Archive: radio-5-live-sports-extra

This is just a quick thought on digital radio, following my post about the BBC’s commitment to DAB.

Absolute Radio platforms

I was browsing the Absolute Radio website earlier today, and noticed just how much they push DAB. On the Listen live page, it actually highlights DAB as the most prominent option. You can see how important digital is to Absolute.

Contrast this with the recent Radio 5 Live campaign that treats digital as an afterthought.

Also, once again I was listening to Radio 4 this week when Eddie Mair mentioned people listening to cricket on longwave. But no mention of the excellent 5 Live Sports Extra service, which broadcasts the same as Test Match Special on Radio 4 longwave, just without the shipping forecast interruptions.

BBC Asian Network logo

The news that the BBC is considering reversing its decision to close down the Asian Network marks the corporation’s second major U-turn on a digital radio service closure. The first was the more high-profile threat to close 6 Music.

The dithering indecisiveness is enough. But what really annoys me about these decisions is the underlying reason behind them — ratings — and the story it tells.

Lacklustre awareness

Both 6 Music and the Asian Network had relatively poor ratings before the BBC announced that the services would close. In that sense, it was easy to see why the savings-seeking BBC was lining them up for the chop.

Then something funny happened. Ratings shot through the roof. After its closure was announced, the number of 6 Music listeners doubled from 600,000 a week to 1.2 million a week. It wasn’t just a flash in the pan either. Since 6 Music was saved from the axe, ratings have remained over the 1 million mark.

The problem is that beforehand, awareness of BBC 6 Music was extremely low. Only 20 per cent of UK adults had even heard of the station. No wonder ratings are so poor if four fifths of the potential audience doesn’t even know of its existence!

Similarly, ratings for the Asian Network have increased by a third since its closure was announced. The increase in ratings has been given as the reason for the BBC’s U-turn.

Publicity vacuum hurts BBC digital radio

The problem is that the closure threat was the most publicity 6 Music and the Asian Network had ever had. The BBC isn’t usually shy of promoting its own services, but it has completely failed to sell its digital radio stations to the public at large. In fact, it has completely failed to sell digital radio full stop.

Just look at the digital radio listenership figures — figure 3.34 in this Ofcom report (PDF) (via James Cridland).

Bar chart of digital radio listening figures

A measley 18 per cent of Radio 1 listeners listen over a digital format. The highest figure among BBC radio stations (excluding those available on digital platforms only) is 5 Live — 36 per cent. These listeners have a significant incentive to move to digital though, as otherwise 5 Live is only available on poor quality medium wave frequencies.

Meanwhile, over half of listeners to Absolute Radio listen over a digital platform. Absolute’s success in pursuing digital platforms is well-documented.

Skewed priorities

Considering that the BBC is supposed to be investing in digital radio, it is not doing a very good job of promoting it. Despite having great content on its digital services, the BBC is shy of actually promoting them.

In this department, it is being considerably outperformed by Absolute Radio, a commercial outlet that doesn’t have a chunk of license fee money set aside for pushing digital. The BBC seems to have lost all of its enthusiasim for digital, even when it is producing excellent digital services.

As James Cridland pointed out, fans following the Ashes earlier this year will not have missed a ball were they listening on 5 Live Sports Extra, as I did. Yet all over the news the following day was the fact that BBC radio listeners were deprived of the victorious moment because the shipping forecast was being broadcast on Radio 4 longwave at the time.

This provided plenty of good coverage in the shape of, “ha, that crazy old shipping forecast, eh?!” All very good. But why wasn’t the point driven home that an excellent digital service was broadcasting the cricket completely uninterrupted?

I am sure there are lots of avid cricket fans out there that rely on their longwave signal. But I have checked, and I don’t even own any equipment that can pick up longwave. I suspect if I were to go to the shops to buy a radio, I would have to make a special effort to find one that could receive longwave. Meanwhile, I could pick up a DAB radio for about £30 with no trouble whatsoever.

