Revealed: Motorsport Broadcasting’s dream F1 presentation team

Over the past 50 years, many voices have graced the small screen to broadcast Formula 1 to the masses in a wide range of territories: from the UK to the US, from free-to-air to pay TV and beyond.

But how many would make Motorsport Broadcasting’s on-air team, and why? To answer that question is incredibly difficult, when trying to account for the different eras, the different broadcasters, the age of the talent in question, and so on.

The fan that ITV was trying to attract in the late 1990s may be different to the fan Sky is currently trying to attract to their offering.

As part of the selection process, I am assuming that age is not a factor, that time has no bounds, alive or deceased.

The cast assembled in my opinion brings together the best of the BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Sky Sports into a super team, with a few surprises thrown in for good measure. Think of it as my version of the Avengers, for use of a better term!

Of course, this is all judgemental (I admit to being openly biased for the next 2,000 words) and that there is no right or wrong answer to this question. The line-up comprises of:

  • 2 x presenters
  • 3 x analysts
  • 2 x pit lane reporters
  • 2 x technical reporters
  • 2 x commentators

So, who is in, and who is out? Revealed, Motorsport Broadcasting’s dream F1 presentation team…

Presenters
Every good on-air presentation team needs a presenter to fit the bill. For me, watching Formula 1, there are two presenters that brought warmth with them whenever presenting the sport.

First up, the BBC’s Formula 1 presenter from 2009 to 2012, Jake Humphrey. Humphrey worked his way through the BBC ranks, from children’s television into BBC Sport, and eventually onto BBC F1 for the start of F1’s return to the Beeb in 2009.

Humphrey’s style was a departure from his predecessors Jim Rosenthal and Steve Rider on ITV. Both Rosenthal and Rider are excellent, top-tier presenters, but Humphrey brought with him an additional element. During that period, it felt like Humphrey was one of us: a fan who happened to be living the dream as F1 presenter.

In my view, Humphrey helped bring us closer to the sport that we love, thanks to his presenting style, bouncing off his co-presenters where necessary.

Alongside Humphrey anchoring the show is Georgie Ainslee (nee. Thompson). Ainslee has been round the motoring circles for years, having been part of Sky’s A1 Grand Prix coverage in the mid-2000s.

2012 Australian GP - Sky Pad.png
Georgie Thompson and Anthony Davidson analyse the action on the Sky Pad, during Sky’s inaugural race weekend in 2012.

Ainslee was part of Sky’s F1 coverage in 2012, presenting elements of their programming including The F1 Show, but quietly left prior to the 2013 season, with reports at the time suggesting that she wanted a bigger role within the team.

One presenter anchoring the entire weekend is too much, so having two presenters in equal capacity feels the best way to handle the situation.

Back in 2012, I really enjoyed Ainslee’s Sky Pad contributions with Anthony Davidson, and it is unfortunate that she left in the manner that she did, considering she was one of the better parts of Sky’s offering in their inaugural season.

Analysts
This is where the choices get tough, given that there is a plethora of personalities to choose from spanning across the BBC, Sky, Channel 4, and ITV. Narrowing the choices down to three or four stars, past and present, is an extremely difficult challenge. But hey, we did say that this is a dream team.

All three of my choices are natural broadcasters, and all three were part of Sky’s Formula 1 line-up last season. We start with Martin Brundle, 2020 marking his 24th season on the microphone in the commentary box.

Brundle could double up as a third co-commentator, although this piece for brevity keeps Brundle primarily in an analytical role. Alongside Brundle are Sky colleagues Anthony Davidson and Jenson Button, both of whom have shown why they are worthy of being in a dream team in recent years.

Davidson’s broadcasting life started in 2008 alongside David Croft in the BBC Radio 5 Live commentary box, moving over to Sky for the start of their coverage in 2012.

Button joined Sky for five races last year. The thing that lets Sky down is that both Davidson and Button appear on-screen too infrequently across the season, but that is a wider issue surrounding the number of races as opposed to a Sky-specific problem.

On the Sky Pad, Davidson is a wizard, whilst Button has the same characteristics as Humphrey from a broadcasting perspective: a warm style, and a down to earth personality.

If you are looking for entertaining features, maybe this is not the trio for you, it really depends what you are after from a programming perspective.

2019 W Series - Ted Kravitz.jpg
Ted Kravitz dissects the W Series action during his Notebook segment.

For me, I want analysts who live and breathe F1, who know it like the back of their hand, and can articulate their knowledge back to the viewer at home in a digestible manner. Brundle, Button and Davidson tick those boxes for me.

Missing out by small margins are Mark Webber, Karun Chandhok and Allan McNish. On a different year in history, the choice may be different.

Also, it is worth bearing in mind that I am looking at this from a UK broadcasting perspective, so opinions may vary depending on where you are based.

Pitlane
Roving the pit lane are two faces, one of whom has never appeared in an official F1 capacity for a UK broadcaster, either through choice or because they overlooked him at every opportunity.

Enter Will Buxton. Currently Formula 1’s digital presenter, Buxton first made a name on the F1 broadcasting scene as GP2 and GP3 lead commentator. More recently, fans stateside heard Buxton’s voice during both Speed’s and NBC’s coverage of the sport from 2010 to 2017.

Despite being around the sport for nearly twenty years, Buxton has never worked in an F1 capacity for Sky, Channel 4, the BBC or ITV at their respective times. UK’s loss was America’s gain over the past decade.

