Flashback: 2005 Australian A1 Grand Prix

What do the last names Verstappen and Yoong have in common? Yes, both were Minardi drivers in Formula 1. But both also competed in the inaugural season of A1 Grand Prix, and that is where the latest instalment of flashback takes Motorsport Broadcasting to.

A1 Grand Prix launched 15 years ago to much fanfare, with a glitzy season opener at Brands Hatch. Just four years later, financial issues confined the World Cup of Motorsport to history. Although the series itself ended into 2009, it took until 2015 for the company itself to be dissolved.

But, memories of the series remain scattered across the web. Unfortunately, this is not in one centralised place, and given that A1 Grand Prix has long gone, the chances of that happening at all is unlikely. One can dream, however…

> What went wrong with A1 Grand Prix?

In terms of its position and scheduling, A1 Grand Prix was the Formula E of 2000’s, although the latter has outlived the former. Life for Sky Sports in the UK before Formula 1 consisted of A1 Grand Prix and IndyCar, amongst other forms of motor sport.

Initially, Sky gave A1 lots of attention, so much so that the first ever race day from Brands bumped the football Super Sunday off Sky Sports 1!

Once the initial attention drifted, the series settled down, and flashback takes us to the Eastern Creek Raceway in Australia, which played host to the fourth round of the season.

  • Date: Sunday 6th November 2005
  • Channel: Sky Sports 3
  • Time: 02:00 to 05:30
    • 02:30 – Sprint Race
    • 04:00 – Feature Race
  • Presenter: Georgie Thompson (Sky)
  • Reporter: Lee McKenzie (A1)
  • Reporter: Gareth Jones (A1)
  • Commentator: Ben Edwards (A1)
  • Commentator: John Watson (A1)
  • Analyst: Andy Priaulx (Sky)
  • Analyst: Keith Huewen (Sky)

A1’s race day offering consisted of two races: a 30-minute sprint race and a 60-minute feature race. Both had lap counters, although as we discover in Australia, both end up going to time for differing reasons.

Back in the day, most sports that Sky covered live had the luxury of wrap-around studio coverage from their base in Osterley, jumping in and out of the World Feed along the way. For Eastern Creek, the 30-minute build-up to the sprint race consisted of just that.

Sky’s own colour consisted of Georgie Thompson, Andy Priaulx and Keith Huewen. An initial discussion around qualifying, which saw France’s Nicolas Lapierre qualify on pole, at the start of the programme shows how A1 tried to stand out. Qualifying for each event consisted of four segments, with the best two lap times for each country forming the grid.

Thompson reminds viewers that it takes three Boeing 747 jets to get the 50 cars over to Eastern Creek from Europe, a big achievement for a young series.

From that point onwards, we are in and out of the A1 feed, with Lee McKenzie interviewing a young Lapierre, and Ben Edwards giving viewers an excellent virtual guide of the circuit, the graphics looking decent for 2005! The overriding feeling is that Eastern Creek is an old school track and rough round the edges. A1 loved virtual graphics, with the 24-car grid also covered in virtual form later in both build-ups.

Ad-breaks are an unavoidable part of Sky’s pre- and post-race offering, but the races themselves air uninterrupted on the pay TV outlet. Sky miss some World Feed segments as a result, such as pre-race interviews with New Zealand and Australia, however this does not detract from the programme.

2005 Australian A1 GP - on-board Italy.png
On-board with Italy’s Enrico Toccacelo as he tries to get past Canada’s Sean McIntosh during the sprint race.

There is some repetition in the sprint race build-up (not convinced viewers needed to hear from Lapierre, or see the virtual grid graphics, twice), however there were a good sample of grid interviews, with McKenzie chatting to Canadian driver Sean McIntosh as well as Great Britain’s team principal John Surtees.

Both grids were quiet compared to Formula 1 or Formula E, but also the Eastern Creek Raceway had a vast amount of space, so perhaps is not the best comparator. The main thing here is that the attendance looks really healthy for A1’s first appearance down under.

After the national anthems, it is race time!

Sprint race
The A1 Grand Prix liveries look so distinctive and awesome, certainly the chances of wrongly identifying a car is slim.

The opening laps of the sprint race give us a chance to analyse the graphics package on offer, which reminds me of not only F1’s ‘slant’ package from 2010 onwards, but also the classic 1994 to 2003 graphics set due to the black and yellow colour combination for the numbering. The package follows the ‘keep it simple, stupid’ principles, making it straightforward for viewers to follow.

As an example, all A1 cars have a power boost system, which drivers can use four times in the sprint race and eight times in the feature race, giving a tactical element to the racing. No fancy graphics used, just a simple number, which the television feed highlights when a driver activates it.

The timing wall cycles through five cars at once, however there is no sign of Team Radio, a sign of the era more than anything else. From a camera angle perspective, the director opted to use the heli-cam at the rolling sprint race start, with sporadic on-boards used throughout helping to show the ragged nature of the machinery.

As usual, Edwards and Watson are a joy to listen to, the two covering movements further down the field, even when not aired on the World Feed.

Wonderful topography of this Eastern Creek Raceway where they’re up and down, they’ve got off camber corners to deal with. It’s a little bit like Oulton Park in the UK or Mid Ohio in the United States, there’s a lot of thinking to be done, it’s quite technical in places.

Overtaking is obviously not easy, there are a few opportunities that we’ve seen though. – A1 commentator Ben Edwards talking about the circuit

Separate incidents involving Czech Republic’s Tomas Enge and Germany’s Adrian Sutil prompt two Safety Cars during the race, but it is a dull affair outside of that, with France winning the time limited race over Portugal and Brazil, continuing their dominance of the series so far.

Break between Races
Reaction to the sprint race is thin on the ground from Sky, with some brief analysis from Huewen and Priaulx in the studio, followed by the press conference, before moving on to a variety of segments.

Having an hour between the races gave broadcasters enough breathing room in one sense, but not in another. Sky have around 40 minutes to play with (excluding commercials) between the end of the sprint race and the start of the feature race, which is not much. However, for a new series it makes sense, I can see the logic in not wanting to drag proceedings on for too long.

2005 Australian A1 GP - virtual grid graphics width=

Cutting to the studio immediately after the sprint race meant that Sky lost some of the track atmosphere, but avoided them having to brutally crash in and out of the World Feed, reminiscent of ITV’s Formula E studio coverage.

Sky added their own flavour in the form of a segment with Thompson and France’s Alexandre Premat, the two sitting underneath the Eifel Tower to reflect on Premat’s domination in the Portuguese round. The segment was more of a quick-fire Q&A, with no flashy music, doing the job nicely in introducing fans to the characters.

Multiple segments from the World Feed followed, which Sky played out ‘as live.’ The first covered the battle between Australia and New Zealand, with Gareth Jones narrating (a story A1 hyped up throughout the broadcast), and a second looking at what the drivers have been doing in the run up to the weekend.

Next up, McKenzie is in pit lane chatting to Japan’s Hayanari Shimoda after the sprint race, before another A1 piece, this time with the drivers out surfing on Bondi Beach. If anything, this part of the programme is VT heavy, however Sky are reliant on whatever content A1 are sending to them from Australia. Of course, the Sky Pad did not exist back then…

After an ad-break, we head into the feature race build-up, following a similar structure to the sprint race, with McKenzie and Jones chatting to the likes of Ireland’s Michael Devaney and New Zealand’s Jonny Reid on the grid.