Where are the promos?

Why did the Radio 2 breakfast slot get a big push when Chris Evans started presenting it? The Radio 2 breakfast show is the most popular radio programme in the country, with around 10 million listeners. If there is one radio show that does not need promoting, it is this — whether it has a new presenter or not.

With radio, the BBC seems to have got its marketing priorities all wrong. Where are the big promos for stations like 6 Music, Radio 7 or the Asian Network? Why isn’t it pushing 5 Live Sports Extra harder at avid sports fans?

With radio, the BBC seems to have got its marketing priorities all wrong. Where are the big promos for stations like 6 Music, Radio 7 or the Asian Network?

Practice coverage

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. :D

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.

Today the BBC has announced further details of its F1 coverage, which will start in just a month’s time. We already knew who would be presenting the BBC’s F1 coverage, but today we have found out more about just what the BBC will be offering the viewers this season.

Television coverage

The BBC have released full details of the television schedule for the whole season. All of the races and qualifying sessions will be broadcast on BBC One, with the exception of Brazilian qualifying which will be broadcast on BBC Two (as it will clash with Final Score). Races at unsociable hours will be repeated in full later in the day, just as ITV did.

Highlights

What is interesting is that the hour long highlights package will be broadcast on BBC Three. But it will be much earlier than ITV’s offering. While ITV begrudgingly broadcast their highlights as late on Sunday night as they could possibly get away with, the BBC promise to broadcast highlights at 1900 on the day of the race, with the exception of Brazil of course when it will be broadcast at 2300.

Practice sessions

In addition, all practice sessions will be covered on BBC Red Button. This is fantastic news. In 2008 ITV provided live coverage of Friday Practice — but not Saturday Practice. Moreover, ITV only showed it on the internet, meaning that it was a poor quality offering. The BBC will now give fans the opportunity to watch practice sessions at television-standard quality for the first time in the UK.

Red Button

There will also be a number of interactive offerings. On race day, viewers will have a choice of three streams:

  • The FOM World Feed (what we’re used to getting), with the option to choose between BBC One or Radio 5 Live commentary.
  • Rolling highlights
  • A split-screen offering, with the FOM World Feed, on-board action and a leaderboard (the FIA timing screens?)

After the race has finished, there will be an hour-long interactive analysis programme with Jake Humphrey, David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan.

Internet

All sessions will be broadcast over the internet on the BBC’s website. Users will have the ability to choose from a number of different streams — everything that you can get on television, and perhaps more? Moreover, at least one feed will be offered in “extra-high quality”, which the BBC say will be “near-televisual quality video”. There will also be live text coverage, and visitors will be offered the opportunity to vote and discuss the big talking points of the race.

All coverage will be available to watch again on the BBC iPlayer. Users will be able to download videos within 7 days of broadcast, though downloads will self-destruct in a plume of smoke after 30 days.

Website

The BBC are promising that a much-needed relaunch of their F1 website will take place before the season begins. We are promised blogs from Jonathan Legard, Andrew Benson and Jake Humphrey as well as one from an “F1 mole” (hmm, that rings a bell…). Murray Walker’s video review of each race has already been well publicised, but we are now also promised videos and text columns from Martin Brundle and Mark Webber.

If the BBC get this right, it could turn out to be one of the very best F1 websites around. It sounds very promising.

Radio coverage

There is a separate press release concerning radio coverage. It had already been confirmed than Anthony Davidson will be the co-commentator on Radio 5 Live, alongside David Croft. This is mixed news for a number of reasons.

First of all, it should be pointed out that the BBC has pulled off a major coup by signing Anthony Davidson for the entire season. The driver still clings on to hopes that he will get a race drive. But with empty seats in short supply, it looks like Davidson has chosen to develop his career as a commentator.

