Jacques Villeneuve, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Williams, Melbourne, 1997

ITV F1: goodbye or good riddance?

2008 F1 seasonPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix will be the final F1 broadcast by ITV.

Since taking over from the BBC as the UK’s F1 broadcaster at the 1997 Australian Grand Prix, ITV will bow out having covered 206 grands prix. But because they interrupt races with adverts they have missed over 31 races’ worth of live action on average.

Adverts are just one reason why the channel has attracted so much comment and criticism from fans in its 12 years as British F1 broadcaster. Will it be goodbye or good riddance when the transmission ends?


An improvement

It’s easy to criticise ITV – because it’s easy to forget how limited the coverage of F1 on the BBC often was before it lost the contract at the end of 1996. It was only late in the life of ‘Grand Prix’ – BBC’s much-loved F1 programme – that live qualifying coverage was featured.

Nor did the BBC ever solve to problem of how to replace James Hunt. Hunt was the perfect foil to Murray Walker in the commentary box, but successor Jonathan Palmer was less successful.

Martin Brundle

When ITV took up the F1 rights in 1997 it solved the problem straight away, by pairing Walker with Martin Brundle. In many ways the boundless enthusiasm of Walker and the experience and wry humour of Brundle was superior to the old Walker-Hunt pairing.

ITV’s F1 coverage began brightly. It helped that 1997 was an exciting season with one of the most heart-stopping championship finales ever seen. But with established F1 pundits like Simon Taylor and Tony Jardine, I found a lot to like in ITV’s approach.

Brundle has gone from strength to strength. In 2005 he faced down Bernie Eccletone on the grid at Indianapolis about the chaos unfolding around them. In 2006 he pursued Max Mosley in the same fashion at Monza over Fernando Alonso’s ludicrous penalty.

That the FIA are now apparently leaning on the BBC not to hire him next year because they are intimidated by his criticism is a testament to the quality of job Brundle has done. The BBC must bring him on board for 2009.

Good riddance

Over time I found myself increasingly frustrated with the changes to ITV’s coverage. But the worst problem with it was there from the start: the adverts.


I know F1 fans outside Britain who’ve always had to put up with adverts during F1 races will find me complaining about ITV’s a bit petty – but I make no apology for it. Especially today, when digital television and the internet means they could easily offer an advert-free service for a subscription fee – something other racing series have been doing for years.

Nor did ITV ever bother trying to use picture-in-picture to show the race alongside adverts, which is common practice in other countries.

The arrival of adverts meant we all had to get used to missing some of the most exciting moments of the past decade-and-a-bit.

Damon Hill’s shock pass on Michael Schumacher at the Hungaroring in 1997? ITV missed it. The puncture that ended Schumacher’s title hopes at Suzuka in 1998? ITV missed it. The gearbox glitch that ruined Lewis Hamilton’s title bid at Interlagos last year? ITV missed it.

This is just a handful of examples. One of the most infamous occurred in 2005 – not long after I began this site. ITV made such a botch of the San Marino Grand Prix coverage the tense final laps as Fernando Alonso battled to keep Schumacher at bay were largely missed.

Based on 2007 figures*, ITV have missed so much live action during live Grands Prix it amounts to over 31 races worth of footage.

And for several years live qualifying sessions at certain rounds was missed entirely as ITV chose to show other programmes.

Commentary team

Having solved the ‘how to replace James Hunt’ problem, ITV didn’t do as good a job with the ‘how to replace Murray Walker’ problem.

Admittedly it was always going to be fiendishly tough to replace someone like Murray, to whom the cliche ‘national institution’ is often applied with good reason.

Writing on Grandprix.com earlier this week Mike Doodson said:

Although a couple of venomous websites have long had it in for James Allen as ITV’s lead race commentator, I find him both knowledgeable and authoritative. Yes, his forced cheeriness can be irritating at times, but he almost always susses out race strategies correctly and makes far fewer mistakes than Murray Walker used to do.

I don’t agree that it’s just ‘a couple of venomous websites’ (Sniff Petrol?) that don’t like James Allen. If there’s one thing I’ve done a lot of, it’s talk to other British F1 fans. And the near universal verdict on Allen is not a positive one.