The only difference this time round is that it is A1 Grand Prix’s founder Sheikh Maktoum who gives the starting command, which was always a nice touch. “Gentlemen, for the pride of your nations, start your engines!”

Feature race
The TV direction and commentary at the start was subpar, not helped by an unusual choice of camera angle, which failed to spot Portugal’s Alvaro Parente jumping the start. France lost the lead to them as a result, whilst Ireland took a trip through the gravel trap.

The pre-race tactics that the commentary team discussed quickly come to fruition, as Britain’s Robbie Kerr used power boost to get past Brazil on lap two.

2005 Australian A1 GP - feature race leaders.png
The A1 Grand Prix field hurdles towards turn one on lap two, with Portugal leading the way. Behind, Brazil activates power boost as they try to fend off Great Britain.

The feature race features a mandatory pit stop, with A1 opting to display the whole pit lane time on the screen, not just the stationary time.

South Africa was the first country to crash out on lap five. Portugal’s lead was short-lived because of the jump start, although their jump start is not obvious from the replays, so I do have some sympathy with Edwards and Watson here. Like in race one, the Safety Car found itself in the lead most of the time.

The first caution period comes because of a collision at turn two (the main trouble spot) between Mexico and Russia, during which most of the field opt to pit. The exception is 25-year-old Basil Shaaban who now finds himself leading for Lebanon!

Shaaban tumbles down the field once the Safety Car pits, but Watson quite rightly calls his performance “outstanding,” as the Lebanese driver held his own. The on-board angles are again awesome, and a real plus point for the television offering, showing how difficult the cars are to control.

Czech Republic and Austria are the next pair to collide into one another, resulting in the second Safety Car period. France leaves the rest of the field trailing on the restart, as Ireland re-overtakes New Zealand.

Some of the direction and camera work is sub-standard, but in the context of this being A1’s fourth race weekend, it is solid in my view for what is a very hectic race.

A huge accident for Japan’s Shimoda at turn one brings out the final Safety Car of the race. The violent nature of the accident separated the car into two, however Shimoda escaped relatively unscathed. A1 officials pause before showing the replay, but when they do show it, it is clear just how big the accident is, the Lola chassis doing its job.

2005 Australian A1 GP - on-board New Zealand.png
On-board with New Zealand’s Jonny Reid during the feature race.

As in race one, the race switches to time format. Nothing can stop France from continuing their clean sweep of the weekend! Kerr holds on for second place for Great Britain, defending from Switzerland and Netherlands behind.

A little like Formula E has tried to do, A1 Grand Prix helped fill the void doing the traditional motor racing off-season, arguably better than Formula E has ever accomplished in that respect.

Yes, the electric series has outlived A1, but the latter was a genuine winter championship. The first season of the World Cup of Motorsport ran from September to April, with six race weekends between November and February, more than Formula E has ever had in the equivalent period.

The highlight of A1 for me? Seeing Jos Verstappen for Netherlands win the Durban feature race during season one by overtaking Switzerland’s Neel Jani on the very last lap. There is not much better than this moment, with Ben Edwards on commentary declaring “The Netherlands have taken the lead,” is there?

A1 may not have lasted long, but for those that followed it race in and out, it certainly is much missed.


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Flashback: 2009 Australian Grand Prix

After twelve years of F1 on commercial television in the United Kingdom, Formula 1 returned to the BBC ten years ago this weekend, with live coverage of the 2009 Australian Grand Prix.

To celebrate the anniversary, Motorsport Broadcasting looks back at their race day offering from the opening race. The BBC’s offering was over a year in the making, with ITV pulling out of the sport in March 2008.

Every session live, multiple video streams, a new presentation team led by Jake Humphrey, 2009 marked the start of a new era of Formula 1 broadcasting in the UK.

ITV’s coverage ended on a high note the previous year, with Lewis Hamilton winning his first ever championship in dramatic fashion. Now, it was time for BBC to stamp their authority on the sport that they arguably neglected thirteen years earlier.

  • Date: Sunday 29th March 2009
  • Channel: BBC One / BBC Red Button
  • Time: 06:00 to 09:00 / 09:00 to 10:00
  • Presenter: Jake Humphrey
  • Reporter: Lee McKenzie
  • Reporter: Ted Kravitz
  • Commentator: Jonathan Legard
  • Commentator: Martin Brundle
  • Analyst: David Coulthard
  • Analyst: Eddie Jordan

Only Ted Kravitz and Martin Brundle made the jump from ITV to the BBC in the off-season.

The BBC’s in-house commentator Jonathan Legard, who previously was the voice of F1 for Radio 5 Live, joined Brundle in the box, whilst Lee McKenzie joined Kravitz as the BBC’s roving reporter.

In addition, the BBC’s radio offering, with David Croft, Anthony Davidson and Holly Samos leading the coverage took on added impetus, as the BBC not only covered practice in audio form, but now visually via the Red Button.

> BBC archive blog: F1 editor, the best job in the world (Mark Wilkin, Editor – Friday 06/03/09)

Formula 1’s return to the corporation was supported by a significant cross-platform campaign spanning digital, radio and television, bringing the sport into the digital age. Their pre-season trailer, filmed in South Africa, depicted a car chase between a yellow car and black car, which ended with a familiar bass riff. Welcome back, ‘The Chain’…

Pre-Race
But before The Chain, there is the small matter of ‘The Scream of Science’, an 80 second promo intended to get the heart racing. Voiced by Louis Mellis, it is one of the best trailers for Formula 1 full-stop, and one that fans watch ten years later, which is a sign of just how good it is.

The BBC’s actual title sequence, produced by Liquid TV, was fully computer generated (CGI), ending with various racing cars converging into one, with The Chain in full voice in the background.

“A brand-new season, and a new channel,” were the words that greeted viewers, as Humphrey walked down the Albert Park pit lane. The BBC ditched ITV’s ‘blazer style’, which had greeted their coverage for the past three years in favour of a more casual style.

As a collective, the BBC’s coverage focused heavily on the Brawn story. The team, led by Ross Brawn, rising from the ashes of Honda in spectacular style. The story went beyond Formula 1, and into sporting history. Think Leicester City style for readers unfamiliar with the Brawn story.

Interspersed with the Brawn angle were video edits shining the light on the remainder of the 2009 field, with Legard providing voiceover. Kravitz provided his own voiceover for the qualifying report.

The main feature in the build-up focused on the bushfires that hit Australia in the weeks before the Grand Prix, as a film crew travelled with Red Bull driver Mark Webber through the aftermath to meet some of the victims, a stark reminder of the contrast beween F1 and some of the outside world.

2009 Australian GP - BBC pre-show
The BBC’s presentation team of Jake Humphrey, David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan in pit lane before the race.

As the discussion becomes more fluid in the half hour before lights out, it is clear Humphrey has done a huge amount of research, coming across to the viewer as knowledgeable, yet down to earth, for what is his first Grand Prix presenting. At this stage, the show and discussion feel raw, with all three new to their paddock roles.

