This is another aspect of the BBC’s coverage which is a massive improvement on ITV’s offering. Last year, practice was just covered online, on some infrastructure which was clearly pretty shaky. This year, practice is covered on the red button. Even if you opt to watch it online (which I often do), the BBC’s stream is much, much more reliable and the picture quality is better than ITV’s.
Moreover, while ITV provided just the raw World Feed, with no commentary, the BBC broadcast it with the Radio 5 Live Sports Extra commentary. The Radio 5 Live team have been covering practice for a few years now, so it was logical to use their commentary for the television coverage to do it cost-effectively.
I must say, I think the coverage of practice is great. It shouldn’t be the most captivating of sessions. But the 5 Live team use it as a chance to flex their muscles, and they simply chat about whatever is going on in the world of F1 in general, at a fairly leisurely pace. It is like Test Match Special with fast cars, and I love it.
David Croft and Anthony Davidson are a great partnership for Friday Practice 1 and Saturday Practice. Meanwhile, Friday Practice 2 is normally covered by Maurice Hamilton and Ian Phillips. This is much more like a pub conversation, but I love the chemistry between the pair, and their chats about the political goings-on in F1 are unrivalled for their insight.
Radio 5 Live
As I have touched on already, Crofty and Davidson are a great partnership. Even though I like to listen to Jonathan Legard, I personally like David Croft a lot even if he is perhaps not ready for the main TV job yet in my view.
I first came across him when he read the sports news on Fi Glover’s Radio 5 Live programme back in 2001. Even back then he was an engaging broadcaster who had great chemistry with his colleagues. He clearly has a deep knowledge of a lot of sports. He never struck be back then as someone who was particularly a fan of F1, which makes the fact that he is so good at covering it all the more impressive. You can see he talent in the way he is also comfortable commentating on darts and boxing matches.
Meanwhile, Anthony Davidson is a complete revelation in the commentary box. It is no surprise this year of course — he was already impressive in his previous sporadic stints commentating on Radio 5 Live and ITV. Davidson will be hoping he is racing in F1 next year (especially since there are six extra seats), but once F1 is off the radar for him, he is surely an ideal candidate for the Brundle role. Who knows — perhaps one day it will be Croft and Davidson commentating on TV.
As for Holly Samos, I still can’t tell whether I like her or not. Sometimes she seems to be doing a great job, while at other times I would be expecting better. She’s been doing the job for a few years now though, so I think the listeners should be able to expect nothing but the best at all times by now.
Like I say, though, I have not been listening to the Radio 5 Live race commentary as much this year as I have done in previous years, so I am basing my opinions on a mixture of practice coverage and what I remember of last year.
But for me, it says a lot about the BBC that is has two very competent commentary teams — one for TV and one for radio — when ITV couldn’t even scrape together one.
The Chequered Flag Podcast
Radio 5 Live’s podcast is still pretty much a must-listen. But for me it has noticeably decreased in quality this year, I am guessing as a result of budget cuts. Last year the post-race podcast would consist of decent post-race chat between David Croft, Maurice Hamilton and another major F1 journalist like Jonathan Noble, and sometimes Holly Samos.
Now it feels like Croft and Davidson just switch on the dictaphone for twenty minutes when they get back to the hotel. It’s still good, but in a year when coverage has stepped up in almost every other way, this is a noticeable exception to the rule.