Davidson has had a few stints as a commentator, on ITV as well as on BBC Radio. He is very good at the job in my opinion. He seems almost as natural behind the mic as Martin Brundle. He effortlessly explains to the listener what a driver is going through, and his technical knowledge of the current cars will almost certainly be second to none among commentators throughout the world.

Sadly, this means that Maurice Hamilton will no longer be a regular commentator on Radio 5 Live. This is unfortunate as I enjoy listening to his comments and opinions. I am sure we haven’t heard the last of him though. I hope he stays involved with some of the podcasts he has worked on in the past — particularly The Inside Line, which I have praised a number of times here.

Otherwise, though, the Radio 5 Live team remains the same. David Croft is perhaps not the best commentator around, but he is a likeable presence with a great enthusiasm for the sport. I’m particularly looking forward this year to watching practice sessions on BBC Red Button, where the commentary will be provided by the Radio 5 Live team. Practice has always been an enjoyable listen, in a Test Match Special sort of way.

There is also good news on Radio 5 Live’s Friday night preview show, 5 Live Formula One. Martin Brundle and David Coulthard will make regular appearances discussing the latest issues in F1. I can’t wait to hear what the pair will come up with. Both are colourful analysts of the sport, and they have worked with each other for many years, so the chemistry will no doubt be super.

What’s missing?

Rumours on message boards had suggested that there may be the option to watch highlights of each Grand Prix all day after the race. But there is no mention of that in the press release.

It looks as though there will be no HD coverage after all. This is a major disappointment. The BBC have hinted in the past that they would jump at the chance to broadcast F1 in HD, so this looks like it’s Bernie’s doing.

And where is the information on the support races? This is what I was most looking forward to learning about today, but looking at the BBC’s press release you wouldn’t know they even existed. I would be gutted if GP2 didn’t end up on terrestrial television, after the races were shown live on ITV4 last year. I am hoping that red button coverage will be announced at a later date.

Following the controversy of the Belgian Grand Prix, they needed to do it. And thankfully they have — the FIA have finally clarified once and for all exactly what they expect a driver to do if he needs to use an escape road.

During the drivers’ regular meeting with Race Director Charlie Whiting, it was made clear that drivers who cut a corner will not be allowed to challenge at the following corner as Hamilton did to Räikkönen at La Source in Belgium. This will come as a relief to fans and drivers alike who were previously left in the dark as to what the precise limit is.

On Thursday David Coulthard called for clarification in the rule. Meanwhile yesterday his Red Bull team mate Mark Webber expressed his relief saying, “generally, it is pretty clear for people to probably not attack immediately again, which wasn’t mega, mega clear in the past.”

Moreover, the solution is a broadly sensible one as it is relatively easily defined and fans and drivers will now know more clearly when a driver has pushed the rules too far. For this, the FIA should be applauded.

However, Charlie Whiting apparently raised eyebrows as during the meeting by revealing that this rule has actually been in place for two years! According to Ian Phillips (Director of Business Affairs at Force India) commentating during Friday Practice 2 on Radio 5 Live Sports Extra yesterday, Mr Whiting was adamant that the rule was originally clarified two weeks ago — but team principals could find no written record of the rule. It has already been established that neither the Formula 1 Sporting Regulations nor the International Sporting Code mention what a driver is expected to do after cutting a chicane.

Given Charlie Whiting’s apparent certainty of the rule, it does raise the question: why did he initially give the Hamilton move the “okay” in Belgium? Ian Phillips speculated that Charlie Whiting was only saying some things during the meeting because an FIA bod was also present in the room at the time. Whatever, it is another interesting twist in the story of Charlie Whiting’s behaviour surrounding the infamous incident in Belgium.

After this news emerged, we were discussing in the liveblog the implications of the new rule. Robert McKay made a very good point (at 1:25 during Friday Practice 2).

it’s also an interesting “rule” because there are some tracks where the definition of a “corner” is not clear – when Brundle says “some teams call this turn 5, some 6″ or whatever.

