The ratings picture: The Verdict so Far

The final part of my mid-season Verdict so far Series focusses on the ratings picture for this year’s Formula One season. Due to the change in broadcasting rights, with Sky Sports taking over exclusive live coverage for ten races, a change in the television ratings was anticipated. But have the ratings gone down, or have they gone up?

Before I start though, complete clarity on the figures I use. All of the figures in the blog are programme averages, unless stated otherwise. This is because these are the figures most readily available, and I do not have industry access to the viewing figures. Therefore, I am relying purely on the figures I already have and those that are reported in the public domain. I also have the Formula 1 viewing figures going back to the early 1990’s, those can be sourced from Broadcast magazine.

Unfortunately, the viewing figures for this season reveal that Formula 1 viewing has decreased to a four year low, with an average of 3.91 million viewers across the first eleven races of this season. The figure consists of:

– Sky live and BBC highlights for Australia, Malaysia, Bahrain, Canada, Germany and Hungary
– Sky live, BBC live and BBC re-run for China
– Sky and BBC live for Spain, Monaco, Europe, Britain

With the exception of the Chinese Grand Prix earlier this year, every race has been down year-on-year. At this point I want to dispel a myth that this is due to Sky Sports F1’s longer build-up and post-race, thus distorting the figures year-on-year. That is false. Let us take the Spanish Grand Prix.

BBC had 3.49 million viewers for its broadcast. From 11:30 to 16:15*, Sky Sports F1 had 551,000 viewers, a 4.62 percent viewing share. With the 5-minute breakdown in hand, from 12:10 to 15:15, the typical BBC F1 broadcast length from last year, Sky Sports F1 had 744,000 viewers, a 6.09 percent viewing share. That’s a difference of 232,000 viewers, or 35.1 percent. Keep that number in mind.

* note: Sky’s programme went on until 16:45 due to the Williams fire incident, as I note above, I have access to that particular breakdown so have taken the 11:30 to 16:15 chunk only. Most of Sky’s broadcasts now end at 16:15, hence the 16:15 cut-off to give the most accurate figure.

Sky Sports F1’s live race day broadcasts have average 669,000 viewers this season. Extrapolate that up 35.1 percent, and you get 904,000 viewers. That is an increase of 235,000 viewers.

Add that to the 3.91 million viewers and you get 4.14 million viewers. Which is down on 2009, 2010 and 2011:

– 2009: 4.32 million
– 2010: 4.29 million
– 2011: 4.55 million
– 2012: 4.14 million

The figures are still down, but not as much as it appears. If you were to look at the first eleven races excluding Bahrain as that was not part of last years calendar, then you get:

Averages (Aus, Mal, Chn, Spa, Mon, Can, Eur, GB, Ger, Hun)
– 2009 – 4.29 million
– 2010 – 4.30 million
– 2011 – 4.54 million
– 2012 – 4.09 million

Again, there is a drop, a substantial drop on last year, but not much of a drop on 2009 and 2010. The consensus there seems to be that there is a drop of 2009, 2010 and 2011, albeit not as much as is touted around in the media.

If we are to compare further back, using data from 2000 onwards for Australia, Spain, Monaco, Britain, Germany and Hungary, we see the following:

Averages for the above six races
– 2000 – 4.30 million
– 2001 – 3.61 million
– 2002 – 3.32 million
– 2003 – 3.22 million
– 2004 – 2.95 million
– 2005 – 3.00 million
– 2006 – 2.73 million
– 2007 – 3.35 million
– 2008 – 3.68 million
– 2009 – 4.22 million
– 2010 – 4.28 million
– 2011 – 4.52 million
– 2012 – 3.83 million (or 4.06 million using the ‘35.1 percent’ above)

A similar method would be to look at the first elevent races only:

Averages for the first eleven races
– 2006 – 2.87 million
– 2007 – 3.58 million
– 2008 – 3.62 million
– 2009 – 4.29 million
– 2010 – 4.36 million
– 2011 – 4.62 million
– 2012 – 3.91 million (or 4.14 million using the ‘35.1 percent’ above)

The problem that I have is that after years of increases since 2006 is that ratings have dropped by at least 400,000 irrespective of which comparison you use. It does not matter which ratings comparisons you use or how you choose to interpret them or spin them, but the fact of the matter is that this season will be the lowest rated season since 2008, unless there is a big increase in the next three months.

Why? Being a broadcasting blog, the first reason you could argue is that the BBC and Sky deal is sending viewers away from the sport. It is quite possible that this is happening, with the casual fans not knowing which races are live and which are highlights, therefore not bothering to tune in. It may be a lack of promotion on the BBC side of things. Take next weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix, there have been dozens of adverts on Sky, yet I have only seen one advert on BBC. If you don’t promote things, then viewers may not be aware that it is on, therefore won’t tune in. Outside of the ramifications of the BBC and Sky deal, the Olympics and Euro 2012 argument could be brought in.

Historically, the Olympics has dented things badly. In 2008, the European Grand Prix had only 2.64 million viewers compared with 3.24 million viewers the previous year, while in 2004, the Hungarian Grand Prix recorded a programme average of 2.11 million viewers compared with 2.73 million viewers in 2003. So the olympics definitely does have a negative effect on Formula 1 ratings. As I have said multiple times in this blog, it is madness that FOM and FIA schedule races against major sporting events. They won’t win viewers, they will only lose them, so why do it? It confuses me. Back to this year, however, and Canada may have had its viewership slashed because of Sky exclusivity (an example of a race that needed terrestrial coverage), but on the other hand the European Grand Prix had its highest rating since 2000, while the British and Hungarian Grand Prix’s were down, but not by as much as I anticipated. Aside from that, Australia, Malaysia, Spain and Monaco were down versus 2011, and none of those races were influenced at all by the Olympics or Euro 2012.

Qualifying has not done too badly, in fact while the 2.38 million viewers average may be down on 2009 and 2011, it is in line with 2010, coincidentally another sporting year with the World Cup playing a part. There has been a major fluctuation though between events, Australia was 1.2 million viewers down on 2011, yet Bahrain had an average of 3.45 million viewers, benefiting from a primetime slot on BBC One. So the deal does have swings and roundabouts regarding viewership.

I suspect there are multiple causes to the race drop outside of broadcasting. Maybe viewers are finding the ‘random’ Formula 1 this season with Pirelli a turn-off? It is possible, I guess, along with DRS and KERS hurting the viewership as fans and casuals want to see more ‘pure’ racing. I don’t know, the pattern of low ratings may not be repeated across Europe, it may just be a UK thing, because of the new deal.

Moving onto practice, and for the European based races, Practice 1 has averaged 83,000 on Sky Sports F1, Practice 2 has averaged 82,000 and Practice 3 has averaged 130,000. Interestingly there is very little difference between the programme averages for practice in Sky exclusive weekends versus the joint BBC and Sky races (74k/85k/128k vs 82k/69k/120k) which suggests that either not many people watch BBC Red Button, or that very few people that watch the Red Button for practice choose to watch the Sky exclusive practice sessions as well. I know the “it’s only practice” argument can be bandied around, but I do think Sky would have been hoping for higher figures for their exclusive practice sessions.

