The ratings picture: The 2013 Verdict so far

Having looked at both the BBC and Sky Sports F1 teams along with their respective programming, part five of ‘The Verdict so far’ series brings us to the UK television ratings. Which is, quite simply, a measure of Formula 1’s popularity. Have Formula 1’s ratings dropped further since 2012, or have they rebounded? In this blog post, we shall find out the answer.

Before I start though, again it is worth reiterating 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. All figures in this particular piece are official consolidated ratings from BARB, which include recordings within seven days.

For those of you that haven’t followed my ratings, we have seen since 2000 three ‘phases’. Phase 1, from 2000 to 2006 saw ratings drop from 4 million viewers to under 3 million viewers thanks to the lack of British interest and Michael Schumacher’s dominance. With Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button on the horizon, and Formula 1 returning to BBC, meant that phase 2 from 2007 to 2011 saw ratings rise, from just over 3 million viewers to 4.6 million viewers. Phase 3 is simply 2012. Ratings dropped half a million between 2011 and 2012. Whilst the change of broadcasting rights was definitely one reason, as I outlined in my 2012 piece at the end of last year, the ‘Summer of sport’ in this country was another factor which has to be accounted for.

Official ratings from BARB show that, as it stands, 2012 was a blip. So far, Formula 1 is rating in between 2010 and 2011’s mid-season average and is back to the viewing figure levels pre-2012. As always, the figures comprise of:

– Sky live and BBC highlights
– Sky live, BBC live and BBC re-run (Asian based races)
– Sky and BBC live (non-Asian based races)

However, it is not all rosy. Further analysis shows that, versus the same races last season, BBC’s Formula 1 ratings have increased 21 percent, whilst Sky Sports F1’s ratings have dropped 9 percent.

– BBC F1 (3.18 million vs 3.83 million)
– Sky Sports F1 (699,000 vs 638,000)

The Sky drop is further reflected in their channel reach, which has dropped half a million during live race weeks this year:

Sky Sports F1′ s weekly viewership reach at the half way point of the 2013 season. Source: BARB.
Sky Sports F1′ s weekly viewership reach at the half way point of the 2013 season. Source: BARB.

As the graph shows, only two races for them this season have increased in terms of reach, Monaco, one of their exclusive races, and Hungary due to no Olympics clash. Regarding programme averages for them, only Britain, Monaco and Hungary have increased. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find many positives for Sky as the picture is mainly decreases. Overall, the 2013 season is currently averaging 4.47 million viewers, or 4.70 million viewers when taking into account Sky’s long programming length.

– 2009 – 4.38 million
– 2010 – 4.41 million
– 2011 – 4.62 million
– 2012 – 3.89 million / 4.10 million
– 2013 – 4.47 million / 4.70 million

Typically, viewing figures drop in the second half of the season due to the run of Asian based races, whilst Belgian and Italy tend to be low too. Nevertheless, the headline figures are very, very positive. If you were to look at the first ten races of previous seasons, then you get:

Averages (Aus, Mal, Chn, Bah, Spa, Mon, Can, GB, Ger, Hun)
– 2009 – 4.30 million
– 2010 – 4.63 million
– 2011 – 4.86 million
– 2012 – 3.82 million / 4.06 million
– 2013 – 4.47 million / 4.70 million

Which places 2013 between 2010 and 2011 as I noted earlier. I expect 2013 to drop like 2010 and 2011 did, to end up with a season average of around 4.20 million / 4.50 million. The only reason 2009 increased towards the end of the year was because of Jenson Button, whilst the first half of 2012 was hurt by other sporting events as I’ve said multiple times. However, if Lewis Hamilton does put up a title fight, the figures of the season so far could be maintained.

Now, some people will rightfully say “yeah, but Germany was inflated by Wimbledon, so in reality 2013 is not up versus 2012”. Removing Germany takes the average down to 4.30 million / 4.53 million viewers. So at this stage it makes some difference, but come the end of the season, it will mean an increase of about 0.1 million to the total average, which is not a significant amount in the grand scheme of things.

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

Averages for the above five races
– 2000 – 4.29 million
– 2001 – 3.83 million
– 2002 – 3.49 million
– 2003 – 3.37 million
– 2004 – 2.99 million
– 2005 – 3.09 million
– 2006 – 2.58 million
– 2007 – 3.52 million
– 2008 – 4.12 million
– 2009 – 4.31 million
– 2010 – 4.54 million
– 2011 – 4.74 million
– 2012 – 3.79 million / 3.98 million
– 2013 – 3.95 million / 4.16 million

Interestingly, while that does show an increase, the increase is not as severe as the main headline figure. I think, in every season, some Formula 1 ratings have good luck and bad luck attached to them, and at the end of the year, it balances it all out. By the above measure, ratings are up versus 2012, but not as much as I said above.

A similar method would be to look at the first ten races only of the season:

Averages for the first ten races
– 2006 – 2.85 million
– 2007 – 3.66 million
– 2008 – 3.74 million
– 2009 – 4.36 million
– 2010 – 4.45 million
– 2011 – 4.66 million
– 2012 – 3.88 million / 4.12 million
– 2013 – 4.47 million / 4.70 million

At this point, no matter how many averages you take, the overriding point is that viewing figures are up versus last year. Are they near to 2011? It appears so, but the full picture will emerge as the season progresses, and more importantly if a title fight emerges. I’m pleased to see ratings increase, it is never a good sight to see ratings drop, so I’m happy to see a turn in the right direction. What is interesting is that all of the increase is due to the BBC. The move to sacrifice screening Monaco live has paid off dividends, it meant that they could pick Canada as a live race and being in primetime meant higher viewing figures for the latter.

Another brilliant move of their behalf was choosing Germany as a highlights race. It meant a combined average of 6 million viewers, which is unheard of for Formula 1 today. It is with BBC where the viewers lie, and clearly there is a section of the audience who have decided not to view Sky live this season and instead settle with the highlights. Cost? Who knows. I suspect it is one of the reasons. If everyone with the HD Pack and no Sports Pack has a nasty surprise in the off-season, then Sky’s figures could drop further. Unfortunately that is what the viewing figures show. I may be called “anti-Sky” for saying that about Sky’s figures, but the figures do not lie.

Although there is still half of the season ahead, and viewing figures could drop substantially, I think the recovery proves that the Olympics was a major factor in Formula 1’s ratings dropping. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – even if every Formula 1 race last year was live on BBC I think ratings would have dropped. Without stating the obvious, 2012 was a big, big year for the UK and Formula 1 just was not a part of that, nothing was going to change that fact. The only surprise for me was the severity of the drop. But, it is good to see ratings back up. How much are they up, we will know the answer at the end of the season.

Qualifying also recovered from 2012, and surprisingly an average of 2.88 million so far means that it is the most watched Qualifying ‘season’ so far since records began. That surprises me a lot. Aside from Britain, which averaged 2.36 million viewers on BBC and Sky, every Qualifying programme has recorded an average above 2.6 million viewers, which is a fantastic achievement when you consider only five years ago the average was less than 2 million. Of course, it goes without saying that some race weekends had Qualifying on the fringes of primetime, but that should not take away from the above.

Outside of the main sessions, practice remained level with last year, whilst The F1 Show increased slightly, but the averages remain below 100,000 viewers. GP2 has increased from 34,000 to 38,000 for its feature and sprint races, GP3 has remained at 21,000 viewers for its average. Unfortunately, the signs of life that the support races have shown are few and far in between. 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 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)

If anyone is reading and has any of them ratings, leave a comment.