This was a particular issue at Valencia, where some small kinks in straights were given a turn number. Take a look at the map. Let us say, for the sake of argument, a driver cuts the chicane at turn 5. Can he scream up behind a driver through turn 6 then go on the attack at turn 7? Or should he wait until turn 8? I know which would seem fairer — waiting until turn 8. But under the strange definition of a “corner” applied to the Valencia Street Circuit, it’s not exactly clear cut.

Also, Charlie Whiting’s “clarification” only appears to clarify what should happen when a driver is on the attack. What about a driver who is defending, such as Michael Schumacher was during the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2006? Should a driver in this situation let the driver behind by? Because Schumacher didn’t — and he didn’t get punished for it.

Today’s clarification makes the situation with cutting chicanes much clearer. But even under the new situation, there is still scope for another controversial incident to occur one day.

Last week Ollie at BlogF1 wrote about the set-up he uses at home to watch Formula 1. He threw the question back to his readers: how do you watch F1? Here is my answer.

How I watch Formula 1

If you click through to the photo’s Flickr page you will see the notes I have written to explain everything. But I will describe my set-up here as well.

As you can see, I squeeze everything on the one screen — even the ITV television broadcast! It’s a pretty big monitor (the same as Ollie’s, if I’m not mistaken), so it can handle it. It is a bit of a squeeze, but it’s the most convenient way for me to do it as there is not a television in the line of sight of where I sit at the computer.

Going clockwise from top-left, we begin with the ITV live video feed. I only fire this up after the chequered flag because during the race it essentially shows the ITV1 London feed — adverts and all. After the race though, it switches to the FOM World Feed. After the race, the world feed contains a nice montage of replays from during the race as well as the press conference, which ITV do not always show during their television broadcast.

While I’m watching the FOM feed, I pause the television (which I watch via Windows Media Centre). When the FOM programme finishes, I start watching ITV again to watch all of the post-race analysis and interviews.

Beneath the television I have FOM’s own live timing system. As far as I’m concerned, this is an indispensable tool if you want to know what’s going on all the way through the grid. I notice that it is a ubiquitous presence among the other photographs / screenshots I have seen.

Finally, we have the F1Fanatic liveblog in the bottom left. Lots of top chitty-chat goes on in there and it’s sometimes a great way to get advance warning of some news as people from around the world report what their commentators have told them. Some eagle-eyed viewers also spot stuff that I would otherwise miss.

The green mug contains my coffee. This sits on a coaster with a photograph of David Coulthard in action in his MP4-13. The clear mug contains an emergency supply of apple juice in case I get thirsty during the race. Peering behind this is a 1:43 scale diecast model of Damon Hill’s Jordan 198.

Not in the photograph, a digital radio sits to my left on another desk. I use this to listen to the Radio 5 Live / Sports Extra commentary. This way I avoid James Allen’s plonkery. One problem with this, though, is that the radio is a couple of seconds ahead of the television. This means that I hear the action before I see it, but that is just a small worry.

I want to bring attention to a podcast that I think somehow passes under the radar of many F1 fans. I certainly did not pay much attention to it until recently. But the editions I have heard have been A-grade stuff.

The Formula One Inside Line With Maurice Hamilton and Ian Phillips

Okay, so it’s not the catchiest title, but the podcast itself is excellent. I assume it is similar to The Guardian‘s F1 podcast which was also fronted by Maurice Hamilton and Ian Phillips. For whatever reason the newspaper isn’t responsible for the podcast any more, but it lives on independently.

Maurice Hamilton and Ian Phillips are well-known voices to listeners of BBC Radio 5 Live’s coverage of Formula 1 races. I can tell you, ‘The Inside Line’ is not an exaggeration when it comes to this pair. They certainly know what’s what in the paddock.

