Even in this most interesting of races, at the most interesting of times, with all sorts of interesting rule changes and an interesting off-season, one of the most fascinating things about the weekend was the television coverage. After a gap of 12 years, F1 returned to BBC television.
Although ITV undoubtedly raised the bar, F1 fans were always frustrated by the need to interrupt the race to show adverts. So in this sense alone, the BBC’s coverage is superior. But apart from that given, how did the BBC do in their first race back? Very well in my view. They are not quite as slick as ITV were. But you would expect that in their first broadcast.
First things first. The title sequence. There was much rejoicing when it was confirmed that ‘The Chain’ would indeed be the theme tune. But on first viewing I thought the title sequence was a bit naff. However, it has grown on me a lot after repeat viewings. And as neiltc13 pointed out to me on Twitter, it’s not half as naff as ITV’s title sequence from the past few years.
It is no accident that the two people who seemed most at ease during the broadcast were Martin Brundle and Ted Kravitz. Both now have several years of broadcasting F1 on ITV under their belt, and it is very much business as usual. The only difference for them is the logo on their shirts.
I have seen a lot of complaints about the new main commentator, Jonathan Legard, which I think are completely unwarranted. The most ridiculous criticism comes from Planet Hamilton, which spat: “what do you expect from the BBC’s 2008 Football Correspondent.” Amusing of them to talk about someone being ill-informed, while spelling their name incorrectly throughout.
Jonathan Legard may have been the “BBC’s 2008 Football Correspondent” (actually, he was Radio 5 Live’s football correspondent from 2004 until getting the F1 gig). But before that he was Radio 5 Live’s motorsport correspondent and main Formula 1 commentator, a role he held for eight seasons. He has also written about F1 for newspapers. So those people assuming Legard does not know enough about F1 are saying more about their own ignorance.
The real problem with Legard’s commentary at the moment is that he is used to commentating on the radio, which requires quite a different style. Some rustiness was also to be expected since he hasn’t commentated on a Formula 1 race since 2004. But the fact is that he is one of Britain’s most experienced Formula 1 broadcasters. He was always going to be near the top of the list of candidates.
Legard was clearly nervous during qualifying, but this is perfectly understandable. This is a big gig, and the spotlight was on him. After the shaky qualifying performance though, Legard seemed much more at ease during the race.
It is true that there is a lack of chemistry between Legard and Martin Brundle, but this is something that will develop over time. The pairing will need a few races to get used to each other’s rhythm, then they will begin to gel much better.
At points Legard seemed strangely lost for words. Two such moments stood out for me. One was when it became clear that Heikki Kovalainen’s car was damaged, at which point Legard simply started repeating the driver’s name a number of times. The other was when Fisichella missed his pit box, when Legard just said, “Oh dear. Dear, dear.” That didn’t add much to our understanding of the situation.
But I felt that Legard read the race very well, especially when you consider he has not had to do it since 2004. He was very quick to spot that the soft tyres were simply not working. When Brundle said he thought that Kubica was managing the soft tyres well, Legard was instantly able to point out that Kubica’s lap times had actually become very slow, at which point the Pole peeled into the pits. Legard read this unfolding situation much better than Brundle did, which is no mean feat.
Lee McKenzie also seemed very good for her first live F1 television broadcast. She has plenty of experience in other categories of motorsport though. Jake Humphrey is a seriously good television presenter, and despite worries about his knowledge of the sport he actually seems pretty clued up. As an anchor, I find it difficult to see how he could be bettered.
David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan do not yet have the chemistry to cope with each other, though they both have plenty of opinions. Unfortunately, Eddie Jordan simply does not know when to stop gassing on. He was constantly interrupting his colleagues and, frankly, he hogged the airtime.
David Coulthard seemed almost intimidated by it, and seemed to give up even chiming in towards the end of the broadcast. Sometimes I thought Jordan made good points, but he does shoot from the hip a bit too much. Overall, he was an obnoxious presence, and I hope the BBC manage to rein him in.
DC needs to be encouraged to speak more. He is a good speaker, with interesting opinions and an ability to relay that to the viewers. But he’s not as natural as Martin Brundle and does seem slightly wooden for the time being. As the only person on the BBC television team with recent driving experience, he needs to be used more.
