James Allen on…

From print media, through to the small screen and now across multi-platform, James Allen is a name that is familiar with Formula 1 fans in the UK and beyond. Allen’s career has spanned multiple decades, but he was most famous as ITV’s lead Formula 1 commentator from 2002 to 2008 alongside Martin Brundle.

Now part of the Motorsport Network ship, I caught up with Allen during the Autosport Show weekend to look back at the three chapters in his broadcasting career to date. In the style of his own blog name, this post is ‘James Allen on…’ as he reflects on his story so far.

…the start of his broadcasting career
“My first broadcasting job in Formula 1 was in 1992. I had been working with Screensport, which was a forerunner of Eurosport, on their coverage of the Le Mans 24 Hours from 1990 and 1991. I got a call from ESPN, as their pit lane reporter couldn’t do the 1992 Hungarian Grand Prix, and we’d done Le Mans as a co-production between Screensport and ESPN the previous year. It was the race where Nigel won the championship, and I got a great interview with Nigel.

“I enjoyed myself very much doing the live pit lane work, so much so that ESPN offered me the job as broadcast reporter for 1993. ’93 was the season of Ayrton Senna and Michael Andretti as team mates, obviously Andretti being an American driver was exciting, so I was in the middle of all of that.

“I went to America to do Nigel Mansell’s second IndyCar season in 1994, Nigel and I got on really well. I spent a very happy year covering IndyCars and making the show for ITV working with Chrysalis, which went onto be North One.

“I carried on working with ESPN in Formula 1, until the BBC lost the UK rights in 1996 to ITV. ITV were looking for a production company from 1997 onwards, and I drafted part of the bid to win the production contract for Chrysalis, having worked with them on IndyCar, and that was the beginning of the ITV F1 adventure.”

…becoming pit lane reporter for ITV
“I’d done a lot of broadcasting before I became F1 pit lane reporter, I’d done Le Mans for two years running, which was 24 hours in the pit lane! It was much freer in those days, you could do whatever you wanted.

“There was a lot of scope for improvisation, I had a live camera with me, I could do anything I wanted with that live camera. I could interview anyone I wanted, doorstep anybody, it was a very deregulated environment back then. It did become progressively more difficult as the years went on, but it was great fun on the whole.

“I brought an American training to it, I’d spent four years by then working with really, really good sports TV directors and producers. I was very lucky to be mentored by some of the best US sports directors, so I knew exactly how to engage the audience, what kind of stuff they were looking for, how to think beyond the obvious, don’t just say what’s happened, but what that means for what happens next, and all that kind of thing. I was very lucky and brought that to the coverage on ITV.

1997 Australian Grand Prix Qualifying - Allen and Hill
In ITV’s first live qualifying show at the 1997 Australian Grand Prix, James Allen interviews Arrows newest recruit and 1996 champion Damon Hill.

“Editorially I had worked at Autosport for two years, and prior to that I worked for Brabham with Martin Brundle, so I knew him very well from those days. Having worked on the inside of a Formula 1 team, I knew how that worked, how it operates, how it succeeds, how it fails.

“The pit lane role involved looking around for stories, looking around for insights. I’ve always been interested in providing insight and analysis wherever possible. I think the who, what, where and when is great, but I’ve always been interested in the how and the why.”

…his first F1 commentary
“I stood in for Murray when he bust his hip at the 2000 French Grand Prix, which was very useful because I was always the understudy, in case there was a ‘what if’ moment. I’d done a lot of commentary early in my career, Paris Dakar, Formula 3000, you name it, thousands of hours that hardly any people saw in the early satellite days. It was a great opportunity to commentate with Martin, to have a look at it and see how it sounded.

“I had a very intense post-French GP debrief with ITV’s Head of Sport Brian Barwick, who was very good to me and a very big influence on my career. He meticulously went through that commentary, what I’d done wrong, what I could have done better, what I done well, we spent hours going through it.

“It meant that the following year, when we did the transition where I did five races and Murray did the rest, I knew what I was trying to do. There was never any doubt in my mind about being commentator, it’s what I wanted to do since I was 15 years old.”

