The evolution of the grid walk

Last year marked the twentieth anniversary of Martin Brundle’s grid walk, a much-loved segment of Formula 1’s pre-race programming. Here, we look at how the grid walk has evolved, from inception to present day.

The origins of the grid walk go back to the late 1980’s. It was the 1989 British Grand Prix, Nigel Mansell’s first season in a Ferrari, when he played a part in the first ever grid interview. But, things did not quite go to plan between him and BBC presenter Steve Rider.

Writing in his book, Rider recalled “Nigel caught my eye, winked and nodded, even though he was still wearing a full-face helmet. At exactly the same moment the floor manager indicated that Murray Walker had handed down to me with Nigel Mansell.”

“I had to go for it. I shoved the mike into his helmet and he seemed to be giving me a lucid, animated reply, although with no off-air sound I had no idea what he was saying.”

“But, suitably encouraged when he stopped talking I asked another question. It went on like this for a few minutes, and it was only later that I was told that Nigel, in fact, was talking to his pit-crew and was desperately trying to get me to shut up.”

For a variety of reasons, logistics notwithstanding, the BBC did not attempt a full Formula 1 grid walk in their original stint up until the end of 1997.

“We didn’t think of doing a proper grid walk at the BBC, and it’s also the fact that you were restricted as to where you could go by FOM,” explained Tony Jardine, who worked as the BBC’s pit lane reporter at the time.

“I was literally arrested by Pasquale Lattuneddu, Bernie’s number two man, by going over some yellow line, and had to sit outside the [Formula One Management] office for several hours like a naughty school boy!”

In the BBC’s later years, the broadcaster interviewed selected British drivers on the grid. As time went by, the gates opened to the introduction of a fully fledged grid walk, which ITV used to their advantage, starting in 1997. Louise Goodman, ITV’s pit lane reporter for the duration of their coverage, watched events unfold.

“It was ITV’s first year of covering Formula 1, and we wanted to do something special to mark our home race, the British Grand Prix,” Goodman noted, in a chat to me at the Autosport Show. “We wanted to do something new, bringing the viewers closer to the drivers and cars, making the sport more accessible not only to current fans, but to bring in a new audience to Formula 1.”

2001 German GP - Brundle and Montoya.png
The grid walk segment shines a light on all angles of Formula 1. From the glitz and glamour, through to the technical directors, as well as interviewing drivers at both ends of the grid. Here, Martin Brundle interviews pole sitter Juan Montoya prior to the 2001 German Grand Prix.

The responsibility was placed on the shoulders of Martin Brundle, who retired from Formula 1 racing at the end of the 1996 season, having started 158 races. Being at the forefront of the sport for the previous 15 years meant that Brundle was well equipped to interview the stars of the show, even if there was trepidation to begin with.

“When Neil [Duncanson, executive producer at Chrysalis] first floated the idea to Martin, Martin wasn’t actually that keen on doing it,” Goodman tells me. “It’s an unpredictable live TV situation, and Martin was only in his first year as a broadcaster at that point, so I can understand why he was a little bit apprehensive to do it.”

Of course, walking the grid was not just a Formula 1 thing. At the same time in the mid-1990s, Jonathan Green and Steve Parrish started doing the same for Sky Sports’ coverage of World Superbikes, as did other personalities elsewhere in the motor sport spectrum, but it was arguably Brundle that took the concept mainstream.

“People think that Martin is just wandering around on the grid, but there is a lot of organisation that goes into it. You’ve got to have that knowledge to fill those moments where you are just wandering around looking for your next person to talk to,” explains Goodman, who herself has been in the grid walk role now for the past nine years with ITV’s British Touring Car Championship coverage.

“It is a daunting task to have a camera on you for five or six minutes. I remember when I first did it for touring cars, it was like ‘oh my god, I’ve got to fill all that space!’ And now, everybody does a grid walk. It was Martin’s character and personality, alongside his knowledge that made it what it was.”

“During the grid walk, you have three or four other people talking in your ears, so you’re trying to hear the driver, but you’re also hearing all the production chat that’s going on.”

