What do US F1 fans think of Speed?

F1 Fanatic’s American guest writer Gerard Hetman gives his verdict on Speed’s coverage of Formula 1.

For an American F1 fan like me the amount of commentary regarding the BBC?s new coverage has been fascinating to follow. It seems to have been well received by many people, but how good a job are Speed doing of covering F1 in the US?

The quality of the broadcast provided by Speed, and it?s parent company Fox Network, inspired a range of responses in an earlier article on this site.

The recognisable team of Bob Varsha, David Hobbs, and Steve Matchett, plus with Peter Windsor reporting from the pit lane, seems to be well-regarded by some fans, while other viewers express disappointment at their work and seek a higher standard from Speed. While the discussion may not approach the fever pitch of the James Allen debates, the range of opinions on the Speed group is no less colourful.

Love it or hate it, Speed could be set to be a key point of discussion in what is shaping up as a critical juncture for F1 in America. Let?s take a look at the basics of the station?s operation, and what challenges it will need to resolve in the months ahead.

The nuts and bolts

Formula 1 has been broadcast in America for many years, with the coverage bouncing around between several different broadcast companies – including ESPN and CBS – before finally settling on Speed and FOX several years ago. The combination of networks broadcasts every F1 race of the season, with Speed carrying most races live, while a handful – including the U.S. and Canadian rounds in recent years – are broadcast nationally by FOX. The North American races were carried live, with a few European rounds broadcast on tape delay after being edited and packaged to fit into a two-hour timeslot.

Each member of Speed?s broadcast team brings many years of experience in motorsport and Formula 1 to the table, with each taking a different role in the coverage. Varsha serves as lead commentator, ex-F1 driver Hobbs offers insight on sporting decisions and strategy, while Matchett provides technical analysis and feedback. Windsor, in his role as pit lane reporter, is well known for his pre-race walks on the grid. The station carries live broadcasts of Friday afternoon practice, qualifying, and the race, with a pre-race show and full broadcasts of GP2 races also presented to the fans.

Several of the broadcasters also hold other commentary positions with the network, the best know of which may be Varsha?s twice-annual commentary during the Barrett-Jackson collector car auctions. Windsor also has an extensive journalist career of his own, with an extensive amount of work for F1 Racing magazine, in addition to his start up work with the USGPE project.

Problems

While the Speed crew have plenty of F1 experience and their broadcasts are well-received by many, several issues are set to bring the station?s status as F1 broadcast rights holder in the United States into the spotlight. How the station and parent company Fox handle them could determine how Formula 1 is received in America for many years to come.

The first is the issue of renewing the network?s contract with Formula 1 Management for the rights to broadcast the sport in the United States. According to various unofficial reports, the network?s three-year deal for broadcast rights is set to expire following the 2009 season, and as of this writing, no mention of a renewal has been made public. While a contract between the network and FOM may already be in place, no public word of such a deal seems to have come up.

It may seem natural for Bernie Ecclestone to agree to a quick extension, but the issue of F1 broadcasting in America has been a key point of discussion for many years, and the wish by FOTA and FOM alike to expand the American F1 TV market may prevent an easy renewal for Speed. The network is not carried on all mainstream cable and satellite providers, with some outlets making it part of special sports network packages that subscribers must pay extra to access. F1 team bosses- both before and after the advent of FOTA – have been critical of this lack of access, and have often stressed a review of how the sport is broadcast in America.

Second, and perhaps less pressing, is the possible loss of Peter Windsor as pit lane reporter after his USF1/USGPE venture hits the grid in 2010. While he certainly has his detractors, Windsor?s years in the sport make him a familiar face to many on the grid, and he often gets pre-race interviews with a slew of F1 drivers and VIPs. While he has said that he would like to be involved in some capacity with Speed in the future, it remains to be seen if his new duties as sporting director for his team would allow for his normal role to continue unabated.

If Ecclestone and FOM wanted to look elsewhere, it remains to be seen what options are available for the American market. A simple idea is to buy network TV time and pump in a foreign feed, such as the BBC broadcasts. While die hard fans may love the concept, it would perhaps be a risky move to have a completely foreign operation as the bedrock of F1 publicity in the United States. Other networks, such as American sports broadcast king ESPN, could also be courted for the role. But assembling a quality broadcast team and operation would be a challenge, and the risk remains that a new network would badly mishandle the product in a damaging fashion, such as assembling a poor quality broadcast team.

No matter who broadcasts F1 in America, Ecclestone?s recent pattern of commercial preferences and decisions have not made life easier for any broadcast company in America or, indeed, the entire Western Hemisphere. The recent late start times in Asia have led to live races being shown in the 2-5am range in terms of start times in America, and even European races often roll off while America is just rolling out of bed on Sunday morning. With only one race in either North or South America, showing live feed at prime viewing times is difficult. While tape-delayed broadcasts are an option and can bring greater ratings and exposure, they run the risk of further alienating existing fans.