The Canadian GP podcast contains everything I have come to expect from this podcast — an incisive review of the race’s major events, and an insider’s take on the paddock gossip. Here, the experience of Maurice Hamilton’s decades writing about F1 and Ian Phillip’s journalistic background combined with the insider knowledge attained in his role as Force India’s Director of Business Affairs comes into its own.

This podcast contains the clearest explanation of the simmering war between Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley I have heard yet. There is also an explanation that every team in the paddock and everyone else involved wants a Concorde Agreement except the FIA. And the threats of a breakaway are quite real. And Luca di Montezemolo did mean to say that Max Mosley should step down. Ian Phillips explains why very well, and I’d recommend you go and listen to the podcast for the full explanation.

Then Maurice Hamilton’s connections allows him to bring us the fact that Bernie Ecclestone and Luca di Montezemolo were spotted having lunch together in New York. It’s pretty clear now that something is happening, and the discussion in this podcast has made that more clear than anything else I have read in the past few weeks.

This isn’t the first time The Inside Line podcast has come up with the goods. Of course, this year’s Monaco Grand Prix will always be remembered for the rotten luck that Adrian Sutil encountered. Who better, therefore, than Ian Phillips to get literally the inside line on the race’s top story? And being stationed in the Force India garage meant that they got a good interview with Adrian Sutil as well.

That podcast also contained a pretty trenchant criticism of Max Mosley’s letter that was sent out in the run-up to the Monaco Grand Prix. To top it off, Ian Phillips had more information on the controversial press conference that was perceived to be rigged in Max Mosley’s favour, with Gerhard Berger reading out a prepared statement.

Clearly, the star of the show is Ian Phillips. But even when he was away, the podcast still came up with the goods. Because the person who stood in was no less a person than Mike Gascoyne, Force India’s Chief Technical Officer. He was surprisingly good in his analysis of the Turkish Grand Prix as well.

That weekend Maurice Hamilton got the credit for the “one car teams” theory that was beginning to emerge. That was because he repeated it on the Chequered Flag which is heard by more listeners. But listening to The Inside Line podcast, it’s clear that the theory actually originated with Mike Gascoyne.

If there is one problem with the Inside Line podcast is that it’s clearly recorded a bit too early for a full analysis of the race to take place. Often mechanical problems will be glossed over as it is still unclear why a driver retired. Some more time may be needed to allow the dust to settle. But there are probably time constraints as no doubt everyone involved in the podcast has other commitments to wrap up, flights to catch and so on.

However, by my reckoning there really is no better way of getting a feel of what’s really happening in the paddock than this podcast. It doesn’t have the same backing that the Chequered Flag gets from the BBC, so The Inside Line is not so well known. But it deserves to be heard by as many Formula 1 fans.

This guide is all about how to watch a Grand Prix. You might be thinking, “how hard can that be?” You would be right — all you really have to do is switch the telly on and sit back. But sometimes that just isn’t enough.

The approach I outline in this post will not be for everyone. For many, it will be too stressful. For some it will be a case of information overload. Often it’s information overload for me! But somehow just watching the race on television just feels wrong. I need all the extra bits. In time for the European season, here is how to extract the most from a Grand Prix. It’s worth remembering that most of these options are also available during practice sessions and qualifying.

Radio

Most people watch the race on television, but have you thought about radio? This can be very useful for two reasons. First of all, you can switch on the radio whenever ITV goes to a commercial break — this way you will hear live if something major happens. Secondly, if you really can’t stand James Allen, it might be worth turning the volume down on the TV and giving the radio commentary a whirl.

You will be best off with a DAB Digital Radio. This way you will be capable of picking up BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra. The Grand Prix may be on either station. Radio 5 Live can be picked up with a coat hanger, but here the race is more likely to be interrupted by periodic updates from the football / golf / tennis / you name it. 5 Live Sports Extra is a digital-only station, but the race is more likely to be uninterrupted here.