Whatever, it is good to have a couple of pundits with forthright opinions. This is a world away from ITV, where the post-race analysis was utterly bland in comparison. Steve Rider is a competent enough presenter, but he now seems staid in comparison to Jake Humphrey. Meanwhile, Mark Blundell’s punditry was seldom insightful, and he was often little more than Steve Rider’s yes-man. What a change, then, to see some energetic debate on the BBC!
As for the production of the programme, I think this is also promising. While ITV’s programme was nauseatingly biased in favour of Lewis Hamilton, the BBC seem to have struck a much better balance. In fairness, given McLaren’s woes, the BBC doesn’t have much space to hype up Hamilton, but the coverage of Button’s win didn’t seem overly patriotic either.
Some of the features were a lot more interesting than what ITV came up with. The piece about Mark Webber’s recovery certainly towers above “Cooking with Heikki”. I think fans will be much more comfortable with the BBC programme.
I was initially disappointed that the BBC decided to send Jake Humphrey, DC and EJ to the race, where they were left trying to scream above the loud cars and, at the worst moments, aeroplanes. This does not make for good viewing, and was one of the worst aspects of ITV’s coverage. I was surprised that the BBC did not try to avert this, particularly in light of ITV’s experiences. Rumour has it that the BBC has farmed off GP2 coverage in order to fund this, so I was not happy.
However, the programme absolutely came into its own during the ‘Interactive Forum’ on the red button. This gives enthusiasts the chance to indulge in an hour-long post-race discussion. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this element of the coverage. It is a very welcome innovation. It makes sending the pundits to the races worth it, as they were able to conduct interviews, and Martin Brundle was able to join in the conversation.
Unfortunately, the analysis appears to have been totally ghettoised to the red button. Lee McKenzie was hardly used at all during the race, and I felt we should have heard a lot more from her. Meanwhile, neither the race re-run nor the BBC Three highlights programme had anything in the way of post-race analysis whatsoever, and very very little in terms of interviews. This is one thing that ITV was much better at, and I hope the BBC will reconsider this approach for future races.
Another thing that was better about ITV’s coverage was the fact that their online stream switched away from the ITV1 feed to show the FOM World Feed. This option was nowhere to be seen on the BBC’s website, which meant that viewers didn’t see the full press conference or the FOM-produced highlights package.
The other interactive elements of the F1 coverage are what really brings the BBC into its own. All practice sessions are being shown on television (via the red button) for the first time, which is excellent.
During the race there is, for the first time in the UK (with the exception of F1 Digital+), the option to watch a dedicated on-board channel. This is the sort of coverage that a couple of countries in Europe get on pay per view. We are very lucky to get this stuff for free in the UK.
Unfortunately, the option seemed to be suffering from some technical problems. The caption telling you which driver we were on board with failed very early on, and never returned. The rolling leaderboard and news updates also did not display for a while. Meanwhile, the insert that shows the world feed was almost too small to be of any real use. Personally, I would prefer the on board channel to be full screen, but that is because I had two screens. It is true that I didn’t often watch the on board channel, but I may make more use of it in more processional races (so it’ll come in useful for Valencia).
The other interactive channel is taken up with rolling highlights. This seems to be a staple of BBC Sport coverage, but I personally don’t see the point of it. I won’t stop watching the race to watch highlights, knowing that I might miss something happening live. Presumably people use it though, since the BBC often offer it for many sports.
Another novel feature is the option to choose your audio. Those worried about the lack of chemistry between Jonathan Legard and Martin Brundle can opt to listen instead to Radio 5 Live’s David Croft and Anthony Davidson, who get on like a house on fire.
There is also a CBBC commentary, but I don’t see this lasting. There was one slightly amusing moment when the CBBC commentators pretended they had a microphone inside the Safety Car and decided to listen into the conversation:
(Via the people on the Digital Spy F1 coverage thread.)
It’s obviously designed to be used during a boring moment while the Safety Car is out, so it’s just a shame Fisichella’s pit lane mess-up happened while it was being played! A nice humorous touch though. I can’t help but think the CBBC commentary is a waste of money and bandwidth though.
All-in-all, the BBC’s coverage had a few teething problems, but this was absolutely to be expected. Most of the problems so far are quite minor and I envisage that they will be sorted soon enough. We really are very lucky to be getting such great coverage in the UK now.