Sky Sports F1’s output: The 2013 Verdict so far

Part 4 of ‘The Verdict so far’ series brings me to look at Sky Sports F1’s output so far this year. The first two pieces looked at each member of the BBC and Sky Sports F1 teams as I focussed on the stronger and weaker areas of their line-ups. Part three looked at BBC F1’s output, suggesting ways that they could improve their programming further. This part looks at Sky Sports F1’s output, whilst part five will move away from analysis. Part five will look at the ratings picture and compare with 2012, to see if ratings have increased or decreased since this time last year.

Throughout a race weekend, Sky Sports F1 produces:

5 hours and 45 minutes – Practice 1, 2 and 3
2 hours and 35 minutes – Qualifying programme
4 hours and 45 minutes – Race programme
60 minutes – The F1 Show
45 minutes – Gear Up… and Ted’s Notebook

This totals 14 hours and 50 minutes of programming. It compares with 12 hours and 15 minutes of programming during a live race weekend for BBC. Note that neither GP2 or GP3, or the Press Conferences are included in the total above as Sky do not produce them programmes, they take the direct World Feed without any ‘colour’ around them.

From the beginning of 2012, Sky Sports have dedicated fifteen minutes pre-session to practice. Practice 1 and 2 have been hosted by Simon Lazenby whilst practice three on Saturday mornings has this season been hosted by Natalie Pinkham (last year Georgie Thompson). There tends to be about 15 to 20 minutes of discussion after the Friday practice sessions, however, only three to five minutes after practice three, with Sky continuing their ‘rush off the air’ technique. The latter is particularly frustrating, especially if an incident worth talking about takes place towards the end of that session.

An addition this year is Ted Kravitz’s Development Corner, which we have seen from time to time after practice one. Kravitz, on the Sky Pad, takes us through the latest technical developments as well as comparing different designs. It is definitely one of their better additions during the race weekends this year. Apart from that, there is not much to talk about, as not much has changed in terms of pre and post practice sessions for Sky, the producers choosing to keep to the same approach as 2012. I do wish, and this applies for Qualifying too, it seamlessly linked into GP2, but unfortunately for the moment it seems that particular boat has passed.

The major change comes during the actual session. Whilst it is true that Formula One Management (FOM) control the World Feed, the restrictions placed upon Sky have decreased for 2013. Last year, Sky were able to cut away from the World Feed during practice, but it had to be a full screen cut away to their own footage, they were not allowed to go picture-in-picture or anything similar to that. This season, Sky have a lot more freedom, they are allowed to go split-screen and are allowed to have their own captions over FOM’s World Feed where necessary. The captions are very useful, as it means we are treated with Mark Hughes’ predictions heading into each session which are insightful from time to time. The split-screen though is overused. In my opinion, only show us things we need to see! Cutting to split-screen every two minutes is quite annoying, especially as sometimes it doesn’t show us anything in particular. I do like the split-screen, but it can be unnecessary.

The F1 Show
The F1 Show continued this season on Friday evenings, with Ted Kravitz alongside Natalie Pinkham. I noted many times last year how for me The F1 Show was the strongest part of the line-up because of Kravitz’s presenting alongside Georgie Thompson, the two gelled together extremely well, and the show flowed nicely from the get go. It was therefore unfortunate when it was noticed that Pinkham would be taking over Thompson’s role for this season. I know some people disagree with me, but as a presenter I prefer Thompson compared to Pinkham. So far this season, I have seen nothing to change my assessment on that.

The show is still definitely worth watching, and produces some fantastic features, such as the Lost Generations mini-series, but I am not warming to Pinkham as a presenter. With Pinkham as presenter it feels too light hearted and bubbly, whereas with Thompson you could get serious discussion going as well as the light hearted bits in between. Kravitz is still great as the main presenter, and I really hope that doesn’t change any time soon. I’m not really open to the thought of Simon Lazenby taking over the role because as we seen during the audience special a few weeks back it leads to too much back slapping, whereas Kravitz does not really get involved with that, and rightfully so.

Although I enjoy it, I do think sometimes that it should be a TV version of The Racer’s Edge. The Racer’s Edge has some time constraints, but doesn’t feel rushed and lets the guest finish whatever point they are making, whereas on The F1 Show everything has to be fitted into an hour. I do wish they extended it to 90 minutes, have 70 minutes on the main features then take viewers questions from Twitter. None of this ‘send in your video clips’, just questions and answers. It worked well in the last twenty minutes each week on Ford Monday Night Football last season, so why not do it on The F1 Show? I should note: I do enjoy The F1 Show as it is, and have no problem with the current format, except I think now is the time to move it up a notch and make it more relaxed and less formulaic on a weekly basis. A move to Thursday evenings may help in that respect, as you’re more likely to get your core audience watching on Thursday evenings than Fridays.

As in 2012, Sky dedicate an hours build-up to Qualifying with a 90 minute build-up for the race, both fronted by Simon Lazenby. The Qualifying build-up is largely similar to that of BBC, as the run time is similar. With that in mind, the structure as you would expect, and that hasn’t changed for 2013. The structure they use for their race programme has changed slightly, though. The first half an hour of the programme is now mostly on the track parade with Natalie Pinkham interviewing the drivers, albeit in a FOM role rather than a Sky role. It is something that has definitely been worth adding into the programme and I’m glad they chose to go down that route.

Unfortunately, the ad breaks are still a pain for the races that Sky broadcast exclusively live. In my view, they should adopt the same advert policy for every race weekend, but I don’t think that will happen any time soon. As time goes on though I guess they will become less of a nuisance in the race build-ups and viewers will accept it. The VT’s are a bit of a mis-match here and there. Some are good, whereas others I do find cringeworthy. Yes, it is good to see them trying new things but sometimes it does not come across well on screen. Some of the introduction VT’s fall into this category, I know I fall in the minority here based on the Twitter comments, but I’m not a fan of the poetry ones. As with everything here, it is personal preference and taste, so each to their own.

In terms of discussion, the fact that the line-up has settled down this year has helped a lot and has led to a more chat and less of a formulaic questions and answers style from early in 2012. Also, the Sky Pad has become significantly more integrated into the pre-show with it being moved outside. One of the highlights now is seeing the pole man taking Brundle around his lap on the Sky Pad. It is definitely good that it is the driver taking us around the lap, telling us about the moments he is having and where the time is won or lost instead of us being told that by someone else, as has been the case for many years.

Following each race, Sky Sports F1 is on air for about 90 minutes until between 16:00 and 16:30. The length is the same as what it was last year, but they have filled the time better this year in my opinion. Last year I felt the post show dragged and that it did not flow as well, this being down to Lazenby’s inexperience where Formula 1 was concerned. This has improved significantly for 2013, with Lazenby settling down and looking much more comfortable during the shows. It probably helps in this respect that I think BBC’s post-race coverage has got worse this year as I explained in my previous piece, Sky’s post-race is probably now equal, if not better than BBC’s.

Alongside the usual post-race interviews, Ted Kravitz’s Notebook has continued as part of the post-session wrap up on race day. His Qualifying Notebook is later on in the schedule, it would be sensible in my view to stick it on live between GP2 and GP3 instead of filler so that viewers have something to watch in between the two races. The Sky Pad has also become an integral part of the post-race show with Anthony Davidson analysing the race. Arguably, as I alluded to above, Sky’s post-race is more analytical than BBC’s and in my view digs deeper into the race than the latter.