I hope that the ratings in general increase back to 2011 levels for the final haul of the season now that the Olympics and Euro 2012 are over. There is no reason, really, why the ratings should not increase as the championship reaches its climax, and looks set to be resolved at a later stage compared to last season. It would look odd if the highest rated season in the UK since 1999 would be a season where it was actually a German that won the title…

To end the blog post, I thought it would be a good idea to look at the GP2 and GP3 Series ratings. While I do not have averages for the series’ so far, the series is not benefiting one bit from being on Sky Sports F1, take this from the Spanish Grand Prix Qualifying day:

12:00 – F1 Qualifying: 342k (4.0%)
* peak: 632k (6.7%) at 13:55
14:35 – GP2 Race 1: 62k (0.7%)
* peak: 106k (1.3%) at 14:35
16:15 – GP3 Race 1: 42k (0.4%)
* peak: 57k (0.6%) at 16:25

As someone pointed out to me on my blog a few weeks ago: Who’s James? Who’s Max? That is referring to James Calado and Max Chilton, of course. The GP2 and GP3 figures are not spectacular, and is not bringing in any extra viewers than what it would usually on British Eurosport 2, or ITV4 in the case of GP2 in 2008. GP2 races in 2008 on ITV4 typically had between 80,000 and 100,000 viewers, so the Sky viewership is slightly down on that.

That is it for the mid-Summer verdict on the blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the pieces, and as always comments are welcome.

Note: All the figures quoted here are the averages for the whole race programme, not the race average as these figures are unavailable. Figures are mostly official figures from BARB and Broadcast magazine. While I have made comparisons and analysis of figures, I should note that I do not have every single ratings figure. The figures for that races that I am missing are:

1992 – Australia, San Marino, France, Portugal, Japan (live and both for AUS, JPN)
1993 – France (live), Japan (highlights)
1994 – Pacific (highlights), San Marino, France, Hungary, Japan (live)
1995 – Australia, Argentina, San Marino, Spain, Japan (all live)
1996 – Canada, Japan (all live)
1997 – Japan (live)
1998 – Australia,France, Japan (all live)
2000 – Malaysia (live and re-run), Japan (live)
2001 – Japan (live)
2003 – Malaysia; Japan (both live)
2004 – China (live)
2006 – China (live)

If anyone is reading and has any of them ratings, leave a comment. While this piece focusses primarily on the 2012 ratings picture, my April piece focussed on the ratings picture for the past twenty years. For anyone wishing to read that, please click here.


Why Sky Sports F1’s mid-week programming needs a rethink: The Verdict so Far

The Mid Season Verdict series continues with part four of five, this time focussing on Sky Sports F1’s programming outside of race weekends, and how they could improve it. When the channel was first announced, the question for many was “how do they fill the hours outside of race weekend?”. Which, is a perfectly valid audience. A channel, as well as having content aimed at the casual fans during the race weekend, is also meant to be aimed at the hardcore fans outside of race weekends. Has it done that? Not really, in my opinion. At the moment, outside of race weekends, we have:

– F1 Fast Track: 30-minute highlights of 2012 races so far set to a backing track
– Weekend in Words: 1-hour compilation of clips of people talking from the previous race weekend
– Weekend in Stills: 30-minute compilation of images from the previous race weekend
– The F1 Show: see my description in Part 3
– Season Reviews: reviews from 1988 to 2011, most taken from the official DVD season reviews

There has also been Classic F1 races, but only for Monaco and Britain. The problem with the Classic F1 races that they have shown is that some are not even worthy of the title ‘classics’ seeing as they are races from the past five years. On the whole though, Sky are focusing their programming in the wrong areas. As a dedicated fan, who watches the majority of things, only The F1 Show and the Season Reviews appeal for me. The casual fan is more likely to watch F1 Fast Track and the ‘Weekend in…’ programmes (although Weekend in Stills admittedly caters to both), however are casual fans likely to watch the Sky Sports F1 channel during the week? Not really. It would be in Sky’s interest to focus more on the dedicated fan during the week and non-F1 weekends by putting on programmes that appeal to them as they are the core audience for the channel during that time period. Official figures from BARB showed that the highest rated programme between the British and German Grand Prix weekends had 45,000 for The F1 Show on Friday evening, a small pocket of the audience. The channel during that week reached only 99,000 viewers per day, again, a small portion of the audience, and most likely a dedicated contingent. If you’re churning out the same programmes day in-day out, where’s the incentive to watch? I can’t see any. For Sky, they should at least be aiming to produce programme for the dedicated audience, but also accessible for the casual audience.

The current programming does not do that. F1 Fast Track is a waste of half an hour of airtime and is nothing more than ‘filler’ which should be dumped. Weekend in Words serves no purpose either, and is twice as worse seeing as it is 1 hour long. Half of the quotes are outdated, and as the dedicated audience would have watched the majority of programming during the race weekend, this programme is effectively repeating the same interviews that the viewer has already seen during the main coverage. This programme, again, does nothing for me and should be dumped.

Weekend in Stills is okay and should stay. I can see why people would enjoy this programme, and while it is not my cup of tea, images capture a lot more than what TV images can, so it is probably worth keeping. The F1 Show I shall skim over here, because I’ve already stated multiple times that I believe this is the best piece of TV that Sky Sports F1 produce, so I hope to see this a staple in the schedule. The Season Reviews is a bugbear. Yes, dedicated fans would like it. But why not full races? The thing I don’t like here is that Sky went back on what they said on their Twitter account before the season. Given that this is a dedicated channel, I find the decision to not broadcast full, classic races bizarre. Showing Season Reviews is a step back from the BBC’s fantastic Classic F1 offering between 2009 to 2011 where readers would get a choice of five races and they would get to pick the best for an extended highlights offering, see here as an example. The writer on the blog, Andrew Benson admitted I believe that the Classic F1 series was basically done ‘off a piece of string’, yet they appear to have put in more effort in this area than Sky so far.

I make it sound like this is a ‘big deal’, but it seems a sensible thing to do considering it is easy hours of material to fill on their channel instead of another repeat. Some of you may be wondering whether Sky Sports would actually have the rights to the material. I think they would have the rights to the majority of the material (and commentary) considering it is filmed, and recorded, inside the confines of a race circuit, so that is not an excuse. My overriding opinion is that it’s disappointing for Sky not to exploit the rights. Why both with a dedicated channel if you’re not going to run archive races during non-F1 weekends? I don’t really get it. They have shown Classic races for Monaco and Britain, but what have they shown during the break? Classics races? Nope. Nothing. Nada, zilch. I suggested a classic season. It would be pretty simple, open a vote in May on the Sky Sports F1 website, get people a few weeks to vote any season between 1990 and 2008, they screen the winning season during August. Not too difficult. It is an extremely lazy approach, repeating the same programming over and over again. It is quite sad seeing that a dedicated channel was created for Formula 1 fans, yet it is still not being maximised to its full potential as it should be. Sky can’t claim “it costs money”, as I said above, BBC did it on a piece of string! For me, the F1 channel could be so much better outside of race weekends. It is unfortunate that at the moment it is barely above average.

