2005: Media Review

F1 enjoyed a much better season in 2005 than in 2004 – but didn’t necessarily receive the press attention it deserved. Ironically, the spotlight shone brightest on the sport when it covered itself in shame at Indianapolis. And ITV’s coverage continued to decline in quality.

The United States Grand Prix farce was undoutbedly the meia ‘highlight’ for F1 in 2005 – a shame, because the sport otherwise fared better this year than last.

Only rarely does F1 make it to the high-visibility back page, especially during the football season, but the tabloids especially were ablaze with F1 in early June: ?????ǣF1 R.I.P.?????? (Daily Mirror), ?????ǣSix bad – F1′s dead in the States?????? (The Sun) and so on. The free commuter tabloid Metro headlined its front cover ?????ǣF1asco?????? – perhaps ‘FIAsco’ would have been more appropriate, but less subtle.

The British press seldom have eyes for anyone oher than Jenson Button, which is tedious enough, but in ’05 we had to endure a repeat of the Button/BAR/Williams story. This is not healthy ground for Button, who runs the risk increasingly been seen as a Tim Henman-esque underachiever, and worse, one who dithers and wastes time choosing where his allegiances lie.

It should be self-evident that the crowning of an F1 champion should be a major sporting news event – even more so when he’s the first new championship since 1998 and the youngest ever for the sport, breaking a 33 year-old record. But with the football season underway the sports pages, particularly the tablods, reacted with apathy at best.

In terms of broadcast coverage, ITV had a shocking season. Individual elements of their programme remains very good – Martin Brundle is a first-class commentator, Louise Goodman brings a lot to the pit reporter role, and Tony Jardine is a fine pundit (but makes irregular appearances.)

But there are a lot of serious problems, most of which are not being addressed. The presenters are filmed standing in the paddock, giving the production a fitting air of unprofessionalism. ITV run adverts during the live coverage to cover the massive sums they spent buying the rights in the first place – when Bernie Ecclestone does so much to preserve the exclusivity of the F1 product, why does he let its image be sullied so badly in this respect (answer: because it makes him more money).

Even worse, entire live qualifying sessions are not broadcast when ITV deems that they clash with their (largely terrible) other programming.

No-one could ever be a worthy replacement for Murray Walker, but after four years in the role it is plain that James Allen is not capable of leading the commentary. With so much Internet F1 debate centring around his weaknesses (which I feel guilty about adding to because I’m sure he’s a decent chap) it’s difficult to understand why he hasn’t been replaced.

Anchorman Jim Rosenthal, who came to the show with no F1 background and evokes little enthusiasm for it, is finally leaving, and it good to hear that Steve Rider is lined up as replacement. ITV have a lot of work to do over the winter – one hopes Ecclestone has the sense to drop them if they don’t start giving the sport the coverage it deserves.

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