During NBC’s coverage, Buxton and producer Jason Swales hosted several behind the scenes documentaries on the sport, including the ‘Road to…’ series, which was well received by fans.

Joining Buxton is Channel 4’s Lee McKenzie, who has been part of the UK’s free-to-air F1 output since 2009, grilling the drivers on a variety of topics.

Outside of the small screen, both McKenzie and Buxton are brilliant journalists in their own right, both with a unique ability to get the best out of their interviewee on any given occasion: whether in a pre-race vignette, or during the post-race media pen interviews.

You might think two reporters in pit lane and beyond is excessive. But remember, F1 consists of ten teams, 20 drivers, and hundreds of people that help bring the show to life. It is Buxton and McKenzie that get beneath the skin of the sport, helping to tell the stories that may otherwise go unnoticed.

NBC's Road to Mercedes.png
Will Buxton and Jason Swales at Reims for the Road to Mercedes documentary.

Technical
On the technical side, Ted Kravitz leads the output, having been part of the broadcasting scene since the 1990s. Kravitz moved to ITV’s F1 on-air team in a full-time capacity following Murray Walker’s retirement, staying in that role until 2008.

Kravitz moved with F1 to the BBC in 2009, and then again to Sky in 2012, where he has remained ever since, narrowly avoiding the chop from their team prior to the 2019 season. Well-liked by fans, Kravitz’s Notebook has been a fixture of Sky’s F1 coverage since its inception, along with the Development Corner segment.

What Kravitz has never had though, is a good wing man in the technical space, someone to bounce off from time to time. And that is where the second technical expert comes in the form of Craig Scarborough.

With the resources that he has, Scarborough does a great job dissecting the technical innovations across social media, sometimes with Peter Windsor in toe. Both were dropped by Motorsport Network in the latter half of 2018 as part of their cost-cutting exercise at the time.

I suspect no UK broadcaster has ever picked Scarborough up because he has never worked with in an F1 team as technical expert, unlike the likes of Gary Anderson, who was part of the BBC’s F1 offering in 2013 and 2014 before they dropped him.

Nevertheless, if you want an all rounded team that covers both the human element and technical element in equal detail, then you need two technical experts, and Kravitz and Scarborough are the two for me.

Commentators
The beauty of having a broadcasting dream team is that there is no right, or wrong, answer. I started watching Formula 1 in 1999, so caught the later years of Murray Walker‘s commentary.

I met Walker twice: once at a book signing back in 2002, and more recently at Channel 4’s Formula 1 launch in 2016. And, thanks to the internet, many classic races feature his commentary.

  • “And it’s Go! Go! Go!”
  • “Three point three six seconds! Damon Hill wins the Japanese Grand Prix!”
  • “And he exits the final corner for the fifty-third and last time, to win the 2000 Japanese Grand Prix, and the World Championship, for the third time!”

Commentary lines such as these will live on in Formula 1’s history. And it is for that reason that Murray, and his Murray-isms, feature in my dream team. Yes, Walker made mistakes.

1997 Australian GP - Qualifying.png
Martin Brundle and Murray Walker on the balcony during ITV’s coverage of the 1997 Australian Grand Prix qualifying session.

But, if I had a choice between a commentator that could make paint dry sound exciting, with a few mistakes here and there, or someone who struggled to capture the excitement that F1 brings, it is the former all day long.

To put it simply, Walker’s voice is infectious, and we are lucky that he stayed in the commentary box for as long as he did. Walker will always be F1 to me, and for a whole generation of fans in their late 20s and onwards.

On the other side, one of Walker’s colleagues left this arena far earlier than they should have. James Hunt passed away at the age of 45 in 1993, days after commentating on the Canadian Grand Prix. Had Hunt opted to retire at the same age as Walker, Hunt would still be commentating on F1 today at the age of 72.

I was too young to watch Hunt’s commentary live – I had not even turned one when Hunt passed away. But what I do know is that Hunt in the commentary box was passionate about the racing that was unfolding in front of him, telling it how it was.

It is a testament to the relationship between Hunt and Walker that the pairing lasted 13 years, from 1979 until Hunt’s untimely death.

In a parallel universe, Hunt would have been commentating alongside Walker for many years to come, but alas, it was not too be. In a dream broadcasting line-up, both Hunt and Brundle would be part of that team (clearly, I am bending the rules in the name of fun).

If time had no bounds, this is Motorsport Broadcasting’s dream F1 presentation team:

  • Presenter: Georgie Ainslee
  • Presenter: Jake Humphrey
  • Commentator: James Hunt
  • Commentator: Murray Walker
  • Analyst: Anthony Davidson
  • Analyst: Jenson Button
  • Analyst: Martin Brundle
  • Pitlane: Lee McKenzie
  • Pitlane: Will Buxton
  • Technical: Craig Scarborough
  • Technical: Ted Kravitz

Like with any team, whether the eleven would blend together on-screen is a different question, in the same way that two world class drivers in the best team may go pear shaped.

You want a line-up that is flexible. You do not want a commentator that just commentates, or a technical expert that cannot interview drivers. In the scenario above, Walker would still interview drivers, and Brundle could still commentate, for sake of argument.

Notable by their omission are David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan, amongst other high calibre candidates, which shows how difficult it is to select a dream team cutting across different eras. Had I been focusing on current generation only, then Coulthard and Jordan may well have made the cut.

To bring gravitas to the production is Channel 4’s F1 producer Whisper, but with backing from Sky Sports. Sky bring with them the Sky Pad, the paddock stage set up, as well as the extensive air-time, whilst Whisper bring with them some excellent VTs and a graphics package that is second to none. The best of both worlds, in my view.