At this point, I do not think that there are many ways for Sky to improve the way they present the post-race debrief. The only thing I would say is for Sky to get rid of the VT’s that they wrap around the breaks, this would allow them a few extra minutes of analysis or maybe to interview another driver live. The team radio pieces are good to lead into the break though, I will give them that. I’ll end this little block by talking about their Malaysian Grand Prix post-race show. That hour after the race was probably one of the best post-race shows that I have seen, and that is saying a lot. I also think that hour shown that Sky are not afraid to go off their usual approach.

Other programming
When analysing Sky’s coverage this season, what some people tend to forget is that their coverage actually began in February. At first, it seemed like Sky were going to show no testing coverage, or at least that is what their provisional schedules suggested. That soon changed, with a 15-minute round-up each day along with Ted Kravitz’s Notebook after each days proceedings being added to the schedule. More impressively though, Sky managed to twist FOM’s arm, so that they allowed Sky to film and broadcast the final test live, and in 3D. Ignoring the last bit, as 3D in my eyes is a gimmick, having testing live was very important for Sky, as it allowed them to fill the channel with content ahead of the new season. I enjoyed it to dip in and out of. Will they do it again in 2014? I hope so, as arguably that pre-season will be the teams’ most important in recent years.

It goes without saying that, as Sky Sports F1 is a channel and not a programme, you would expect to see a significant amount of programming in-between races. Thankfully, that area has improved for 2013. In 2012, the channel was missing some key features, such as Classic F1 races notably not in the schedules. For 2013 though, Sky are showing five classic races in the build-up to every race weekend. It is these classic races that help whet the appetite ahead of a race weekend. Their GP Uncovered series, ranging from the 1950 to 1970s has also featured in the build-up to the more traditional races, such as Monaco and Britain. The inclusion of these this year is definitely a plus.

The Midweek Report has began this season on Sky. Initially online, it was moved to a Wednesday slot at 19:00 on Sky Sports F1, which made sense, there is little point producing programming only for online. Presented by Anna Woolhouse, she is joined by two guests to review the previous race. It is good for what it is (clearly on a shoe-string budget against a green screen), although I admit that I have not watched every edition. Alongside the above, the F1 Legends series with Steve Rider has continued, whilst ‘Architects of F1’ has also began. I say began, it is basically the same programme, just under a different banner with different people. Saying that, the edition with Max Mosley was definitely worth a watch. Elsewhere, we have the GP2 and GP3 Series also on the channel, which Sky to their credit have been mentioning more on The F1 Show recently. I just hope that sometime in the future, it is more integrated into the weekend schedules and maybe given a presenter so it can build more of an audience.

One problem though with the majority of the other programming is promotion. It is still a problem, and a major problem. It did improve at the start of the season, but they appear to have fallen back into the trap of failing to promote. Take the Architects of F1 programme with Max Mosley. It was a fantastic programme, with some interesting quotes from Mosley. Why not run some quotes online and put them into an article, try and generate some discussion around the programme? Anything to try and get more people watching. At the moment it seems that one side is badly letting down the entire channel and depleting the ratings in the progress. Which is sad to see, as outside of race weekends the channel has produced some fantastic programming which is not being recognised sometimes.

The reality is, so far this season it has been about settling down for Sky, getting into a rhythm now that they are firmly into their contract. The main developments have been into trying to build their schedule further so it looks like a proper channel. The weekend coverage will tweak over time, but is now set in stone. In the first two parts of ‘The Verdict so far’ series, I have looked at each member of both the BBC and Sky Sports F1 teams. Parts 3 and 4 looked at their respective programming. There is only one part for me to look at. The ratings. Have they improved on 2012, or have they dropped even further? The final blog piece will be up next week.

BBC F1’s output: The 2013 Verdict so far

Nearly half way through the Summer break which means that ‘The Verdict so far’ series is entering the half way stage too. Parts 1 and 2 focused on each member of the BBC and Sky Sports F1 teams as I analysed the strengths and weaknesses of each side. This part will look at BBC’s Formula 1 programming so far in 2013, whilst part 4 will look at Sky Sports F1’s programming – including that outside of race weekends. The final part will look at the ratings picture and compare and contrast with that in previous years.

For live races, BBC television produces 12 hours and 15 minutes of programming during a race weekend, from practice coverage on BBC Two on Friday mornings to the ever popular BBC Red Button Forum programme for an hour after the race on Sunday afternoons. Unsurprisingly, the amount of television BBC produces decreases significantly for the highlight races. BBC produces 3 hours and 15 minutes of programming for BBC One or BBC Two during a television highlights weekend.

One of the major changes in the way the BBC covered practice was that, for their live coverage, the programming is now on BBC Two instead of the BBC Red Button where possible. Since 2008, practice had been simply hooking up to Formula One Management’s World Feed from the five-minute sting until five minutes after the session. 2008 with ITV came with no commentary and no practice three online, whereas 2009 had Radio 5 Live commentary and was live on the Red Button. The coverage had worked perfectly well as it was.

The change to BBC Two meant that instead of it just being presented as another programme on the Red Button, it was now being treated as a network programme, with ‘The Chain’ opening and end titles, along with a proper introduction and outro from Suzi Perry. In some cases it meant that the slot was extended, for example, practice two in Canada had a great round-up of half an hour once the session had finished allowing Perry and Gary Anderson to round up the action. On other occasions though they were only on-air five minutes after the session, which I think renders having Perry as presenter there pointless.

I don’t really see the point of them having Perry and Anderson when there is over five minutes build-up and five minutes wrap-up, you may as well just stick to the World Feed instead of almost rushing on and off air, in my opinion. The other option would be to just extended it slightly, so the programming runs 15 minutes before and after each session for example so that Perry and Anderson are utilised more. A few weeks back, I noted how Perry, alongside Suzi Wolff were used for practice three in Canada and during a red flag period the production team chose to cut to them aimlessly filling instead of sticking with Ben Edwards in the commentary box which did not really work at all.

Inside F1
Still going strong on the BBC News Channel, Inside F1 airs during every Grand Prix weekend, typically Friday’s at 18:45 and Saturday’s an hour later, both editions presented by Lee McKenzie. The show normally recaps practice and has a guest or two on, albeit in only a fifteen minute slot. The show began alongside BBC’s Formula 1 coverage when it returned to the network in 2009, first presented in London at the BBC News room studio, before later just being done on location with Amanda Davies and later McKenzie.

I know this programme is just one that is probably there to fill a gap in the schedule without a dedicated audiences, but I do think BBC should do things with this show. Readers of this blog may well of heard of Murray and Martin’s F1 Special. Basically, what started off as a Qualifying update on ITV on Saturday evenings turned into a 15 to 30 minute show (depending on scheduling commitments) with Walker and Brundle. The show carried on for the first few years of ITV’s contract until Walker’s schedule slowed down.

Basically, my suggestion is, instead of having Inside F1 broadcast on Saturday evenings on BBC News Channel, why not have the Saturday evening edition broadcast on BBC One for 20 minutes at 17:15? I mean at the moment it seems a bit of a waste having Inside F1 going out on the BBC News Channel when most Formula 1 fans probably don’t realise it is on (after all the EPG has never specifically said ‘Inside F1’, it just says ‘Sportsday’). So for the live races, in my opinion they should put Inside F1 in the gap between Final Score and the main evening news bulletin. Maybe have Ben Edwards and David Coulthard present with A.N. Other a bit like the old ITV F1 style from fifteen years ago. Just a thought, at least that way viewers would be more inclined to watch on BBC One instead of the BBC News Channel as it currently is.

