The Ben Evans column: ITV aren’t bad

Posted on | Author Ben Evans

Red Bull, Honda, 2008, Sepang, 470150

Another early start for the UK’s armchair fans unfortunately didn?t equate to another exciting race last Sunday. Ferrari dominated and McLaren floundered – with Lewis Hamilton struggling get close to Mark Webber?s Red Bull and Jarno Trulli?s Toyota, let alone actually make a move.

Yes he may have been driving for points (in the second race ?ǣ come on!) but as a serious title contender you would have expected him to be blasting through.

Far more entertaining for the viewing public in the UK was watching the ITV team working as if their lives were on the line. Even Mark Blundell?s comments seemed less blindingly obvious than usual.

Much has been made about F1’s move back to the BBC, the end of advert breaks, and potentially the end of James Allen.

But amid the celebrations of the move it would be churlish to forget that ITV have done a rather good job since they took over. Even as recently as 1994 the BBC was not screening all the races live (in 1994 Interlagos, TI Aida and Montreal were not shown live) and qualifying only became a regular fixture in 1996.

Furthermore in its time away from F1 the BBC has been a poor servant to motor sport, completely abandoning its coverage of national racing (which in the past was often excellent and served to promote up and coming drivers), and doing a very mixed job with international motorbike racing.

The problem is that for all its protestations there always seems to be something else more important on the BBCs agenda. For example the Moto GP season opener was dispatched to BBC3 to make room for Crufts. Likewise in 2004 the BBC cut away from the best Moto GP of the decade (at Mugello) to show an Eastenders repeat.

In fact sport in general has declined on the BBC. Ski Sunday, once the preserve of thrilling race action, informed commentary and spectacular accidents, is now a magazine show about celebrities learning to ski. Heaven forbid, but I can already see features about the BBC weather team driving around Silverstone as the build up to many a GP.

Of course there will have been multiple assurances to Bernie Ecclestone, and guarantees to viewers, but faced with the choice between Strictly Come Dancing or the Brazilian GP, I have the horrible feeling that C-list Celebs in sequins will win the day.

For all its quirks the ITV coverage is basically. Yes, James Allen can be irritating, but actually his double act with Martin Brundle works well. Furthermore ITV have had to cover some of the most boring seasons in the sport?s history and have done a good job in the face of processional races. (That said the highlight of the 2002 Spanish Grand Prix was the adverts.)

Already speculation is rife as to who will be the BBC?s presenting team. Despite the howls of derision I think Richard Hammond would do a good job, his enthusiasm and popularity would do more to introduce F1 to a new generation of fans than any amount of traction control bans. Already the BBC has a great commentary team with Maurice Hamilton and David Croft, and another potentially brilliant summariser waiting in the wings in Anthony Davidson.

In 2009 F1 will be entering a new, hopefully more competitive and exciting era, and I hope that the BBC?s coverage will match it, being a blend of accessibility for newcomers (after all most of us cut our armchair motorsport teeth listening to James Hunt and Murray Walker) and informed enough for the anoraks.

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Ben Evans

Contributing writer.