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. James Allen turns out to be a brilliant writer – thoughtful, analytical, and even a bit controversial. Seeing as he can’t translate that to commentary, maybe that’s where he should stay – in print?

    Brundle MUST stay. Seeing as DC is his handle, I think Martin will manage to get the BBC gig as DC would probably defer to him for that.

  2. I enjoy Top Gear too but I still don’t see any logical reason why they would be involved with the BBC’s F1 coverage. As Keith said, we know Hammond doesn’t care for F1. And I’m sure Hammond isn’t the only person at the BBC with ill-feeling towards it.

    Both F1 Top Gear seem out of place at the borderline-Communist BBC, in this age of global warming hysteria. But Top Gear lives on at the Beeb, because they’re afraid to kill off such a ratings winner. And now F1 is coming back to the Beeb, but I can’t figure that one out.

    The whole thing reeks of desperation and apathy. “ITV is dropping the F1 coverage, so we may as well pick it up”.

    I’ll miss ITV’s coverage despite all its faults, simply because I find the contradictory atmosphere of today’s BBC so irritating.

  3. oh george, I couldn;t agree with you more – Blundell is an idiotic buffoon. How he of all people managed to get the gig is a mystery to me. I honestly don;t think he’s ever said a single thing that I wasn;t already completely aware of. when you hear the insightful comments that jeson Button gave the week he was commentationg – it really makes you realise what kind of analysis we could be getting.

  4. Rob R, the Beeb were due to get F1 back soon anyway.

    its not desperation on the BBC’s part, its ITV’s desperation, since Honda pulled its “power of dreams” from ITV effectivelly killing 15mil pounds of revenue for them ,they needed to get F1 out the door quick.

    ITV aren’t making that much of a profit this year, its why you get pimms and Kronnenberg adverts during the F1 now.

  5. Well I’m perfectly happy to pay my licence fee and get Top Gear, F1, and the loads of other programmes I watch on the BBC without having to put up with adverts. I’ve been to other countries and seen the alternative and I have no desire to see the same in Britain.

    If the BBC is a public service broadcaster then it makes perfect sense for it to drop one sport that can be shown on commercial television without adverts interrupting the action (football) for one that can’t (F1).

  6. Christopher
    25th June 2008, 22:10

    Josh J has found the solution. Since commentary is supposedly so bad in the US/Canada and we don’t want Allen here in the UK, send him over to America to commentate! Everybody wins (sorry, everybody wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiins!).

    I remember primarily watching F1 on Eurosport before ITV got it. We’d often only switch to the BBC when Eurosport went to adverts. Ben Edwards and John Watson were pretty great (as far as I remember).

    So basically… Allen can get lost, while Edwards and Brundle head to the BBC.

  7. I agree with Dorian’s comment about Steve the spivs eyes – and he uses too much hair lacquer.
    As for his analysis with Mark Blunderer, its like listening to a couple of school girls discussing underwear – why don’t they get to the meat of things instead of pussy-footing around – probably scared of offending someone and losing their ‘pass’.
    When they do the pit chat, if they must stand in front of a revving engine, why don’t they use the old type of mic which covers the whole mouth (preferably with an oily rag as a muffler !)
    Considering the fees that these people are paid, I find them totally unprofessional. Martin B is the only one earning his money.
    Oh, and maybe James could do his commentary in print – on teletext !

  8. About 30 posts ago some guy was talking about how he was ‘British’ and liked the nationalism, well I entirely disagree with that point of view but I would settle for anything less than the current ‘ramming Lewis Hamilton down my throat’ stance that ITV are taking…

    Plus your comment regarding promoting British F1 Teams, how do you justify British exactly, because Renault, Force India, McLaren, Williams, Honda and Red Bull are based in Britain, and all of which receive the majority of their funding or engines from overseas…or by British do you mean not Ferrari?

  9. Argh…every time this comes up, someone slams the Speed commentators (this time, without even giving a reason). It’s true that Varsha, Hobbs, Matchett and Windsor are not as serious and formal as the ITV guys.

