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?”

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  1. 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.

  2. His other son is called Emerson…

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. Be careful what you wish for…..

    Like most contributors I was extremely pleased we were going to lose the damned ad breaks…..but….
    In my view ITV have made a pretty good job of work out of their F1 presentation ( barring the ads ! ) and I’m quite certain they have broadened and deepened the scope of their coverage to standards far beyond anything the BBC used to offer. Yes they have featured a great deal about UK drivers, but as S. Hughes and others point out, you just try listening to the rabid outpourings of several other nations F1TV teams and you’ll discover what fanatical hysteria sounds like !
    By comparison all the ITV reportage has been measured, careful and reasonably accurate.

    My second point is the real worry though. We all know the BBC is strapped for cash ( probably because it spends it’s millions on the likes of Ross and Brand ) and I shall be very pleasantly surprised if they spend even half the money and effort on classy presentation that ITV have given us. The ads Do drive us all nuts and the comparison with the lack of ad intrusion on the sacred game of soccer is well made by many, but…the sheer quality of the coverage they have given us otherwise will be very hard to match.

    And no, I don’t work for ITV !

    Be very careful what you wish for……

  6. I agree w/ ade in that ads are really annoying and disruptive during live coverage. But then again, what would be a good solution ? I have never watched ITV, since I don’t live in the UK, but I can tell you that SPEED (US) also has a lot of them during the race. But they do carry all Qs (15-minute delay) and Friday practices (P2) live. And the commentators are decent, w/out overhyping one driver or the other.

  7. Having travelled the world and seen other countries’ coverage, and vaguely remembering the BBC coverage from 94-96, I have to say it’s a goodbye from me (and it’s goodbye from him).

    Germany gets advert breaks lasting SIX MINUTES (that’s four laps to you and me)! Hello?!? Contempt?!?

    The BBC coverage was mediocre. ITV pulled it light years ahead.

    It’s not perfect, but then what is? I think it will be a hard-ish act to follow, and I’m pretty sure the hard-to-please people on this site will have a similar amount of criticism for the BBC’s coverage next year. It would be nice to be proved wrong but my completely unfounded opinion tells me that next year will be roughly the same quality.

    Walker would always be hard to replace but in a way his best quality was that he was a lovable buffoon. Allen is servicable (oo-er) in my opinion but let see if anyone else can do better.

    Count yourselves lucky. You have the best coverage in the world.

  8. I don’t get the slamming on itv… ok adverts aren’t cool.
    Glad the bbc will cover it just for that!

    Allen is ok in my eyes, good knowledge and sure he is cheering for the brits, but i don’t mind since its britisch television :)

    I have seen many coverages from different languages, nothing comes close to ITV, nice build up and good commentary with knowledge!

    I won’t really miss Allen, but they do need Brundle for sure!

  9. Beneboy, ur right in what you’re saying you are british and you dont have to love british drivers, but ITV have done nothing wrong to what the BBC wud’ve done in that position. Im not saying there’s anything wrong with favouring the british driver or anything, im all for it.

    After all sports broadcasters tend to side with the british guys, well not if they’re Audley Harrison! lol, but you know what i mean.

    ITV have done a great job if you ask me. From the days of Jim Rosenthal, Simon Taylor and Tony Jardine (who came with the bbc along wiv murray walker) to the days of Steve Rider and Blundell they’ve done a good job with the race build up.

    Yes in the last 2yrs they have scrapped the post-race analysis or a good 10-15mins worth of it if Lewis isn’t in the top 3, but in the main they’ve done a good job there. As ppl said F1 when it was on Grandstand there was harldy no analysis and Murray and/or Steve Rider
    would say ‘thanks for that we’ll see u in 2 weeks time’.

    ITVs coverage though will tend to be critized for 2 reasons. Adverts and James Allen. The adverts are a tad annoying in that we have sometimes missed some key bits but in the main you cant have it all can you.

    James Allen i admit at times dosn’t do himself favours and as some ppl have said would probably be liked today had he kept his role as pitlane correspondent (which Ted Kravitz who helped produce the show, has now done on2 a gr8 job. if he goes to the bbc no1 wud complain) or as a race analyst (in the blundell role). Overall Allen is resented because of his cliches and the fact that whoever took over from Murray Walker wud’ve been critized, whether that’d been Ben Edwards, Allen or any1 else.

    In a way replacing Murray was always going to be an impossible job. Its abit like the problems Man Utd had with replacing Schmeichel in that its taken ages and only really has Edwin Van Der Sar come close to replacing him as the likes of Bosnich, Barthez and even Tim Howard all had problems. Even VDS is critized because he lacks Schmeik’s presence. James Allen is critized because he’s not on a par with Murray Walker and also because he favours one driver more than another.