The other programming is too weak for an F1 channel, in that there should be more. The following is some simple ideas of programming aside from replaying Classic F1 races, which are as follows, and yes, they are the same suggestions as April, because all (bar one) have not been implemented:

Radio Soundbites
– 1 hour
– The best team radio soundbites from the weekend
– containing clips from the World Feed and also the Pit Channel

Cockpit View
– 1 hour
– The best onboard moments from the weekend
– containing clips from the World Feed and also the Onboard Channel

– 1 hour
– a Hybrid race feed containing the best bits from the World Feed, Onboard and Pitlane with Team Radio and Natural Sounds over the top

The Paddock View Live
– 30 minutes (or 1 hour depending on race ‘excitement’)
– two or three F1 journalists in a studio looking at newspapers and opinion pieces, agreeing or disagreeing
– also asking for viewers opinion
– credit where it is due, Sky trialled this during The F1 Show a few weeks back with David Croft as host. Would love to see it back every two or three weeks.

– 30 minutes
– a few dedicated fans in the studio, preferably straight after The F1 Show with the viewpoints being ‘handed over’ to the fans for them to give their thoughts
– also asking for viewers opinion
– for those that watch Peter Windsor’s online show, The Flying Lap, this is basically what happens when his show has gone ‘off the air’ where he keeps the feed open for 15/20 minutes so people can ask questions

And how would all of that, including the existing programming and full classic races instead of Season Reviews? Like this…

14:00 – GP2: Race 1 of previous weekend (repeat)
15:30 – GP3: Race 1 of previous weekend (repeat)
16:30 – GP2: Race 2 of previous weekend (repeat)
18:00 – GP3: Race 2 of previous weekend (repeat)
19:00 – Race (repeat)

20:00 – Weekend in Words (new)
21:00 – F1 Fast Track (new)
21:30 – Weekend in Stills (new)
22:00 – GP2: Race 1 of previous weekend (repeat)

20:00 – Cockpit View (new)
21:00 – The Paddock View Live (new)
22:00 – GP2: Race 2 of previous weekend (repeat)

20:00 – Radio Soundbites (new)
21:00 – Hybrid (new)
22:00 – GP3: Race 1 of previous weekend (repeat)

20:00 – The F1 Show Live (new)
21:00 – Fanzone Live (new)
21:30 – The Paddock View (repeat)
22:00 – GP3: Race 1 of previous weekend (repeat)

The end result being that you have 7 and a half hours of original content with original content on Tuesday through Friday, a vast improvement on now. And how would Saturdays and Sundays shape up?

10:00 – Race Highlights (repeat)
11:30 – Weekend in Words (repeat)
12:30 – F1 Fast Track (repeat)
13:00 – Weekend in Stills (repeat)
13:30 – Cockpit View (repeat)
14:30 – The Paddock View (repeat)
15:30 – Radio Soundbites (repeat)
16:30 – Hybrid (repeat)
17:30 – The F1 Show (repeat)
18:30 – Fanzone (repeat)
19:00 to 22:30 – Classic F1 Race (new)

10:00 – The F1 Show (repeat)
11:00 – Fanzone (repeat)
12:00 – Classic F1 Race (repeat)
15:30 – The Paddock View (repeat)
16:30 – Radio Soundbites (repeat)
17:30 – Hybrid (repeat)
18:00 – Weekend in Words (repeat)
19:00 – Weekend in Stills (repeat)
19:30 – IndyCar Series (live)

One classic race per weekend is fine in my opinion, with a repeat of it the following day. Anything else would be too much, but one classic race per weekend when F1 is not on would be fantastic in my opinion. Saturday and Sunday offers a catch-up for anyone who missed the weekend offerings, and it also means things are not repeated that much compared to now where some things are repeated many times, for instance the Australian Grand Prix highlights show must be on its 10th repeat by now (editors note: I said ten back in April, I dread to know the amount by now…)! Also, I didn’t sneak IndyCars in there at 19:30, that was deliberate! It should be on Sky Sports F1 in my opinion to prevent it being thrown around Sky Sports 2, 3 and 4. It’s the logical thing to do, unfortunately though it has been left to the other Sky channels leading to embarrassingly low ratings. Three thousand viewers for an IndyCars race? Irrespective of your opinion concerning IndyCars, it should not be getting as low as three thousand viewers in the UK.

One of the things that does slightly annoy me a bit as well is how things are timed ‘oddly’ on the schedule, programmes seem to start at ten past, twenty past, five past, why not on the hour or half an hour like the majority of other TV channels? Most of the above is exactly the same as what I wrote in April, with a bit added here and there. Unfortunately nothing has changed on this subject, aside from Sky trialling “The Paddock Club” and the Classic races from Monaco and Britain. Hence why the majority of the content in this piece has to stay the same. Sadly.

Sky Sports F1’s weekend output: The Verdict so Far

In the first two parts of my five part mid-season series looking at BBC F1’s and Sky Sports F1’s output, I looked at both of their current line-ups and their strengths and weaknesses. In this part, I intend to look at the weekend output from Sky Sports F1, including suggestions of how to improve it. In the fourth part of this series, I shall look at Sky’s programming outside of weekends, again, with suggestions on how it could be expanded upon; while the final part of the series shall look at the television ratings, and whether the new broadcasting deal has led to an increase in ratings, or a decrease in ratings.

As I noted back in April, I will not be doing a part on how BBC can improve, simply because I feel that they have reached ‘the rooftop’. There is not much at all in my opinion that BBC could do to expand their current output beyond their budget constraints. My only suggestion is that from October, is for them to put practice sessions on BBC Two now that all children’s programming is leaving BBC Two. Aside from that, there is not much else for them to do. I did, however, look at in detail their Qualifying broadcast for this year’s German Grand Prix, for those that wish to read that, please click here. As thus, I won’t spend a part of this series giving suggestions that are never realistically going to happen.

The Sky Sports F1 channel covers every session of the 2012 Formula 1 season live, from the Drivers’ Press Conference on a Thursday afternoon right through to the race itself. The channel also covers every session from the feeder series called GP2 as well as the Qualifying and the two races from GP3. The stars of GP3 typically move up to GP2, with their end goal to reach Formula 1.

Practice Sessions
Each practice session on Sky Sports F1 is covered with 15-minutes build-up and 10 minutes post-session analysis fronted by Simon Lazenby for practices one and two with Georgie Thompson for practice three. David Croft and Anthony Davidson are normally the commentators, although with Davidson’s 24 Hours of Le Mans injury and commitments prior to the injury, Jerome d’Ambrosio and more recently Allan McNish have stepped in for him. During the session Natalie Pinkham, Martin Brundle and Ted Kravitz rove up and down the pitlane; Brundle also with Lazenby before and after the sessions. The amount of time dedicated in the build-up to practice is fine, as is the length dedicated after practices one and two. However, “running off air” three minutes after practice three is quite embarrassing for the sake of seven minutes of advertising, given that the advertised off air time is given as 11:10. The reason I say embarrassing is because of what happened at the Monaco Grand Prix. A quite hectic end to practice three thanks to Sergio Perez and Pastor Maldonaldo, and Sky decide to rush off air before the world feed ends with Thompson, Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill looking a bit clueless in a boat. For the practice sessions, the way they cover the sessions is fine, and there is nothing to change. The commercials I can accept, in fact, commercials in the practice sessions are a good thing as they allow me to hop onto the Red Button (or Sky Race Control in Sky’s language) and access the onboard feeds, which is a good watch while the commercials are on the main channel.