Pleasingly, the build-up strikes a balance on Formula 1’s technical aspects (diffusers, otherwise known as ‘confusers’ in Jordan’s dictionary), explaining them without alienating the casual viewer, whilst giving an introduction on key motor sport terminology through a ‘Behind the Formula’ segment narrated by Brundle.

The CGI which featured in the opening title sequence is a running theme through the BBC’s 2009 output, with CGI fly-overs of the Melbourne circuit leading into the calendar graphic, as well as being utilised during the track guide with Brundle and Coulthard. The track guide is informative, both using their previous Melbourne experience to their advantage, aiding the broadcast.

Attention turns back to the British drivers, with Brawn sponsor and Virgin owner Richard Branson joining in on proceedings, as we approach lights out, and Brundle’s first BBC grid walk!

A media scrum of sizeable proportions greets Brundle on the grid, the media trying to grab both Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, but Brundle manages to navigate through the scrums. The highlight is Brundle’s front wing analysis, suggesting that the wings would be more aesthetically pleasing with “brown paper bags over them.”

Brundle – Jenson, can you do this?
Button – Yes.
Brundle – How?
Button – By crossing the line first at the end of the race.

After the grid walk, Coulthard and Jordan wrap up the pre-show discussion, outlining what activities take place between now and lights out. Ferrari’s Chris Dyer adds additional insight on Brawn with Kravitz, giving suggestions as to why Brawn are out in front.

And then, for the first time since the 1996 Japanese Grand Prix, is a F1 race airing live and uninterrupted for UK fans!

Race
For Brundle, 2009 was his thirteenth season in the F1 commentary box. For Legard, it was his first F1 television commentary, although at that stage he was a veteran in his own right, if not in that given context.

One of the new regulations for 2009 was that F1 teams had to declare the weight of their car following qualifying, the information sensibly used by Formula One Management (FOM) in their graphics set. However, there were no graphics related to tyres, even if they played a pivotal part in the race as various drivers hit the ‘cliff’ and slumped down the pecking order.

What a difference a year makes. Lewis Hamilton dominated this event last year, now he needs a set of binoculars to see the lights go out. – BBC co-commentator Martin Brundle commenting on Hamilton’s trajectory.

Brawn’s fortunes off the line are mixed, with Barrichello tumbling down the order, causing mayhem at turn one. Legard’s commentary at the start is far too fast (almost as if he was commentating on radio…), but he soon settles down into a rhythm.

Brundle’s expertise is invaluable from the get-go, making sense of Ferrari’s early progress, due to their soft tyres combined with the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS), as well as fantastic analysis of the turn one crash.

The KERS device has a significant impact on the race as a whole, not only for Ferrari, but also Hamilton yet, speedometer aside, does not play a part in F1’s graphics set. Unlike in more recent years, when you can see the rear wing opening for the Drag Reduction System (DRS), there is no obvious way the viewer can see when a driver is using KERS to overtake.

With high-definition not yet a thing for Formula 1, the graphics set (on the BBC feed at least) remains within the 4:3 ‘safe zone’, with timing information sporadically scrolling across the bottom of the screen, although this is far too infrequent for my liking.

Despite the inferior graphics, Legard utilises the timing screens on offer to him fantastically to spot when cars are hitting the cliff and informing the viewer, although there was a feeling of repetitiveness as the race unfolded. At one stage, BMW’s Robert Kubica was six seconds off the pace due to tyre degradation before his pit stop resulting in significant field spread.

Nakajima helped close the field back up by crashing his Williams, the BBC using the Safety Car opportunity to promote their post-race forum show, no Twitter back then and instead an e-mail address!

2009 Australian GP - Hamilton and speedometer.png
On-board with McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton during the 2009 Australian Grand Prix. Featured on FOM’s graphic is the speed, rev counter, throttle and brake usage, and amount of KERS battery left.

The camera angles were noticeably higher at some corners here than what we have currently, FOM under Liberty Media’s ownership reverting to some of the old F1 Digital angles to capture the speed, which was not as noticeable during 2009. Saying that, I did enjoy seeing a camera angle panning down between turns five and six, showing the speed following the fast right turn.

Following Nakajima’s crash and into the latter stage, the race is all about “who is going to hit the cliff first” where the tyres are concerned. One thing that occurred to me as the race progressed was that I was complaning about the direction less, primarily because there were fewer graphics that alerted viewers of emerging battles. In other words, if the commentary team did not alert viewers that driver X was closing on Y, the fans watching at home would be totally oblivious.

The cliff eventually does hit, with Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel suffering the most: Rosberg’s Williams being overtaken by multiple drivers, whilst Vettel’s race ended in a ‘clumsy’ collision with BMW’s Robert Kubica. The drama, which is explained well in commentary, promotes Barrichello to second, and gifting Brawn GP a one-two finish on their debut!

Post-Race
Prior to the podium celebrations on the cool down lap, there is some good discussion between Legard and Brundle talking about Brawn’s winter, and why Brawn were right to pick Barrichello over Bruno Senna, who media expected to take the second Brawn seat.

20 minutes from chequered flag to off-air was just about enough for the BBC to squeeze in the podium, top three press conference, as well as interviews with Hamilton and Nick Fry.

The whole of the post-race segment on BBC One had a feel-good factor to it with the underdog effect playing its part, in what was a fantastic news story for the whole of Formula 1.

2009 Australian GP - Button
Winner.

Of course, it was not just 20 minutes, because following the BBC One transmission, for the first time ever was an additional 60-minutes of analysis and chatter via the BBC’s interactive Red Button service.

The team decamped to the Force India area within the Melbourne paddock, with Humphrey, Coulthard and Jordan accompanied by single camera set-up for most of the broadcast.

An additional four Brawn interviews followed during the F1 Forum, with both drivers in the interview ‘pen’, Branson, and Button’s engineer Andrew Shovlin during the forum. One may argue that this is over-the-top, but the size of the story arguably justifies this.

A secondary factor is that, back in 2009, there was no concept of the interview ‘pen’ beyond the top three, meaning that it was anywhere goes in the paddock. On one hand, that is to the detriment of the broadcast meaning that we do not get to hear all the stories, but meant that we heard a variety of different voices from on and off the track as the show progressed.

During the broadcast, Kravitz interviewed team bosses Martin Whitmarsh (McLaren) and Mario Theissen (BMW), with Vijay Mallya (Force India) joining the presentation team live, all three teams discussed in detail, which may not have been possible in the ITV days with limited air-time.

> BBC archive blog: Reflecting on a memorable Melbourne weekend (Jake Humphrey – 30/03/09)
> BBC archive blog: The morning after the morning before (Roger Mosey, Head of BBC Sport – 30/03/09)

More importantly, the conversation flowed from one subject to another, instead of the BBC treating them as standalone entitles: Whitmarsh’s interview touched on Ferrari and Brawn, whilst Mallya’s interview focused on Force India’s late development due to the timing of their engine agreement, and how McLaren in turn helped seal the deal in that respect.

All of this helped the programme, which aired without significant constraints or the worry of any upcoming commercials, a breakthrough for Formula 1 broadcasting in the UK.

The three analysts referred to their own experience at various points, Coulthard leading Brundle into a conversation about Brawn’s car design, relying on Brundle’s experience from working with Brawn in sports cars.