For the live weekends, since 2009, BBC have typically had between 50 minute and an hour of build-up heading into the race. The run time that BBC had for each race build-up was broadly similar to that of ITV before 2009, except BBC of course had no commercial breaks and in general the time was better utilised than ITV had previously used it. Not to take away from the latter, as their coverage had made huge strides forward since BBC’s exploits pre 1997. One of the reasons people liked BBC’s build-ups significantly more were because of their ‘do anything’ introductions with Jake Humphrey, David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan and sporadically walking up and down pit lane to see who can find alongside scripted interviews.

The deal with Sky meant that, whilst the ten live races still had a 50 minute build-up, the highlight shows only received a 10 to 15 minute build-up in comparison. So, has the build-up been just as good with Suzi Perry presenting? I think, on the whole, it has. Whilst of course she is there to link everything together and ask Coulthard and Jordan questions, the overall package remains the same in terms of VT’s. For me, the BBC’s VT packages have, and always have been since 2009, top notch.

The thing with the pre-show is that it is largely scripted in nature, okay some of the discussion is on the spot opinion but the flow of the show is determined beforehand and all fitted in nicely beforehand, so from that perspective it is just like any other show for Perry. Sometimes it has to be said that she struggles finding the right question, but overall she is fine presenting the pre-show, whilst Coulthard and Jordan are great as always as pundits. The introductions have not been as great this year with Perry, Coulthard and Jordan, probably a step down from the past few years, but still good in their own respect and a step ahead of Sky’s.

Following the conclusion of each race, BBC One typically remains on air for about half an hour, followed by another hour on the BBC Red Button for their forum show. This has been the format since they won the rights back for the start of the 2009 season; beforehand on ITV there was no such thing as a forum show, just a wrap up on ITV1. Back in the ITV days the race weekend never felt ‘complete’, they were rushing off air occasionally to get to their next programme, whilst advert breaks disrupted the flow. The forum on BBC changed that completely. However, partially as a result of the rights deal with Sky, it is the part of the show that has become more weaker since 2012.

For some reason, it was decided half way through 2012 that there would be no forum for the highlights shows. Why? I’m not entirely sure. It appeared in Bahrain last year, but then I don’t think it appeared again. Which is a shame, as the forum was the best part of the BBC F1 race weekend for me. Like I alluded to above, the forum for me when BBC had full coverage gave ‘closure’ to a race weekend with their gentle wrapping up as everyone is packing ready for the next round. As thus, for the highlight races, there is normally twenty of so minutes of post-race with interviews from drivers up and down pit lane. In the time given on BBC One, they do a good job of wrapping up the action, although it is no substitute for the forum.

The forum has remained for the live races. It is still an extremely good hour of television, albeit in my view a step down from what we seen in 2011 and some of 2012. One of the things you can get into the habit to at times is aimlessly walking around and promote it as a forum which I felt happened one too many times so far this season. I think also Perry has struggled a bit due to the nature of the forum where it is more on the spot that the structured nature of the pre-show. Over time though, this should improve and she should get better as the season progresses. The BBC live shows would definitely be in a worser place without the forums, and it is vital that this component is not removed in years to come if BBC is to retain strong audience appreciation for Formula 1.

Other programming
Outside of race weekends, although not produced by BBC’s Formula 1 team, BBC has broadcast some supplemental Formula 1 programming this year. Over Christmas, BBC Two shown the Racing Legends series whilst BBC Four in March aired a five part series entitled Motor Racing at the BBC: That Petrol Emotion. More recently, BBC has aired a Hunt vs Lauda documentary. All of the shows, in particular the Hunt vs Lauda documentary have been top notch and worth watching.

It is important in my view that BBC continue to screen motor sport documentaries to remind viewers of Formula 1’s past and to get that out to a mainstream audience for all to see. Alongside this, whilst BBC have not recently uploaded any new Classic F1 races online, their full archive of races can be found here. Back to the present day, for me, we were extremely lucky to have BBC’s level of coverage from 2009 and 2011, and it is unlikely that we will see that matched again for a long time, especially considering those programmes were again viewed by a large audience.

Has BBC’s new deal with Sky weakened their output? Yes, but for me their programming is still up their with the best. A little lower than their 2011 levels for the reason described above, but great nevertheless, and I hope those higher up are not silly, or foolish enough to pull the plug on the F1 contract any time soon. Rumours did begin a few weeks ago, but nothing has materialised. I think, and hope, BBC will see out their current contract in the very least. Any move otherwise would put Formula 1’s free to air future in jeopardy, and would require either ITV or Channel 4 to fill the void. Let us hope that does not happen.

Programming broken down as:
– 12 hours and 15 minutes for a live weekend: 15 minutes x 2 Inside F1. 100 minutes x 2 Practice. 70 minutes x 1 Practice. 135 minutes x 1 Qualifying. 180 minutes x 1 Race. 60 minutes x 1 Forum. 60 minutes x 1 Highlights.
– 3 hours and 15 minutes for a highlights weekend: 15 minutes x 2 Inside F1. 75 minutes x 1 Qualifying. 90 minutes x 1 Race.

The Sky Sports F1 Team: The 2013 Verdict so far

Following on from my BBC F1 review looking at each team member, part two looks at each member of the Sky Sports F1 team. ‘The Verdict so far’ series will then look at BBC F1’s and Sky Sports F1’s programming throughout the year so far, whilst the fifth and final part will analyse the ratings picture and compare it to previous years.

Again for the mid-season piece, I will only be looking at the main Sky Sports F1 team members. Last year there were ten people I looked at during the Sky mid season piece, this year there is only eight, with two noticeable absentees:

– Allan McNish – defected to BBC F1
– Georgie Thompson – left before the season began, recently moved to America

The rest of the team is identical to last year. For this purpose therefore Anna Woolhouse, Craig Slater and Rachel Brookes are not included in this piece, although I may briefly mention them later on.

Anthony Davidson – @AntDavidson
Like Allan McNish on the BBC F1 team, Davidson’s main success is in endurance racing, his highest finish in the 24 Hours of Le Mans is second. His first chance in Formula 1 came in 2002 alongside Mark Webber for two races at Minardi. Unfortunately for Davidson, this did not lead to a race drive for 2003. He did have one outing for BAR, at the 2005 Malaysian Grand Prix, but it wasn’t until 2007 that he was given a permanent race seat – at tail-enders Super Aguri. Davidson’s highest finish there was 11th at the Spanish Grand Prix. He held the seat until Super Aguri’s demise in the middle of 2008.

Davidson’s first Formula 1 broadcasting exploit was in 2004 for BBC Radio 5 Live, before joining David Croft in the commentary box for every session on 5 Live several years later. It was this role which built up the Croft and Davidson partnership, and one that fans hugely enjoyed due to their relaxed style while debating viewers questions and tweets throughout the practice session. Davidson and Croft continued to commentate for 5 Live until the end of the 2011 season, when both of them defected to Sky.

Since joining Sky, Davidson has held two roles. Alongside his practice duties with Croft, he has also been on the Sky Pad alongside Georgie Thompson. I thought this worked fairly well last year, aside from the fact that they were in the middle of nowhere in a not so vibrant ‘box’ (or at least that’s what it felt to the viewer). This year, the Sky Pad has relocated outside, and minus Thompson. At first I was fearful because Davidson did not look natural on his own, but that has since changed, with Davidson now almost looking like a veteran on there. It helps I think too that the Sky Pad is integrated much more into the live shows which helps the overall product.