Occasionally they also cut away from the World Feed to show Brundle or Kravitz demonstrating something in pit lane, I don’t mind if they do this, as long as there is a reason for doing it. I don’t like them doing it if cars are on track, they should only cut away if absolutely necessary in those scenarios. It does grind though as there are one or two cuts that are too long, it is as if the director has fallen asleep for a few seconds to me. At this point, I would suggest the Picture-in-Picture (PiP) option for the channel, but I’m not sure whether the broadcasting rights allow them to go PiP during an actual session, so I’m unsure if that is a valid suggestion. Another thing is how Sky treat the practice sessions. I don’t mean in terms of air-time, I mean how they approach the commentary. Back in the 5 Live F1 days from 2009 to 2011 with Croft and Davidson, the editorial decision was that the session were mostly interactive with a lot of discussion encouraged via Twitter and text. That in my view was the perfect way of doing it, the pictures were essentially an addition to the commentary, as it should be for practice. Unfortunately, with Sky the editorial stance appears to have changed in that a lot less tweets are read out and more of a focus is put on what is happening on the track. I mean, there is nothing wrong with that, but I don’t really agree with it. I prefered the discussion nature of things that Croft and Davidson did with 5 Live back from 2009 to 2011 in all honesty.

The F1 Show
The first of its kind in the UK, The F1 Show airs on Friday’s presented by Ted Kravitz and Georgie Thompson, either on location or in the studio. This paragraph is going to be short, because for me it is by far the best and most enjoyable hour of the content that Sky produce. As I said in Part 1, the combination of Kravitz and Thompson is one that has gelled quickly, the two are clearly relaxed working with each other, and it makes for a better programme as a result. The programme also airs outside of race weekends, for instance on the March 30th edition of the show we were treated to Patrick Head as a guest on the show. The limited commercial format (only 2 ad-breaks on the show) allowed Head to talk in detail about his time at Williams without the need to cut away quickly to the next feature. The show also has cars past and present in the studio, such as this year’s Mercedes or the 1993 Williams car. I don’t think there is anything I would do to change The F1 Show, because it is already a brilliant hour of television, arguably the best piece of television that Sky Sports F1 produces. And long may that continue.

The above paragraph I wrote in April, and to be quite frank (pardon the pun seeing as I was talking about Williams above!), I don’t feel the need to change one word.

Support races
As I noted above, Sky Sports F1 is broadcasting the two feeder series’ to Formula 1: the GP2 Series and the GP3 Series. I’m glad that Sky have taken GP2 and GP3, I was confused when BBC Sport decided not to pick up GP2 in 2009, it seemed they had let it slip through their fingers, and was a bizarre decision in my opinion. That’s for an issue for another blog, though. For all of the coverage, Sky takes the World Feed coverage for every session, with commentary from Will Buxton and Jerome d’Ambrosio. However, their coverage only starts 5 minutes before the race, and finishes 5 minutes after the race. This applies for every session. For practice, that’s fine, I wouldn’t expect any other coverage outside of the World Feed. For the Qualifying and the Races, though, I think Sky should consider adding a pre and post-race show. For the pre-race show, I would suggest 10 minutes build-up with Georgie Thompson presenting and interviewing one or two drivers’ on the grid alongside Johnny Herbert. Just to bring some flavour and voices to the coverage, while after the race they can grab one or two of the finishers and get their analysis on the race. It doesn’t need a lot, but just something to add to the bones to the coverage so the drivers’ can be introduced to the public.

This isn’t without precedence, I’m not suggesting something which has never been attempted before. Back in 2008, ITV4 won the rights to screen GP2 live on their channel. Instead of just taking the World Feed coverage, ITV4 opted to have a pre-race and post-race section to their coverage, presented by Charlie Webster. Ignoring how good (or bad!) the presenter was, it showed for me a commitment to bring GP2 coverage up to a higher level compared to how Eurosport covered it previously. It doesn’t look like Sky are going to change this for the remainder of this year, so I hope to see the GP2 and GP3 coverage advanced up a level for the 2013 season.

Pre-Show, Post-Show and the dreaded commercials…
Whilst I believe Sky’s Friday coverage is a fine piece of work, and there is really not much to change about it (unless I was to nitpick!), Saturday’s and Sunday’s main coverage leaves a lot to desire. I could have split this blog into two or three sections, with each section focussing on a different area, but I don’t think that is necessary and it would soon become repetitive, as we get back to the same problem: commercials. Commercials plagued the ITV F1 shows, and they appear to be doing the same for the Sky Sports F1 shows, the only difference this time is that Sky took the wise move to run the Qualifying and Race sessions during the race with adverts before and after the race.

Now that we are halfway through the season, however, a pattern has emerged. During the races where BBC are live, Sky run what they like to call “limited” adverts. However, when BBC are not live, Sky run adverts every 15 minutes during the build-up and after the race. Apart from the fact that, in my view, this is extremely petty, it also makes the programme a dozen times worser because of it. Having adverts disrupts the flow, it means the director is constantly shouting at the presenter “5 minutes to adverts” and it means the viewer gets pointless VT’s that add nothing. I really don’t like it, to be honest and I don’t get why they do it, or why they find the need to do it. Aside from that though, they have produced some stunningly good features this season. The Brundle goes to Ferrari features have been well done with super access to Maranello, but the feature at the top of the pile for me unquestionably has to be the Nigel Roebuck series as he looks into his archive. For a Formula 1 fan, this makes for fascinating viewing as Roebuck listens to his past recordings of legends such as Gilles Villeneuve. I hope we get to see more of Roebuck’s archive as the pre-race shows continue on Sky Sports F1.

The post-race shows need to be tidied up a little still and perfected, but I appreciate that the barriers move every race depending on the nature of the race. I noted with the practice session section earlier about interactivity and the same point applies here with the post-race show, I don’t think I have seen any of the Sky members ask for questions on Twitter to ask any driver, which is a contrast to seeing Jake Humphrey on Twitter constantly scrolling down the iPad looking for questions to ask drivers’ or team bosses. On the brighter side, I was extremely pleased to see Ted Kravitz’s Notebook become part of the post-race show. Alongside The F1 Show, this is one of the highlights of the race weekend as Kravitz wanders up and down the pitlane with the technical gossip and pitstop mishaps.

How to improve for the future is quite simple, in my opinion:

– limit the amount of adverts for every race programme, irrespective of whether its rival broadcaster is live or not
– increase interactivity in practice sessions and post-race
– continue high quality features such as the Nigel Roebuck features
– introduce a proper GP2 and GP3 programme
– ditch the pointless pre-race VT’s that add little

If I was a scheduler and had a say on decisions, this would be my perfect weekend schedule. It is an expansion of what I put in April, along with some adjustments based on shows that are now in Sky’s schedule:

08:15 – Drivers’ Press Conference
08:45 – Live Practice 1
10:55 – Live GP2 Practice
11:35 – Classic F1 (35 minutes)
12:10 – Classic F1 (35 minutes)
12:45 – Live Practice 2
14:50 – Live GP2 Qualifying
– session on from 15:00 to 15:30, giving small build-up and reaction from paddock
15:45 – Team Pricipals’ Press Conference
16:15 – Classic F1 (35 minutes in 45 minute slot)
17:00 to 18:00 – Live The F1 Show