…succeeding Murray Walker
“It’s a double edge sword. On the one hand, the timing was good, plenty of other people would have liked to have followed on from Murray, but he kept going for a very long time. He and I worked very close together for the first four years [with ITV F1], and I drove him round Europe, he didn’t like driving in Europe so I always did the driving. We spent a lot of time together, which was wonderful, some very rich memories.

“It’s the job I always wanted to do, mass market, free-to-air TV in UK, Australia, South Africa, Canada, tens of millions of people watching, but on the flip-side he’s probably one of the most popular sports broadcasters there has ever been. You’re never going to be him, but nor should you ever try to be.

“I just said ‘listen, he has to stop’ because he’s 77 years old and can’t do this anymore, physically, it was taking its toll on him, and he wanted to go out on the top, so someone’s got to take over from him, and it might as well be me! I took it as a responsibility, I knew that there would be plenty of people who didn’t like it, I knew that there would have been people who did like it.

“Barry Davies, the football commentator whose daughter worked at Jordan at the time, said to me, ‘listen, you’re probably taking on the toughest job in sports broadcasting. If I can give you one piece of advice: stay philosophical, don’t listen to the people who cane you, and don’t listen to the people who think you’re the best thing since sliced bread, because you’re neither of those things. You’re neither a complete loser or the best thing since sliced bread, just somewhere in the middle, and be yourself’, and that was great advice, and that’s the way I played it for eight years.”

…commentating on motor racing
“What makes it tough is that there’s not one point of focus. If you commentate on a horse race, yes, you’ve got 20 horses, but they tend to focus on what is going on at the front because they all tend to be tightly packed together. If you are talking about a football match, or pretty much any ball sport, you basically follow what the ball does. Cycling is another one where you’ve got to talk about multiple narratives in one commentary, and it goes on for four hours.

2008-australian-gp-allen-and-brundle
Allen and Brundle here analysing the 2008 Australian Grand Prix qualifying session. Little did they know at this point was that 2008 would be ITV’s final year covering F1.

“I always looked at it in terms of a front race, a middle race and a back race. I would do it 60 percent front race, 30 percent middle race and 10 percent back race, so I gave a balanced narrative to the coverage. I always got on very well with Martin, he was very supportive. We had a lot of things that we wanted to try, we were always thinking about ‘let’s try this, let’s try that’, we never wanted to stay the same, we wanted to try to move forward. Having a racing driver like him alongside you means you’re always improving things with the broadcast coverage.

“We had some very difficult seasons to cover, ’01 was great, ’02 and ’04 were difficult, but a lot of people think that the 2005 to 2008 period is their favourite period in Formula 1. There was a lot of different winners, the cars were exciting to watch, and we had a great time.”

…ITV’s F1 exit
“We went out on a high with Lewis winning the World Championship. It was the only time in our twelve years of doing Formula 1 that we had a British champion crowned on our live coverage. It was a great moment, with 13 million watching, mass-market free-to-air TV, it was just fantastic.

“The contract we had with Formula 1 ran until 2010, and in my head, I was thinking I’d get to 2010 and do something else outside of commentary. I had a young family at that point with two young sons, and had been to every single race for 16 years. It was a little bit of a shock in ’08, when ITV decided to prioritise Champions League over Formula 1, and the BBC got the rights.

“But equally, I had also started exploring the digital media space with blogs, and so I went into that. I realised that there was a very good business to be had there, around the monetisation of blogs with sponsored brands and things. It was about leveraging my personal brand that I’d built up on the broadcast side on a blog, and then working with companies that wanted to attach themselves to it. That was like chapter two of the story, which was really interesting.

“Would I still have been commentating on Formula 1 on television in 2011 or 2012? No. I’m a bit restless, I do things for a while, then I feel like I want to move on.”

…his post-ITV exploits
“I did the blog thing, which you’re now doing very successfully, and then the BBC came knocking in 2012, to ask me if I wanted to be their F1 correspondent on 5 Live. The only reason I said yes was because I had never done radio, ever. Most people do it the other way round, they do radio first then go into television.

“The radio has been reinvented by the internet, you can really do a lot with radio, and I just wanted to see if I could do it, and actually, it’s much more difficult than television. I set myself a challenge, I really wanted to master this. I had four years in that role which I really enjoyed. I enjoyed working with the BBC radio network, trying to provide insights for people alongside running the blog and the business. Four years was just about enough, time to move on.