Damon Hill
One of the few father-son combinations to win Formula 1 championships, Hill made his Formula 1 debut at a relatively late aged 31 for Brabham in 1992. Hill moved to Williams for 1993, leading the team from 1994 onwards due to the death of Ayrton Senna. Twice he came close to winning the championship in 1994 and 1995, but 1996 would prove third time lucky as Hill won his one and only championship. In what Frank Williams described as a mistake on his behalf for not resigning Hill, Hill moved to Arrows and then Jordan to end his career in 1999. His final win came in a frantic 1998 Belgian Grand Prix which seen him lead home a Jordan one-two, with Ralf Schumacher in second.

His broadcasting career started in 2002, again with Sky as part of the F1 Digital+ service, as a pundit alongside Matthew Lorenzo and Perry McCarthy in the studio. The studio role, based at Formula One Management’s headquarters in Biggin Hill, only lasted a year with Bernie Ecclestone pulling the plug on the series. After several sporadic ITV F1 commentary appearances (the last one being the 2008 Hungarian Grand Prix), 2012 would be his next return to the paddock as part of the Sky Sports F1 team. Hill was, at the start of 2012, a bit wooden alongside Simon Lazenby but has since improved.

The introduction of Johnny Herbert alongside him loosened him up for the better, which has continued into this season. I don’t know if this is just me, but it feels like Hill has been on screen less this season. That’s not a bad thing, entirely the opposite as it shows that the load is balancing out more. There is not much more to add really as Hill has not done anything new this season, he’s just been there giving his opinions where necessary. Whether he stays with the team long term, we shall see.

David Croft – @CroftyF1
A Formula 1 commentator for the past eight season, David Croft’s broadcasting career started in 1995 with the BBC. Croft moved up the ladder, working with the BBC Radio 5 Live team covering the 2002 FIFA World Cup and the Olympics in 2004. He moved up to the Formula 1 commentary role from 2006 onwards alongside Maurice Hamilton in the commentary box. From 2009, Anthony Davidson was alongside him in the commentary box, a combination that was a hit with viewers and listeners as I described above in Davidson’s section.

Croft, like Davidson, moved to Sky Sports F1 at the end of 2011. As he did in his Radio 5 Live days, Croft commentated on every session, whilst also appearing sporadically on The F1 Show throughout the season. I’m not entirely sure his commentary has improved on Sky, though. Unfortunately, the insistence of Sky to promote their own products throughout doesn’t help (Sky Race Control) a lot to be honest. I do wonder how many people hear “You can ride with Lewis Hamilton on Sky Race Control” and actually go onto Sky Race Control? I just don’t see many doing that. I subscribe to Sky, I’ve watched them for a year and a half, I don’t really need the same viewing options at each race rammed down my throat.

As well as the above, it feels like some of his commentary at times is forced for the purpose of whatever VT package follows where you know you will hear the ‘5 lights’ line or ‘….wins the X Grand Prix’. It is painfully obvious. I do enjoy Croft as a commentator, and have done since his 5 Live days from 2009, but at Sky his commentary feels like the Sky publicity man, for some reason. It is nice though to see #AskCrofty on Twitter, although I’m not sure straight after the race is a good idea when in reality I should be engaged in the post-race coverage. However, that is probably the time when they get the most exposure, so I can see why that choose that particular time.

Johnny Herbert – @JohnnyHerbertF1
A motor sport career spanning three decades, Herbert began his Formula 1 career in 1989, nearly a year after breaking both his legs in an accident at Brands Hatch. Herbert raced with seven teams from 1989 to 2000, but it was Benetton where he would have his most successful spell. He won the 1995 British and Italian Grands Prix, on both occasions benefiting from Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill colliding. As well as his wins at Benetton, Herbert also scored a famous win for the Stewart team, winning in mixed conditions at the 1999 European Grand Prix.

Unusually, Herbert did not appear with Sky Sports F1 at the start of their coverage, instead his first race with them was round three in China. Whether that was always the plan, I don’t know. In any case, he worked fantastically alongside Damon Hill as a pundit and made the broadcast for the better as a result thanks to his lighter hearted style of pundit. Herbert has also been a regular on The F1 Show both last season and this season. My only concern is if he could turn into a parody of himself…

Let’s make it clear that I like Herbert on the Sky Sports F1 team, my only worry is if the light hearted things with him take over the show. Take Herbert’s Lemon as an example, which for some reason turned into a 15 minute standalone programme on the channel. Sometimes it can get a bit too much at times. At the moment it is mostly okay, and I hope that doesn’t change. Too much banter as I have said in the past can obviously become a bad thing. I know some people find it funny but I’m afraid it is cringey at times. As a pundit though, Herbert is good and I wouldn’t want him to leave any time soon.

Martin Brundle – @MBrundleF1
Although probably more famous for to younger audiences for his 17 years of commentary, Brundle’s Formula 1 career began in 1984 with Tyrrell. His first Formula 1 spell only lasted four years as he moved to find success in sports car racing, winning the 1990 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was 1992 when he finally broke out of the tail-enders in Formula 1, joining Benetton and racing alongside Michael Schumacher in the team. His Benetton stint reaped rewards with several podium finishes, although he was dropped at the end of 1993, moving to McLaren for the beginning of the 1994 season. His final two teams would be Ligier and Jordan, as Brundle retired at the end of the 1996 season.

Brundle, like David Coulthard did when he joined BBC, remained in the paddock, joining the newly formed ITV F1 team for the 1997 season. He would commentate alongside Murray Walker and then James Allen for the next twelve years alongside doing his now famous grid walk. Both of his roles were well received, back in 1997 you would not see many broadcasters doing the grid walk, now you see broadcasters from many different countries doing the walk before the race. When ITV lost the Formula 1 contract, Brundle moved to BBC where he remained co-commentator. This role changed in 2011 when Jonathan Legard was dropped from the team – the pairing of Legard and Brundle not blending well. Brundle was only a lead commentator for a single season alongside David Coulthard, Brundle was heading to Sky.

Last year, it felt to me that Brundle was on screen too much at nearly every opportunity possible. Thankfully, as I noted earlier in the piece, things have become balanced out so the amount of screen time Brundle gets has reduced. Brundle is still doing some fantastic features though, the feature recently with Mark Webber on the art of overtaking was a great insight which we would not normally get. Also, I’m not completely gelling with the Croft and Brundle combination, if I have a choice of Croft/Brundle vs Edwards/Coulthard, I’m more likely to go for the latter two, at the moment. Still, Brundle is a great asset to the Sky team and it would be a significant loss if he went elsewhere.

Natalie Pinkham – @NataliePinkham
Graduating from the University of Northampton, Natalie Pinkham spent the 2000’s working her way up the ladder through various roles including The Wright Stuff on Channel 5. Her previous motor sport presenting experience before Formula 1 included the Goodwood Festival of Speed with ITV alongside Steve Rider and the Isle of Man TT. Pinkham became BBC Radio 5 Live pit lane reporter from the start of the 2011 season, succeeding Holly Samos in the role. The role only lasted a year for her, as she moved to Sky Sports for 2012.

With Georgie Thompson leaving the Sky Sports team in February, it meant Pinkham was given the nod to present The F1 Show alongside Ted Kravitz for this season. I’m not a fan of Pinkham’s to be honest where Formula 1 is concerned. I have no problem with her doing driver interviews, she is fine doing that, but outside of that, she is too ‘bubbly’ for my liking. For shows like The Wright Stuff, that’s great, probably the exact sort of person you need. But in an F1 paddock? I’m not sure I particularly agree.