08:35 – Live GP3 Qualifying
– session on from 08:45 to 09:15, giving small build-up and reaction from paddock
09:30 – Live Practice 3
– length increased to prevent ‘awkward’ filler
11:15 – Classic F1 (35 minutes in 45 minute slot)
12:00 – Live Qualifying
14:25 – Live GP2: Race 1
– race starts at 14:40, so gives Sky time to go onto the grid and interview a few people, with reaction afterwards
15:55 – Live Qualifying Roundup
– Ted Kravitz in the paddock with a live (or as live) Notebook getting a roundup of Qualifying events, with a few interviews/Sky Pad analysis which could not be fitted in the main show
16:10 to 17:10 – Live GP3: Race 1
– race starts at 16:20, so gives Sky time to go onto the grid and interview a few people, with reaction afterwards

(although I’ve labelled it as different programmes, on screen it will be a seamless hand-over at 14:25 from Simon to Georgie, a seamless hand-over from Georgie to Ted at 15:55 and so on)

08:15 – Live GP3: Race 2
– race starts at 08:25, so gives Sky time to go onto the grid and interview a few people, with reaction afterwards
09:15 – Live GP2: Race 2
– race starts at 09:35, giving Sky time for a feature and grid interviews, extended as it is the main day of racing
10:30 – F1 Legends
– what is normally shown after the race, but instead shown between GP2 and the main F1 programme
11:30 – Live Race

See on Friday’s, by adding things worth watching between the sessions, it gives me a reason to keep watching the channel. Instead they schedule repeat number 218 for no particular reason and with no relevance to that particular race. There is not a lot of change compared to now, but subtle differences compared to the real schedule to make GP2 and GP3 more prominent which as I’ve outlined above is necessary in my opinion. I’d argue that would bring more viewers to GP2 and GP3 as there is a seamless transition between races instead of fiddly 5-minute fillers which are more likely to make viewers tune out, maybe not realising that another race is coming up. There may be an argue that showing support races may be of detriment to the rest of the product with extra resources needed for pre-show and post-show, I disagree.

I suggested earlier in part 1 that Georgie Thompson could be host for the support races, a suggestion I stick to. On Saturday’s and Sunday’s, let’s be honest, she doesn’t do much apart from throw questions to Anthony Davidson in the Sky Pad. Therefore, having her as host for the support races would be a perfect way to utilise her. Comparing the above to F1 Digital+ in 2002, see here for my piece a few months ago, F1 Digital+ stayed on air longer before and after sessions, half an hour for the practice sessions, although it probably should be noted that the coverage, pre-show and post-show was produced by FOM and not Sky Sports. Nevertheless, it is not unprecedented.

As with my verdict series in April, part four will focus on Sky’s Formula 1 coverage outside of race weekends, while part five will look at the ratings picture as Formula 1 enters the second half of the season. My verdict has been outlined above, but your verdict is equally as important. How do you feel about Sky’s weekend coverage at the moment? I look forward to your comments.

The BBC F1 Team: The Verdict so far

The Summer break is here, the teams, drivers and journalists have gone on holiday, so I have taken the opportunity to revist my series that I wrote in April focussing on Formula 1 broadcasting in the UK. As with the April series, part one here focussed on the Sky Sports F1 team, their strengths and weaknesses. In part two, I move on from the Sky F1 team, to the BBC TV team. As noted in Part 1, I will not be focussing on BBC Radio or Sky Sports News for the purposes of this series, and also that everything written here is a hybrid of my April thoughts and my thoughts now during the Summer break.

Ben Edwards
If you haven’t heard of Ben Edwards, you’ve probably been living under a rock. If you are not a broadcasting ‘expert’ or stick purely to F1, then you’re forgiven. Either way, Edwards is considered one of the best, if not the best current motor sport commentator at the moment. So good, that he is compared to Murray Walker. I’ll leave you to discuss that comparison…. Edwards began his commentary journey in the early 1990’s at Eurosport. His first Formula 1 commentary was at the 1994 Japanese Grand Prix for Eurosport, which was the beginning of a long partnership with John Watson. The two commentated on Eurosport until the end of 1996 (when Eurosport lost the F1 rights due to the new ITV deal), before reuniting for the pay-per-view series F1 Digital+ in 2002, and again commentating on the A1 Grand Prix world feed.

Edwards’ commentary is renowned for having a similar style to Walker, with his ability to commentate fluently during all stages of the race and keep the viewer engaged, whether the action is pedestrian and you are struggling to keep awake, or whether a pass is about to take place on the last lap – in which case Edwards will probably shout at the top of his voice with the emotion in his voice clearly on display. Edwards puts the action across to the viewer informatively and articulately. Although he’s with BBC for 2012, and there are absolutely no faults with him, one has to question why BBC did not pick him up in 2009, nor did ITV pick him up after Murray Walker retired? The fact that Jonathan Legard got the BBC TV gig in 2009 and Edwards didn’t, robbing us of the Edwards and Martin Brundle combination fans have wanted for years, is staggering. No disrespect to Legard, but his and Brundle’s commentary was a bigger disappointment than Shrek 2…

I wrote the above in April, and there is very little worth adding to it. The only phrase that comes to mind is “keep doing what you are doing”. I would like to see Edwards a bit more on air, maybe doing an interview here and there for pre-race pieces, but apart from that, there is nothing more to be said here.

David Coulthard
One of the more familiar faces of BBC’s 2012 coverage, Coulthard’s Formula 1 career began at the 1994 Spanish Grand Prix. Initially a Williams test driver, Coulthard was drafted in place of Ayrton Senna, who was tragically killed at the San Marino Grand Prix. Coulthard had 13 wins in a career that spanned 15 years, through Williams, McLaren and Red Bull. Coulthard, like Martin Brundle did 13 years earlier, moved into broadcasting, becoming a pundit for BBC’s Formula One coverage in 2009 alongside the outspoken Eddie Jordan. Coulthard suited the role very well, and quickly grew into it, once he realised Jordan was outspoken in just about everything he said!

Seriously though, the combination of Coulthard and Jordan works well because there is someone like Coulthard that quickly counters insane argument 138 that Jordan throws in his direction. Coulthard moved into the commentary box alongside Brundle in 2011 after Jonathan Legard was dropped, the two having a good rapture in the box together. With Brundle moving to Sky for 2012, Coulthard opted to stay at BBC, partnering Ben Edwards. The combination between the two is just as good as that with David Croft and Brundle on Sky, giving viewers that have access to both platforms an extremely difficult decision to make with regards which commentary line-up to watch.

Due to Coulthard’s and Brundle’s friendship, there will always be speculation about Coulthard’s future at the BBC and whether a move to Sky could be in the pipeline for 2013 or after. My feeling is that Coulthard will stay at BBC, because he is in one of the main roles there now, he is a pundit and a commentator. If he went to Sky, would he be a commentator? Questionable, unless you went down the route of having three commentators on race day. I think Coulthard’s happy where he is, and I would be surprised to see this aspect of the line-ups changed for 2013.

Eddie Jordan
Eddie Jordan started up his own Formula 1 team in 1991, running the team until 2005 when the team was sold to Midland F1 (now known as Force India). During his 15 years, he was known for his outspoken opinions, or opinions that were extremely easy to challenge and disagree with. Jordan’s team had three wins, the memorable 1998 Belgian Grand Prix with Damon Hill and Ralf Schumacher scoring the team a 1-2, along with two victories in 1999 season with Heinz-Harald Frentzen at the helm.