And that is my dream Formula 1 broadcasting line-up. What is yours? Have your say and debate the question in the comments below.

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“Beyond my wildest dreams” – Laura Winter on her F1 call-up and broadcasting career so far…

Laura Winter (@LauraCWinter) is a sports broadcaster, event host and journalist. “The new girl in the paddock”, she is a relatively fresh face in the world of motorsport.

In 2019, Laura presented four rounds of the World Rallycross Championship, before making her debut in the world of F1 at the fateful Belgian GP. Once the season gets underway, she will be presenting F1 once again, as well as Speedway Grand Prix and Speedway of Nations.

In a guest article for Motorsport Broadcasting, Laura recalls her broadcasting journey so far…

My earliest memories of F1 are far from ordinary. My younger brother Will first spiked my interest, with toy car F1 races that dominated playtime in our home. The races snaked from the lounge, down the hallway, into the dining room, before doubling back. The start and finish line were the sofa closest to our patio doors.

Forget Silverstone, forget the ITV television coverage. The championship really reached fever pitch in a suburban detached house in Cheltenham, as drivers from the late 90s and early 2000s would come together for Will’s all-star weekend Grand Prix.

Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher would usually win. Occasionally Rubens Barichello would sneak a race. David Coulthard, racing in a toy McLaren car that failed to get good traction on the thick carpets, only won a few, my brother wanting to ensure his toy championship was “realistic.” Giancarlo Fisichello, Johnny Herbert, Eddie Irvine, and Mika Hakkinen also lined up on the grid, although the qualification system is still unclear.

Each driver would have the same car for each race – obviously – and the odds were strangely somewhat stacked against Hill. His car would veer wildly to the left so Will, who usually wanted the British driver to win, would have to point him to the right when launching him forwards so he stayed “on track.”

The races were at times unpredictable and highly dramatic – like any good toy car race should be. One Grand Prix famously saw just five cars finish. The commentary team (my brother) went WILD for that one. I’d have to take extra care walking around the house, stepping over the twisting line of cars so as not to disturb the race.

Despite this early exposure to top class motorsport, as a child I was obsessed with swimming, and Olympic sport. I swam competitively, mornings and evenings before and after school, and raced at the weekends, from the age of seven to 19, before taking up rowing at university.

My career in sports media began in rowing, and I soon began riding a road bike too, as my interest swung to cycling. As both a sports journalist and sports broadcaster, my early experiences were mostly in rugby, rowing, cycling, netball, tennis, and swimming. Motorsport didn’t really feature. But that changed in 2019.

I was asked to present four rounds of the World Rallycross Championship. I jumped at the opportunity, never one to shy away from a challenge, or a new sport, before frantically googling, “what is rallycross.” I approached my first event – Barcelona RX – with trepidation. Keep it simple and be yourself, I told myself.

I needn’t have worried. The IMG broadcast team were some of the best I have ever worked with, and lead commentator Andrew Coley firmly took me under his wing and showed me the sport he loved. I quickly fell in love too. I truly hope that came across on camera during what was one of the most exciting seasons of Rallycross for years.

I then got a call-up from F1. This was beyond my wildest dreams. I never for a moment thought I would or could be an F1 presenter. Yet, suddenly I was standing in the paddock on day one of the Belgian GP at the iconic Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

What started as a glorious weekend quickly became one of the darkest in motorsport’s history, with the tragic death of Anthoine Hubert in the F2 race on Saturday. I will always remember standing in the pit lane on that awful afternoon, the silence deafening. It became all too apparent that the drivers are truly pushing the limits every time they take to the track. The experience was one I’ll never forget.

There is something about motorsport that is difficult to convey unless you’ve been at the heart of it. It is intoxicating, it is addictive. From the noise of the racing, the smell of the engine and the speed and energy of the pit lane, to the glitz and the glamour of an F1 paddock, it sucks you in and will not let go.

The 2020 F1 season will start, when it is safe to do so. And I cannot wait to get stuck in. See you in the paddock.

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Esports shine during motor racing’s real-world break

In a guest article for Motorsport Broadcasting, Andrew Young looks at the virtual motor sport scene, after a flurry of events since the cancellation of real-world activities.

In keeping with Motorsport Broadcasting ethos of looking objectively at the broadcasting element of motorsport, I thought we would take some time to look at the virtual replacement and the offerings so far.

It has become increasingly confusing to know what to watch, when and why, as all things Esports and gaming floods the motor sport world during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A history lesson…
Competitive, online racing is not new, and in fact has been around for over 20 years away from the eyes of the wider racing community. Take for instance, Grand Prix Legends, a fiercely difficult game released in 1998 which, internet permitting, you could race others around the world.

Widely considered the first adapters to the online gaming world, Live for Speed followed in 2003, with semi-professional races largely for the German community. The game provided the platform for the first-ever Intel Racing Tour offline series, a collaboration between BMW and Intel during their participation in F1 in 2007.

The biggest platforms, rFactor and iRacing, hit the market in 2005 and 2008 respectively, changing the game. rFactor 2, Assetto Corsa and RaceRoom all followed, with the specific purpose of racing online against others, unlike games that provided accessibility on consoles or computer-controlled competitors (AI), such as TOCA, F1 and Gran Turismo.

Sim competitions are as old as the games itself. Formula Sim Racing, running on rFactor 2 nowadays, crowned their first champion back in 2001, whilst iRacing organisers kickstarted their own World Championship in 2010.