I’ve said many times how I prefer Rachel Brookes to Pinkham and I have seen nothing in the last few months to change that, Brookes deserves a bigger role within the team whereas I haven’t seen much from Pinkham to justify the air time she gets. Last year, I enjoyed the Thompson and Kravitz combination presenting The F1 Show, one of the best aspects of the channel, but this year I’m not liking the Pinkham and Kravitz combination, Pinkham’s style of presenting grating on me, I’m afraid. I don’t think Pinkham is well suited to Formula 1 presenting in my opinion, similar applied for that matter when Charlie Webster presented GP2 for ITV in 2008.

Simon Lazenby – @SimonLazenbySky
Joining Sky Sports in 1998, Lazenby’s first role with Sky was as part of the Sky Sports News channel. Lazenby soon moved on though, becoming presenter of their rugby coverage. It was this role which he has held for the majority of his time at Sky, remaining as presenter until the end of 2011. With Sky’s Rugby producer Martin Turner becoming Sky Sports F1 executive producer, the decision was made for Lazenby to jump over with Turner. As thus, Lazenby became the main Sky Sports F1 presenter from the beginning of 2012. It goes without saying that the two roles would be vastly different, the rugby presenting role was mainly confined to a studio whereas the Formula 1 presenting role is more sporadic in nature, and in the middle of a vibrant environment.

Throughout 2012 on this blog I was critical of Lazenby as it looked like he was struggling with the role and sometimes on the screen he came across as a little bit lost from time to time as well as courting ‘controversy’ on occasion. I said at the time that he should be kept on for 2013 and that any decision to drop him would be a knee jerk reaction. Instead, it turned out that Georgie Thompson was to leave the team, with Lazenby remaining presenter. Has Lazenby improved? I think overall, he has. Is he as good as Jake Humphrey yet in the role? No, but improving he is.

It looks to me that he appears more relaxed in the role this season than last, it helps that the line up is mostly the same around him so that there have not been any big changes. I think we will continue to see him improve as time goes on, but one thing that still needs to be toned down slightly is smugness. I was not happy with his and Pinkham’s presenting on The F1 Show Special a few weeks ago for that reason alone. However, anyone hoping (or thinking) Sky will drop him I think will have to think again, that boat has passed now and, unlike Legard on BBC in 2009 and 2010, Lazenby on Sky has got better between 2012 and 2013. Unless he wants to leave, I don’t see Sky dropping him.

Ted Kravitz – @TedKravitz
Last but not least in the Sky Sports F1 jigsaw is Ted Kravitz, who is now in his eleventh season as appearing on screen. Kravitz has been a part of the Formula 1 broadcasting world since 1997, starting off as a producer on ITV’s Formula 1 coverage. Working up from there, the shuffle as a result of Murray Walker’s retirement meant that Kravitz was promoted to the role as pit lane reporter, a role that began for him in 2002. He kept the role until ITV’s coverage ended in 2008, memorably ending with Kravitz holding the British flag against the railings in Brazil!

It wasn’t until 2009 on BBC where Kravitz grew further. Thanks to more air-time, Kravitz was seen on the BBC forum shows as well as the practice sessions on BBC Radio 5 Live. By the end of 2011, Kravitz was overwhelmingly liked by viewers, and it was no surprise that Sky picked him up for 2012 onwards. It was a good move on his behalf as it meant that his role expanded and viewers seen more of his insights. Alongside his pit lane duties, Kravitz has presented The F1 Show in both 2012 and 2013 – presenting with Georgie Thompson and Natalie Pinkham respectively. But the main highlights for me are the Notebook and Development Corner.

The former was a big part of Sky’s practice coverage back in February and something I thoroughly enjoyed on a nightly basis to get his thoughts on what had occurred. Kravitz is helped also down in pit lane by more freedom in what Sky are allowed to do, with cameras down in pit lane allowing Kravitz to get into the nitty gritty regarding technical developments. By far in my opinion Kravitz is the best member of the team, and I hope that does not change any time soon. Whilst Sky’s team is good as it is, something I alluded to in the BBC piece has to be alluded to here. BBC has a ex team boss, ex technical director and two ex drivers. Sky has four ex drivers.

Arguably, BBC’s line-up is more all rounded. I’m not saying that is a bad thing for Sky, but it just means that on BBC you may get differing opinions due to the different roles previously whereas on Sky you may get four ex drivers towing the same line. I don’t think Sky should bring in an ex technical director because they have Kravitz (although I don’t understand why they have not used Marc Priestley that much given recent experience), but there is a definite argument in my view for Sky dropping an ex driver and bringing in an ex team personnel. Sky’s viewpoint when starting out in 2012 would be to get ‘names’ on board, people will have heard of ex drivers more than former team personnel. But in my view, they should definitely get a non-driver in there so that another opinion is heard. As always, you’re thoughts and comments are welcome, should Sky drop one of their former drivers and bring in someone else?

The BBC F1 Team: The 2013 Verdict so far

The first half of the 2013 Formula One season has been exciting both on and off the circuit. On the broadcasting side of things, 2013 has seen some things remain the same, and also some new faces on both BBC and Sky Sports F1. As is now tradition on this blog, it is time for ‘The Verdict so far’. For those unfamiliar, through a series of blog posts, I will look at and analyse all things F1 Broadcasting in the United Kingdom:

– part 1 will focus on each member of the BBC F1 television and radio team
– part 2 will focus on each member of the Sky Sports F1 television team
– part 3 will focus on BBC F1’s programming
– part 4 will focus on Sky Sports F1’s programming
– part 5 will look at the ratings picture and emerging trends

The format is identical to this time last year in case you wish to compare and contrast. Unlike last year, I will look at the BBC radio team as well as the television team. I haven’t listened to a huge amount of their coverage, but have listened to enough for me to do a small piece for each person.

Allan McNish – @AllanMcNish
Despite nearly making Formula 1 several times in the late 1990s, only once did Allan McNish break into the sport with Toyota in 2002. An unreliable car meant that he failed to score any points in their debut season. McNish however is more famous for his efforts in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, having won the famous race three times. McNish failed to secure a drive for the 2003 Grand Prix season but remained a part of the Formula 1 paddock, appearing several times as a member of the ITV F1 team alongside Jim Rosenthal and Tony Jardine.

It would be another nine years before a UK broadcaster would pick him up, that being Sky Sports F1 as McNish became a regular member of the team last year from the Monaco Grand Prix onwards. He appeared at several races for the remainder of the season. Thanks to his ability to convey technical information over the microphone, McNish was the only person to surprisingly transfer from side-to-side during the off-season, heading from Sky to BBC. I’m interested to know whether Sky put any fight to keep him on board for 2013. Saying that, I don’t think he was a significant loss for the Sky side. Yes, they probably wished he was with them, but it wouldn’t have made a major difference.

What was amusing here was that BBC touted his move as some kind of big announcement, when in fact he was only scheduled to appear at six out of the nineteen races! It begged the question “who will fill his void” at the other races. Nothing against McNish, I was just surprised that BBC have not tried to get more weekends out of him. It was a coup for BBC to get McNish, but it doesn’t do much for the listeners if he is only going to be present for less than a third of the year.

