we get going again?” It becomes very, very addictive, the travel, the friends you make, it’s just a great thing to be involved in.

F1B: You found out that you’re getting the presenting gig in 2012, did you go to anyone for advice, did anyone give you advice?

SL: There’s a good story here actually. It was New Year’s Day in 2012, I have to admit I was a little bit hung over. I had a text, I woke up, and I laughed out loud! It was a text from [former ITV F1 presenter] Jim Rosenthal saying congratulations on the job. I was up in Scotland with my wife and I couldn’t believe it, Jim texting me to see if I wanted any advice. We met and he said it’s a tough gig. Jake [Humphrey] said some very kind things to me and said how difficult it was, when he started and there were people gunning for him. I faced the same, Steve [Jones] faced the same. It’s about knowing that you’ve been put in that job for a reason and that you can do it. You just hope people accept that you’re trying your best and that’s all you can do.

F1B: I guess the moment doubt comes into it, is the moment it’s a slippery slope.

SL: Maybe. I try not to doubt myself. One of my producers joke about the day you get the ‘presenting yips’ i.e. you come on, camera goes on, and you forget what you need to say. If it happens, you’ve just got to laugh your way through it. You get yourself into tricky situations, but you battle your way through it.

F1B: Walking into the paddock for the first time, seeing everything around you. How was the emotion?

SL: The first time is intimidating. People think “who is this?” The one thing about the paddock is that it takes you time to earn respect. I think it was Andy Stevenson of Force India, again a really good friend now. He said it can take you three years to win the respect of people in the paddock You must remember a lot of the things that get thrown at us is because we are pay-TV, and a lot of the fans that had it for free, we understand that and we’re not arrogant about it. We just want to do a good job and hope we have a product that people want to pay for and if they don’t, fine, that’s their choice and they’ve got another option. I hope we do give you what your money’s worth.

F1B: With 2017 coming up, what sort of preparation do you do going into the season?

SL: It starts now, the AUTOSPORT show is here. It’s great to see some people again and dust off the cobwebs after Christmas. December goes like that, and all of a sudden testing is on the horizon. We’ll probably have some media days, it’s about keeping across everything that is happening and right now there’s a lot still to happen! There’s a lot to fall into place which will affect the championship. There’s new regulations to get your head around. It never stops. There are events to host and other bits and bobs to do.

Jake [Humphrey] said some very kind things to me and said how difficult it was, when he started and there were people gunning for him. I faced the same, Steve [Jones] faced the same. It’s about knowing that you’ve been put in that job for a reason and that you can do it. You just hope people accept that you’re trying your best and that’s all you can do.

F1B: How have you found it over the past few years building the relationships with both drivers’ and teams? Not every driver is the same, when interviewing them I imagine some are a bit coy.

SL: What you find is, a general rule of thumb, the more well-known they are, the more difficult it is to have a personal relationship with them. The exception is Daniel Ricciardo.

F1B: Ricciardo’s probably one of the best personalities around at the moment.

SL: Yeah, he’s great for the sport, he’s everything we want from the sport and so is Max [Verstappen]. They will all talk to you, but a lot of them only talk to you when the camera is on because they are so acutely aware that anything said out of context these days can get turned into a story because everyone is around with a microphone. I understand that as you get more famous, everyone wants a piece of you. That’s the good thing about having done it for five years, is that in some cases you’ve been there longer than they have, you’ve seen them come in from GP2. I think the respect works both ways.

F1B: Looking ahead to the future, do you see yourself in the paddock in five to ten years?

SL: I hope so! We’ve signed a contract until 2024. I’ve got two children, one’s very young, ten weeks old.

F1B: Congratulations! Abu Dhabi baby?

SL: Rosie was born in between Austin and Mexico. I went to Austin, flew back on the Monday, Rosie was born on the Wednesday and flew back out on Friday. It couldn’t be further apart. Hopefully my wife will maintain patience with me!

F1B: Any final thoughts or comments heading into 2017.

SL: I think it’s going to be a great season. Last year, you knew it was going to be Mercedes again but this year anything can happen. What if we get a double diffuser situation? We know the cars are going to look a lot cooler. Between you and me, I’ve just had a sneak preview of what the McLaren is going to look like and it looks very cool. Zak [Brown]’s really excited about what’s going on there. I hope McLaren are going to surge forward, so many British fans want McLaren to do well. I think they’ve got realistic ambitions.

F1B: It’s one of the things actually, you can deliver the best programming that you’ve ever done, but if the race isn’t good then there’s not much you can do about it.

SL: One of the things I notice from reading your blog is that when the ratings go down, you’re quick to say this is the reason why, and quite often you’re very right with it. The one thing you have to pin it on more than anything is what is happening on the grid. If that’s going well, then the figures go up. I do hope the right decisions are made by the sport going forward. I hope that Chase Carey and Liberty Media do listen to those that have gone before, but are also bold enough to take it in a new direction to make it appealing to the fans. We’ve got to have racing at the front, it’s got to be inter team rivalries rather than just intra team rivalries. We hark back to the Senna and Prost days, but they were lapping everyone, and yet they’re seen as the glory days, it’s rose tinted glasses. It’s like with icons after they’ve died, some stand the test of the time, so I’m hoping we get a little era now of really good racing between three or four teams.

My thanks go to Simon Lazenby for spending the time with me on the above interview.