Jordan was announced as a pundit for BBC beginning with the 2009 season, in which was actually a move of genius by the broadcaster. Why? In the years’ preceding that ITV were criticised for having a dull pre-show, partially down to having a ‘wooden’ pundit in Mark Blundell, so having someone who has outspoken opinions, along with someone in Coulthard to counter argue him was a genius move and a brilliant way to keep viewers engaged. An interesting point is that Jordan has only been present for the live races in 2012, and not for the highlights races (Australia being the exception). I don’t necessarily mind this, because two pundits for a highlights show is redundant, but I thought it is worth noting. Is Jordan winding down his Formula 1 punditry slowly?

Gary Anderson
From the team owner, to someone who worked for him, we lead on nicely to Gary Anderson. Anderson replaces Ted Kravitz as BBC’s technical analysis. I was sceptical of Anderson in my April, me describing him as a “solid replacement” to Kravitz. I also said how I think Anderson will improve throughout the season, a point that is definitely turning into fruition. Anderson’s “Gaz Pad”, otherwise known as a pen and a piece of paper, is proving to be a hit, and is just as good as the Sky Pad. His pieces to camera as well have improved as the season has gone on. In the highlights shows they sometimes use simple graphics to describe things and the flow of whatever it may be around the car. I mean, why pull out all the stops on snazzy graphics when you can do exactly the same with a much lower budget?

Jake Humphrey
Starting off his BBC career at Cbeebies, Jake moved onto BBC Sport, fronting portions of Olympics 2008 and Euro 2008 before moving onto the new BBC F1 at the start of 2009. It was evident clearly from day 1 that Humphrey was suited to this job and that this was one of the right decisions that those at BBC Sport made. I remember reading that Humphrey went and asked if he could be host, although I can’t remember where I read that, so I may be wrong. If that is true, then that shows his enthusiasm for F1 and that he is a fan of the sport. Humphrey’s presenting style is one that keeps both the hardcore viewer and casual viewer engaged.

In my honest opinion, Humphrey is the best F1 presenter in the UK, both past and present, ahead of Jim Rosenthal and Simon Lazenby, while as good as, if not better than Steve Rider. Humphrey has the tools to be BBC F1’s presenter for many years to come, something that I hope does happen as I can imagine him being in the role five, or even ten years down the line Most recently Humphrey has missed races to cover Euro 2012 and London 2012, both of which were fantastically covered by the BBC, Humphrey’s presenting on the latter for BBC Three gaining him more fans. I was slightly confused, though, when Humphrey presented Valencia live, specifically travelling over from Poland and then back again after the race. I know it was due to how the Euro 2012 schedule fell, but what exactly was the purpose of that? I’m not sure whether that was his decision or someone else’s decision at BBC Sport but it seemed odd to me, meaning that Lee McKenzie did not present Europe live as was originally planned.

Lee McKenzie
Lee McKenzie comes from a background full of motor sport. Her father, Bob McKenzie is a writer for the Daily Express. Before joining the BBC F1 team, Lee was pit lane reporter for the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series. She also was a presenter of the short-lived Speed Sunday show, a show which aired on ITV1 on Sunday afternoons in 2004 when F1 races were not airing. These attributes made Lee a clear contender for the pit lane job. It is clear when interviewing people that Lee has a good relationship with many of the drivers’, something that is critical if you want to get the right words out of someone, or whether you want their style to come across to the audience at home.

I think Lee does her role well, there’s not much more to ask from her, nor would I expect her to do any more in her role. Her role is the same as Natalie Pinkham’s on Sky Sports, there’s not much else expected out of a pit lane reporter. McKenzie also presents the Inside F1 show on BBC News, and has this season presented several shows due to Humphrey presenting other sports. I do think she has been unable to ‘show off’ her presenting skills though however due to the fact that she never presented any live shows as I noted above. Highlights shows are not live and are mainly to the point which meant that her presenting talents could not be showcased as much as they could have been in live shows, hence my disappointment that she never presented the European Grand Prix live.

Tom Clarkson
If you are from Australia and are reading this, you will be familiar with Clarkson as he is a regular voice on TEN Sport’s Formula 1 coverage. As Humphrey is back for the remainder of the season as a presenter, I don’t believe that we will see Clarkson again, but as we have seen him several times, I thought I would give him a section here too. My memory of Clarkson though comes from Canada when he was asking questions to a slightly miffed Mark Webber here,Webber either unimpressed or bored with Clarkson’s line of questioning.

The crucial thing for BBC in 2012 was keeping the majority of the line-up. Although they were served big blows by losing Martin Brundle and Ted Kravitz, the fact that they retained the ‘three amigos’ (Humphrey, Coulthard and Jordan) was definitely a big relief for them, as it meant that their renowned pre-show style from 2009 to 2011 stayed largely intact. Arguably, in hindsight one could argue that losing Brundle or Kravitz was not as big as first. Both, are replaceable, as we’ve seen. Brundle has been replaced by Ben Edwards, who has fitted into the commentary role on BBC, as expected very well. Kravitz has been replaced by Gary Anderson, who is turning into a fantastic technical analyst. The only thing you are losing is Brundle’s gridwalk, which is a loss, but it’s not a big loss, given that Coulthard and Jordan will try and get people on the grid instead. In reality, I imagine when BBC were discussing 2012, they would have been wanting to keep Eddie Jordan more, as he brings the most to the pre and post-race shows with his opinions and flamboyant styles. Overall, BBC have coped with the changes very, very well. What they will be hoping now is that they keep that team and stabilise it for 2013. I don’t expect BBC to sign anyone, or approach anyone else, the only way they would lose anyone is if they were approached and signed by Sky, forcing BBC to find someone else. I’ve summed up in the below bullet points the chances of anyone moving to Sky, all my thoughts:

Ben Edwards – unlikely unless David Croft moved on
David Coulthard – not out of the question, but rejected Sky last year
Eddie Jordan – if it was a BBC decision for him not to travel to highlights races, then possible
Gary Anderson – unlikely unless Ted Kravitz moved on
Jake Humphrey – Olympics has come and gone, new challenges possibly with Sky although move unlikely
Lee McKenzie – she said in AUTOSPORT (subscription needed) last year that she rejected Sky, so more would need to be offered to tempt her
Tom Clarkson – unlikely

Part 3 shall focus on how Sky can improve on their product during the race weekend, while Part 4 shall focus on their other programming and why they are focussing on the wrong areas at the  moment. Part 5 will move onto the television ratings and how this deal is affecting the ratings picture. Comments, suggestions, things you agree with, and disagree with are welcome!

The Sky Sports F1 Team: The Verdict so far

A few months ago, I decided to launch an F1 Broadcasting blog. Since April, the blog has racked up over 100 posts and over 7,000 hits. For what is quite a niche topic, I would like to think of that as a success, so thanks to each and every one of you for reading.

With the Summer break now in full force for the Formula 1 teams and drivers, ‘The Verdict so Far’ series makes a return to the blog, with myself looking back on what I wrote in April and adding to my thoughts from the original ‘Verdict so Far’ series. If you have not read the original posts, fear not, you can find them here. Heading into 2012, we had nine new voices presenting, commentating, reporting on Formula 1 for BBC and Sky. Since April, more new voices have been heard on a regular basis. They are:

– Allan McNish (Sky)
– Tom Clarkson (BBC TV)

So both of them will be included in the series from now on, assuming Clarkson will be back on TV reporting. You may be wondering why I am not including Nick Heidfeld or Jacques Villeneuve, who both appeared as pundits on Sky Sports F1 during Europe and Canada respectively. Neither are regular pundits, and both only appeared once as a one-off appearance, so there is not much to be gained from me ‘analysing’ both in detail. I will, however, say that it is good to see Sky using a variety of pundits aside from the regulars, which can add to the weekend broadcasts when it is a different voice being heard. Obviously there’s no guarantee that said voice will be good for the broadcast, but it is a risk worth taking.