The future

For me, the Speed broadcasts are both informative and entertaining, and provide quality coverage that is often not matched by broadcasters in some of my other favourite sports. I believe each member of the broadcast team knows his subject, and the group seems to get along well as a whole. See here for an example of Steve Matchett in action.

I also enjoy Windsor?s pre-race grid walks, as he often snags some of the biggest names in the business – he twice pressed Bernie Ecclestone on the subject of a future United States Grand Prix last season, which was a welcome sight. I believe Ecclestone and FOM would be wise to stick with Speed, with perhaps some specifics for more exposure, such as allowing more races to be broadcast on FOX at certain points in the season.

But for as much as I enjoy Speed, I realise that some of my fellow fans don?t share my view. Many have experienced F1 broadcasts in other countries, and would like to see standards and habits used by other networks adopted by Speed.

No matter what you think of the current deal, the future of F1 in America is becoming a hot topic, and broadcast rights are just part of the package. While Fox and Speed- whose studios are very close to the USF1 home base- will be pushing for a renewal, we all know that things can take some crazy turns when Bernie is in charge.

Do you watch F1 in America on Speed? What do you think of their coverage? Leave a comment below.

If you watch F1 on ESPN Star Sports in Asia check out this post by F1 Wolf for his thoughts on their coverage.

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127 comments on What do US F1 fans think of Speed?

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  1. tEQUILLA sLAMMER said on 15th April 2009, 23:09

    i live in the uk! I dont get Speed TV, but thank phuq they get interviews from drivers straight after races!!! #:) makews a whole lotta fun in between !!!

  2. I personally am just grateful to be able to see F1 in HD and with good commentary. I think Speed does a great job and it would be a shame to see them lose the rights a la Setanta Sports or Fox Soccer Channel not being able to broadcast World Cup or Euros.

  3. ExPatBrit said on 15th April 2009, 23:38

    I have been watching F1 since I was kid growing up in the UK. Watched with Raymond Baxter and Murray Walker on the BBC.

    I moved to the US Pacific NW in 82 and have watched F1 on ABC, NBC, CBS , Fox , ESPN and finally Speed.

    Some of the network broadcasts were dreadful with the commentators leaving much to be desired.

    Speed is great. I have nothing but good to say about the quality of the broadcasts and the the crew Hobbs, Varsha, Matchett and even Windsor when he can tone down his adoration of a certain British driver.

    Sure the race times are inconvenient, but that’s what DVR’s are for.

    The only thing I would like is Speed F1 to broadcast in HD.

    Fox showed a few broadcasts in HD and they were pretty impressive.

    Great site Keith, I discovered you last year at end of the season. Been visiting regularly ever since.

    • Cactrot said on 16th April 2009, 20:43

      No F1 race has been shown in HD as the FOM feed for F1 isn’t recorded in HD, FOX just shows an upscaled widescreen feed.

    • I agree! (Apart from the DVR thingie – we don’t have one.)

      I moved here in 89, and it took me forever to find F1 coverage on the telly; most of the coverage was truly awful.

      As a rule, I like the Speed coverage. (I hated it when they shared the season with CBS – they made those races painful to watch!) Depending on what I have to do the next day, I’ll either stay up and watch the race, or hope like heck there’s a repeat when I can watch it.

      The only thing I would change is to send the team to the race – I think that would lead to better coverage. The commentators at the NASCAR races look out over the track, but the F1 one commentators are looking at the same pictures as the viewers. It just adds something “extra” when they can actually soak up the atmosphere.

      Carolyn Ann

    • Adam said on 25th April 2009, 0:01

      I would agree with you. Although there are certainly areas we could all find that could be improved, overall this is by far the best coverage we have had in the U.S. in the 20+ years I have been watching F1 on the various U.S. media outlets. My biggest beef is not liking Windsor (looking at him with those huge headphones, etc during his pit walks reminds me of Les Nessman on WKRP). Thankfully, for me, this should be his last year, if USF1 launches as planned. I wish they would replay the qualifying sessions later in the day, as they do with the actual races, but at least they show them. No other network was willing to devote the time to do that. Also they don’t edit and shorten down the race rebroadcasts (aside from the edits this year in Malaysia when they cut out a lot of the time when everyone was just sitting around, with their cars parked, waiting on the rain, before the race was called).

  4. Raceaddict (@raceaddict) said on 15th April 2009, 23:38

    Speed does an excellent job. High production values, lots of resources devoted to making the product cutting edge and first-class. And to get Friday practice as well as qualifying is such a great bonus. They get an A+ in my book.

    As for the loss of Windsor, what are John Bisignano and his turned-up collar doing? He had the passion…

    (I would see the coverage going to Setanta or Versus both as steps backward).

  5. Mussolini's Pet Cat said on 15th April 2009, 23:47

    How come you get it in HD???

