How will BBC TV cover F1 in 2009?

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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.


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.


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…

No adverts

Happily, the most important part of BBC?s coverage in 2009 is a dead cert??

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

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  1. F1freak, they do different jobs….
    Sush, live up to your name, will ya….

  2. I have no problem with Steve but I also think it would be good to have someone that will show their interest a bit more.

    Suzi Perry’s coverage of Moto GP is pretty good I think.

  3. “here’s 1000GBP – go and build an F1 car from a wreck…”

    That would be such a good episode, Jeremy will probably load his car up with grenade launchers and machine guns to “ease overtaking”!

    But I agree if Top Gear got involved it would just ruin the F1 coverag. They should replace James Allen and keep Martin Brundle.

  4. @ AndyWolf. Have you never felt an inexplicable urge to throw up over your Tv when listening to Steve Rider’s cheesy sycophantic meanderings??…….well I have but thankfully I’ve managed to hold it in. He’s like a presenter on an infomercial, plus, his eyes are too close together. Makes me mistrust him….LOL

    On a more serious note however, as Keith said earlier, the coverage of Lewis mania has been suffocating. I’m not sure how much Steve actually gets to decide what to say and about whom but if he’s given free reign then I think he needs to be held back

    However I agree with you in a sense that being British and watching a British broadcasting channel we should ‘big-up’ the stars. But there’s a difference between giving due attention and completely monopolising the limited air-time on one driver.

    On this site, we all love F1. For ALL the teams and ALL the drivers…

  5. Steve rider use to present F1 when it was on the BBC and i think he is a gentlemen and deserves a place on the BBC. As well as Martin Brundle he should go to the BBC, he is a traditionalist who likes the old way of racing and his technical feedback is to me impeccable. I read in the declining magazine F1 racing that Murray Walker might come back for 1 or 2 races. well for the commentator anybody but Mr Allen. Anyway i read that Adrian Chiles will be the new presenter of F1 on the BBC.

  6. Controversial view here – but there is a general sense in the motorsport community that the current F1 coverage is by anoraks for anoraks. Ok maybe not in the build up features, but the race & qualifying coverage itself is not for the uninitiated.

    I would love it if the BBC presented F1 as an entertainng sport rather than something that should be revered (as I believe ITV do). There is nothing wrong with bringing in some humour and making the whole thing less technical and serious.

    F1 reached its peak of popularity when it was something anyone could sit down on a sunday afternoon and understand. At the moment thanks to refuelling and the coverage it is a long way from that

  7. I think Ben’s right and it’s a criticism I would make of a lot of motor sport commentary. They spend too little time talking about what’s actually happening on the track, and far too much time droning on about fuel loads.

  8. Thanx Keith for all the links, especially the new ones that you give us to follow and have a fuller picture of the sport.

  9. Not in the World Series by Renault I should add :-) largely because 1. There is no refuelling and 2. I’m the commentator

  10. I can’t believe no one has said it yet – please, no ads, no ads, no ads!!! I really can’t handle it during a race. My precious new flatscreen is in danger every GP sunday from a flying remote!

    I do like the slick style of ITV tho, and would be pretty happy if it was just in HD with 0 ad breaks. Ironic how the Sony sponser ads are all about HD tho. And even tho James Allen is rubbish, Brundle makes up for it.

  11. dangerous bryan
    25th June 2008, 13:47

    My ten pence worth is that Brundle is out of date, replacing him with Coulthard would just bring a whining voice to the coverage and he’ll blame his poor commentating on a dodgey mic or the video feed cutting out!!

    The plinth that Jardele gets to stand on during the BTCC is a copy of the one sky use for their speedway coverage, looks too cheap and tacky for F1 but agree with the need to get down into the thick of things…what about a BBC truck to rival those of McLaren and Ferrari!

    That said I’ll be happy as long as Jim ‘I’ll present anything’ Rostential doesn’t come back.

  12. Chris Harrison
    25th June 2008, 13:47

    “They spend too little time talking about what’s actually happening on the track, and far too much time droning on about fuel loads.”

    To be honest I like the “droning” about fuel loads and everything similar. I’d miss it if that was taken out, and would probably enjoy it less.

    However that might just be my personal preference.

  13. I have caught the BBC Five Live coverage of F1 a couple of times and found that they are pretty good, considering you cannot see what they can. I need to try BBC radio with ITV vision for Silverstone.
    Martin Brundle should definitely stay, he is nicely down to earth for the fans, but doesn’t idolise or demean the drivers and pit crew either, unlike James Allen.
    I never saw Steve Rider on BBC, but at the moment I think he and Mark Blundell could be replaced by virtually any BBC presenter, but they should have their own Motorhome and have the interviews there – with Murray Walker back occasionally for the special ones and special features (with Martin doing some as well).
    I think that Ted and Louise used to be a good duo in the Pit Lane, but over the last couple of seasons all they have done is hound drivers and team principles for interviews they could easily arrange for after the race. I would like to see real petrol-heads in the Pit Lane, doing a similar job to the NASCAR guys and girls.
    Talking of NASCAR, they have three commentators – one for the action, one for the hows and whys (usually an ex-driver) and one for statistics.
    I like the idea of a combined website/blog/links page – the BBC are doing a lot of that now anyway, and having followup on TV programmes on the radio too. I hope they do a proper interactive service with their ‘Red Button’ and give a choice of cameras.
    Will BBC just be getting F1 or will it have GP2 as well?