As with April’s series, parts one and two will focus on the Sky Sports F1 and BBC F1 teams respectively. Parts 3 and 4 will be reposted from April, with probably minor alterations while Part 5 will be updated fully with the ratings picture as it is currently. For the purposes of this series, I will only be focussing on the two main TV teams, as thus the Sky Sports News or BBC Radio teams will not be covered.

Allan McNish
I’ve always been a fan of Allan McNish, both as a pundit and a driver. It was unfortunate that he only got one chance as a Formula 1 driver with Toyota as 2002, but in any case he has since had a highly successful career in endurance racing. We first saw McNish on screen with Sky Sports F1 during the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, alongside David Croft in The F1 Show. Like with Herbert in China, it was stating the obvious very early on, that McNish would be a super pundit for Sky Sports F1 with his breadth and depth of motor sport knowledge so I was very pleased when Sky announced that he would be staying on.

As a pair during practice, McNish and Croft are a much better pair than Croft and Jerome d’Ambrosio as it was before. McNish is much more of a veteran in motor sport than d’Ambrosio and therefore was able to talk in depth about technical issues within the sport. I hope we continue to see McNish on Sky Sports F1 as the season continues.

Anthony Davidson
After a short lived Formula 1 career with Minardi, BAR and Super Aguri, Davidson moved into the BBC Radio 5 Live commentary box at the start of the 2009 season where he partnered David Croft. He flourished in the role with Croft, with their commentary style in practice sessions universally well received. Davidson moved into other motor sports, mainly focussing on endurance races including the Le Mans 24 Hours. Davidson moved to Sky Sports in the same role for 2012, except instead of commentating on every session, he only commentated on the practice sessions, with Martin Brundle taking over for qualifying and the race. Davidson’s other role has been with Georgie Thompson in the ‘Sky Pad’.

Due to Davidson’s horrific accident at the Le Mans 24 Hours, his activities with Sky Sports F1 have since mid-June been curtailed, only appearing at the Hungarian Grand Prix in Sky’s London studios. In my April piece, I did comment that Davidson was “under-utilised massively on Sky”. Although I agree still with that sentiment, it is unfair to comment further on it as he has not been on screen a lot since then.

Damon Hill
From someone who didn’t have a successful Formula 1 career to someone that did have a successful Formula 1 career. Hill won his only title in 1996, in a fantastic battle with Jacques Villeneuve which came down to the final race in Japan. Hill’s career went downwards from that point onwards, however, moving to Arrows in 1997 before retiring in 1999 while part of the Jordan team. Hill’s role with Sky Sports F1 is not his first broadcasting role, however. Some may remember that Hill was part of the short lived F1 Digital+ concept in 2002 which seen him join Matthew Lorenzo, Ben Edwards, John Watson among others at Biggin Hill during that season to preside over the pay-per-view channel. Hill has the main punditry role in Sky’s coverage, with him alongside Lazenby and Brundle in the pre and post shows.

While I would not call Hill a fantastic pundit, I do think he is improving as the season progresses. In the first few races, it was not easy to watch Hill and Lazenby together and it felt somewhat ‘awkward’ with both of them new to the Formula 1 broadcasting scene (in Hill’s case, he is not new, but to my knowledge he has not done a lot of F1 broadcasting since 2002 aside from a few ITV commentary duties). Since then, however, Hill has improved somewhat, and definitely seems to be more at ease when Johnny Herbert is on screen alongside him, the two able to bounce off each other. As I said back in April, pundits can make the difference between a dull and good pre and post shows, the combination of Steve Rider and Mark Blundell was one that was badly received in 2008 at ITV, but the combination of Jake Humphrey, Eddie Jordan and David Coulthard in 2009 at BBC had the opposite effect. In both cases, very good presenters, but it was the pundits that made all the difference – in the example above Jordan and Coulthard being better than Blundell. At the moment, I do feel Hill is improving, but the verdict is still out on him. Can I see him staying with Sky Sports F1 for 2013? Probably, but in a reduced role, maybe attending a few races in the season but not week-in, week-out.

David Croft
In his 7th season now as a lead commentator in Formula 1, Croft began his commentary journey at the 2006 Bahrain Grand Prix with BBC Radio 5 Live commentating alongside the likes of Maurice Hamilton for the first three years. At the start of 2009, he was joined by Anthony Davidson for every session, a combination that has been well received. With the change of broadcasting rights for 2012, the inevitable question was ‘who would partner Martin Brundle?’ While the answer was not Ben Edwards, the answer was David Croft (I’m sure you have your own opinions on which line up would be better). Given how James Allen and Jonathan Legard fared alongside Brundle as a commentary pairing, fans wondered whether the Croft and Brundle line-up would fare better.

There is not much to pick fault with the commentary so far this season, I have not had any problems with the Croft and Brundle partnership, the two are working well alongside each other and is definitely the most successful partnership involving Brundle since Brundle was alongside Murray Walker in the commentary box. Sometimes there is driver identification problems (most commonly involving Sauber’s and Williams’ I tend to find) but again, you can pick fault while looking at a massive television, while Croft and Brundle are calling things on the spot, without the luxury of a large screen in front of them. So that is case of apples and oranges, in my view. Aside from his commentary, I hope we see Croft becoming a regular presenter of a journalists show on Sky Sports F1, which I shall elaborate on in part three.

Georgie Thompson
Probably one of the more controversial appointments given her drink driving record. But I don’t think Sky took that into account when hiring her. And neither will I, it doesn’t affect her ability to call and present Formula 1 coverage, so I won’t mention it again. Thompson, like Simon Lazenby, has been with Sky since the late 1990’s, mainly as a presenter on Sky Sports News. Unlike Lazenby however, Thompson has had experience on presenting motor sport, she presented A1 Grand Prix on the channel when it debuted in 2005. Thompson was announced as partnering Ted Kravitz to present ‘The F1 Show’ on the Sky F1 channel.

It would be hard for me to find complaints about Thompson in the coverage. She seems enthusiastic and genuinely interested in the sport. The show, for me has been the best part of the weekend, and her combination with Kravitz is definitely a joy to watch. The two gel together brilliantly and I hope that the Thompson and Kravitz duo is maintained in the latter stages of this season and into 2013. If Sky choose to expand their support race coverage for 2013, then I hope to see her present that, but on the other hand we may well find her in the main presenting role, should Lazenby leave after this season. Time shall tell…

Johnny Herbert
A Formula 1 veteran, Johnny Herbert’s career began in 1989, lasting until 2000. He won three races during that time period, two during 1995 while at Benetton alongside the memorable 1999 European Grand Prix with Stewart. Herbert did not initially feature in Sky’s Formula 1 coverage, suggesting his appointment was last minute. In any event, Herbert’s first appearance was on the March 30th edition of The F1 Show alongside Georgie Thompson, Ted Kravitz and Christian Horner.

