ITV F1: goodbye or good riddance?

ITV will broadcast its final F1 race on Sunday.

It will be the 206th Grand Prix covered by the broadcaster. But because they interrupt races with adverts they have missed over 31 races? worth of live action from the races alone.

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?

Goodbye

An improvement

It?s easy to criticise ITV ?ǣ 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?? ?ǣ BBC?s much-loved F1 programme ?ǣ 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.

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 ?ǣ 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 ?ǣ 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 ?ǣ 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 clich?? ??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 ?ǣ 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 ?ǣ 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

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93 comments on ITV F1: goodbye or good riddance?

  1. graham228221 said on 29th October 2008, 13:55

    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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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…

  4. S Hughes said on 29th October 2008, 14:12

    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).

  5. Derek said on 29th October 2008, 14:36

    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!!

  6. Robert Mckay said on 29th October 2008, 14:42

    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.

  7. David Watkins said on 29th October 2008, 15:32

    Robert

    Nail. On. Head.

  8. Scott Joslin said on 29th October 2008, 16:19

    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”

    PS
    Steve Riders wobbly hand R.I.P!

  9. beneboy said on 29th October 2008, 16:29

    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 !

  10. Richard said on 29th October 2008, 17:08

    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

  11. Elvis Barnet said on 29th October 2008, 17:50

    Re. James Allen.

    Many people complain about his commentating but state that he is passionate and knowledgeable about the sport.

    Passionate – definitely: Knowledgeable – no.

    He may know a lot about the history of the sport and the politics within it, but as far as racing, strategy, overtaking etc go he’s awful. A fair proportion of each race can be spent correcting him – and how hard is it to recognise which driver is which? he is constantly mixing teammates up when it is clear to the viewer – there are two very easy ways of recognising which driver is which and he continually gets it wrong. He regularly misses action on the track that we have just seen – sometimes there is a quick flash to an overtaking manoeuvre while he is droning on about something inane – say, Piquet on Webber – and then some laps later he’ll say “oh, has Webber caught up on Alonso?” just because they have the same car, then he’ll continue off on that tangent until Brundle corrects him.

    If a football commentator was as bad as Allen at recognising the competitors he wouldn’t last a week in the job.

    And why oh why does he have to get Brundle to explain week in, week out, what it means when the “track is rubbering in”? for the casual viewers? please – there are some, as yet undiscovered tribes in the Amazon who now know what that means.

    I’ll never forget the way he ridiculed Ralph Schumacher for naming his son David, stating “hmmph, not a very German name is it?”

    Well, 1. He can call his son whatever he likes; 2. In Germany David is pronounced differently; and most importantly 3. It was just a little hypocritical, given that Allen named his own son Enzo.

    So good riddance to Allen and the adverts – oh, and also that bloke who presses the stopwatch when teams are refuelling during the pitstop – I’ve never seen him get it right yet.

  12. ajokay said on 29th October 2008, 18:15

    His other son is called Emerson…

  13. plums and pears said on 29th October 2008, 18:25

    i only read the first 2 sentences of this article but my mind was already made up after the first 3 races that ITV had covered!! ITS ******* **** YOU DOUGHNUTS PUTTIN ADVERTS ON DURING A MOTOR RACE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Good bye and good luck ITV…….if you EVER get F1 again PLEASE drop the adverts!!!!! now **** off!!!! please keep Our Lord Martin Brundle doing EXACTLY what he is doing now!!! We love him!!!! MB will be the ONLY man to succeed Max as FIA chief!!!!! he is the best!!! :)

  14. Andrew Smith said on 29th October 2008, 18:27

    What annoyed me the most and I seriously hope will not be repeated at the BBC is the huge bias towards British drivers (Hamilton in particular).

    ITV would cut the post race interview as soon as Hamilton was done talking, if he didn’t finish in the top three there was often no post race interview. I’m British but want to hear from all drivers. It seems to me that Steve Ryder is sucking up to Hamilton, almost every race he has an interview with him and no other driver! Everything revolved around Hamilton and who finished ahead of him or behind him. Finding that Hamilton came third and two Ferraris ahead of him is the wrong order.

    I don’t want this to be too much Hamilton bashing, I just want the coverage to be equal (or more balanced) between drivers. Some drivers you would never hear of or see and some there was interviews and chats and videos about them in every race.

    Please BBC ensure all drivers get equal coverage!

  15. beneboy said on 29th October 2008, 18:51

    Couldn’t agree more Andrew, there’s more than three drivers on the grid and I’d like to see more of the non-British drivers on our TV coverage too.

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