  14. dangerous bryan
    25th June 2008, 13:53

    Sorry I meant Ted Kravitz rather than Tony Jardine presenting the BTCC from Donnington

  15. sChUmAcHeRtHeGrEaTeStEvEr
    25th June 2008, 14:05

    its simple really, get rid of allen, keep brundle, have same type of build up with the features etc just not so orientated around lewis hamilton. an maybe instaead of showing live action of practice (when everyone is in work) have a catch up show on the friday night just too summarise whats happend on firday. this could also double as a preview show for the qualifying and race aswell as fill in any breaking news between the grand prix.

    although i doubt any of this will happen so long as i havent got to hear james allen any more i will be happier with the coverage.

  16. dangerous bryan – really Coulthard after his comments about Massa live on ITV at the Australian GP?
    I guess that’ll bring on some more Ofcom complaints :)

    I also, can’t see him running down the grid at the start of the GP to get interviews. Given the money he’s made from F1 he may just want a break from it all.

    Anyway, I would have thought you’d opt more towards Johnny Herbert?

  17. I’m still really confused why everyone seems to hate James Allen so. I’m based in Toronto (from London) though, and we get the choice of watching the speedTV commentary, or the ITV commentary, and honestly, the difference is astounding. And it certainly accounts for why NOBODY is interested in F1 in the states. The commentary is awful. I think he does a jolly good job, and frankly he picks up on a lot of the nuances.

    And I;m afraid that I don;t really agree with Ben about needing to dumb it down. Nothing annoys me more than watching the GP and the commentary not picking up on what I consider to be the notable points of the race and give their insight on them. I’m afraid that F1 is a sport of intricacies and very fine margins, and the reason so many people are fascinated by it is because of these complexities.

    I have no problem with their being clearer descriptions, but I’m afraid I generally disagree. I’ve tried watching NASCAR, and the commentary is NO help. I’ve tried looking online, and that doesn;t help much either. Have you ever tried listening to an NFL game, or a baseball game – it’s virtually in a different language, and if you expected the commentary to be dumbed down for the lowest common denominator – there would be outrage. As there should be in F1 – if anything i think they need to be even more complex.

    Anyway, nobody seems to mention him, but I feel that Ted Kravitz does a very good job, it would be a shame to lose him, he often gives us insights that nobody else has, and in real time. Lousie goodman does a pretty good job too – you really get the feeling that the drivers like and respect her – she generally gets pretty honest copy pretty quickly.

    AS for the studio, it’s a must – they look ridiculous, they can;t concentrate, and it just looks cheap.

    Much more important to be honest would be ideally a pre-race show the night before, after qualifying, and in depth, a prooper build up. And much more importantly a a proper, in depth debrief, hopefully on the sunday night, and maybe reshown before the next grandprix. I feel that SO much is missed out on during a grand prix, that a proper rundown of all the interesting points of a GP would be invaluable and fascinating with the right pundits.

    phew, and finally – as long as they bring back the CHAIN …. WHO CARES!!!!!!!!!!!

  18. steve thompson
    25th June 2008, 14:54

    The talking over the noise is by far the BEST bit. Most journalists forget that the average pundit doesn’t get inside the paddock, seeing the rushing around and hearing the noise is a fantastic lead up…. are you REALLY suggesting we go back to some awful studio with a couple of chairs a pot plant and a window overlooking a lorry park… serious we need atmosphere and emotion.

  19. All emotive stuff – great debate to start Keith!

    Where do I stand?

    1) No to ‘dumbing down’ – it’s a complicated sport, that’s why I like it.

    2) I’m not James Allen’s biggest fan, so won’t weep over his loss. I agree with Keith that his last couple of books are excellent, and I always enjoy his columns on the ITV-F1 website – so maybe he should go back to being a print journalist?

    3) Brundle is an absolute must – after Murray’s retirement he has become THE voice of F1.

    4) No ads goes without saying thank goodness.

    5) I love Top Gear, but don’t want them anywhere near F1.

    6) You know, I grew up with it, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I could live without The Chain.

    7) I actually quite like the pitlane and paddock stuff.

    8) Much as he entertains me, Mark Blundell has no place as a professional broadcaster, former racing driver or no. His standard of English is appalling and his ‘analysis’ is non-existent. Half of the time he is simply battling with himself to make a sentence coherent.

  20. No seems to care about HD then….. I wonder if the beeb will make use of the ‘red-button’ (not the off switch!). Maybe have an alternative commentry (Five Live?) or some way of overlaying the lap times etc as found on the F1 live timings webpage.
    At least that way you can satisfy the diehard fans with their thirst for knowledge without bombarding the casual fan.

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