“I’m in the third chapter of my career now, which is building this unique vision we have at Motorsport Network. I’m in a management role, I manage 500 to 600 people in 21 countries. We’ve got the Autosport Awards, Autosport International, Autosport.com, Motorsport.com, all the digital media platforms.

“It’s a very interesting business, three different segments, media, experiences and eSports, we’re talking in the back of the Le Mans eSports truck. We’re the only ones that are across everything, it’s a unique project, no one has ever tried it before and will ever try it again. So far, it’s going well, it’s really difficult, it’s a big challenge, but I love it.”

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The evolution of the grid walk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flashback: 1997 Spanish Grand Prix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News round-up: Sky linked with MotoGP; F1 App updates for 2017

In the news round-up, more speculation on where MotoGP could be going next, whilst the official F1 app is given an early Spring clean ready for the 2017 season.

Sky set to take MotoGP off BT Sport?
A report from Bikesport News has linked Sky Sports with MotoGP’s UK rights, which BT Sport currently holds until the end of 2018. In response to their report, Sky’s Euan Fordyce said, “I’m afraid we don’t comment on rights we don’t currently have, so we are unable to help on this occasion.”

I do not know what prompted the report, however given the amount of money BT Sport have splashed out to retain the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, it is not surprising to see Bikesport News’ piece.

Their piece does corroborate with what was reported on this site last month. It looks like the relationship between BT and Dorna is not as rosy as it could be, but I do not want to emphasise that point simply because media outlets reported the same on the BT/UEFA front, and we know what happened there…

Sky Sports were previously involved in MotoGP in the early 1990s under its previous mantra, with Keith Huewen and Julian Ryder providing commentary. The rights soon moved over to British Eurosport as Sky focussed on the Superbike World Championship

As of writing, there is no official news about who will be broadcasting MotoGP highlights in the UK, but expect some news on that front imminently.

Superbike action resumes
The World Superbike Championship was the first major international series to get back underway at the end of February live on Eurosport, and with it, there was a personnel change. Gregory Haines, who was lead World Superbikes commentator for Dorna in 2016, has moved over to Eurosport, succeeding Jack Burnicle as their World Superbikes commentator.

In the overnight viewing figures, the first round of the season from Philip Island peaked with 55k (6.2%) at 04:30 on Sunday morning (including VOSDAL) as the second Superbikes race of the weekend concluded. As a comparison, last year’s MotoGP race from the same track on BT Sport 2 averaged 126k (10.7%), peaking with 176k according to numbers supplied by Overnights.tv.

Elsewhere in the superbike world, ITV have extended their contract to cover the British Superbike series in highlights form until the end of the 2020 season.

F1 App updates for 2017
The official Formula 1 app has received an update ready for the 2017 season. Aside from an update to the user interface, there is no major change for readers. There was some confusion around whether the content will be different depending on location, however this site can confirm that users will receive the same content regardless of location.

On a related note, I mentioned last October that users in the Netherlands were testing a new version of an app featuring in-car footage during live sessions. This site understands that live in-car footage is still on the cards to feature, but at what stage during the season is unclear due to hurdles that need to be cleared. The delivery method also needs to be agreed with each broadcaster.

ITV F1 – twenty years on
ITV’s F1 coverage launched twenty years ago this week, with the 1997 Australian Grand Prix. As readers may have noticed, there has been a running theme so far throughout the year so far looking at various aspects of ITV’s coverage, including flashback pieces looking at past races (thanks to all who said that they would like to see these continue).

There is a lot of reading over here for those of you that fancy a trip down memory lane and want to relieve some more ITV F1 goodness.

Flashback: 2008 Australian Grand Prix

To celebrate the fifth anniversary of The F1 Broadcasting Blog, we are looking back at five races from the archive and chewing over them. Being a broadcasting site, these races are not being analysed from a racing standpoint, but instead from a media perspective.

The five races include Grand Prix from the BBC and ITV eras, crossing over from the Americas, into Europe and Australia. Some races picked are your usual affair, whilst others have major significance in Formula 1 history. I did think about looking at five ‘major’ races, but each race has equal merit from a broadcasting standpoint, irrespective of how great the race was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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