Ben Edwards – @BenEdwardsTV
Now in his second season as BBC F1 lead commentator, Edwards started his commentating exploits twenty years ago. When his racing career did not get off the ground, he turned his attention to commentary. His first race was the 1994 Japanese Grand Prix, commentating alongside John Watson for Eurosport instead of Allard Kalff. The role became permanent from 1995 with Edwards and Watson soon bonding as a commentary pairing. When Eurosport (and BBC) lost the rights to screen Formula 1 at the end of 1996, Edwards turned to American racing, specifically Champ Car at the start of the millennium, still with Eurosport.

Edwards and Watson reunited for Sky’s F1 Digital+ service in 2002, but when Bernie Ecclestone pulled the plug at the end of the year, it again left Formula 1 audiences without his commentary. Still, he had yet to hit the mainstream, after all at this point Eurosport and F1 Digital+ were in front of the die hards. A1 Grand Prix followed, also on Sky Sports and alongside Watson, before a stint with ITV Sport as lead British Touring Car Championship commentator. The latter would spring him towards a bigger audience with the series being broadcast on ITV4. The question as to why ITV overlooked him in 1997 and 2002 for the F1 commentary role, and for BBC in 2009 will probably never be answered, but 2012 was to be his foray back into the Formula 1 world.

Alongside David Coulthard, Edwards has commentated on Formula 1 for the BBC since the beginning of 2012. The beauty of Edwards commentary is his pants on fire style, which is synonymous with viewers as that is the same style that Murray Walker used for his commentary. The great thing with Edwards and Coulthard is that the pairing after a year and a half feels natural which is fantastic to see. Of course, at the same point, Edwards does well to keep the viewer interested and engaged during the BBC TV live practice sessions. It is a pity therefore that BBC viewers only get to hear his full commentary at half of the races, whereas overseas viewers get the BBC live feed for every race. Sometimes, the highlights can take away from the commentary as it is all excitement, with the breathing, less exciting bits being removed. I do see a fair bit of criticism for Edwards over social media, but that unfortunately comes with the territory when you are commentating to a much bigger audience than previously. Nevertheless, I hope the Edwards and Coulthard combination continues for a few years yet.

David Coulthard – @TheRealDCF1
Born in Twynholm in 1971, Coulthard made his motor racing debut at the age of 11. Quickly, Coulthard moved up the ranks, becoming Williams test driver in 1993. His first Formula 1 race start came sooner than expected at the 1994 Spanish Grand Prix, due to the death of Ayrton Senna. Coulthard remained part-time with Williams in 1994, deputising for Nigel Mansell for a few races and becoming full time in 1995. It was there that he won for the first time in his Formula 1 career, at the 1995 Portuguese Grand Prix. The Scotsman moved to McLaren for 1996, spending nine seasons with the team and finishing runner up in the 2001 championship.

It was Red Bull where Coulthard finished his fifteen year career, joining them in 2005. He spent four years with the team, stepping aside for Sebastian Vettel at the end of the 2008 season. Coulthard remained in the paddock, joining the newly formed BBC team for the start of the 2009 season alongside Eddie Jordan and Jake Humphrey as part of the pre and post race analysis. The three were an instant hit with the viewers and made the analysis worth tuning in for, unlike the style ITV took previously where the boundaries were seemingly pushed very little with Steve Rider and Mark Blundell.

Coulthard moved up to commentary in 2011, firstly alongside Martin Brundle and then Ben Edwards. Like I said above in the Edwards section, I enjoy the combination in the box. Commentary is a tough beast if you are not used to it, but I think a season and a half in that Coulthard has settled in well into the role. He has also settled well on the grid walk, and doesn’t go for the barging in approach, instead just waiting his turn to get drivers, which probably earns their respect more than taking the first method. Of course, he is also alongside Suzi Perry during the build up and post race reaction, and again is a reliable pair of feet should things go wrong around him. Now a year and a half into the new seven year contract, I don’t see Sky poaching Coulthard and it seems Coulthard is happy where he currently is at the BBC. If anything, he would have been lost in the shuffle at Sky, so I’m glad he remained with the BBC.

Eddie Jordan
Someone who I don’t think will stay around with the BBC F1 team for many more years though is Eddie Jordan. Jordan is most famous for founding the Jordan Grand Prix team at the beginning of 1991. It was with Jordan that Michael Schumacher made his Formula 1 debut, before being poached by Benetton three races later. Jordan became a consistent mid field team, achieving their first podium thanks to Rubens Barrichello at the 1994 Pacific Grand Prix. It was the famous 1998 Belgian Grand Prix where Jordan’s team secured their first victory, Damon Hill leading a one-two with Ralf Schumacher close behind.

The team remained at the front of the mid-field pack, but soon money struggles emerged towards the end of 2001 and the team dropped down the pecking order. Giancarlo Fisichella’s win in a red flagged 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix was their final highlight before the team was sold in early 2005. Jordan disappeared from the Formula 1 paddock for a few years, returning in 2009 as part of the BBC F1 team. Jordan’s opinionated style, as I noted above has in the past four years made the build-up and forum shows must watch as a result.

Jordan is also famous for breaking big Formula 1 driver transfers, Lewis Hamilton to Mercedes to name one. The decision was made at the beginning of 2012 for Jordan not to appear on the BBC F1 highlight shows which has weakened his contribution significantly compared with 2011 and before. Whilst it has been fantastic to have Jordan’s perspective from a team owner perspective, I do wonder how many more years he will stick around for – assuming BBC see out their contract. Jordan turned 65 this past March. In March 2018 (ie, in the last year of the current contract) he will be 70. I’m not so certain about whether I see him still with the team in five years time. I don’t think he will formally leave the team, but instead the amount of races he attends will simply drop as he years pass.

Gary Anderson
A major factor in the Jordan team being moderately successful was Gary Anderson, who was technical director through Jordan’s years in the sport. Before Jordan, Anderson worked as mechanic for Tyrrell and McLaren in the 1970s and 1980s. Anderson’s Jordan stay lasted from 1991 to half way through 1998, when he joined Jackie Stewart’s Stewart Grand Prix team. With Stewart, he was part of the 1999 European Grand Prix winning team, but it was not long before Anderson was back at Jordan however, returning for 2002 and 2003.

Like Coulthard did with racing, Anderson jumped straight from technical director to broadcasting, becoming part of RTE’s Formula 1 team and later Setanta Sports in Ireland. Alongside this, he regularly writes features for AUTOSPORT. With Ted Kravitz moving to Sky Sports F1, BBC went for Anderson as their pit lane reporter from 2012 onwards. At the time, it was definitely the most logical choice, and also helps balance out the broadcast as it meant that BBC had a former team boss, former driver and a former technical director, whereas Sky is loaded with former drivers, but very little in other departments.

Anderson I felt started off slowly at the beginning of 2012, but has grown on me significantly since then. Instead of the interactivity on the iPad that Sky offers, Anderson gives his analysis using a pen and paper. It does the job perfectly at a much lower cost, so why not? As well as this, Anderson regularly gives his thoughts on strategy and predicts, mostly correctly, what he expects the teams to do in the race. Arguably, the technical analyst role is the most difficult to convey information to a casual audience without alienating them, but in my view, Anderson is doing just fine at the moment. Alongside his BBC television commitments, he is regularly alongside James Allen in the radio commentary box (hopping from the TV to radio box and vice versa), a first in UK F1 broadcasting to have a technical analyst alongside the lead commentator. It is an interesting dynamic to get the strategy side of things updated in real time. I have not had a proper chance to listen to the 5 Live commentary outside of sound bite form, but it seems to be going down well.