    Allen and Brundle are the English “broadcast of record”, as they go out to England, Canada, Australia. I can see why they would need to be formal, serious, and fairly dull.

    That said, even though Hobbs jokingly calls Fernando “Fred”, and Felipe “Phil” (which doesn’t bother me, but others don’t like it), Speed makes up for it with their technical commentary. Windsor and Matchett go far more into detail on brakes, tire compounds, aero changes between tracks, and pit strategies than ITV do. As an example, Matchett put up a picture during qualifying showing the differences between McLaren’s Canada- and France-spec rear wings. Even with a full hour of pre-race, ITV never spends more than a few sentences on technical stuff.

  10. Well I just hope that the online stuff is available to viewers outside the UK – even if I have to subscribe.
    ‘Cos whatever the Beeb do or don’t do, they sell their commentary to Channel 10 here in Oz, which is a commercial network. Therefore it is highly unlikely we will have un-interrupted coverage, even though the network will have un-interrupted feed.

    We’ll still be missing action through the #@*^ ad breaks, so it’s worth it to me to watch it via the web, even if I have to pay for it.

  11. I agree James Allen may be irritating at times, but over here in Asia, we have to endure with the Star Sports coverage, which the commentators are 10x worse than James Allen (really!)

    After every race, I’d download the ITV race coverage just to experience what a proper F1 race coverage is like. And it is Martin Brundle that brings the magic to the whole ITV show. I can’t imagine F1 coverage without him next year, he’s more or less Murray Walker’s heir IMO.

    Is anyone doing a campaign to urge BBC to bring in Brundle? I’d join in a hearbeat.

  12. Mr Pippy, I agree that Steve matchett is good, as is windsor, but varsha and Hobbs are unbearable. I don;t care that he calls alonso fred, frankly at the montreal race he sounded drunk. Varsha knows even less than Steve Rider, and Hobbs is just a total pillock who ALWAYS gets it wrong, talking all over people, just saying really unprofessional stupid things, and not adding a thing.

    As Isaid, Steve Windsor is great, but completely under-used during the actual commentary, and Matchett is good, but I really don;t think he actually says that much more than brundle and allen – I think it;s just that next to all the others his light shines that much brighter. If they could have him and windsor as the primary commentating cre then they might be onto something.

  13. I don’t hate James either. The Murray / Martin partnership was the ideal template. One motormouth talking about what he can see and being excited about it, and one person interjecting with insight.

    James wants to be Martin. Well that’s not going to work Martin is already Martin.

  14. No matter what the BBC do, it cannot be worse than ITV. I for one cannot wait, and I am praying that they take a whole new team, and dont talk about Hamilton from start to finish, more race facts would be good

  15. couldn’t be bothered reading all the posts on this one, far too late for me and need some sleep, but I thought that fans doing the commentary on a separate audio feed would be quite good too, maybe they could get a certain Keith Collantine to try his hand in front of the nation?

  16. I agree with Bowks :-)

    In all seriousness, I have had a look to see if BBC are recruiting but no joy.

  17. andy suridge
    5th July 2008, 13:44

    What upsets me is the storytelling after each break of what we have watched already!!!
    mr allen telling us “listen children before the break mr schumacher-mr I HATE ENGLAND hamilton- spun just before you left us”give us a break. THANK CHRIST beeb have it back.
    Stick to your celeb programmes/soap operas itv AND IRRITATING gmtv!!!!!!!!!!!!

  18. Dunno if it’s already been mentioned but with regards to nationalistic coverage have a look-see at the Moto GP coverage to see how much they worship James Toseland. I think it’s actually going to be WORSE than ITV.

  19. Bring back Dr Jonathan Palmer together with Martin Brundle they would make a great team. Ditch the wingeing whining Coulthard, he doesn’t have a quick enough brain.

    For me its enough not to have to put up with the ads and super **** James Allen.

  20. I am looking forward to the BBC coverage but anyone who thinks they won’t overhype Lewis Hamilton is really living in Cloud Cuckoo Land!

    I give you Tim Henman and Wimbledon as a prime example of this, closely followed by Andy Murray

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