It’s a shame because Allen is clearly as passionate about F1 as you or I. I like his writing (read his last book on Michael Schumacher), I thought he suited his earlier role of pit lane reporter very well, he’s joined us in the world of F1 blogging, and he’s not as partisan as you might think – in a recent column on ITV-F1 he re-affirmed his belief that Alonso is the best driver in F1 today. But I just don’t like his commentary style.

Allen also gets it in the neck for ITV’s partisanship but I think this is an editorial policy they are expected to adhere to. I thought the BBC trod the line between balanced reportage and national sympathy very well – I don’t think ITV is aware such a line exists. My assumption is, from day one, they’ve tried to drive up viewing figures for advertising purposes by over-selling the British angle.

Somewhere along the line Jardine, Taylor and the purpose-built studio disappeared. Now we have Steve Rider and Mark Blundell struggling to make themselves heard. This at least was an improvement over the dark days of Beverley Turner interviewing a celebrity hairdresser on how he prepares his Sunday roast. I’m not making this up.

An episode last year highlighted the sorry state of ITV’s F1 coverage – and the lack of comprehension in traditional media about the contempt most fans hold it in. After a frantic Canadian Grand Prix which saw Robert Kubica suffer a huge crash and Lewis Hamilton score his first win, ITV rushed through the post-event coverage so they could hurry on to other programming. After masses of criticism from fans ITV published a pitiful attempt at an apology.

Despite the hammering they took from the public, ITV were inexplicably handed a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) award – and quietly took the apology down for their website.

*2007 average race length was 1hr 34min, and ITV showed 4hr 6min of adverts in total. Projecting those averages across its 206 races gives a total of 49 hrs, 40 minutes. See here for more: How much F1 did ITV miss showing adverts in 2007?

The end

The weighting of this article will give you a clear impression that I’m more in the ‘good riddance’ camp than ‘goodbye’. But I think we should remember ITV have brought some improvements to F1 coverage. Broadcasting the Friday practice sessions online this year was a big step forward.

ITV has at least done enough with their coverage that it won’t just be enough for the BBC to take over next year with ad-free coverage and expect that alone to be welcomed as an improvement. British fans will expect online coverage, HD footage, and most importantly, Martin Brundle.

What’s your verdict on ITV’s 12 years as Britain’s F1 broadcaster? Are you a reader from abroad who has to put up with worse?

More on BBC’s F1 coverage in 2009

93 comments on “ITV F1: goodbye or good riddance?”

Jump to comment page: 1 2 3 4 5
  1. S Hughes – That may be the case now, but many people were complaining about Allen long before Hamilton arrived in F1.

  2. I’m not sure what I actually dislike about James Allen. He seems like a decent sort. I think it may be that he is the person chosen to do all the “if you have never ever seen an F1 race before” stuff which gets old really quick. He does say some daft things sometimes but it is a hard job.

    As far as the partisanship thing goes, I don’t mind that. Provided it is constructive. Tell us the technical aspects of why lewis is good, examine something, but a musical montage is never good and there have been too many.

    As for the adverts. I wonder if they have every sold anything? I switch chanels, gets drinks, check blogs, etc. I certainly don’t watch the adverts.

  3. @HammerTime – Def Leppard

    I have to agree mostly with SHughes, though I’ve found James Allen increasingly more irritating this year… and in some respects he has turned me off Hamilton (and before anyone starts, I think it is amazing what Lewis has brought to the sport and he will make a worthy champion)… Louise I will miss, particularly her chats with DC (maybe in that respect her retirement in line with his is not so bad). Adverts don’t bother me so much (though SanMarino’05 was a complete c_ck up!) as they offer time for nature breaks.

    In particular I’ll miss that lovely girl waving the chequered flag in the intro… but not the scary asian bloke!

  4. Keith’s right about the Allen critics. They’ve always been there. And they have a point. My favourite Allenism is when he was talking about the importance of tactics in F1 and started off at a tangent from which he could never really recover – “F1 is like chess – a game. A game played by two people. In a garden.” I think Martin Brundle brought it to a halt by pointing out something that was actually happening on track.

    My second favourite Allenism is when he tried to say that someone was driving gingerly, but started the sentence in such a way that he had to use an adjective rather than an adverb. “That was a very, uh, ginger lap.” he muttered, realised it didn’t sound right and tried again, only to repeat himself. Again, Martin Brundle rescued him.