James Allen – @JamesAllenOnF1
One of the few people to make a return to Formula 1 broadcasting, Allen’s pit lane exploits began with ESPN in the early 1990s until the end of the 1996 Formula One season. It was in 1997 that UK viewers were introduced to Allen as ITV appeared on the radar. Allen would roam and interview drivers up and down the pit lane alongside Louise Goodman, also a new voice to the UK audience at the time. Allen continued the role until he succeeded Murray Walker as lead commentator. His first race commentary though was on the 2000 French Grand Prix which Walker missed due to recovering from a previous operation.

Allen took over full time from Walker at the beginning of the 2002 season, commentating on ITV’s coverage alongside Martin Brundle until their coverage ended in 2008. Allen’s commentary was criticised though, partially as a result of Walker’s boots being extremely tough to fill, and also because of some ‘debatable’ commentary calls. I probably don’t need to remind readers of the scream at the end of the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix, or some of the Lewis Hamilton ‘love in’ in 2007 and 2008 (although admittedly the latter was probably a call from above rather than Allen himself in order to improve viewing figures).

At the end of 20008, Allen disappeared from the UK scene, to concentrate on running his own website whilst making sporadic appearances with Channel TEN in Australia. Allen maintained that he did not want to return to television commentary in the UK, but with radio posing a new challenge, he came back in 2012 to the 5 Live Formula 1 team. Since 2008, I think Allen’s commentary has toned down significantly, and also turned into a more relaxed style to cater for the radio audience. With ITV, his commentary at times did feel forced, whereas now with 5 Live it feels more natural.

Jennie Gow – @JennieGow
Like Suzi Perry, Gow’s first foray into the broadcasting world was on two wheels. It was 2010 when Gow replaced Perry to present the MotoGP coverage on BBC. Despite a solid first year, Gow was dropped at the end of 2010 with the coverage now being produced by Century TV and replaced by Matt Roberts. Although that was probably a cost-cutting move, at the time I didn’t really agree to Gow being dropped after just one season, but clearly other forces were at work.

Gow was not out of the motor sport spotlight for long though. Half a year after being dropped as presenter of BBC’s MotoGP coverage, she had swapped four wheels for two, as part of the BBC Radio 5 Live team at the 2011 Canadian and Hungarian Grand Prix’s, stepping in for Natalie Pinkham. It was this which led to her becoming full time pit lane reporter from 2012 onwards, a role she has continued this season. Gow also occasionally appears on BBC television’s free practice coverage in the pit lane alongside Tom Clarkson.

Alongside her usual pit lane commitments, she has presented the 5 Live Formula 1 discussion shows, such as ‘Slicks-o-Six’ after the British Grand Prix. I personally enjoyed the ‘Slicks-o-Six’ show from Silverstone, it is not often we get Formula 1 phone in shows straight after the race of that nature, so I hope we see it again. Also at some point in the future, I’d like to see Gow move up to the television team if any changes occur on that front in the future as I feel she has gelled into the 5 Live team nicely since joining them.

Lee McKenzie – @LeeMcKenzieF1
Before her BBC Formula 1 debut, viewers may have recognised her from somewhere else. Remember Speed Sunday? She was presenter of that, which was on ITV on Sunday’s in 2004. The show unfortunately did not last very long (although may not be too out of place on Sky Sports F1, if they had more rights) and was soon consigned to the dustbin. But, it was McKenzie’s foray into the motor sport world. McKenzie moved on to being the A1 Grand Prix pit lane reporter for their World Feed, a role that she held from 2005 to 2008.

It was there that she made an impression on BBC’s F1 production team, who approached her for the 2009 pit lane role, a position she accepted and has held ever since alongside presenting Inside F1 on the BBC News Channel. Whilst Jake Humphrey was presenting at Euro 2012 and the Olympics, McKenzie stepped in, presenting the Canadian, Germany and Hungary highlights rounds. It was this that made me have McKenzie down as the front runner to succeed Humphrey as lead presenter for this season onwards.

As it turned out, either McKenzie didn’t want the role or BBC chose elsewhere as Suzi Perry was announced as lead presenter last December. I was disappointed that McKenzie was overlooked, but you can see why BBC would want to go with Perry given her previous motor sport presenting experience. It will be interesting to see if McKenzie stays beyond this season, I hope she does, but at the same point if opportunities appear elsewhere, I won’t be surprised if she moves elsewhere – after all this is year five for her now in the pit lane role. She did say a little bit after Malaysia with multi-21 (I think it was on the Motorsport magazine podcast) how her role is arguably better than the presenting role as she gets to interview all the drivers’ after the race, whereas a presenter doesn’t.

Suzi Perry – @SuziPerry
Leading on nicely from the above, it was Perry that got the nod for the BBC F1 presenter role ahead of McKenzie. Perry is extremely familiar with motor sport fans, but more so for those who like two wheels, having presented BBC’s MotoGP coverage until the end of 2009. Since then, Perry has presented for The Gadget Show on Channel 5 alongside various other gigs. Jake Humphrey leaving BBC’s Formula 1 team left an opening in the presenting position gave Perry an opening, leading her to be confirmed as presenter for the 2013 season.

When Perry was announced, there were many that were saying that she “hates” Formula 1. What I don’t know is when that was said. I assume this was said around 2005 to 2007. Which, without going into a long discussion, the 2006 version of Formula 1 is significantly different to that seen this year. I would be surprised if she still hates Formula 1 considering she is currently presenting it, but stranger things have occurred. A fair comparison for Perry would be compare her first half year to Simon Lazenby’s first half year at Sky, given that both are presenting Formula 1 for the first time. I think overall the first half year has been better than Lazenby’s, but the same nervous tendencies have been displayed.

During the highlight shows, Perry is fine, with Coulthard and her generating good discussion, but things are not that way during the live shows, due to the nature of them. This was particularly noticeable last weekend in Hungary, on Saturday, BBC went live for the last two minutes of their highlights show to report on Romain Grosjean’s possible penalty, and the difference was obvious to see. It should be noted that during her MotoGP days it was 30 minutes build-up and 45 minutes post-race reaction, her Formula 1 commitments are double in both measures. Saying the above, it has been a solid start for Perry. Not as good as Jake Humphrey’s first half year, in my view, but not a disaster either. Attention for me turns to what could happen if BT Sport come knocking. I think it is within the realms of possibility that Perry could end up presenting MotoGP for them next season. Will it happen? Personally, I’d rate it as unlikely, but again, stranger things have happened….

Tom Clarkson – @TomClarksonF1
The first UK viewers heard of Tom Clarkson was during last year’s Canadian Grand Prix, who was in Lee McKenzie’s role for that race among others due to Humphrey being elsewhere. Before being introduced to UK viewers on BBC’s broadcast, Clarkson was apart of Australia’s TEN Sport broadcast and is also a writer for F1 Racing magazine.

There is not too much to say for Clarkson here as he has only been on the screen for half a year and the amount of air time then is even less. The thing with Clarkson is that he has not formally replaced anyone and is therefore sharing duties with McKenzie and Gow so at this point I’m not quite feeling his contribution to the output.

Overall, it is difficult to find any way to change the BBC team for the better, at the moment they have as close to the perfect team as you would find. The question marks lie with whether anyone is poached in the future, or if anyone decides to leave. But for the moment, I don’t see any reason why BBC should make changes to the team. In part two I will look at each member of the Sky Sports F1 team and analyse their contribution to the team, whilst parts 3 and 4 will look at each channel’s output. As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. Do you agree or disagree with what I have wrote?