“You learn to go with the flow of it, you could have had an interview set up, and when it comes to it, and this happens quite frequently in touring cars, the driver you planned to start the grid walk with, his car is not there, so you then make it up as you go along, grab somebody else, the first person that comes to mind. It’s a very fluid environment.”

For Jardine, Brundle’s knowledge and expertise shone out prior to his ITV days. In 1995, as well as car-sharing with Aguri Suzuki at Ligier, Brundle spent the remainder of races alongside Murray Walker and Jonathan Palmer in the BBC commentary box. “Martin could explain technical things in a very simplistic manner, not talking down to people, but just bringing it to a language you could understand, and maybe even have a little quip to boot.”

“Towards the end of the BBC’s tenure, Jonathan was with Murray in the commentary box and they brought Martin in as a third commentator. Brundle saw the race unfolding, and made a prediction which Palmer disagreed with, and the rest of it. But, what Brundle said was concise, he had a great idea of the strategy, and it was a great drivers’ perspective of what was going on.”

“It was a no brainer for ITV to bring him on-board. He took all that incredible knowledge, wit, wisdom, connectivity with drivers into the grid walk which we know and love. The art of good broadcasting is that you make it look easy, but believe you me, when you’re actually doing it, it’s not.”

2005 French GP - Brundle and Friesacher.png
The grid walk became an opportunity for viewers to learn about drivers’ further down the starting order. Here, Brundle interviews Minardi’s Patrick Friesacher prior to the 2005 French Grand Prix, a face and voice that was unrecognisable to the UK audience at that point in time.

Although Brundle’s first grid walk at Silverstone 1997 was prone to technical difficulties, the foundations were there for years to come. Fast-forward over twenty years, and the grid walk is now a staple of motor racing television worldwide. Imitation here is absolutely the sincerest form of flattery.

Natural progression and evolution suggests that grid interviews would have become commonplace at some point in time, but Brundle helped stamp his authority on the segment that no one else has since.

Brundle made the format his own, with memorable grid walks across his years at ITV, BBC and now Sky Sports. One of the Brundle’s more memorable grid walks that garnered attention worldwide came with the 2005 United States Grand Prix, Brundle attempting to play peace keeper whilst the Formula 1 spectacle imploded around him.

Many broadcasters have walked in Brundle’s footsteps, including David Coulthard, Jennie Gow, Neil Hodgson, Will Buxton and Goodman herself.

Because the grid walk is now so frequent across all motor racing output, it has lost some of its edge that it had in the early years. However, some of that is a result of drivers being heavily PR trained rather than anything a particular broadcaster has done wrong.

Despite the drivers being more media savvy than yesteryear, the grid walk still creates memorable, special, off the cuff moments that broadcasting rarely has in the modern age.

As for the next twenty years? The aim of the grid walk in 1997 was to bring fans watching around the world closer to the drivers and the cars, which remains ever true today. Since then, and into the digital era, broadcasters have gone beyond the grid walk.

In 2014, Sky went behind the scenes with Williams at the Italian Grand Prix, following their every movement immediately before the race, from garage through to the starting grid, removing a barrier typically there for viewers.

And as 2018 begins, fans have access to every single car through F1 TV Pro, a service that aims to revolutionise Formula 1 viewing. But, for everything that changes, the basics remain the same.

The grid walk is ingrained into motor racing broadcasts that it is difficult to see it disappearing. At least, not just yet…

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Will Buxton joins Formula 1’s in-house team

After much speculation and intrigue, Will Buxton has announced that will be part of Formula 1’s in-house team covering the sport this season, including their brand new over-the-top service.

Buxton joins the commercial rights holder, having previously commentated on F1’s feeder series GP2, and more recently was part of NBC’s F1 coverage over in America. He will present content across Formula One Management’s digital platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and their new streaming service.

Writing on Twitter, Buxton said “Touch down in Melbourne. No better time to be able to say that I’m over the moon to have joined the Formula 1 family as presenter of digital. Incredibly proud to become part of the @F1 team as it begins a tremendously exciting new era. Can’t wait to get started.”

Joining Buxton is his NBC sparring partner Jason Swales, who will produce some of Formula One Management’s (FOM) output. Swales historically produced BBC’s 5 Live Formula 1 coverage, more recently producing NBC’s output stateside.

