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…

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

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