    But the Hamilton bias is explained by viewing figures. They went up last year, and it wasn’t just Allen who talked more about Hamilton than other drivers. There was a letter in F1 Racing magazine last year complaining about all the covers featuring Hamilton, to which the editor replied that the reason was economic – the magazine sold more copies with Lewis on the front than any other driver.

  5. I agree that in the beginning of ITV coverage, F1 managed a mini-renaissance. The magazine format of the show highlighted the BBC’s lack of enthusiam for the sport by showing as little as they possibly could in a slot on Sunday Grandstand. For quite a while, I did not even mind the adverts too much. Except for some of the cited incidents that were missed, the inclusion of adverts on rather predictable races did not change my enjoyment. As time has marched on, I feel things have deteriorated. How come 45 minutes of football can be watched without an advertisement break but F1 is forced to have one every ten minutes or so? Contraversely I will also add that prior to the appearence of a certain Lewis Hamilton, the programming remained fairly objective. Now, if Lewis hasn’t finished in the top three, ITV believes that no-one is interested in what they have to say and will cut away from the official drivers press conference for an interview with him. I’m sorry but that never used to happen to any of the previous or current British drivers. It’s not as if Coulthard or Button get asked about their races in preference to the drivers press conference so why do they think they can do this with Lewis? I like Lewis as a racer and I’m glad he does well and I’m a patriot but thoroughly resent the blatent bias that has crept in.

    I hope the BBC will retain the good aspects ITV coverage has introduced and fingers crossed, Martin Brundle despite the FIA allegedly attempting to stop this. The lack of adverts will now be seen as a big plus. I also hope that James Allen will be lost in the transfer. I don’t have anything personal against either him or his knowledge or passion for the sport but this doesn’t not sit well in a presenting or commentary capacity. Perhaps he should stick to writing good books whereby he has an opportunity to think before he speaks instead of the verbal diarrhea we’ve had to contend with as audiences of F1.

  6. but when it comes to Hamilton, there is an uproar if commentators seems to favour him and want him to win. I put it down to racism

    S Hughes – racism? please. I’m a huge Hamilton fan but sometimes I almost find myself wanting him not to win if it will shut up the biased morons at ITV. I want fair, balanced coverage. It is nothing to do with race whatsoever.

  7. Okay Keith, I didn’t know that. I was just going by the complaints over the last 2 years.

  8. The Chain, The Chain, The Chain. If they don’t bring that back, I’ll cry. Still brings a shiver to my spine when I hear it to this day. Oh… and no adverts will be a bonus too.

    I don’t know if it’s even possible with FOM, but could the BBC offer a ‘red button’ service whereby you could pick your own cameras, e.g. follow your favourite driver for a few laps? Also, switching from TV commentary to 5 Live has saved my sanity on many occasion whilst watching the football.

  9. I was indifferent to Allen when he first took over from the Fiery-Trowsered Walker, but those first few years when Ferrari were dominating, his blind enthuiasm and excitement for one car winning everything, during a time when a lot of us lot were just getting terribly bored with it, really irked me. I’m a proud owner of a ‘Stop the Cock’ t-shirt.

    I really hope the BBC take Brundle, I’m sure they will, and probably already have, I doubt the FIA’s moanings will have ‘owt to do with it in the end.

    I have to agree though, the BBC’s coverage was not really top notch in ’96, and felt that ITV’s first year really showed what could be done with F1 broadcasting. Apart from the adverts of course, but then, none of us will miss those. neither will I miss the sponsor’s adverts before and after the title sequences going into and out of the ad breaks… this year with Sony’s chopped-in-half Mustang, Honda’s lawnmower racing a couple of years back… and those awful clucking chickens, they were the worst.

    Bring it on BBC… and bring The Chain with you, or else!

  10. I too feel that there’s not much wrong with James Allen’s writing. My main gripe about his commentary is the fact that he often doesn’t ‘commentate’. I’m shouting at the TV as one car dives inside the other & all we get from JA is ‘and there’s Webber putting a move on Trulli’ spoken with about as much excitement as if he was buying socks at M&S. I mean, the Test Match Special commentators do a better job of raising my pulse & they’re commentating on cricket – on the radio…

  11. as someone who’s only watched F1 for just over a year or so, i missed the bbc age so can’t really compare the two.

    but, and this might just be me, does anyone else find murray walker’s commentary even more annoying than james allen’s?

    their both obviously passionate about the sport, but walker just got so excited, so easily! watching older grands prix on youtube, murray’s nasal whine and loose grasp of reality really starts to grate on me for a while.

    the only thing that really annoys me about james allen is the constant repetitiveness of certain phrases (“…number crunchers who would normally work in investment banks…”) and his bizarrely obvious disdain of felipe massa (watch whenever massa isn’t in front, allen rips it out of him everytime!)

    but walker’s overexcitedness, plus his seemingly undying love for michael schumacher, just doesn’t work for me. although walker being corrected numerous times by martin brundle after schumacher crashed at the 99 British Grand Prix was quite entertaining.