The crew dissected the race ending incident between Vettel and Kubica, Coulthard “very disappointed” with both, whilst Brundle brought up Vettel’s past in this area, having smashed into Webber in Japan 2007. The debate led to the first of many friendly disagreements between Jordan and Coulthard, the two disagreeing on whether Vettel should have apologised to close friend and BMW boss Theissen (which the BBC’s cameras captured in the paddock).

In addition to the World Feed analysis, having access to additional race feeds meant that the BBC could play these into the Red Button broadcast, such as analysis from Hamilton’s own on-board.

The first BBC F1 forum at the 2009 Australian Grand Prix. Jake Humphrey (l), Ted Kravitz and Lee McKenzie (top r), David Coulthard, Eddie Jordan and Martin Brundle (bottom r).
The first BBC F1 forum at the 2009 Australian Grand Prix. Jake Humphrey (l), Ted Kravitz and Lee McKenzie (top r), David Coulthard, Eddie Jordan and Martin Brundle (bottom r).

In later years, the forum went on for as long as deemed necessary, but to start with, the programme ran to time. Only one e-mail managed its way into the broadcast, but irrespective, the question generated an open-end discussion, paving the way for what was to come in future.

Kravitz and McKenzie joined Humphrey, Coulthard, Jordan and Brundle in the temporary Force India set-up, to reflect on their first weekend in Melbourne.

Times Like These by Foo Fighters played out the BBC’s first Formula 1 television broadcast in nearly thirteen years, a marathon four-hour broadcast across two outlets.

Overnight viewing figures quickly justified their expansive coverage: a staggering peak audience of nearly seven million viewers watched the race, with many millions more reached across digital and radio.

For Brawn, for Button, for Barrichello, and for the Beeb, Melbourne 2009 really was a fairy tale.

Flashback: 1997 Spanish Grand Prix

2017 marks twenty years since ITV’s Formula 1 coverage first hit our television screens. Their inaugural season covering the sport was a roller-coaster ride, with the championship battle between Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher going down to the wire in Jerez.

Here, we turn our attention to the 1997 Spanish Grand Prix, which marked round six of the championship. Through the early fly-away races, the season had been a very competitive affair, dominated by the tyre war between Goodyear and Bridgestone. The previous round in Monaco saw Schumacher dominate in the pouring rain. Would Villeneuve be able to bounce back in Catalunya?

At this point in proceedings, ITV’s coverage was beginning to gel together into a cohesive unit. Here is how the team lined up for the weekend:

  • Date: Sunday 25th May 1997
  • Time: 12:35 to 15:10
  • Presenter: Jim Rosenthal
  • Reporter: Louise Goodman
  • Reporter: James Allen
  • Commentator: Murray Walker
  • Commentator: Martin Brundle
  • Analyst: Tony Jardine
  • Analyst: Simon Taylor

In the early years, ITV’s build-up for the European rounds would typically last around 25 minutes, expanding into the early 2000s to the typical one-hour length that we currently see for live free-to-air broadcasts.

Pre-Race
After an opening interlude from Jim Rosenthal highlighting Schumacher’s Monaco success, Jamiroquai plays in ITV’s F1 coverage. We are straight into a qualifying wrap up, with Louise Goodman providing voice over. It is a quick-fire round-up, no fancy graphics or music, just Goodman narrating with Walker providing the commentary over the key bits. The grid graphics (more fancy for 1997!) follow on.

1997 Spanish GP - ITV's grid graphics
ITV’s grid graphics for the 1997 Spanish Grand Prix.

Williams driver Jacques Villeneuve gives his post-qualifying opinion to James Allen, describing his last lap as “near perfection”. All the above occurring within the first five minutes, unsurprising when there is not much build-up time to play with for ITV.

The studio atmosphere between Rosenthal, Taylor and Jardine is good (there is enough time to mention Taylor’s seasickness from Monaco, for example!). ITV strike the right tone, with discussion varying from personality driven to one of a technical nature.

A feature of ITV’s coverage from day one was an on-board lap of the circuit, but in 1997 this took the form of a virtual tour. The channel used an early version of the F1 1997 PlayStation game for the virtual lap, with Martin Brundle narrating. There are no additional features during the build-up, with the remainder of time allotted to covering grid interviews and studio chat.

Allen and Goodman provided the grid interviews, interviewing Damon Hill, Eddie Irvine, David Coulthard and Jean Alesi. Studio chatter interspersed the interviews, but this did not work well, and you can quickly see why ITV introduced a grid walk later in the season. Whilst the studio segments are good, you do not get a sense of the atmosphere building, in the same way you do in later years with the grid walk format that Brundle made popular.

Nevertheless, the studio discussion does produce some excellent technical conversation tailored to the casual fan, with Taylor dissecting why Ferrari are struggling around the Barcelona circuit.

JR: Again, for those coming to grips with the world of Formula 1, why should the Ferrari win in Monaco, which I know was a very different sort of circuit, and you say now this place just doesn’t suit them at all, with all the testing, all the money, with all the things like that.

ST: The real problem here in Barcelona is long, fast corners. And if you have a car that understeers, that’s a car that wants to go straight on in a fast corner, then you won’t get a good time. That’s Ferrari’s problem, they can’t get the grip in the long, fast corners. They can get the grip in the tight turns of Monaco. Here, it is very abrasive, they’re worried about tyre wear particularly on the front left tyre. So, it’s not looking good for Ferrari, but you can never discount them.

We see the championship standings much closer to the race start than usual instead of at the start of the broadcast, in the context of Benetton’s disappointing year so far following Alesi’s grid interview.

Race
There is no batting around the bush about what to expect for the race, with Walker calling Villeneuve the “hot favourite” for the Grand Prix. The five minutes before the race are great from the local host director, as there is a take on Formula E’s segway with the camera man focusing on each car one by one, which is a nice touch. During the segway, Walker mentions the driver change at Sauber, Gianni Morbidelli replacing Nicola Larini.

In 1997, the Barcelona circuit was one of the newer races on the calendar, then in its seventh season nevertheless the crowd, whilst smaller than other races, is still a healthy number. Ralf Schumacher stalled his Jordan car at the first start, resulting in an aborted start. At this stage, Walker and Brundle have access to team radio information from the Jordan team, with material relayed back to the viewers. An abandoned start is a good thing for viewers at this stage, as it meant that ITV could take an advert break without ‘losing’ any laps, meaning that the first 19 laps were live and uninterrupted.

1997 Spanish GP - on-board Coulthard
On-board with David Coulthard’s McLaren as he hunts down the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher.

Whilst the pre-race angles on the grid were good, the first lap was a mess from the local director. Multiple camera operators were far too slow to respond to the cars, resulting in cameras that panned to action half way through the field instead of the action up front. We can just about pick out, as does Walker, the “meteoric” start from Schumacher’s Ferrari, although Walker does make it sound better than it was, which Brundle points out half way round lap two! (Stating he started 9th and not 7th). The replays do make up for the host directors’ inefficiencies, with a helicopter replay, and a replay showing on-board footage of Schumacher’s start, which is amazing to watch and decipher.