Since that show he has appeared at multiple F1 races and multiple editions of The F1 Show. There’s a word used every so often to describe people on the some wavelength, or that can understand each other, and that word is rapport. Herbert seems to have an extremely good rapport with a lot of people, which makes for a better Sky Sports F1 show all around, whether he’s on the Sky Pad with Thompson, discussing something with Kravitz or getting asked questions by Lazenby. Herbert has also, in my opinion, made Hill feel more comfortable in his role when the two are together, a world apart from just having Lazenby and Hill in Australia. Hopefully we shall see Herbert in a lot more races with Sky this season.

Martin Brundle
Another Formula 1 veteran, but probably better known nowadays as a commentator for 16 years. Brundle’s F1 career ended in 1996, his last year competing with the Jordan team. Despite retiring, Brundle stayed in the F1 paddock, and quickly found himself new fame, as a broadcaster and a commentator alongside Murray Walker. The combination, a collection of ‘Murrayisms’ and ‘Brundleisms’ quickly became popular with the public, as did Brundle’s famed gridwalk which was introduced at the 1997 British Grand Prix. When Walker left at the 2001 US Grand Prix, he was replaced by James Allen, whom Brundle partnered until ITV relinquished the rights to Formula 1 in 2008. Brundle jumped ship to BBC for 2009, partnering Jonathan Legard. Although Brundle was well liked, neither the Allen/Brundle and Legard/Brundle combinations were well received. Legard was dropped at the end of 2010, allowing Brundle to take on a ‘fresh challenge’, moving into the lead commentator, with long time friend David Coulthard alongside him. Due to the change in broadcasting rights halfway through that season, the combination only lasted a year. Despite this, the combination helped bring back out the best in Brundle.

Brundle ditched the BBC at the end of 2011, moving to Sky and becoming the main face of the channel, dividing his time between pitlane, paddock and the commentary box. There is not much to add here, as I noted above, the Brundle and Croft combination is in my view the best involving Brundle since he was with Walker. That may not be too hard to achieve given how Allen and Legard were criticised, but it is still worth noting. Brundle being with Sky also means that get superb access outside of race weekends, Brundle at Maranello and Brundle’s Le Mans Diary were both fantastic features and insightful to watch (even if he has driven a Ferrari before!).

Natalie Pinkham
More of an entertainment reporter than motor racing reporter with her duties for various Channel 5 programming including The Wright Stuff, Pinkham moved onto the Formula 1 scene in 2011. Pinkham replaced Holly Samos as BBC Radio 5 Live reporter, Samos moving to pastures new. Pinkham has the role of interviewing drivers’, and occasionally smiling on camera whenever necessary. There’s honestly not much to say here, apart from improve the line of questioning. Or is there?

Pinkham was not with Sky Sports F1 in Germany as she was getting married. In steps Rachel Brookes. If you haven’t seen how Sky Sports News are covering Formula 1, then you’re probably thinking “who”? Brookes in the past few months on Sky Sports News has been vastly underlooked by many, so I was extremely glad to see she got a chance to shine in Germany. Brookes appears, to me, to have a better understanding of the sport than Pinkham, despite only being apart of it since the start of the year, and asks the right questions where necessary, unlike Pinkham who appears to ‘rinse and repeat’ the questions. If I had a choice between Brookes and Pinkham for the pit-lane reporters role, I’m afraid I would go with Brookes nine times out of the ten. I really don’t see them making any changes here for 2013, but it is just an observation worth making.

Simon Lazenby
When the Sky F1 team was announced last November, it was no great surprise that Sky chose Simon Lazenby as their presenter. After joining Sky in 1998, Lazenby was Sky’s Rugby presenter for the best part of a decade, before moving over to their Formula 1 team. At this point, you could argue ‘why did Sky choose someone with no motor racing experience’. The answer is quite simple, and that is because they preferably want someone in-house. This is a tendency that all broadcasters have, ITV moved Jim Rosenthal to their Formula 1 coverage when they began broadcasting the sport in 1997, while BBC did similar with Jake Humphrey when they regained the rights for the 2009 season.

I wrote the above in April. The other day though, I read a piece by Tony Dogkins over on AUTOSPORT (subscribers’ only) written last year. Towards the bottom, he spoke briefly to Jon Desborough who works for Sky. So, let me just summarise this. Sky have two motor sport presenters working for them (the other is Keith Huewen), yet they went for someone who has never presented motor sport? Now come on, where is the logic in that? There is not. The only feasible reason I can see for Lazenby getting the Sky Sports F1 job is because Martin Turner, Sky F1’s executive, also wanted him to make the jump to Formula 1 from Rugby.

Now, to get onto the point in hand, is Lazenby as much as a motor sport enthusiast as Desborough or Huewen? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that both Desborough and Huewen have motor sport experience under their belts, stretching back over ten years. Lazenby, possibly due to the lack of motor sport experience, has not found his feet as quick as I thought he would. Of course, the F1 paddock is a much different environment to the calm Rugby studios, but it makes me wonder if Sky made a mistake in moving Lazenby over to the F1. Unfortunately, while I do agree that Lazenby is not the best F1 presenter, he has been unfairly criticised by certain sections on the gutter press, more information on that is here. The jury is still out on Lazenby, there is still nine races left of the season to go, so we shall see if he improves as the season concludes.

Ted Kravitz
One of the best aspects of the Formula 1 coverage is hearing what the pit lane guys have to say. It always has been, getting into the nitty gritty of it, but also putting it across to the viewer in a language that they understand – without dumbing down. Which is always the fear. Kravitz’s F1 career began in 1997 with ITV behind the scenes. He moved onto pit lane reporter in 2002 when James Allen moved into the commentary box. I was extremely glad when Kravitz moved to BBC in 2009, as I always considered his pit lane tidbits one of the better aspects of ITV’s coverage. With free practice sessions live on the BBC Red Button from 2009 to 2011, Kravitz excelled as we got his tidbits on all three days of the weekend. Furthermore, his video blogs helped us dive into the post-race strategies and gave us a great summary of the majority of the teams’ on the grid.

Kravitz’s role expanded further for 2012 on Sky as he became host of The F1 Show alongside Thompson. As I noted earlier, the two have gelled together brilliantly. Kravitz’s relaxed style makes the show all the better, as well as seeing him poke around old machinery and seeing him explain new inventions on the Sky Pad. One of the explanations so far is with the Mercedes diffuser, which wasn’t dumbed down, but still made the hardcore fan like it. I’m glad Kravitz made the jump, because I would have hated seeing BBC cut his contribution down to shreds in the highlights shows, if anything, Kravitz deserves all the exposure he gets on Sky. Kravitz is also now doing his notebook’s for both Qualifying and the Race, with the Race version being broadcast live on the Sky Sports F1 channel. Very quickly, it is turning into, for me, the best bit of the post-race show.

The above is a hybrid of what I wrote in April and my thoughts now. Some sections remain virtually unchanged, while other bits have been ripped up and torn apart depending on how my opinion has changed. Since April, Sky have added to the line-up with Allan McNish, a definitely much needed addition to the team. It also gives a bit of a variety to the punditry and allows them to rotate it around each race which helps keep the program fresh and ‘new’ to the viewer. There is no need for them now to add anyone else to the team for the remainder of the season, although no doubt the team will be reviewed at the end of the year depending on when talent’s contracts expire.

In part 2 of this series I’ll focus on all the BBC TV team members, in a similar fashion to what I have done above. Again, some sections will remain the same as April’s series’, while some will change.

Comments, thoughts, disagreements and suggestions are welcome!