    Another thing that some user picked up on was the Ferrari-dominance years that Allen unluckily was called to dominate on, those were years where tbh you didn’t need to watch the race because as soon as qualifying had happened u knew that when Schumacher was on the front row and Rubens behind him, it’d be a boring ferrari win. And aside from DC and JPM battling the 2 those years of 2002 and 2004 were sad years for the sport. Schumacher was a good driver, but was he really worth 7 championships. 4-5 perhaps, not 7.

    Anyway ITV’s coverage has been good, id give it 7-8/10, its been good, yes the adverts havn’t helped and perhaps the lewis-mania hasn’t helped. But at the same time Lewis was there getting the results and doing well and with that the other british driver’s results wasn’t that gr8 so Lewis wud make the headlines, more ppl not only in britian but across ITV’s feed wud be more intrested in Lewis.

    I look 4ward 2 the BBCs coverage, red-button, camera options, etc will be good. The BBC will do the show similar to ITV but without the adverts, they wont try and cover Lewis as much but they will if results tend to be the same.

    PS: Steve Rider, who has come in for some criticsm. I think the guy’s done a good job in replacing good ol Jim Rosenthal (who was a gr8 part of the ITV team b4 he left) but gets critized because he’s wooden as a presenter. I think he’s a perfectly good presenter, he presents, he knows his motorsport. I dont think really he wants to be interviewing Lewis for the thousandth time b4 the race (and thats something that ITV have done wrong, 1/2 interviews perhaps, but not 5/6) but if the producers are paying him to do it, would you argue with them. Rider ppl dont like mainly because he replaced Rosenthal some1 they identified with and by coming from the BBC and coming into ITVF1 with a lesser ‘studio’ feel to it, it just annoyed ppl.

    Anyway there’s not more to say, ITV have for me done a good job but there have been some small aspects of their production which havn’t been as-great as they should be. But you cant have everything can you.

    Hammer time – the songs on the Sony HD (Experiment) ads are Iron Maiden – Can I Play With Madness and the other one is Def Leppard – Rocket! Hope that helps.

    Again Keith another gr8 article that has brought alot of talking points, alot of which have been mentioned in my household this year between the F1 fans.

  10. i know most people dont like the presenters now, and thats because of their interest in Hamilton. Hamilton is an incredible driver and makes the sport more like true f1 than nascar with no overtaking.

  11. Robert Edwards
    29th October 2008, 20:40

    I live in Spain, speak spanish, and watch F1 on Telecinco. They are also to loose their F1 contract after Sunday’s race to another new spanish channel La Sexta. T5 have covered F1 for 5 years and in my view done the best job of any spanish channel during the entire history of f1 broadcasting here in Spain.

    However, having said all of that, there has been obviously massive bias towards Alonso and against Hamilton, despite Pedro de la Rosa (McLaren’s test driver) being a co-commentator for the channel. At times it’s been very amusing to listen to the Spanish view. This year they are more neutral and at last actually praising Hamilton!!

    But getting back to their coverage, they have shown all qualifying sessions on Saturday live plus all races, always with a 1 hour preview program before the with many enlightening features from week to week.

    They have managed to explain over the last 5 years the many technical issues to the viewers, who let’s face it, were attracted to the sport as a result of Alonso, and many of them I still consider as Alonso fans, not F1 fans!

    I am not confident that the new channel that has the coverage for next year will be up to the same standard. We will have to see….

  12. Leon, you might like this one:

    Comparing ITV’s current output to the BBC’s last decade is irrelevant. The BBC have made huge improvements to their sports coverage in the last few years.

    The use of interactive features in football, the Olympics & other sports they have shown in recent years has been brilliant. Where ITV & SKY go for populist sensationalism they tend to opt for a more rational style of reporting & commentating.

    To be fair though, if F1 introduced more cameras & technology to the feed they give to broadcasters then the show would be improved far more, regardless of the broadcaster.
    Watched a few laps of IndyCar recently all from a helmet camera, the view was through the visor so you looked at what the driver looked at, it was amazing watching how he looked for the breaking points & acceleration zones from his perspective.
    The use of multi camera feeds like we get for football would be good too.

  13. Robert Edwards
    29th October 2008, 20:42

    …. furthermore, the spanish channel DOES have the little window in the corner during the adverts.

  14. will not miss itv..
    does anyone know the bbc format?? broadcasting time before and after the race?? will they have saturday qual??
    i seem to remember bbc coverage was just the race.
    another point- i like most(all??) f1 fans was a fan of murray walker but i have to say his mansell and hill pro commentry was a bit much sometimes alot like james allen and his lewis commentry -mind you i was not a mansell/hill fan so my memory maybe incorrect.
    whats the odds on missing something huge on sunday just to cap off the itv years?