The early laps are close between the front-runners, the excitement in Walker’s voice is loud and clear, even if Brundle proclaims that Villeneuve will “run and hide”. The attention is on the battle between Schumacher and Coulthard, with a queue quickly developing. Walker covers the rest of the action as best as he can at that phase in the Grand Prix, but the director is right to focus on the growing train behind the leading Ferrari.

It is a tyre dependent formula, which explains and justifies ITV’s pre-race stance to explain this element adequately to viewers. The local Formula One Management director uses helicopter shots to show the growing gap between Villeneuve and Schumacher. Coulthard finally makes the move before his first of three stops. ITV use James Allen during the pit stop sequence, pointing out a near collision between Schumacher and Benetton’s Gerhard Berger in the pit lane.

Damon Hill is in fifth position! Damon Hill in the Arrows Yamaha is higher than he has ever been this season, a terrific performance, whatever reason. Some of it of course will be due to the fact that people have been in for tyres and he hasn’t. Villeneuve leads, Alesi is in second position… and Hill stops! Ohh… as I say it. That is six races and six failures for Damon Hill. And even his patience and tolerance must be severely tested. – Murray Walker with the commentators’ curse

Villeneuve’s performance with one less stop is dominant. On return from the first break Rosenthal hands us over to Simon Taylor who covers Alesi’s first stop ‘as live’ (which occurred during the commercial break), before handing back to Walker, a neat move as he moved in front of Ferrari’s Schumacher. Through the first pit stop sequence and Villeneuve’s different strategy, Coulthard has closed in on Villeneuve with the gap down to three seconds, whilst Panis on the Bridgestone tyres in third before pitting.

Our TV director missed Alesi and Schumacher passing Hakkinen, instead cutting to Frentzen pitting despite the German driver being out of contention at this phase in the race. Walker and Brundle continue to bring into play the tyre situation, noting that blistering is a factor and that the Goodyear tyres are “too soft” for this race track. There is limited coverage of runners below sixth place, beyond the pit stop sequences, just one of ways that the feed became diluted in the late 1990s compared to the F1 Digital+ service that was starting across Europe. However, the gaps throughout the field are marginal meaning we see the likes of Johnny Herbert’s Sauber running in 4th place briefly, Walker describing it as an “interesting and exciting race.”

A lot of pit stop strategies have gone completely out of the window this afternoon. And as we look out of our commentary box window itself, there seem to be as many cars coming down the pit lane as down the pit straight! – ITV co-commentator Martin Brundle

The tyre war theme continues into the second half of the Grand Prix as Panis on Bridgestone tyres overtakes Coulthard’s McLaren on Goodyear tyres for third position (a beautiful helicopter shot at this moment showing Panis move ahead), Panis then comfortably pulling away from the McLaren! Clearly a Prost car overtaking a McLaren was previously unheard of, but made possible because of the 1997 formula, Walker notes that all the races so far in 1997 have been tyre dominated. Brundle seems in almost shock regurgitating to viewers that Coulthard may end up on a “four stop strategy” as ITV head to a further break. The differing strategies raises the prospect of Panis winning the race thanks to his lightning pace.

1997 Spanish GP - best vs last lap
A graphic I like in the tyre dominated formula: ‘Best Lap vs Last Lap’ time comparison helps show if a drivers’ tyres have hit the cliff.

Once the leading runners pit, the order is Villeneuve, Panis, Alesi and Schumacher. ITV take their last break with 12 laps to go, and on their return the battle for first is a battle for second between Panis, Alesi and Schumacher, thanks to backmarkers failing to move over, with Alesi gesticulating repeatedly to the marshals. Panis does close in on Villeneuve again near to the end, but Brundle clearly annoyed in commentary at how long it took Panis to clear the traffic, leaving Villeneuve to win the Grand Prix.

Like at the start, the host director struggles at the end as Villeneuve tours back to the pit lane, missing Johnny Herbert overtaking Coulthard’s McLaren on the last lap. Brundle brutal in his assessment that the local director has missed “just about everything else” this weekend.

Post-Race
ITV stick with the podium without going to an advert break. The process from parc ferme to the podium itself appears to be a lot quicker than it is now. Following the Canadian and British national anthems, it is time for the obligatory champagne! An all French-speaking podium, which might be a rare occasion.

1997 Spanish GP - ITV studio
ITV’s pundits dissect the race.

We see the classifications rundown again, as Walker outlines the key achievements including a 1-3 for Renault and a strong performance for Prost. Walker also compliments Goodyear’s 350th win against the onslaught of Bridgestone (who were successful in CART), saying “heaven knows where Grand Prix racing would be if it wasn’t for Goodyear.” This is to a degree to fill time before the press conference, ITV airing it live instead of switching back to the studio for initial post-race analysis.

At the start of the analysis, Rosenthal made it clear that the three post-race interviews would be with Patrick Head, Johnny Herbert, and Michael Schumacher. The three main subjects as a result are Heinz-Harald Frentzen’s poor performance (which the consensus is that it was not his fault, but instead a result of poor set-up) and Schumacher’s brilliant start which Jardine analyses.

The last interview with a happy Herbert, describing how his tyres got better with each set, which led into a studio discussion about the scrap involving Schumacher and Coulthard during the first phase of the Grand Prix. There is not much else covered, aside from the promos for other events, all that is left is for Rosenthal to publicise the Canadian Grand Prix and to wrap up proceedings in Spain.

Flashback: 2012 Australian 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.

The fifth and final race of the initial series keeps us in Australia, for very good reason. The 2012 Australian Grand Prix marked the start of a brand new era in Formula 1 broadcasting and was, partly, one of the drivers behind this site starting one month later. The race was the first that Sky Sports F1 covered.

This piece gives us an opportunity not only to look back at how Sky’s coverage started, but also to see what has changed and evolved since their inaugural race five years ago. On track, the 2012 season saw six World Champions on the grid: Schumacher, Hamilton, Vettel, Button, Alonso and Raikkonen. It was arguably the strongest field Formula 1 ever had. The key broadcast details can be found below:

  • Date: Sunday 18th March 2012
  • Channel: Sky Sports F1
  • Time: 04:30 to 09:15
  • Presenter: Simon Lazenby
  • Presenter: Georgie Thompson
  • Reporter: Ted Kravitz
  • Presenter: Natalie Pinkham
  • Commentator: David Croft
  • Commentator / Analyst: Martin Brundle
  • Analyst: Damon Hill
  • Analyst: Anthony Davidson

It was a stacked line-up to begin Sky’s coverage. Five out of the eight people listed above defected from the BBC, two of the eight were internal to Sky, whilst Damon Hill was the only person making a return to the TV broadcasting scene, having previously been part of F1 Digital+ in 2002. Sky’s Formula 1 channel launched on Friday 9th March, with a live studio show, followed by the Australian weekend one week later.

Pre-Race

Sky used stylish VTs in the opening minutes to cover the past greats for newer fans of the sport who may not be aware of the sport’s legacy. The channel set the scene for the season ahead; introducing fans to the various methods of watch Sky’s Formula 1 coverage, making it clear that they intend to cover the sport from all angles. Presenter Simon Lazenby introduced viewers to the rest of the team, with the crew stationed around Albert Park. Anthony Davidson and Georgie Thompson are in the Sky Pad, Ted Kravitz in pit lane and Natalie Pinkham in the paddock.

