How will BBC TV cover F1 in 2009?

Top Gear Sunday Afternoon Club F1 Blog

Top Gear has launched a new Formula 1 blog but will the BBC?s hit motoring show play any role in the corporation?s coverage of F1 which begins in 2009?

Speculation about a Top Gear-F1 link up has mounted after The Times ran a front page story suggesting Richard Hammond would front the BBC?s coverage which it takes away from ITV next year.

But although the Top Gear F1 blog?s slogan reads “Because we can’t wait for the BBC to get the racing back” it doesn?t seem likely F1 coverage on the BBC next year will have much of a Top Gear theme. So what should it have?

High definition

High def F1 coverage is long, longer overdue. In America NASCAR has been broadcasting in HD since 2005. And yesterday A1 Grand Prix announced its 2008-09 season, which starts in September, will be broadcast in high definition.

At present the old way to see F1 in HD is to visit one of the cinema broadcasts of Formula 1 races, at a costly ??15 a throw.

The BBC already has a delivery system in place for high def broadcasts and the technology must be top of the list for F1 next year.

Lead commentator

When F1 Racing ran a feature last month on the ITV commentary team they said of James Allen: “some fans feel he lacks authenticity.” That?s quite the understatement. You just have to look at one of the most popular posts here, ??Ross Brawn slates ITV F1 coverage?? to truly gauge the depth of dislike for Allen among F1 fans. Satirical motoring website “Sniff Petrol” ran a campaign to get rid of the man they call “The Cock” and the nickname is widely used around internet forums.

In his defence, his last book on F1 was very good and I think some of the criticism he gets should instead be directed at ITV?s editorial style which probably dictates a lot of what he has to say.

The BBC are spoiled for choice when it comes to finding a new lead commentator. Ben Edwards is a favourite of mine, who did a marvellous job with Eurosport’s CART broadcasts. Others have suggested the excellent former F1 radio commentator Jonathan Legard.

Another tip is David Croft, who now fills Legard’s place on Radio Five as well as doing GP2 for ITV, although he’s yet to win me over.

Second commentator

Martin Brundle is easily the best thing about ITV?s coverage. He brings excellent technical and racing knowledge, smart analysis and credibility to the coverage.

Where his co-presenter James Allen often sounds like a fanboy, Brundle has the hallmarks of a true fan. If he?s not involved in BBC?s coverage next year it better be because he?s acquired the prefix ??FIA President?.

Some have suggested that David Coulthard will hang up his helmet and take Brundle?s place in the commentary box. I?d rather that didn?t happen because, even if Coulthard can?t get a seat in F1 next year it would be a shame if he stopped racing altogether. I don?t see a need to replace Brundle either.

Brundle is Coulthard?s manager of course, which may play some role in who gets what job.

Presenters

Getting the Top Gear team in would just be silly. I’m a big Top Gear fan myself and the programme often disrupts the production of F1 Fanatic. But we all know Richard Hammond doesn’t care for F1, Jeremy Clarkson would just make jokes, and James May isn’t interested.

I’m actually not too fussed about who hosts the pre- and post-race show as long as they take the good bits from ITV’s presentation (Brundle’s technical and historical features are always excellent) and drop the worst bits (cutting away before the press conference to show a 45 year-old film, as they did on Sunday).

Premiere video feed

The Premiere video feed is currently available only in limited markets including Germany. It makes use of more cameras than the standard feed.

For example in last year?s Japanese Grand Prix viewers of the standard feed didn?t get to see Fernando Alonso?s crash ?ǣ but Premiere viewers did. It should go without saying fans want the best viewing experience available.

Less nationalistic coverage

It would be unrealistic to imagine that F1 Fanatics are going to make up the bulk of BBC?s audience. Just as with ITV, there?s going to be a large proportion of casual fans watching it to see how the British drivers are doing.

The Lewis Hamilton mania of the past year and a half has been suffocating. And we thought it couldn?t get worse than the Jenson Button craze that came before that.

BBC only need to tone it down a little, spend a bit more time talking about the 19 drivers who aren?t Lewis Hamilton, to make it a lot better.

Studio

ITV used a proper studio for the first few years of their coverage. Then they did away with it, and now we have Steve Rider and Mark Blundell screaming to make themselves heard over engine noise in the pit lane.

This was probably an idea to add more of the track atmosphere into the race coverage. Well it failed. ITV?s presenters look like they?ve sneaked into the paddock by climbing over the fence and haven?t got anywhere to go. Even their British Touring Car Championship presenters get a plinth to stand in front of. Surely F1 deserves this modicum of professionalism?

Interactive coverage

BBC?s F1 commentary team on Radio Five Live already make extensive use of emails and text messages sent in by listeners.

If I were running BBC?s TV coverage next year I?d want to integrate a Live Blogging system similar to what we have here during races. With two commentators covering the race a third could host a live chat with fans and feed back input from the viewers.

According to the Financial Times:

Under its new contract with the BBC, for example, the broadcaster will package its TV and radio coverage with blogs, archive footage and pictures on a single dedicated website.