  15. The problem for any commentators on TV is that they are having to comment on what people can see with their own eyes. I suspect a lot of us find that both Allen and Brundle get it wrong sometimes – which begs the question why leave the sound on? See it and form your own conclusions!
    Mind you, in a world where people listen to a radio whilst watching a live match in front of them, a good number of spectators do not trust the evidence of their own eyes, only what someone else tells them!
    Having said that, I like Brundle (although wonder at what point we will be better served by someone with more recent F1 competitive experience), don’t have a problem with Allen (poor sod has to cater for a huge range of audience from first time casual viewers to dedicated armchair experts) and prefer him to Walker, who was a bit too excitable and frequently talked nonsense when judged against what was actually happening. I think Goodman (or her role) is a bit superfluous since when did any driver ever say anything worth listening to immediately after they retired (or justabout any other time when it comes to that!)? DC occasionally gets a bit excited, but perhaps he retires more often! I concur with everyone else who would like coverage without ad breaks or anything else.

  16. Good Riddance to the ads, can’t believe that ever happened and I never did get used to it. I like their extra stuff on the website though and the ability to watch Friday practice live. Hope the Beeb does the same. I think Russell Brand should be on the team ;-)

  17. Like everyone else I welcome the prospect of an advert free race but fear the prospect of low budget BBC coverage. All those adverts and ITV F1 competitions pay for the entourage of ITV that travels around the F1 calendar ensuring atmospheric coverage at each race.

    I read somewhere, possible here that the BBC will skinny down the numbers that travel to the grand prix. A sterile studio will not have quite the same appeal as outside the McLaren garage shouting over a V8.

    I strongly disagree about biased coverage towards Lewis. Yes there are more features and interviews with him than other drivers but lets not forget that both ITV and BBC are British broadcaster and Lewis holds the highest profile of any current F1 driver in the paddock. I live in Spain and if you want biased coverage tune into Tele 5 for Alonso, Alonso, Alonso.

    I read many F1 websites and I have to say the ITV F1 site is one of the best. Arguably they pinch much of their news from other sites, but it consolidates most current stories into one place. After each race I look forward to Ted Cravitts and James Allen’s diaries.

    Personally I think that if you removed the adds from ITV you would have had a near perfect package, one that the BBC will have trouble replicating “for sure“.


  18. I liked ITVs coverage, but am sick & tired of the bias commentary that has become ‘The Hamilton Show’. Crapping on about his GP2 drive @ Turkey & justifying anything he does wrong & criticising anyone who gets in from of Hamilton. I mean *** is with the ITV Hamilton book?

  19. OK, just my 2p :P
    I live in Poland and still choose to watch ITV’s coverage online most of the time. Why?
    Their commentary is quite good actually. I’m not a fan of Allen really, but when you compare him to a guy who explains to you that softer tyres have this “white stripe” with enthusiasm and vocabulary of a 5yo for 5 minutes every race… Well, in short he’s not the worst possibility :P
    Then there’s a great race build-up, mainly thanks to Martin Brundle. The pit reports during the race are also a nice thing to have, especially when you can get some comments from the teams about what has just happened (rather then listen to a layman getting it wrong again having watched nothing but the same footage you’ve just seen).
    Adverts are obviously a big disadvantage. btw, on Polish commercial TV they show adverts only before and after a race, and somehow it is financially viable for them…
    And there’s the whole “Hamilton show” thing. Of course it’s annoying, but it’s so much better than our local Kubica obsession that simply makes me cringe. It’s funny however to see his father’s embarrassment when they ask him all those dumb questions in the studio after a race ;D And I don’t think it’s a question what your nationality is, I just find it plain stupid whoever they concentrate on.
    Still, I think some of the best race comments I read are here, in the live reports. So thanks for that Keith :)

  20. If there is 3 things that annoy me in life it is hamilton, mclaren and adverts so over exposure of all 3 by ITV has not put it high in my good books. I get soo annoyed when one driver is closing in on another and then it goes to an advert, you get back to the action and it shows you a replay of the move!

    I also hate the way James Allen goes on and on and on about mclaren and hamilton, there are other teams and other drivers for god sake!
    But the thing that annoys me most of all is when they try to get other drivers penalties to try and benefit hamilton! See when hamilton hit Alonso and for the entire race they blamed it on Alonso without any evidence whatso ever!! Also when Massa made a move on Webber, almost straight away it was ‘did he go over the line there?’ ‘Im not sure that was entirely appropriate’.

    Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the after race analysis, it is always, interview with ron dennis, interview with hamilton, with button, with coulthard. And for the press conferances we see it when hamilton wins, watch his bit and then its ‘you can see the second and thrid online’

    So for me it is GOOD RIDDANCE!!

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