2012 Australian GP - grid graphics
Sky’s qualifying grid graphics following their qualifying report.

Following the qualifying wrap-up is a discussion about HRT’s abysmal performance, the team having failed to make the 107 percent rule. Martin Brundle in particular was scathing of his assessment of them. Further discussion follows about the Mercedes concerning that innovative ‘F Duct’.

One feature that was prominent during the build-up was the usage of live driver interviews from the paddock. Our first is with Williams driver Pastor Maldonaldo (the timing of which slightly amused me given that it directly followed some promotion for Sky’s Legends of F1 series). Nevertheless, it is a good interview with comment given on his live qualifying performance. A paddock interview with Romain Grosjean followed later in the pre-race broadcast. It is not clear whether these interviews are actually live, the impression is that they are, but the timing is slightly suspect as Grosjean is not in his race gear at this stage.

However, if it makes for a more compact show, I am all for that approach. My only criticism of these is that the interviews are brief, which is unfortunate. There are more in-depth pit lane interviews with Christian Horner and Martin Whitmarsh. Whitmarsh says that the tyres look better which may “detract from the show and the challenge”, Whitmarsh also commenting on the relationship between Hamilton and Button in their third season.

The Sky Pad segments are infrequent throughout the build-up, with Davidson and Thompson housed inside a miniature studio, making them feel detached from the rest of the programme. Neither Sky Pad segment is in great depth, showing that Sky did not know how to best utilise the tool at this stage, but this is very early in its development cycle. The analysis itself was great, with Davidson on top form already.

In 90 minutes time with the world watching with bated breath those five red lights will go out and the 2012 Formula One season will have begun. Many are saying it’s the greatest field ever assembled. Six world champions they and the rest of the grid gunning for one thing. To be called the best driver on the planet. – Sky presenter Simon Lazenby introducing the programme

Thompson introduced us to the track walk with Brundle and Hill focussing on the key parts of the circuit. Again, this feature shows off Sky’s virtual graphics (courtesy of New Zealand company Virtual Eye). The show flows well at this point, with Kravitz next up talking about the various strategies that could play out during the Grand Prix. Brundle notes that the tyres look a “bit too good and durable to me!”

Unlike the ITV races we have previously covered, there is a lot of ‘still to come’ and ‘coming up’ in Sky’s initial broadcast, with extensive promotion of Sky’s new ‘Legends of F1’ series and paid advertising from Hilton Honours leading in and out of adverts, along with Brundle’s Ferrari feature receiving attention. There is too much filler leading in and out of commercial breaks, resulting in shorter paddock discussion.

The Brundle piece at Ferrari’s Fiorano base featured contributions from John Surtees, Nigel Mansell and from Stefano Domenicalli. The feature was promoted too much by Sky, meaning that the viewer expected more than what was aired during the programme. As a feature, it was good but not memorable. Arguably, this segment should have been a standalone 30-minute programme in its own right. As Brundle said moments after the VT aired, he ran at Fiorano for 40 laps, so we should have seen a greater depth of footage instead of small snippets.

2012 Australian GP - Sky Pad
Anthony Davidson and Georgie Thompson overseeing the Sky Pad. Note the amount of white space…

On the other side of the break, there is a second recap of the grid, but the top ten this time is presented in a different format to previously with focus on the individual drivers, going from 10th to 1st using virtual animations. Brundle’s first grid interview is with the youngest driver on the grid, rookie Jean-Eric Vergne in the Toro Rosso.

The grid walk shows off how vibrant Formula 1 is, helped by the sunshine and blue skies beaming down onto the circuit. It is a great grid walk, with various voices heard from celebrities to drivers and onto the pit crew, from Leo Sayer through to Ciaron Pilbeam. The grid walk was unrestricted by the national anthem at quarter to the hour; drivers back in 2012 were not required to walk to the front of the grid. Thompson takes viewers through the various viewing options, with Sky Race Control available through the Red Button, iPad and online. There are a few interviews in pit lane before a further Sky Pad bit with Thompson and Davidson, and then, it is race time!

Race
One of Sky’s early changes was to show key interview snippets in a picture-in-picture format during the warm-up lap, I cannot remember whether Sky dropped this after the first race though.

Brundle and David Croft handled the start sequence well, with a lot of energy on display throughout a frantic opening phase of the Grand Prix. We also saw one of the classic Brundle phrases in relation to Sebastian Vettel, as the German fought his way past Nico Rosberg at turn nine, “and that’s the man they said can’t race in Formula 1, he can only win from the front apparently, I don’t think so!” Moments later, Maldondo successfully overtook Grosjean, but ended up whacking the Lotus in the process, eliminating the French driver from the race.

2012 Australian GP - Ricciardo helmet cam
Toro Rosso driver Daniel Ricciardo finds himself with a face full of Bruno Senna’s Williams.

FOM caught the majority of drama, but the opening laps also shows why you cannot be trigger-happy with replays in the early phases. Nevertheless, the replays did help to show what unfolded in the second half of the field at the start. The on-board footage, notably from the Red Bull and Ferrari drivers, showed how badly the Pirelli tyres were to handle towards the end of a stint, as showcased on various occasions with drivers struggling with understeer and oversteer. The on-board of Vettel also captured Schumacher heading off the circuit and into retirement.

The only commentary bugbear, which became clear early on, was a Sauber and Williams misidentification. Other than that, commentary was good, and more importantly, Croft and Brundle gelled, doing well to keep on top of the changing order during the pit stop phases. There was a ‘talk too much’ tendency at times more so in the early laps, but this brews back to Croft’s 5 Live days, radio commentary and television commentary are two different beasts, and it takes time to transition from one to the other.

I forgot how good this race was, to be honest! Australia’s Melbourne circuit has always shown off the speed of the cars, and this race is no exception as Button streaks off up front with Hamilton behind.

2012 Australian GP - helicopter.png
The helicopter shots at Melbourne: a beautiful picturesque scene panning over the Melbourne skyline, whilst also helping to show the various gaps during the first pit stop sequence.

The focus is on Sauber’s Sergio Perez, attempting a one-stop strategy against a two-stop strategy for the other leading runners. The artificial DRS overtakes do not detract from Perez’s brilliant race, which Brundle and Croft sell brilliantly.  At this point, Pinkham also gets a paddock interview with John Button, which is unfortunate timing as the Sauber of Kobayashi and Raikkonen bang wheels in a clean fight.

The longer this race lasts, the more I realise how weird the FOM graphics set looks from an alignment perspective. The graphics set is not 4:3 safe, nor are they fully 16:9 centric. It is a halfway house to appease both the old and new worlds. However, the graphics are more informative: the ‘ticker’ at the bottom of the screen helps decipher the gaps between various drivers, which becomes critical during the pit stop periods. FOM also use a ‘Previous Gaps’ graphics regularly to show the variation, as Jenson Button increases his lead over Lewis Hamilton up front.

Petrov’s stranded Caterham on the start-finish straight causes a Safety Car immediately after both McLaren’s pit. Vettel jumps up to second after his pit stop as a result with Maldonaldo exiting just behind Alonso.

