Last week, ITV did something absolutely extraordinary. They offered an explanation for their appalling coverage of Formula 1, although it seems to stop short of an apology. No doubt this has been caused by an influx of complaints following an upsurge in viewers in the light of the success of a British driver.
A bunch of fairweather F1 fans who probably haven’t watched a Grand Prix since Murray Walker got a lump in his throat have tuned in to see the shower that long time F1 fans — the sort that do not watch merely for narrow nationalistic reasons — have to put up with on a race-by-race basis. Admittedly, ITV’s coverage of the races in the Americas is always worse because they are prime time viewing in the UK, which means that ITV would rather be showing Coronation Street than the Grand Prix.
You have to laugh though. Lewis Hamilton’s first race win would happen at one of these North American races where ITV are short for time. As such, the programme was rushed finished. When it finally came, there was no chance to reflect on the victory which the media has been hyping up for the past few months. We got no post-race interviews with the drivers — not even the press conference which follows immediately after the podium ceremony.
As I recall, ITV were also caught out the first time Jenson Button achieved a modicum of success. As I recall, ITV viewers did not see Jenson Button get pole position because they did not show the qualifying session live at all. Thankfully, ITV have learned from that incident and have since shown every qualifying session live, even if it is sometimes on ITV4 rather than ITV1.
I am actually on ITV’s side when it comes to qualifying. The BBC did not always show qualifying, so in that sense we are rather lucky with ITV’s coverage. But apart from that, there is little for F1 fans to be happy about the coverage.
But while they have, to an extent, sorted out their coverage of qualifying, I am not so confident that they will learn the lessons after this latest snafu. Their excuses for the rushed coverage are extremely weak.
With the Safety Car running four times, the Canadian race was well behind time, so I had to negotiate a lengthy over-run which delayed Coronation Street by several minutes.
As F1 Fanatic points out, the Canadian Grand Prix did not run behind time. In fact, if anything, the race ran over fifteen minutes ahead of time.
While most races last around 90 minutes, they may last for anything up to two hours. While the two hour time limit is very rarely reached, every F1 broadcaster must prepare for that eventuality, just the same as football broadcasters must account for the possibility of extra time and penalties.
In reality, ITV should not be scheduling important programmes at all until about 2 hours and 20 minutes after the scheduled race start. This is to take into account the parade lap, the drive to parc fermé and the podium ceremony — not to mention the possibility of a red flag and a race re-start.
They should leave longer if they want to be sure of covering the post-race press conference. Any programmes scheduled before this threshold should be easily dropped fillers, not Coronation Street! They already do this for football, so it is not rocket science.
This two hour time limit was brought in by the FIA specifically with broadcasters in mind. If ITV have not got their heads around this basic rule after over ten years of covering F1, then you have to conclude that hoping for an improvement in the situation is an absolute lost cause because ITV is clearly run by clueless dolts.
Another reason to reach this conclusion about ITV’s bigwigs is their really odd scheduling last Saturday. In late Saturday afternoon they screened a special programme about Lewis Hamilton on ITV1. This could have been used as a perfect opportunity to lift ratings of the qualifying programme (presuming that this is what ITV are worried about with their reluctance to show it on ITV1).
Yet, despite dedicating a chunk of their ITV1 schedule to a Lewis Hamilton wank-fest, they still opted to show qualifying on ITV4. What was the important programme they had to broadcast on ITV1? Grease. A film that everybody who wants to see it already has done. Pitpass has a feasible explanation here.
With ITV constantly messing around with dedicated F1 fans, I think it is high time that Bernie Ecclestone and FOM re-launched their dedicated F1 Digital + (“Bernievision”) service. Yes, it is pay-per-view. But I think I would be willing to shell out just to avoid the nationalistic bias, the commercial breaks, the idiotic scheduling, the dumb pre-race features and of course James Allen (who has, shockingly, just notched up his 100th race commentary).
A common counter-argument against complaints about James Allen is that there is nobody to replace him. But there is an obvious choice: Ben Edwards. He already commentates on other forms of motor racing for ITV. He knows his stuff, and he doesn’t get excited like a seven-year-old boy à la James Allen.
There are even people like Peter Windsor or Steve Matchett, who currently commentate in America and used to commentate on F1 Digital +. Peter Windsor also conducts the post-race press conference. These people know their stuff and are much more level-headed than the likes of James Allen and Steve Rider.
Maybe they could bring on board the surely soon-to-retire David Coulthard to take Martin Brundle’s role, while the rather excellent (in comparison to his colleagues) Brundle takes the role of lead commentator. After all, with the hopeless James Allen taking the lead commentator role at the moment, Brundle often finds himself having to do the job of both.
There is hardly a shortage of potential alternatives to James Allen.
But maybe a more radical solution is required. Let us face it. F1 Digital + only failed because it was a bit too far ahead of its time. Nowadays, unlike in 1997, digital television is an everyday reality. I am sure many more people would be willing to pay for the service, especially since ITV’s coverage only ever seems to go downhill.