Drivers form teams to help each other set cars up, or indeed run in endurance races where they can swap drivers. Some will simply be engineers, monitoring the rest of the race to decide on strategy and help the drivers or team do the best they can. At the highest level, it is as every bit as professional as the real world it has run in parallel with for so long.

Although some way behind the likes of Fortnite, League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive in the popularity stakes, online racing has gained momentum in recent years, thanks to an increase in broadcast quality led by the likes of the Gran Turismo Tour, helping bring sim racing into the mainstream fold.

Getting a group of people together to put on a race from a single venue is one thing, and as shiny and impressive as that may sound, COVID-19 has taken the organisation involved to another level. The pandemic has forced organisers to live stream competitions with racers from across the world. A very big challenge, but for some, the norm…

With COVID-19 forcing the cancellation of real-world races, the pandemic is forcing fans and championships alike to delve deeper into this virtual world.

The Race gets off the line on top
First out of the blocks was new publication The Race. The outlet, backed by Torque Esports, reacted to the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix by getting sim and real-world racers together on rFactor 2 (rF2).

So many real-world drivers and teams are familiar with the feel of rF2 (as used by teams) meaning that this was a wise choice by Torque. BBC’s 5 Live F1 commentary duo Jack Nicholls and Jolyon Palmer flew straight in from Melbourne to add star quality to the broadcast and, despite commentating from “a stranger’s bedroom,” sounded as though they were on 5 Live.

The entry list pulled in Max Verstappen, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jimmy Broadbent and the race coverage felt professional, with fantastic GFX and replays. Readers not versed in sim racing may wonder why I added ‘Jimmer’ to that list, but with 425,000 followers on YouTube, Jimmy is probably the most famous sim racer out there.

His numbers are staggering considering he only has made 1,500 videos, but Jimmy broadcasts fantastically well, which is the appeal of his channel in high-stake situations. His channel also offers a unique behind the scenes look, which Nicki Thiim and now famously Lando Norris both replicate. The ‘bloke in shed’ vibe gives Broadbent fantastic appeal and a second screen option which can be hugely addictive to watch.

While The Race totally nailed their first offering, Veloce Esports in comparison stumbled. The group replicated what so many people outside of sim racing believe sim racing to be, mates having a laugh with no care for professionalism.

This should have been the stream for F1 fans, but with the first 30 minutes littered with connection, sound, and picture issues, it was very much a miss. They may have had the numbers, thanks to Norris, Broadbent and randomly Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid footballer), and because they chose to use F1 (the business connections placed them on the F1 channels), but it was a mess.

We can excuse Veloce, while many of their individual athletes stream their online battles, this was a separate undertaking, but they did not have the equipment to cope and their ‘in-house’ presenting team struggled.

On the same weekend as all the above, iRacing eSports Network ran one of their special events ’12 hours of Sebring’ – a full replication of the famous event, a precursor to the actual race happening the weekend after.

iRacing broadcasts are stunning to watch, with immersive cameras, replays and GFX. At times however, the commentary suffers from inferior quality and, at high octane moments, a lack of discipline as to who reacts and leads the moment. Such is the number of events they do, and the commentators they have, the quality varies.

F1 joins the party with ‘Virtual Grand Prix’
One week later, IMSA streamed their Super Saturday offering, with the Radio Show Limited (better known as Radio Le Mans) commentary team at their disposal, a clear step up from previously. Having BMW Motorsport heavily promote and support it with real engineers working with real drivers helped a lot. The event was exclusive to IMSA competitors, which helped the immersion.

The Race stepped up as well. A studio to show Nicholls’ and Palmer’s faces made it feel super slick and additional real-world drivers took part. Oddly, Verstappen withdrew late on, and a lack of buzz meant that audience figures were down, even if the product was more refined.

Nicholls also popped up again on F1’s official first attempt at filling the void, with their Virtual Grand Prix, partnering Alex Jacques on commentary. Veloce’s event preceded F1’s, in the same way Formula Two precedes F1 in real-life: same track, bigger stars.

The quality of racing in the Virtual Grand Prix fell into two camps: entertaining, or a joke. To take online racing seriously you first need the participants to take it seriously and Johnny Herbert cutting the first corner set the tone for a chaotic race comparable to Destruction Derby.

Unfortunately, the one-dimensional commentary worked as much as it did not, and similarly incorporating shots of the drivers in their rigs gave a small flavour of where some of the guys were situated, although it was out-of-sync. With the largest audience by far, F1 failed to impress on the big stage.

If the first two weekends were busy, the third weekend proved that oversaturation could hit Esports sooner than imagined. IndyCar, MotoGP, NASCAR, and SRO joined Veloce, F1 and The Race on the Esports stage, all trying to get a slice of the (smaller than real-life racing) pie.

The Race introduced a Legends event, in old cars, which was genius, just ask Jimmer who has been doing this for a while on his channel. Unfortunately, social isolation forced Nicholls and Palmer to commentate on the races from their own houses, which created minor technical issues. The pace of the broadcast resulted in a lot of studio chat, both pre-races and in between the heats.

The introduction of Esports personality Sadokist was a welcome addition, although the quality of the direction decreased compared to previous weeks. It just felt like everyone cared a little bit less, with this The Race’s third event in successive weeks.

Veloce switched to iRacing from F1 for the first time. Their partnership with sim racing experts Motorsport Games helped them understand other platforms, also replacing some of the ‘Veloce Athletes’ with a field of real-world racers. The on-screen line-up remained the same as previous weeks, meaning that, even with The Race’s own issues, Veloce’s product was still not as polished as The Race.