As previously revealed, race commentary on the over-the-top service will be provided by broadcasters who already cover Formula 1, such as Sky Sports for the English based version and Canal+ for the French version.

Outside of the on-air roles, various Formula 1 personalities are joining FOM. Former BBC and Autosport website writer Lawrence Barretto moves to F1 as the sports Senior Website Editor, whilst RACER writer Chris Medland is also writing pieces for F1 this year.

Nico Rosberg joins Sky’s F1 team for 2018

2016 Formula One Drivers’ Champion Nico Rosberg will join the Sky Sports F1 team at selected races during the 2018 season.

Rosberg, who was part of Sky’s line-up during last year’s Japanese Grand Prix, will be part of both Sky’s UK and Italian line-ups over the course of the season. As announced before Christmas, Rosberg also joins Timo Glock over on RTL, so UK, Italian and German viewers will hear Rosberg’s analysis at various points this year.

Rosberg starts his Sky commitments during this weekend’s season opener in Australia, a race he won in 2014 and 2016. Speaking to the Sky Sports website, Rosberg said “I’m really excited to be joining the Sky Sports F1 team for the 2018 season.”

“Although getting behind the microphone doesn’t quite match the thrill of getting behind the wheel, I got a taste of it with Sky Sports last year and loved it. 2018 should be a fascinating battle, and hopefully I can offer fans a bit of an insight into the teams, the personalities and everything it takes to be an F1 driver. I can’t wait to get started.”

Scott Young, Sky’s new Head of F1, added “Bringing Nico on-board is fantastic news for Sky Sports viewers. Adding another former world champion to our line-up brings a new depth to our coverage. Nico raced for the current world championship team and this will deliver unique insights at key points throughout the season. We all look forward to his engaging perspective, alongside Martin, Damon and Johnny.”

Those of you who read my 2017 end of year review will have noted my praise for Rosberg, I thought he brought a different angle to Sky’s coverage, and helped reinvigorate their programming during the Japan weekend.

I was worried that UK viewers would not hear Rosberg’s analysis during 2018, but thankfully that appears to not be the case. In this instance, having him appear on-screen at selected races is for the best, and will keep the line-up fresh throughout the new season.

Scheduling: The 2018 Australian Grand Prix

New television graphics, new cockpit protection, a new logo, and a new over-the-top service. Formula 1 heads into the 2018 season with major changes which viewers worldwide will notice.

2018 is the last year of the current Sky Sports and Channel 4 contract, with Sky acquiring exclusive rights from 2019 onwards. Despite the wider changes for 2018, both Sky and Channel 4 field broadly similar line-ups, with the only change that Pat Symonds appears to not be returning to Sky’s talent portfolio.

The bigger changes are for the BBC’s radio team, where Allan McNish, Mark Gallagher, and Tom Clarkson all leave the fray. Clarkson is expected to be part of Formula 1’s in-house team. In comes former Renault driver Jolyon Palmer, who will commentate on every race this season, alongside lead commentator Jack Nicholls. As always, audio coverage of every session is available on the BBC Sport website.

As noted in the past few weeks, Sky’s schedule is changing for 2018, with The F1 Show moving to a post-qualifying slot on Saturday’s. However, the race day timings remain the same, meaning that there is an extra ten-minutes of build-up, and ten fewer minutes of analysis following the race. The titles of the pre-race segments are changing, with Pit Lane Live an hour in duration, and a new On the Grid segment covering the period directly before lights out.

For those wondering, there is no sign of Virgin Australia Supercars from Melbourne appearing in Motorsport.tv’s schedules, even though the round is now part of the Supercars season moving forward. Elsewhere, Channel 4 are screening highlights of the Race of Champions event for the second year running.

