BBC F1 coverage: Red Button stuff and the pitlane

The interactive forum

The BBC have a lot of great points to their coverage, but this is possibly the greatest innovation they have come up with. For an hour or so after the BBC One programme has finished, they continue analysing the race on the Red Button. This is something that simply would never have happened on ITV, so this is another great reason why the BBC is the right home for F1.

ITV’s post-race programme always felt like a rush job. The BBC’s probably would too if I stopped watching when BBC One stopped broadcasting it. But that extra hour feels just right. An extra hour to immerse myself in F1 news, interviews, analysis, footage, insight and knowledge. And there are a few viewer questions thrown in for good measure. Great stuff.

Red Button extras

Here is something else that you couldn’t have got on ITV — extra material on the red button. There are the rolling highlights, which I have personally never used and don’t really see the point of. It seems like a waste of a stream to me, but then again the BBC probably don’t have anything else to put on this stream (I understand that they are not allowed to broadcast the official timing screens).

But the on-board channel is a great addition to the coverage. I always have my laptop open with the on-board stream running. For one thing, it often catches incidents that are missed by the World Feed. It is notable that a lot of the BBC’s post-race analysis consists of footage from this channel — it is valuable stuff. During the German GP, they even interrupted the World Feed on BBC One to show a replay from the on-board channel! It is also interesting to watch the on-board channel during lulls in the race. I’m sure it will come in handy for Valencia.

The BBC also provide a handful of alternative audio options, though I never make use of them. I like Jonathan Legard and Martin Brundle is still interesting to listen to even if he grates more these days. But for those who haven’t taken to Legard, it is no surprise that the Radio 5 Live commentary option with David Croft and Anthony Davidson seems to have gone down a storm.

CBBC commentary seems less popular. I wonder if it is used very often. I can’t imagine I would have used it as a child. It’s like Newsround. No-one ever watches it because if you’re too young to be interested in the news, you simply don’t watch it. But if you’re old enough to be interested in the news, you watch the proper news, not the kiddy patronising version. CBBC commentary seems like a waste of an audio stream to me.

Pit lane reports

There are some very noticeable changes in the way the BBC deal with reports from the pitlane as opposed to ITV. On ITV, whenever there was a pitstop they would throw to Ted Kravitz who would then commentate on it. It wasn’t good. Usually he would just say, "yes, the fuel hose is in. And they have put new tyres on. And he’s away, good stop!" It felt pointless, although I guess it punctuated the commentary in a way. But I prefer it when Legard and Brundle commentate on pitstops, and for Ted Kravitz to be used when something genuinely interesting happens in the pitlane.

Meanwhile, Lee McKenzie is doing a fine job for her first season in F1 full time. She has plenty of experience in motorsport, so there are no real issues with her there. There have been one or two hairy interviews, particularly when she clearly got at Lewis Hamilton who responded tersely after being asked how it felt to be lapped by Button. But in a way that revealed a lot about Lewis Hamilton’s mindset.

In fact, Lee McKenzie seems quite good at that. Rubens Barrichello completely opened up in an unprecedented way after the German Grand Prix, all as a result of a simple but carefully-worded question: "It was going so well, what went wrong?" You could argue that it was never really going well for Barrichello, but the question obviously confirmed in Barrichello’s mind that he was on for a good result, hence his amazing rant.

On ITV, Louise Goodman often got some very interesting quotes out of drivers, but normally of the post-watershed variety. Not good when Webber is talking about kids fucking it up on breakfast television.

Louise Goodman was certainly good at finding drivers very quickly after they had retired. At the start of the season, it was noted by some that Lee McKenzie appeared to be much slower at tracking down the drivers. It transpires that the BBC are choosing to pre-record these interviews, probably to save money.

I also wonder if there is a different approach among F1 journalists in general this year. For the first time, drivers are mandated to conduct interviews after they have retired. Perhaps the BBC are going for the safe option, remaining in the designated area for a 100% chance of getting an interview, albeit one that is slightly late, rather than taking a gamble by going on a hunt to get a quicker interview at the risk of missing the driver completely.

It is noticeable that Lee McKenzie isn’t getting much airtime during the races though. This is probably because there are very few retirements in F1 these days. Given now that Ted Kravitz doesn’t have to do the whole "they’re putting fuel in his car!!!" schtick, I wonder if there is really a need for there to be two pitlane reporters. I wouldn’t know, but it seems as though they are doing less work than they did on ITV.

Something I would like to see from the pitlane reporters is more input in terms of analysing strategy. ITV were always good at this, because James Allen is a genius at working out strategies. Even if he wasn’t a great main commentator, he was always excellent as a pitlane reporter, and always had the edge when it came to reading the strategic elements of the race.

But reading strategy now appears to be the biggest weakness of the BBC’s coverage. I would like to see Ted Kravitz try and think about strategy more. Or, if Ted is not up to the task, bring James Allen on board as a strategy analyst.


  1. > It transpires that the BBC are
    > choosing to pre-record these
    > interviews, probably to
    > save money.

    Is it possible that they’re just buffering them to disk for a few seconds, to be sure they get a clean intro & outro, without missing any action on the track? I’d bet she’s getting them as soon as they’re available, and we’re seeing them just a few seconds short of live.

    Crofty audio-hosted both Friday sessions from Germany, both were excellent. Having a younger guy talking with the older guy (Ian Phillips) really seemed like a good combo.

  2. Cridland, I think the real reason is because it costs broadcasters money if they want to use up part of the radio spectrum. There is only a limited amount, and each broadcaster wants to use as much of it as possible. So it’s likely that the BBC is physically recording the interviews.