It depends on my mood, but often I will opt to listen to the BBC Radio commentary rather than put up with ITV’s coverage. However, if you do this be prepared for a slight annoyance. Usually, the radio is a couple of seconds ahead of the TV coverage so you will hear the action before you see it.

Qualifying and practice sessions are also often covered on Radio 5 Live Sports Extra. Check the schedule here.

Live video feed

For the first time this year, ITV are providing live online coverage of practice sessions, qualifying and the race. (Programmes broadcast on ITV are also available to watch on the ‘catch up‘ service for 30 days.)

Unfortunately, Saturday practice wasn’t included in ITV’s agreement, but Friday practice sessions are shown in full. What you get is essentially a clean FOM feed. There is no commentary, which is possibly a good thing. But if you prefer commentary you can always listen to the radio at the same time.

Qualifying and the race are also covered live online, but don’t think it will be a way to avoid the adverts. During the race the online feed is essentially the ITV1 London feed, with adverts and all. However, here is a good tip. After the chequered flag is waved, the feed switches to the FOM feed.

If you want to immerse yourself in F1 for as long as possible, watch this. After the podium ceremony a short highlights package is shown. Then you see the press conference live and in full. This is certainly more than you get on the television. I usually record ITV’s post-race analysis to watch the FOM feed, then catch up on Blundell’s mangling of the English language after.

One major drawback is the poor quality of ITV’s online feed. Even during practice sessions the feed can stutter and stall to the point where you are several minutes behind the live action. ITV must improve this for future races.

Official live timing

Live timing screenshot For the past few seasons, the official Formula 1 website has carried a live timing facility. It has become a staple for the wired Formula 1 fan. The live timing screen gives you access to a lot of the same information that the teams and commentators use, and it is surprising what you can learn about the race from the live timing screen.

Full instructions are on the Formula 1 website, but the basics are simple. Times in white have just been set (they are the most recent information to come from that driver), times in green are personal bests and purple times are the fastest overall. This is the origin on the phrase “to go purple”, which people sometimes say when a driver has set the fastest time.

For me, live timing is a must. However, it suffers from a similar problem to radio, but even worse. Because of the broadcast delays (especially on digital television), TV and radio can be noticeably behind live timing — sometimes by as much as ten seconds. This is especially problematic during qualifying, as the tension as the driver comes up to the finish line is rather dissipated by the fact that you have already seen the result on live timing.

Live telemetry

Renault telemetry 2 Renault are very good about this sort of thing — they have a system that basically lets you watch the race live from the viewpoint of the Renault team. A circuit diagram shows you where the Renault drivers are right at that second. But most impressively, you can see live telemetry of both drivers. It is a refreshingly open approach — if only other teams were like this!

Renault telemetry 1 However, the Renault telemetry is not without its problems. First of all, as Sidepodcast noted just yesterday, the website is now rather bloated and buggy. One little niggle I have is the fact that the site was obviously originally written in French then translated into English rather hurriedly as snippets of French are littered all over the place. Also, the service fills up the entire screen and there is no way to change this. That is a bit annoying if you have several windows at once, as I do during a Grand Prix.

This is a great service, but ultimately there are better things to be keeping your eye on. If you are a Renault fan, though, it must be a joy. I really wish other teams would offer similar services.

Liveblog

Liveblog screenshot If you have been reading vee8 before, you may have noticed that each session has its own liveblog. These are set up by Keith from the excellent F1Fanatic blog using a nifty facility, CoveritLive. A number of prominent F1 bloggers are involved, and it’s the place to go for informed comment and chat throughout the race.

The liveblog can be particularly useful for gathering up information from people’s knowledge and experience. And because many people use the liveblog around the world, it is also the place to gather insight into what commentators around the world are saying.

This has often meant that we knew about certain events before the ITV commentary team did. For instance, during the Australian Grand Prix we knew pretty quickly that Rubens Barrichello had run a red light — several laps before the ITV crew knew about it. The screenshot attached here shows another instance where information from BBC Radio 5 Live was posted on the liveblog to enlighten the livebloggers.