IndyCar shows all how to master the game…
A new king soon emerged in the form of IndyCar: a full grid of real-world drivers, combined with an awesome broadcast made for a great night of entertainment. NASCAR did the same the previous week, also on iRacing, but was unavailable to this writer.

IndyCar’s broadcast felt realistic to real-life: the same commentary line-up, a pre-race prayer and national anthem, and within eight minutes, the cars were off the line.

Lead commentator Leigh Diffey and the remainder of the crew treated sim racing with respect rather than a second-tier inferior product. On-screen interviews with retired drivers featured throughout, a nice addition to the broadcast.

It did not go quite as far as NASCAR showing drivers in their rigs, but ultimately it felt like a very slick production, one thinks F1 could learn a lot from the iRacing broadcasts. iRacing has benefited hugely in the US with both NASCAR and IndyCar Esports airing on linear TV.

SRO was next to step-up, using the visually stunning Assetto Corsa Competizione. Turn away, and it would be easy to think that you were watching a real event at Monza. It looked stunning. The racing was spellbinding and, coupled with the graphics, was immersive, but without the basics (such as replays), some of the storytelling disappeared.

…only to go live behind a pay wall one week later
After a successful opening weekend, IndyCar returned one week later at the start of April live on NBC for fans in the US and Sky Sports for fans in the UK. However, there was no live YouTube stream in sight, instead, IndyCar only uploaded a stream post-race to their social channels (see above).

VLN and the Porsche Supercup entered the fray to kickstart April, the latter aired on Eurosport, a first for sim racing. Both broadcasts were professional and clean, following the same iRacing model of broadcast.

The Race once again did their thing, needing to tweak the format due to competitor numbers, as well as getting some great competitors on-board. The addition of a proper functioning ‘on-board’ camera in Jenson Button’s house a treat. The Race refined their post-race visual interviews, however their numbers were again poor, by far their lowest of the four weekends so far.

Guess where the most entertainment came from? Testing! Yup, Saturday evening entertainment was joining 140,000 others with Jimmy Broadbent in a practice lobby with six Formula 1 drivers practicing in the virtual world, all having banter and a laugh with one another. “Can we just do this race on our own, it would be way more fun,” was one quote from Red Bull racer Alex Albon.

The F1 stream increased in quality massively compared to the first outing two weeks earlier, with more real-world drivers involved and much better wheel-to-wheel racing. However, continuing to host on-site from their Fulham studios with Alex Jacques, Jack Nicholls, Tom Deacon and Matt Gallagher is an extremely poor decision considering the lockdown restrictions currently in force in the UK.

Although Charles Leclerc winning generated some good PR, the evening was not without its faults. The F1 2019 game kicked Norris out before the race even started, leading to an amusing phone call from Verstappen, broadcast over Norris’s Twitch stream. “You should throw the game in the bin, that’s why I will never join that,” Verstappen said to Norris. Ouch…

With COVID-19 expected to last a while and F1 toying with cancelling July events, Esports is our new norm, for the moment, and providing us all with a lot of entertainment in this difficult hour. Here is hoping we don’t get overwhelmed by it all just yet…

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Re-imagining Drive to Survive: Hamilton vs Massa

Throughout its seventy-year history, Formula 1 fans have witnessed amazing stories play out on and off the circuit, some of which filmmakers have excellently retold in recent years to a new generation of fans.

Asif Kapadia and Manish Pandey brought the story of Ayrton Senna to the masses, utilising F1’s rich archive to fulfil their objective.

More recently, Ron Howard successfully turned Niki Lauda’s rivalry with James Hunt into a box office hit, with Daniel Brühl and Chris Hemsworth doing the larger than life characters justice in Rush.

But there is one recent story arc from the late 2000s that deserves a showcase on the grand stage, and it is not what you think.

With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic looking unlikely to stop soon, the chances of Netflix’s F1 Drive to Survive being able to focus on the 2020 season diminishes by the day.

Luckily, Motorsport Broadcasting has an alternative suggestion. I started watching Formula 1 in 1999 aged 7, so have seen the Schumacher era, Red Bull era and Mercedes era unfold in front of my eyes.

These eras exclude a period encompassing the rise of Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel, Button, Kubica, Massa, all trying to emerge as F1’s new top dog following Michael Schumacher’s retirement.

The 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix marked the end of one era, whilst at the other end, the sun rising in Barcelona in March 2009 would begin the greatest underdog story in Formula 1 history.

The events in the intervening period, encapsulates everything that resembles what Formula 1 is about. Political drama, on-track drama, controversial moments, sub-plots, and two title races that go down to the wire.

2008-brazilian-gp-hamilton
In amongst a huge media melee, Lewis Hamilton celebrates following the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Could Netflix turn this era, culminating in the Hamilton versus Massa showdown in Brazil, into a ten-part documentary? Maybe. Here is how it could work…

Episode 1 – Schumacher
Every story needs a beginning, and the first episode covers the closing phase of the 2006 season, as Spain’s Fernando Alonso dethrones Germany’s Michael Schumacher in a battle that went back and forth for the entirety of the season.

The episode introduces us to Alonso, as he clinches his second championship at the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix, stepping out of Schumacher’s shadow as the German headed into retirement.

Although everything looks comfortable from the outside, Alonso is not one to stay in the comfy chair, shocking the F1 world by jumping from Renault to McLaren (in a move done the previous Winter) ready for the 2007 season.