Sounds very promising!

Internet coverage

ITV finally brought F1 coverage online this year with free practice one and two, qualifying and the race now simulcast online. BBC will surely replicate this using their well-established iPlayer, and hopefully will cover free practice three as well.

And The Chain?

Surely it goes without saying…

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61 comments on How will BBC TV cover F1 in 2009?

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  1. MrPippy said on 25th June 2008, 7:31

    The only way to see F1 in HD is to watch the Japanese GP on Japanese TV, or to go to the track ;-).

    Here is a screenshot of the F1 in Cinema feed (which is sent over FTA satellite): http://img463.imageshack.us/img463/4735/snapshot20070910233424fg6.jpg
    The graphics are in 720p, but the video is the same old 525i, looking even worse when put behind the sharp graphics.

    Here is a screenshot from Fuji TV’s presentation of Suzuka in 2006, and a comparison shot from ITV: http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/forums/showpost.php?p=17699253&postcount=29827

    Here in the US, even the IRL went HD this year for all races. Bernie has to catch up. Maybe with all the recent reshuffling of revenue distribution, he will find the money to upgrade the FOM truck and get HD uplinks (since the Cinema feed shows that the graphics are HD ready, and you can’t buy SD-only cameras anymore)

  2. Hammond was on Chris Moyles show last week and he was pretty clear that he wasn’t interested. Top Gear is the BBC’s motoring brand really so I guess it makes sense for the moment to start following F1 on the TG blog and to try and cross sell it once they get the actual coverage, and presumably a new brand for it.

  3. James Allen amused me in the French GP coverage. We saw images of Button walking down the pit lane, Brundle commented that Button was out and walking down the pit lane, then cut to pictures of the track and James Allen starts to explain that Button must be pitting because the computer doesn’t show him in position.

  4. f1freak said on 25th June 2008, 8:41

    yep…jeremy cant live without jokes…james is MR slow and richard knows nothing about f1…..by the way I really like top gear watch every episode…

  5. I have to say I agree with almost everything you say here but I’m not sure about the studio. I really like the fact that they seem like they are in the action.

    It must also help with getting interviews if they don’t have to cart someone off somewhere.

  6. ade said on 25th June 2008, 8:57

    Don’t hold your breath about the “nationalistic” coverage – you only need to look at the navigation tabs at the top of the page: “Racing”, “Incidents”, “Lewis” to see what it’s going to be like…

  7. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 25th June 2008, 9:06

    Ade – Good point!

  8. grumpyoneuk said on 25th June 2008, 9:25

    I agree that attempting a link-up or cross-over with Top Gear and F1 would be an awful mistake and make viewers nostalgic for the ITV coverage!. As for studio versus on-site presenters, you only have to think how dire studio based football and athletic pundit teams are – so something like a mobile studio at each venue, where guests pundits can be used etc. might be a compromise; actually I really don’t mind the current ITV approach. I do think that there’s more scope for enhancing the pit lane reporting – I think ITV under-utilise both Ted Kravitz and Louise Goodman – I’d quite like to see both involved in some way in BBC coverage.

  9. Chalky said on 25th June 2008, 10:09

    …and Martin Brundle took a break from his “grid walkabout” in the last GP. Hopefully he’ll be back for the British GP and the BBC take him on for the same next year.

    Let’s hope the Ofcom complaints from the Canadian GP haven’t stopped one of my favourite features of the GP coverage.

  10. Sush said on 25th June 2008, 10:27

    next up on top gear, star in our reasonably priced Super Aguri.

    I’d rather Richard Hammond over Steve Ryder.

  11. Sush said on 25th June 2008, 10:32

    Andrew, he always makes those sort of mistakes, at spain when Heikki crashed this is what he said
    ” Lewis gets fasssssttttteeeeessst lap! *crash*, is that Lewis crashing?”

  12. Cooperman said on 25th June 2008, 10:40

    I’m with f1freak – Top Gear is good but F1 (to the likes of us at least) is too important and grown up for the Top Gear lads to be writing daft slogons on the sides of the cars about Hamster’s teeth!!

    I somehow doubt that Martin Brundle is now seen as a ‘BBC Man’ now that he makes comments about pikies and tarmac (as entertaining as that was).

  13. grumpyoneuk said on 25th June 2008, 10:53

    …of course the only Top Gear candidate for the F1 team is The Stigg! (Whoever he is?). The rest can have the usual sort of feature – “here’s 1000GBP – go and build an F1 car from a wreck…”

  14. Terry Fabulous said on 25th June 2008, 11:27

    Star in a reasonably priced Super Aguri…Sush that is brilliant.

    And Andrew I’m glad I’m not the only one who spotted that great piece of James Allen commentary!

  15. f1freak said on 25th June 2008, 11:44

    is steve rider a proper f1 commentator cuz he also appears on current euro 2008 football analysis…and he SUCKS…….is he kind ov all round commentator..

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