I might be alone in this, but I don’t like this rule. It’s the luck of the draw, if the leaders have to get through some backmarkers on the restart, so what. They’re the best drivers in the world, let’s see them negotiating them. I think we should get rid of blue flags, you’ll hear me say that once every three races, passing backmarkers is a core skill of being a racing driver. We’ve wasted a lap, we should be racing now. – Brundle on the lapped cars may now overtake rule.

Attention focuses on the battle between Vettel and Hamilton for second, as Massa and Senna collide in an extremely clumsy accident. “At least it’s not Hamilton he’s crashing into this year,” jokes Croft. The two Red Bull cars separate Hamilton’s McLaren, as Brundle and Croft remind viewers of Webber’s difficult start to the race. There are several stories still unfolding in the last few laps, with drivers scrapping over the last few points.

Regrettably for Maldonaldo, having had his performance praised by Brundle and Croft throughout, the commentators’ curse strikes on the last lap, crashing out of fifth position. “It is Button’s day down under!” Croft declares. Behind the leaders is a mess, with cars moving positions both on and off the circuit. The FOM replays just about pick up what happened, which was very difficult with a lot going on in the background!

Post-Race
Under the Melbourne sunset, Button, Hamilton and Vettel take to the podium to celebrate the start of the 2012 season. Hill’s comments about McLaren are quite sad now given their current predicament, Hill referring to their “technical expertise”, also noting, “When they’re down, they get back up”. The first post-race interview is with John Button, describing his son’s win as “an incredible start to the season”.

2012 Australian GP - Button
Winner.

Lazenby covers Sky’s Malaysian Grand Prix programming, including the GP2 Series before heading off for the first ad-break. Lazenby and Hill analyse the race with Whitmarsh, although it turns into more of a chat, with Hill and Whitmarsh bouncing thoughts off one another, which makes for great television I feel.

Some interviews from Pinkham in the pen are aired next, starting with Mark Webber in fourth position. We start to move towards the more relaxed setting of the paddock, as Lazenby covers the various ways to contact the team, including Twitter and e-mail (no #AskCrofty back then). The McLaren theme continues, with a brief VT covering Button’s key moments, although it does not amount to much as his race was relaxed! Some of the discussion that follows does ramble a little bit with it being ad-lib, but overall it is good post-race discussion. Brundle is holding the show together and at times appears to lead the questioning.

This year is a very special year in Formula 1, last year was also having five world champions, but having six world champions and so many competitive teams, it’s good to see that Formula 1 is in a great place right now and it’s a great sport to be a part of – McLaren’s Jenson Button speaking in the post-race press conference

The rest of the post-race broadcast follows a similar structure, with ample discussion given to Red Bull, Lotus and Williams, the team conducting interviews with Christian Horner, Eric Boullier and Adam Parr respectively. All three interviews are structurally similar, touching on the various sporting and technical elements for each team, including the blown diffuser ban in relation to Red Bull. Sky did not air any FOM material during these interviews, meaning that the paddock analysis suffered as a result.

Thompson and Davidson in the Sky Pad covered the analysis, analysing the start and then the Maldonaldo and Grosjean incident later on. It is clear that, like in the pre-show earlier, Sky were unclear on how to integrate the Sky Pad segments into the overall package, something that they have worked to perfect. Intertwined in this was further pen interviews with both McLaren drivers and a paddock walk with comment given on Sauber’s strong performance.

Attention turns back to pit lane as Sky’s team assemble around the McLaren garage to wrap up the show under the Melbourne sunset. Viewers are shown tweets on-screen, which is followed by a final word with Button. Four and a half hours after Sky’s programme started with Just Drive, it is left for Insomnia’s Faithless to play out coverage of Sky’s inaugural Formula 1 race.

Flashback: 2008 Australian 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.

We are heading down under for race four in the series, the start of a new Formula 1 season. Formula 1 aimed to put a controversial 2007 season behind it, with 2008 set to offer another close championship battle between McLaren and Ferrari. McLaren, led by Lewis Hamilton following Fernando Alonso’s exit, would fight both Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa.

The journey starts with the 2008 Australian Grand Prix! ITV enhanced their Formula 1 offering for 2008 with live World Feed coverage of Friday practice via ITV.com, a welcome addition and the first time that UK viewers received live practice coverage since F1 Digital+ in 2002. The key broadcast details can be found below:

  • Date: Sunday 16th March 2008
  • Channel: ITV1
  • Time: 03:30 to 06:40 (re-run: 15:45 to 18:30)
  • Presenter: Steve Rider
  • Reporter: Louise Goodman
  • Reporter: Ted Kravitz
  • Commentator: James Allen
  • Commentator: Martin Brundle
  • Analyst: Mark Blundell

For 2008, ITV retained the same team as in 2006 and 2007, with Steve Rider continuing to lead the presentation line-up.

Pre-Race
The pre-show covered three main strands: McLaren’s expectations after turmoil in 2007, a preview of the new drivers and teams, and the rule changes that have come into effect for the 2008 championship. With an hour-long build-up, and only one commercial break, there is ample time to cover the three angles.

We join Rider in a scorching hot Melbourne situated outside the McLaren garage alongside Mark Blundell. The two talk about Hamilton’s early season prospects following a poor qualifying session for the Ferrari opposition, Blundell describing the hot conditions as “very tough for the boys out there.” In between, the VTs and interviews, Rider and Blundell discuss the various teams, with BMW Sauber’s strong performance getting a mention.

2008-australian-gp-allen-and-brundle
James Allen and Martin Brundle decipher the qualifying session.

Both Ted Kravitz and Louise Goodman voice the first feature as they run down the complete grid in a quick fire manner. It is a good way to introduce viewers to the new faces and revamped teams (Force India) on the grid in 2008 for those that do not follow the off-season gossip. This kind of feature has disappeared in recent years, as there is an expectation that viewers have followed Formula 1 in the off-season, which is not always the case.

Kravitz also talks through the rule changes for 2008, with the likes of Nico Rosberg and Hamilton giving their opinion on the new regulations, including the banning of traction control. “It’s lovely to see a car with opposite lock on, fantastic,” says Blundell, noting that it will be good to see drivers’ make mistakes.

Attention briefly switches back to McLaren with Anthony Hamilton and Pedro de la Rosa giving live interviews. The Hamilton interview does not bother me; it is short enough to be harmless in the context of the show, whilst de la Rosa gives good insight into the strategy for the race ahead.

James Allen voiced over the qualifying report, appearing in-vision at the start of his piece. ITV’s virtual grid graphics are lovely, scrolling down the grid row by row, with an instrumental version of ‘Lift Me Up’ in the background. Following some post qualifying interviews, Allen and Brundle recognise the “changing of the guard” that is taking place due to the new regulations, giving control back to the driver, with recognition for Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Vettel who has benefited as a result.

I enjoy it; it’s a challenge for everyone. This is real racing. I’ve been saying for years that I wished that the cars were like what they were in the Senna and Prost days and we’re slowly moving more towards that. Without traction control, it’s tricky. It’s hard work. – Lewis Hamilton speaking in a pre-race interview with Steve Rider.

There is some foreshadowing at two stages in the build-up around Honda. With Jenson Button on the cusp of a new three-year deal, Nick Fry states, “Our objective is to make him world champion.” Later on in the build-up, Dannii Minogue has a good bit of fortune telling, “Things are looking up [for Honda], I saw Ross [Brawn] with a smile on his face. This year and the next, they’ve got a long-term plan. The team morale has lifted; it’s wonderful to see because I’ve followed Honda for a long time.” Even this early on, there are signs of 2009 looking good for the outfit!