World champion makes you the de facto team leader, right? Unfortunately for Alonso, not quite. Enter, Lewis Hamilton.

Episode 2 – Pretenders
The key challenger to Alonso’s throne would turn out to come from within at McLaren, with Britain’s newest F1 hopeful.

Episode two gives us Hamilton’s backstory into motor sport, featuring archive footage of him racing the likes of Sebastian Vettel in the lower formulae.

Ferrari’s challengers for 2007, Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen, also get their first outing in the series, with emphasis on Massa given his friendship with Schumacher. There is news of a reshuffle in the off-season since Schumacher’s retirement, causing friction at Maranello.

But the focus is very much on McLaren, and it is clear all is not well at Woking. Hamilton is performing better than expected as the 2007 season begins, leaving the team with difficult decisions to make.

Do McLaren back their number one driver, or do they back the young Brit on the charge?

Events come to a head at the 2007 United States Grand Prix, as Hamilton and Alonso battle side-by-side down the start-finish straight…

Episode 3 – Spy-gate
As if the on-track action was not dramatic enough, activities off-track were about to take a sinister turn, with internal politics and turmoil at McLaren and Ferrari colliding.

Accusations flew of McLaren stealing Ferrari’s intellectual property, all playing out in front of the public eye.

The result was F1’s governing body the FIA fining McLaren $100 million and stripping them of all their Constructors’ Championship points for the 2007 season.

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Not an inch separates McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in the 2007 US Grand Prix.

On-track, it became increasingly clear that Alonso was heading out of McLaren and back to Renault for 2008, following a bizarre sequence of events during the Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying session.

Nevertheless, the Drivers’ Championship fight continued between Hamilton, Alonso and Raikkonen, heading towards a three-way tussle at Interlagos, Brazil.

Episode 4 – Brazil
Brazil again was the scene for a championship decider. Technical problems would get the better of Hamilton, with Raikkonen clinching the Drivers’ Championship for Ferrari.

The story here is that Ferrari have won, and McLaren have lost in a year where the off-track drama dominated the headlines. The challenge now for McLaren was to rebuild ready for the 2008 season, and put the sorry situation that was 2007 behind them.

Elsewhere in the field, episode four introduces us to fellow British driver Jenson Button, who drives for the Honda team.

Whilst Hamilton is getting all the limelight from a British perspective, Button is trundling around in his Honda, with only one win to his name in his eight F1 seasons.

Hope remains for the Brackley based team however, with reports that Ross Brawn is set to join the outfit ahead of a regulation change coming soon to F1…

Episode 5 – Canada
Another two young talents begin to make their mark on F1 in 2008 and episode five focusses on the first of those, recounting the events of Canada 2007 and Canada 2008.

From an accident that almost ended Robert Kubica’s F1 career, to his first ever victory, the episode covers Kubica’s journey up until this point. Is Poland’s rising star about to spring a surprise?

A calamity involving Hamilton and Raikkonen at the end of pit lane allowed Kubica to take his first ever victory with BMW team-mate Nick Heidfeld following him home in second.

Episode five also focuses on the opening phases of the 2008 season, with Hamilton and Massa leading the way.

Episode 6 – Seb
Also rising in stardom is Germany’s Sebastian Vettel, hoping to emulate his compatriot to become an F1 mega-star.

The episode features more archive footage with Vettel and Hamilton, this time from Vettel’s perspective as opposed to Hamilton.

Vettel breaks into the Red Bull ranks in the Summer of 2007, joining sister team Toro Rosso, building up experience with every passing race.

And then, the heavens open in Monza for the 2008 Italian Grand Prix, allowing Vettel in the Toro Rosso to shine. At just 21 years of age, Vettel becomes both the youngest pole sitter and youngest race winner in F1 history, a remarkable feat.

Meanwhile at Honda, times remain tough for Button, finishing over a minute behind Vettel at Monza, as rumours begin to swirl that Honda are looking to exit F1. Has Button lost his chance to break into the big time?

Episode 7 – Spa
With two-thirds of the 2008 season gone, Hamilton and Massa were leading the chasing pack. Hamilton stepped up to the challenge for his second season in F1, winning a classic race at Silverstone.

Massa was never far away, winning three races up until that point. An engine failure robbed him of what should have been a fourth victory in the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Another thing seemingly never far away for Formula 1 was controversy, as the Belgian Grand Prix proved, with politics coming back to haunt McLaren.

Another classic saw Hamilton overtake Raikkonen for victory, the Finnish driver eventually crashing out.

2008 Belgian GP - McLaren statement.png
McLaren’s Communications Officer Matt Bishop reads out a statement to the media following the 2008 Belgian Grand Prix.

After the race, Hamilton was controversially penalised for cutting the chicane handing victory to Massa. Both Hamilton and McLaren strongly disagreed the judgement handed down, opting to appeal the steward’s decision.

Episode 8 – Renault
A missing character from the past few episodes is Alonso, whose return to Renault had not gone according to plan, his highest position fourth in the Monza rain.

Nevertheless, fortune was about to pick up for Renault in F1’s inaugural trip to Singapore, which is where episode eight takes us.

A conveniently timed spin from team-mate Nelson Piquet Jr was enough to trigger a Safety Car, leading to Alonso’s first victory of the 2008 season, and Renault’s first since 2006.

All is not as it seems though and, although the episode may not explicitly state this, Renault’s victory was not a genuine one…

The events of Singapore also cost Massa a near certain race victory, and potentially his first Drivers’ Championship, thanks to the accident successfully executed by his compatriot.