  12. I agree with Keith’s article. When BBC used to cover F1 you often just got the race, no qualifying and no race build up. My main problems with ITV are the adverts and James Allen, I was not a fan of Allen long before Hamilton was in F1, but if I had to list specific points that I didn’t like about him I may struggle, it is more just his general style.

    ITV’s coverage of Hamilton hasn’t really bothered me (probably because I am a fan) but I do admit they do overdo it at times. I remember when Button entered the sport, a lot of people didn’t seem to like him and blamed the extra coverage ITV gave him and said it wasn’t justified because he wasn’t successful, which is different to Hamilton because he has been successful from the first race.

    I predict the BBC coverage will be similar to what they do with MotoGP at the moment, but with qualifying shown on one of the main channels. They will defiantly use the Red button for some part of their coverage, be it different camera angles, timing screens or just to show some of the regular coverage when the schedules are full during other sporting events such as the Olympics, Football World Cup, Six Nations Rugby, Wimbledon etc. So a set top box is on my shopping list before the new season.

    I would be happy if BBC coverage was about the same as ITV but without the ad breaks, they have to make sure they get Brundle and use the classic theme tune with no remixes, (I never knew it was called The Chain before people mentioned it when BBC got the rights back).

    I agree with post 16 Its Hammer Time, in that I quite like the 2 songs Sony has used on its adverts this year. Although I don’t know the titles I wouldn’t be surprised if the first one was by AC/DC or Iron Maiden.

  13. Man, as we used to say here in Brazil, “vocês estão reclamando de barriga cheia,” something like “you´re complaining too much with too much food on the table…”

    Here, in Brazil, we have the qualifying at Saturday and the race at Sunday. Anything more. NO free practice, NO pre shows before the race, NO post race interviews and NO show about Formula 1 on pre season or post season. The lead commenter is a shame, a guy who haven´t even a half technical background that James Allen have. He comments volleyball, football, basketball, swimming, athletics, Olympic Games, boxe, tennis…

    This guy is the lead commenter from the mainly TV Channel at Brazil. In fact, his mission is to bring more “emotion” to transmissions, even when what we need is good and basic information…

    About the ads, I think it could be annoying. Here, the guys use just a logo on the top left of the screen and a narration with the sponsor slogan. But, if someone ask me, I would easily switch the coverages…

    About Allen, well, I like him. The first time I watch the iTV coverage was in the middle of the last year when I started to download the races, and I loved everything, including James Allen, maybe because I put him in context with my own TV coverage, here in Brazil…

    I think that you must to give a credit to iTV about the free feed in internet, something that I am feeling hopeless about it in Brazil.

    But I think S Hughes is right, you will miss the iTV very soon because you can satisfy 100% percent of the audience and what I noticed is that the complains come from the F1 hard core fans, not from the mass. And if the mass start to complain…

  14. Jeff, do you also object to the mawkish raving over the British Olympic team or the Henmania or the rabid OTT hoo-ha over the English football team? I don’t think they are unduly biased. Why shouldn’t they want the British driver to win? James Allen is always going on about how he thinks Alonso is the best driver anyway (he’s wrong BTW).

  15. The BBC have already announced their line up for F1 in 2009, and it includes Martin Brundle. David Couthard was mentioned as an ‘in studio’ expert commentator.

    I don’t mind the bias toward Hamilton as I’m a massive fan and it’s well deserved. There used to be as much bias towards Button, and what for??

    I don’t understand all the negative stuff against our two top sportsmen i.e. Lewis Hamilton and Andy Murray right now. We should be made up we have a couple of winners for a change!!

  16. Allen’s problem is he rarely describes the actual action. Murray could make a dull race interesting because even if there was only one overtaking move for 14th place he would actually DESCRIBE what was happening, and in a way that would make you think it was for the lead…

    What Allen does is spend time warbling on about something related to F1, and then tacks on at the end “driver X has passed Y”. He’s meant to commentate on what’s happening on the track, but spends more time talking about what’s going on round the periphery of the sport.