NOTE: Clocks go forward one hour on Sunday 25th March, with the change from Greenwich Mean Time to British Summer Time. The times listed are for GMT on Saturday and before; BST for Sunday and afterwards…

Channel 4
Sessions
24/03 – 13:00 to 14:50 – Qualifying Highlights
25/03 – 14:30 to 17:15 – Race Highlights

Supplementary Programming
25/03 – 08:25 to 09:30 – Race of Champions

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
23/03 – 00:30 to 02:45 – Practice 1 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
23/03 – 04:45 to 06:45 – Practice 2
24/03 – 02:45 to 04:10 – Practice 3
24/03 – 05:00 to 07:45 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 05:00 – Pre-Show
=> 05:55 – Qualifying
25/03 – 04:30 to 09:10 – Race (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 04:30 – Pit Lane Live
=> 05:30 – On the Grid
=> 06:05 – Race
=> 08:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
21/03 – 20:30 to 21:00 – The F1 Report: Australia Preview (also Sky Sports Mix)
22/03 – 04:00 to 05:00 – Driver Press Conference (also Sky Sports Mix)
22/03 – 18:00 to 18:15 – Paddock Uncut: Australia
24/03 – 07:45 to 08:15 – The F1 Show (also Sky Sports Main Event)
28/03 – 20:30 to 21:00 – The F1 Report: Australia Review

BBC F1
Sessions
22/03 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
25/03 – 05:30 to 08:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

World Superbikes – Thailand
24/03 – 06:00 to 10:15 – Qualifying and Race 1 (Eurosport 2)
25/03 – 08:00 to 11:15 – Race 2 (Eurosport 2)
27/03 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

If the schedule above does change, I will update this post.

Update on March 19th – As pointed out in the comments, the Team Principles Press Conference takes place after first practice, at least in Melbourne. I have removed it from the schedule here as I cannot see it anywhere in Sky’s listings.

Scheduling: The 2018 Qatar MotoGP / Punta del Este E-Prix

The excitement, anticipation and tension has reached fever pitch on the eve of the new MotoGP season, which begins in Qatar!

Whether you are listening to the MotoGP app, or to BT Sport’s television coverage, the soundtrack to your weekend will be different, following the retirements of Nick Harris and Julian Ryder from the paddock at the end of 2017.

Simon Crafar, who raced in MotoGP and World Superbikes in the 1990s, partners Steve Day on the MotoGP World Feed, whilst Neil Hodgson will commentate on the 19 MotoGP races alongside Keith Huewen for BT Sport.

Ex-MotoGP rider Michael Laverty joins BT’s team for six races in 2018, with more an emphasis on the analytical side of things from BT this year. BT have overhauled their Friday offering, with a full presentation team now covering the action on practice day, and a 15-minute wrap-up show in the evening.

Suzi Perry continues to present BT’s coverage, covering 14 rounds, with Craig Doyle hosting the remainder.

MotoGP highlights programme remains on Channel 5 for 2018, however highlights from Qatar do not air until Wednesday evening, which seems like a waste on Channel 5’s behalf given that there are diminishing returns the further away from live you air.

Elsewhere, Punta del Este is the next stop on the Formula E calendar, replacing Sao Paolo which was meant to fill this slot. Live action returns to Channel 5 for the first time since Marrakesh in January.

MotoGP – Qatar (BT Sport 2)
16/03 – 09:30 to 17:15 – Practice 1 and 2
17/03 – 09:30 to 12:30 – Practice 3
17/03 – 13:00 to 17:30 – Qualifying
18/03 – 10:30 to 18:00
=> 10:30 – Warm Ups
=> 12:15 – Moto3
=> 14:00 – Moto2
=> 15:30 – MotoGP
=> 17:00 – Chequered Flag

MotoGP – Qatar (Channel 5)
21/03 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights

Formula E – Punta del Este (online via YouTube)
17/03 – 10:55 to 11:55 – Practice 1
17/03 – 13:25 to 14:10 – Practice 2

Formula E – Punta del Este
17/03 – 14:45 to 16:15 – Qualifying (5Spike)
17/03 – 17:30 to 20:10 (Eurosport 2)
=> 17:30 – Preview
=> 18:05 – Qualifying
=> 19:00 – Race
17/03 – 18:30 to 20:10 – Race (Channel 5)

Asia Talent Cup – Qatar (BT Sport 2)
17/03 – 17:30 to 18:30 – Race 1
18/03 – 09:45 to 10:30 – Race 2

As always, the above will be updated if anything changes.