There are liveblogs for every Formula 1 session. Keep an eye on this blog to participate in them.

Twitter

Twitter stream Twitter can also be a place to pick up on some extra insight. During some races there are a few people updating, but other races can be quite lonely. I think as Twitter becomes more popular throughout the year more and more people will be using it to discuss the race. Follow my Twitter updates for vee8 here.

Anything else?

Are there any other novel ways of following the Formula 1 action? Post your thoughts in the comments.

Today’s post in my series reviewing the 2007 Formula 1 season was going to be about F1’s bigwigs — Max Mosley and the FIA, Bernie Ecclestone and FOM. However, events in this area are continuing and show no sign of stopping yet, so I’ll leave it for later.

Instead, I’ll move on to what I was going to write about next week — the television and radio coverage. Because I live in the UK, this means ITV and BBC Radio 5 Live. But I’ll also have a look at the most important aspect of the television coverage, the FOM-controlled “world feed”.

ITV

It was a bit of a depressing year to watch ITV coverage. In previous years they hopelessly talked up the prospects of Jenson Button’s success but they realised they were flogging a dead horse so let other drivers get a word in edgeways.

Now that a Brit who can actually win regularly has come on the scene, the coverage has become completely myopic. “Britain’s Lewis Hamilton” (© Steve Rider 2007) was impossible to avoid and you would be forgiven for somtimes thinking that he was the only driver competing.

Even interviews with other drivers were littered with questions about Lewis Hamilton. I remember one particularly uncomfortable moment early on in the season during an interview with Robert Kubica. The question — if I recall it correctly — was something along the lines of, “What do you think of Lewis Hamilton? He hasn’t made any rookie mistakes yet.” Tough luck if you wanted to learn anything about Kubica.

I never thought I’d say this, but I think I would rather have Jim Rosenthal back in place of Steve Rider. The way he goes all gooey at the thought of precious Lewy-Lew-Lew is embarrassing to watch.

Next to him stands Mark “‘Ello guv” Blundell. He would make an excellent pet parrot. “Absolutely Steve” is all he ever seems to say. He would agree if Steve Rider said the world is run by lizards.

Ted Kravitz has his fans, but I don’t see it. He is supposed to be a pitlane reporter, but he seems more like the Correspondent for the Statement of the Obvious. “They’re putting some new tyres on… And, is it? Yes! They’re putting some fuel in as well!” Yes, I can see that Ted.

What’s really worrying is the fact that once or twice this year he has got confused between hard and soft tyres. This is despite the fact that James Allen goes over the tyre rules roughly every five minutes. It beggars belief.

As for James Allen himself, I still don’t like him as a commentator and it appears to be the majority opinion wherever you turn. He has had the job since 2001 now though, so I’m not holding my breath for a change.

He has improved a lot though. Compare two videos — one from 2006, one from 2007. The first is Jenson Button’s first win in Hungary. You can see a glimpse of the desperation of ITV’s bias:

Will the floodgates now open for Jenson Button as they did for Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill before him?

Well I think we all know the answer to that now. But the really scary bit comes after that. He sounds like he physically shits himself as Button crosses the line. Does a Button win make him turn into The Incredible Hulk?

I guess he must have been embarrassed when he watched it back, so he knew to moderate his excitement a bit for the next Button, er, I mean Hamilton win. But he got his timing all wrong and it came out as:

Lewis Hamiltoooon………

……

WIIIIIIINS!

The video isn’t the real coverage — it’s a loving recreation made by somebody on Grand Prix 4. You need to fast forward to around 3:35.

There are also the usual grumbles about adverts. I see them as a necessary evil, but it is just as well grands prix are broadcast on the radio as well because otherwise we would miss a lot of important events. I hate it when football fans complain about ITV’s adverts, because at least in football the actual action is never missed!