One thing is for certain: yet again, the Drivers’ Championship is heading down to the wire…

Episode 9 – Showdown
It all comes down to this. McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton. Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. One race. One champion. The venue? Massa’s backyard in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

For Massa to win the crown, he must win the race, with Hamilton finishing lower than fifth. A tall order, but still possible.

Massa takes the early advantage, clinching pole, as Hamilton starts down in fourth. Vettel continues to surprise, qualifying seventh. Meanwhile, at the other end of the field, Button qualifies a dismal 17th.

Race day dawns with rain on the horizon, dramatically turning into a storm minutes before the start. Massa keeps his lead off the line, but Hamilton remains favourite for the title.

The rain clears, but dramatically returns in the closing laps. The leaders pit for intermediate tyres, however other runners stay out on dry weather tyres, an inspired decision as conditions continue to deteriorate.

At this point Hamilton is set to win the title, that is until a mistake sends Hamilton wide on lap 69, dropping him to sixth and putting Massa in championship winning position!

The destination of the 2008 Drivers’ Championship hinges on the final two laps…

Episode 10 – 38 Seconds
Spygate. Alonso. Controversy. Spa. The past two seasons for McLaren have seen the team at some of their lowest points internally. Can Hamilton turn everything around?

Massa crosses the finish line, as champion!

“Is that Glock going slowly? That’s Glock! Hamilton’s back in position again!”

Hamilton moves ahead of Glock on the final corner of the final lap, taking fifth position to become the 2008 Formula One World Champion! Jubilation at McLaren, heartbreak at Ferrari. Massa was champion for just 38 seconds.

The cameras follow the scenes from garage to garage, contrasting fortunes everywhere you look, capturing a moment in Formula 1 history that even Hollywood could not write.

2008 Brazilian GP - Massa.png
Ferrari’s Felipe Massa celebrates in race victory, but disappointed in championship defeat.

As the teams begin to leave Brazil, news emerges of Honda’s imminent exit from Formula 1, appearing to end Button’s Formula 1 career.

Back at base, McLaren and Hamilton celebrate their title victory, as attention quickly turns to the 2009 season, with new regulations set to change F1 forever.

As 2009 edges closer and the new look cars hit the circuit, stories emerge from around the sport that Ross Brawn has saved the Honda outfit from oblivion, rebranding the team as Brawn GP.

The ten-part series ends with Jenson Button taking the Brawn car onto the Barcelona circuit for the very first time, as a familiar bass riff plays in the background.

And well, the rest is history…

Is a documentary series like this, in the style of ‘Drive to Survive’, possible?
In my view, yes.

You may argue that covering two years of F1 in one series makes little sense. But, in the context of the Hamilton and Massa battle, both grew in stature throughout the 2007 and 2008 seasons, reaching a climax in Brazil 2008.

The first nine episodes would result in viewers, in F1 and beyond, becoming invested in both characters, and the associated sub-plots, ready for the finale in episode ten.

Senna, released in 2010, shows what you can do with the archive material on offer, and that covered an even earlier period than suggested here.

A series of this nature would utilise footage from F1’s own internal archive, including footage filmed by Formula One Management as well as F1’s broadcasters during that period (ITV in the UK, Speed in America, Premiere in Germany, TV3 in Spain).

Supplementing the in-house footage includes footage from news reports, as well as amateur film from that time, like we saw in the Senna movie.

Every broadcaster records hours of footage in the paddock ‘off-roll’ for usage later if needed.

WWE recently aired a documentary series on their over-the-top platform called Ruthless Aggression, focusing on what made the mid-2000s special for them, retelling stories for a new audience, using never-before seen footage spliced with present day interviews.

F1, and motor sport, can learn a lot from WWE in the archive space.

In my view, there is enough footage in the archives, both at F1 and elsewhere, to make a series like this a reality, creating some excellent new material for fans to watch in the process.

So, F1 and Netflix. What are we waiting for?


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Analysing the motor sport ecosystem and why coronavirus could cripple it

The coronavirus pandemic is disrupting motor sport in a way we have never seen before, impacting everyone involved in sport.

Collectively, the entire industry stands to lose a significant sum of money, and what the future holds is unclear. The longer this goes on, the worse the financial situation becomes, notwithstanding the fact that a global recession is likely because of the pandemic.

Who are the key players, and what are their role in the overarching ecosystem that is motor sport? Being a broadcasting site, naturally the focus is on broadcasting, although there is heavy linkage between broadcasting and the wider motor sport economy.

Speaking at the Black Book Motorsport Forum last September, Sky’s Head of Formula 1 Scott Young spoke about the delicacies of the ecosystem in a conversation around over-the-top broadcasting and pay television.

“Our investment is significant as one of the one of the investments that underpins F1, as all our rights do in every sport,” explained Young.

“I think that’s one of the differences between an OTT platform right now and major sporting broadcasters, like Sky and Eurosport, that actually invest a large amount of money that goes into those sports of which they need to help fund the teams to compete.”

“There’s an ecosystem in there that is quite delicate, and if you unravel it too quickly it can have some lasting effects,” he said.

Young quite clearly encapsulates the key themes of the ecosystem: the broadcasters, the rights holder, and the teams. If the system changes too quickly, the consequences could be catastrophic.

Coronavirus creates a gap in the chamber. The flow of money into the sport stops, meaning that money cannot flow back out the other end easily.