It is time for a lap of Melbourne, Brundle on top form with his voice over of Hamilton’s pole position lap. An excellent sit-down piece between Rider and Hamilton follows; it feels more down to earth than a present day Hamilton interview, with emphasis on technical detail. ITV’s cameras catch Hamilton chatting to mechanics with Rider and Blundell talking in the background about the mechanics camaraderie from both sides after the frayed relationships in 2007.

2008-australian-gp-kovalainen-and-hamilton
McLaren drivers Heikki Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton chatting in an on-camera feature.

The next feature looks at the new venues on the 2008 calendar, Goodman at the location of the 2008 European Grand Prix. The comments in hindsight are amusing, a long-term contract, with an exciting layout. Err… Martin Brundle is out in Singapore. “I can see drivers adoring this race track,” is the comment made from Brundle. Nine years later, it is still on the calendar, Singapore a lot more loved than Valencia ever was.

A further feature on McLaren focusses on Ron Dennis after speculation that he might leave Formula 1 following the spy gate saga. The one piece of fluff that does make its way into the broadcast is a chat between Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen, which focusses on the raw characters of the two drivers. Brundle’s grid walk rounds off the pre-show, but is one of the more difficult segments due to the warm weather conditions and it being race one of the new season, leaving Goodman to conduct most of the grid interviews.

Overall, it is a strong build-up to start ITV’s season, with McLaren the common denominator. Yes, the majority of VTs were dedicated to the team, but it was not repetitive, with each VT focussing on a different element. Rider and Blundell mentioned most of the leading teams, and gave credit where due. Next, it is race time!

Race
Allen sets the scene for the start of the 2008 season, with attention on the hot weather conditions. Within a minute, the first piece of team radio comes from Nick Heidfeld in his BMW, along with a nice graphic showing his key Formula 1 statistics, the same also appearing for Hamilton. The grid graphics on display are plain in terms of format, but do the job nicely, no jazz necessary.

2008-australian-gp-renault-pit-crew
A camera located on Renault mechanic Greg Baker as he is changing tyres during Fernando Alonso’s pit stop.

Tyre strategy discussion starts as the drivers head to the grid, with a white line down the middle groove denoting the soft tyre. Whilst tyre choice is important, it is not deemed critical enough for Formula One Management (FOM) to display in their on-screen graphics. “When the five lights go off, the 2008 championship will be under way… and it’s go in Australia!”

The start was confusing, with the World Feed failing to identify whether Massa had spun out of the race during a melee at turn one. Only after a multitude of replays did we identify who caused what, with five cars eliminated. Whilst the director focussed on the leading drivers in the early stages, FOM used replays to pick up overtakes not seen clearly by external cameras. A camera looking back from Nelson Piquet Jnr’s Renault captures Kazuki Nakajima overtaking him from some distance back.

A lot of on-board footage is shown from Raikkonen in the early stages, tracking his progress nicely through the field, a rarity to see so much on-board Ferrari footage on the World Feed compared to even five years earlier. Allen uses the quieter gaps to add context and ‘colour’ to the stories that have not been covered, such as Super Aguri’s takeover.

Raikkonen trying to distract [Honda’s Rubens] Barrichello rather than trying to overtake him, he’s getting frustrated. Isn’t it great to see the cars moving around, the drivers fighting the car, all the way through the corner, they cannot point the nose in any longer and floor the throttle, let the electronics worry about it and think about the next corner. They’ve got to drive these cars every metre of the race track, great news. – ITV co-commentator Martin Brundle

The Ferrari driver eventually gets past Barrichello in a move that FOM managed to miss live but like previously aired in the form of a replay. The ‘ticker’ is a key form of FOM’s product in 2008, but is too transparent to be useful compared to the rest of the graphics set. Also seen here is an early version of the driver tracker during the first pit stop phase as Hamilton regained lead with Kovalainen exiting the pits just in front of Raikkonen (who had not yet pitted).

Allen interrupts an interview between Goodman and Toyota driver Jarno Trulli half way through, as Massa’s front left tyre connects with the right rear of David Coulthard’s Red Bull! The latter retired immediately with a lot of damage, causing a second Safety Car. Straight away, we hear analysis from Brundle, who gives both perspectives on the incident from how Coulthard and Massa would have seen the accident, using his driving experience to good effect. Coulthard used some colourful language in his interview with Goodman to describe the incident!

2008 Australian GP - Glock.png
A collage of how Formula One Management caught Timo Glock’s violent accident live.

ITV did not miss much action during this race, with Safety Car periods helping. Ferrari’s day deteriorated, with Raikkonen taking a trip straight across the gravel attempting to overtake Kovalainen, and then spinning attempting to overtake Timo Glock in his Toyota, both incidents caught live by the director.

Shortly after, Glock was involved in a high-speed accident, causing the live camera to shake violently as the operator struggled to keep up with the speed and velocity of Glock’s car. The on-board shot of this would have been interesting to see, but was never aired (presumably the camera was not live at the time).

The Safety Car rules meant that Kovalainen and Alonso were unable to enter the pit lane as the Safety Car came back onto track, resulting in both cars exiting at the tail of the pack once both pit. Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Bourdais was briefly fourth before he retired with engine failure, Allen referencing his time in IndyCar where Safety Car periods are prominent. After a dramatic race, Hamilton wins! Heidfeld finished second in his BMW Sauber, with Rosberg third, the latter claiming his first ever podium.

Post-Race
Kravitz gets the first interview with Ron Dennis as the cars head into parc ferme. On this occasion, the podium room is full of joy, Hamilton jumping around and congratulating Rosberg as Allen and Brundle remind viewers of the relationship between the two.

Following the podium procedure, Rider and Blundell praise Hamilton’s performance, Blundell calling it “very mature” given the number of Safety Car periods. The two review the start from the various angles provided by FOM, also commenting on the strong performance of the Ferrari car when Raikkonen was in clear air, although Blundell described some of his moves as “absolutely unbelievable”.

2008-australian-gp-raikkonen
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen discusses the race with the media.

ITV aired the complete English-speaking press conference, an unusual occurrence. The remainder of the post-race programme flies by, with the major incidents covered by Rider and Blundell. The two start with Massa and Coulthard’s crash, before moving onto the mid field runners such as covering Barrichello’s performance in his Honda. All of this is in quick fire fashion, but given the number of incidents in the race, this should not be a surprise.

By ITV standards, the post-race segment is long at around 30 minutes in length, even that amount of time is impossible to cover every story that happened in the race. Kovalainen joined Rider and Blundell live, Kovalainen giving his reaction to his battle with Alonso in the closing laps (Kovalainen accidentally hitting the neutral button).

Kovalainen and the presenters preview Malaysia, before Rider and Blundell wrap up the show to conclude the 2008 Australian Grand Prix!

Note from David: I’m coming to the end of this initial series of five races. Is there interest in having a flashback piece every month, or something of that nature? Please leave a comment if you would like to see more pieces after the fifth race. It is still a work in progress, so tweaks will be made along the way.