When Lewis Hamilton’s car ground to a halt in Brazil, ITV was showing adverts. A similar pivotal moment was missed under exactly the same circumstances last year, when Michael Schumacher’s engine blew in Japan.

Of course, ITV and the people who make the decision to go to a break cannot be expected to predict the future. But the presence of adverts will always count as a major black mark against ITV’s coverage of Formula 1.

Credit where it’s due though: Martin Brundle. What an excellent commentator he is. Some see him as biased in favour of certain drivers, but I don’t see it myself. He knows, for instance, when his client David Coulthard is in the wrong and says so (for instance, the incident in Australia springs to mind).

Brundle also knows how to praise Lewis Hamilton without completely crawling up his arse. And — most importantly — he never forgets that there are 21 other drivers racing as well.

In sum, though, I am seriously considering just turning the volume down on the television and listening to Radio 5 Live for commentary. I would miss Martin Brundle though. Mind you, at the rate things are going, Martin Brundle might have his accreditation snatched away by the increasingly totalitarian Max Mosley anyway!

BBC Radio 5 Live

I mentioned above that I am considering listening to Radio 5 Live’s commentary with ITV’s pictures next year. So what has BBC Radio got that ITV hasn’t?

Well, the BBC is free of adverts. However, Formula 1 isn’t the only sport covered by Radio 5 Live, so coverage usually isn’t interrupted. So it doesn’t trump ITV in that respect.

But the commentary is pretty good. David Croft is obviously very passionate about the sport and there is usually some sensible analysis from whoever his co-commentator is (usually Maurice Hamilton). It is not completely immune to Hamilton hype, but it is a whole lot better than ITV.

The BBC also often provides coverage of practice sessions as well on Sports Extra. So if you are at a loose end on a Friday it is often worth switching the radio on and getting the live timing on your computer.

In addition, there are excellent race previews and reviews available as podcasts. The features on these programmes are usually of a much higher standard than the drivel (cookery lessons with Kovalainen and the like) served up by ITV.

I notice that Radio 5 Live’s Formula 1 coverage gets a bit better every year. It has come on leaps and bounds over the past few years and it’s difficult to find fault with their coverage (at least in comparison with ITV).

FOM

This year saw a big improvement in FOM’s television coverage. It finally made the leap to producing the coverage in anamorphic 16:9 format and started filming (but not broadcasting) in HD.

There has also been the usual trickle of new graphics to display more information. One that particularly surprised me was a graphic that showed the temperature of the tyres on Lewis Hamilton’s car during the formation lap! It was only used once, and the needle was fluctuating all over the place which suggests it might not be quite up to scratch. Nevertheless, how does it work?! Amazing stuff from FOM yet again.

Another graphic that I liked plotted a car’s position on a circuit map while a competing driver was in the pits. A great idea, and pretty well executed (if a bit large). But as far as I know it was only used once in the entire season! More please!

I’d also like to hear a bit more team radio. It feels like this varies from race to race, which I don’t really understand. It also depends on the teams opening up their radio communications. Only Renault seems to have the right attitude in this regard, and McLaren and Ferrari are both obviously so paranoid that we only ever get fleeting snatches of conversation.

FOM also took control of the world feed for all but three of the races. This meant that we no longer had to suffer as much of the dire direction that used to be the norm in F1. It’s good to see FOM finally sorting it out, but why do Monaco, Brazil and Japan still have local directors?

The Japanese Grand Prix coverage was particularly atrocious. It normally is. It’s famous for focussing rather heavily on Japanese no-hopers. This year several important incidents were missed by the director — including Alonso’s crash and the collision between Webber and Vettel. Not even a decent replay was shown, even though the footage exists (it is included on this year’s review DVD)!

Aside from these little mishaps though, I’m finding it difficult to fault the FOM coverage this year. It seems to get better every year.