Who are the parties involved, and what are their roles? Let the below diagram explain, using Formula 1 and MotoGP as the key examples…

Motor sport ecosystem.png
A simplified view of the motor sport ecosystem.

Much of the above is stating the obvious, however it shows how the ecosystem joins up from one segment to another, from the customer paying the pay TV broadcaster their monthly subscription, all the way through to teams paying their staff.

The diagram is, I admit, a simplistic view of the landscape, but hopefully helps to show how some of the basic activities connect. There are many more inputs and outputs, the diagram only covers the main ones (although if you feel there is a major gap, please shout).

Motor sport ecosystem - branch 1.png
A simplified view of the motor sport ecosystem (branch 1).

Branch 1 – Pay TV > Commercial Rights Holder
Pay-TV broadcasters receive income from both their customers monthly, as well as from advertisers / sponsors who want to advertise during their programming. Not all motor sports air on pay-TV, but overall, that is the way.

Some have suggested that UK’s pay-TV broadcasters BT and Sky should refund subscribers of their sports channels during the coronavirus outbreak, however neither are planning to do so currently.

The income pay-TV broadcasters receive allows them to broadcast prestigious events, the broadcaster paying the relevant Commercial Rights Holder an agreed amount each season.

For MotoGP, the Commercial Rights Holder is Dorna, for F1 it is Formula One Management, for World Rally Championship it is WRC Promoter, and so on.

To attract subscribers, pay-TV broadcasters want to utilise the best talent, on and off-screen. For that, they use a hybrid of permanent in-house staff and freelancers.

Both bring their benefits: being a permanent member of staff gives you added security with a regular pay packet, but makes it unlikely that you can work on events not aired on their outlet.

Freelancers on the other hand may work F1 one weekend, MotoGP the next, and then Formula E the weekend after, each paid on a standalone basis. Three different broadcasters and production teams, but not a problem. That approach brings risks: any cancellation will result in a loss of income.

Motor sport ecosystem - branch 1.png
A simplified view of the motor sport ecosystem (branch 2).

Branch 2 – Circuit > Commercial Rights Holder
The second area is simpler. Fans pay money to attend the circuit to watch a race, the circuit pays the Commercial Rights Holder the fee for holding the race. Investors and sponsors may pump money into the circuit to improve facilities, increasing the prospects of holding major events there.

It sounds simple, until someone cancels the race, which is where the legal complications come in. Mark Hughes over on The Race summarises the situation in relation to the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix.

In the event of the cancellation of a race, someone will lose money. Opting not to refund the fans is an untenable option. The organisers refund the fans, in which case the organisers lose money. Unless the Commercial Rights Holder waives the fee and takes the financial hit.

The worst-case scenario for a circuit is that they lose so much money, they go into administration and liquidation.

Circuits need money to keep operating outside of the F1 and MotoGP race weekends, they need to pay their own employees (not labelled in the diagram) to give one example. In the UK, the Rockingham Motor Speedway closed in 2018 after financial issues.

Cancelling one race might be okay, but would be enough to disturb the cashflow of the circuit. What happens though, if the Commercial Rights Holder opted to take the hit, saving the circuit, but putting themselves at jeopardy?

Motor sport ecosystem - branch 1.png
A simplified view of the motor sport ecosystem (branch 3).

Branch 3 – Commercial Right Holder > Staff
Like the pay-TV scenario above, the Commercial Rights Holder will pay people to run the World Feed for them all the weekend, both freelancers and permanent staff. The talent varies: from directors, to vision mixers, to replay operators, to camera operators, the list is never ending.

F1 has a mixture of freelance talent and permanent talent, same as above. Same positives, same negatives, same risks.

Motor sport ecosystem - branch 1.png
A simplified view of the motor sport ecosystem (branch 4).

Branch 4 – Commercial Rights Holder > Teams
As well as receiving money off pay-TV broadcasters and circuits, the Commercial Rights Holder will receive money off advertisers, sponsors and investors, the Rolex’s of this world.

Pay-TV broadcasters may want compensation off the Commercial Rights Holder if races fall by the wayside, and the same applies for advertisers, whilst circuits may want their fees lowered.

If organisers cancel one race, most championships would be able to deal with it, however when multiple races disappear, the problem amplifies.

For hypothetical sake, assume the Commercial Rights Holder has buckled in the event of cancellation. They have waived the circuit race fee and given both advertisers and pay-TV companies some compensation. Unlikely, but let us continue the worst-case path.

But, hang on. The Commercial Rights Holder needs to the pay the teams their prize money, right? Well, yes. Oh. But, the Commercial Rights Holder has already lost money? Again, yes.

“Okay then, we will not give teams their prize money.” Good luck with that one.

Teams need to pay their permanent staff and freelancers, as well as suppliers, and need some form of income from both the Commercial Rights Holder and sponsors.

Suppliers are important here. Motor sport relies on thousands of small to medium-sized employers worldwide that rarely gets a mention. If any one of those suppliers go under, that could impact the team’s ability to go racing. Suddenly, we have a major problem…

The likes of Mercedes, Ferrari, Repsol Honda, will survive with minimal disruption. The likes of Williams in F1, and many outfits in MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3, all the way down the motor sport pyramid I worry about.

I worry about the freelancers, inside and outside of broadcasting, who are out of work for at least the next month. I worry about championships who struggle to make a profit each year.

I appreciate this is a simplistic view of the world, and does not account for all factors (there are many indirect lines excluded).

The point I am getting at though is that the motor sport ecosystem will be seriously tested over the next few months, and the potential longer-term consequences for this sport do not bear thinking about…


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