The idea seems strange at first. Are you sure they got the right race? Well, although the USGP may have marked a real low point for Formula 1, I think it was a high point of ITV’s coverage — for many reasons.
First of all, it was real evidence that ITV might be committed to F1 after all — they don’t always show it. In terms of viewing figures, the USGP is one of the highest of the year due to its prime-time slot here. Yet, despite the possibility of there being a complete non-race, ITV decided to stick with the race. Some channels didn’t, but ITV showed the whole farce live, with no attempt to pretend that we were going to be in for a great race.
And the thing is, once the race began, it wasn’t actually that boring. The commentators James Allen and Martin Brundle excelled themselves. Allen did make a slight blunder, I felt, when he tried to do his usual pre-race build up culminating in “Goooooooooo” or something similar. But the effect was to show the race up for its complete ridiculousness.
Hearing James Allen saying “Goooooooooo” as six cars gently sauntered their way down to the first corner, my brother and I couldn’t help but laugh. Why? Because we were embarassed by the fact that we were fans of a sport that every other soul on the world tells us is boring — and the powers that be gave them the perfect stick to beat us with.
Allen and Brundle’s commentary was excellent. They struck the perfect tone. They were angry yet thoughtful, and managed to maintain a fascinating conversation about the whole debacle for over ninety minutes. The regular injections of Brundle’s usual dry humour were a help as well. Meanwhile, instead of speculating about fuel levels and pitstops, Ted Kravitz went into the crowd to sample the response.
The North One production team held their hands up and said, “Yeah, look, you got us. This is a disgrace. We think so too.” At the end of the coverage Jim Rosenthal described the response of the crowd as (quite rightly), “This show stinks.”
And it worked. I was hooked, and the programme picked up good ratings for ITV. They even showed the semi-regular mid-week late-night repeat in full (and I watched a lot of it).
ITV’s coverage of Formula 1 sometimes infuriates us all. But on the day that Formula 1 got it all wrong, I think ITV and the North One production team got it all right.