    I think he’s undeniably passionate and knowledgeable about the sport, but he’s a dreadful commentator. He was excellent in the pits, and he would have done well in the Blundell-type pundit role, but he’s not a natural commentator. He was cheap, which helped, I think.

    In terms of ITV on the whole they did move the bar on from the BBC. It took a while, but we eventually did get all the quali sessions live – for a bit it required digital channels (ITV2/3/4) but eventually all were live on ITV1. We got Friday practice on the web this year, which was nice, although why there’s no FP3 is a mystery, and the web stream is often a bit flaky. We get a lot of time pre-race, and we’ve got a lot of time pre-quali this year, although arguably they fill it much more poorly than they did 10 years ago – Rider and Blundell waflle for a hour without saying anything of substance. Post-race has always been poor – spending an hour talking about what might happen and 15 minutes talking about what DID happen has never made any sense, and why they could not utilise ITV4 for post race discussion is again a mystery.

    I’ll be sad to see them have their final race, as I’ve grown accustomed to them, like a comfy slipper. But what’s being planned for the BBC next year sounds very impressive and is going to lift the bar yet higher.

  17. David Watkins
    29th October 2008, 15:32


    Nail. On. Head.

  18. Do you know what, I don’t really care! If I was offered to watch F1 without advert breaks then I would of course prefer it, but I think ITV have done some decent things. I cannot remember a BBC highlights show analysing the key points of the race after it had been completed, it was straight to a Murray talk over of the points and then, see you in 2 weeks time. ITV do this, even if they have cut a live race early due to schedules. BBC back in the days of Grandstand broadcast F1 delayed so they could play parts of F1 in between people hiting small red balls into little holes. So I think ITV have had a positive impact on the shape of a F1 programme.

    The point is that, it is the on track action that is what makes F1 coverage exciting or not! I have never though – That race would have been extremely exciting if James Allen had not commented on it, or visa versa. Murray is not coming back, get over it, and accept that no one else is Murray.

    ITV is very bias to British drivers and that can annoy some people, but at the same time the BBC covered F1 and whenever a British driver won the title Murray Walker gushed with joy and was never objective in his reporting style – but because it was Murray we let him off.

    I think ITV have done a decent job and I would say thanks for the memories and actually making more of a commitment to it that BBC in the early 90’s.

    My feeling at this stage without seeing BBC’s plans for F1 coverage is “Great no adverts” but “Better the devil you know”

    Steve Riders wobbly hand R.I.P!

  19. Good Riddance !

    ITV may have improved a little on some areas of the coverage compared to the BBC and I will be forever gratefull that they hired Martin Brundle.

    Unfortunately their constant race to the lowest common denominator makes me want to scream. Fair enough, there are some casual fans that don’t understand the intricacies of the sport but do they have to talk to us as if we’re 6 years old, forever repeating themselves about white lines on tyres or whatever favourite rule they’ve got this month ?

    With the exception of Brundle & at times Kravitz (and formerly Jardine, and Hill when he fills in for MB) the ITV team are a waste of space, I know several people who watch the race but listen to radio commentary just to get away from Allen’s constant drone.

    I’ve been in despair since the day he left the pit-lane & moved into the commentary box, some old F1 presenters were a bit dull or annoying but no-one ruins a race like James Allen can.

    Hopefuly we’ll also get a bit more balance on the BBC, the constant fawning over British drivers is just too much, there are other, and in many cases better, drivers out there but the most we see of them is a 30 second promo before going back to see what Lewis had for breakfast.
    I’m British but that doesn’t mean I automatically love all British drivers.

    And I’ve missed more action than I care to remember thanks to their ad-breaks too.

    In all I’d give ITV 4/10 – could do a lot better !

  20. Good Riddance, but i hope the Beeb employ brundle, he is one of the few ex driver commentators who hasnt been out of the sport for too long and has a huge passion for the sport, just need someone to do most of the talking and bbc would be onto a winner. Clarkson anyone haha

    I’m not sure about hammond doing steve rider’s bit, i find his voice rather annoying when he does the power laps on TG

Jump to comment page: 1 2 3 4 5

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments are moderated. See the Comment Policy and FAQ for more.