  6. nopk said on 15th April 2009, 23:50

    Very unexpected… being an American who usually prefers everything to be British, regarding television – but, I don’t mind Speed.

    I think they do a very good job with the limited resources they have, and I commend their efforts.

    With that said, I preferred the ITV coverage and like the BBC coverage more, but I still respect Speed for what they’ve done.

  7. Robert McKay said on 15th April 2009, 23:54

    Very interesting article.

    Maybe people who watch other broadcasts around the world may like to write similar ones.

    • Jay Menon said on 16th April 2009, 2:34

      Thats what I intend to do.

    • mad79 said on 16th April 2009, 16:05

      Im from romania and my bradcater is wfull,but thanks to the internet i can watch it from bbc,speed,rai sport(they are really good).hat i dont like about speed transmision is that they put comercials every 15 minutesthats why im watching now on BBC and RAI!

  8. steve o said on 15th April 2009, 23:57

    Been watching the Speed F1 coverage since it was Speed-Vision way back …. ( and before that ESPN in 80′s )

    It’s like home to me now after so many years, really no complaints
    to think of, don’t need to get nitpicky.

    It does come in 16 by 9 wide now but not pure HD which is ok.

    I try to watch both coverages Speed and BBC thanks to the beauty

    of the internets ( and rapidshare,torrents,and megaupload :)

  9. tifosidude28 said on 16th April 2009, 0:02

    I’ve been watching speed since 2002 in the US, and I have to say, because of the magic of bittorrent I prefer the BBC coverage.

    That’s not to say I don’t enjoy watching a race on Speed – Steve Matchett is a wonderful and unique voice to have. Bob Varsha gets on my nerves because he has that “weatherman” persona, but david hobbs is so unknowingly offensive at times I always crack a smile. peter windsor really annoys me for some reason, mostly because of his bogus pitwalks.

    My biggest complaint about SPEED is this – instead of rebroadcasting practice or qualy during the day at a reasonable hour, they fill the schedule with re-runs of NASCAR reality shows. Bogus! Their coverage of european auto racing in general is dismall at best.

    I much prefer to get up early, start a torrent download of the Beeb’s coverage and wake up later to watch it. martin brundle has an amazing ability to call a race and an intelligence we don’t get in the US. Jonathan leggard is decent and having post-race commentary from eddie jordan and david coultard is great – they really do speak their minds.

  10. jinyourhead said on 16th April 2009, 0:03

    Speeds covers pretty middle of the road as far as commentary goes. But it shows all sessions live which is more then Canada or Australia can say (where i live).
    However, I think the speed network is the best option for F1 in America. It’s a specialized network so it can show races a decent times.

    If they turn the coverage over to ESPN it will get lost in the shuffle, just like it used to. Football, Baseball, Sportscenter, College sports, drag racing are all more important to American sporting culture then an F1 race in Belgium.
    ESPN was good. There is nothing I love more then a 2 hour race cut down to an hour and shown at 3am on Tuesday. Oh ya, cram sum pre-race into the hour too. Love it.

    Anywho….let Speed keep the coverage. There is nothing better that any other network can offer. Anyone else will move it to the bottom of the food chain just after trick shot pool.

  11. Dr Jones said on 16th April 2009, 0:04

    Hi here in Asia, we watched F1 on Star Sports which is a part of ESPN. Asian version hosted by Steve Dawson and Paula Malai Ali with race commentators Steve Slater, Alex Yoong (A1GP driver Malaysia & former F1 racer) are very good. Although ours have commercial breaks so their might be some scenes which might be clipped during the coverage. But overall they’re good & not biased.

  12. Ted said on 16th April 2009, 0:15

    I’ll echo the sentiments of those above and will say that I’m just happy to be able to see the race live each week. The commentary isn’t quite up to par with what I’ve heard from watching some the of qualifying sessions on the BBC online but it’s passable.

    The only problem I have with Speed is that it markets itself primarily to the NASCAR fan. The network devotes at least 16 hours or so of coverage to the NASCAR series (Nationwide, Sprint Cup, Trucks) every weekend and promotes programs about drag racing muscle cars, modifying muscle cars, reality challenge shows centered around muscle cars, etc.

    I think the potential American F1 fans out there have no interest in most of what Speed is marketing, so when they see something like “Formula 1″ on the guide they assume it’s more of the same. I think it would be a brilliant gamble by a major network to buy the rights to F1 and show four to five races a year live or on tape-delay and then show the rest live and tape-delayed on a popular cable channel like USA, TNT, etc.

    Once Americans catch on to what a big deal F1 is, they’ll easily get over the fact that there isn’t an American team dominating the field. Just like at the high ratings ESPN has received for showing the Euro and UEFA cups.

    • Schumi Boy said on 10th August 2009, 15:55

      I do agree!SPEED predominantly caters with NASCAR.They should air F1 live during qualifying and race day.Live coverage is definitely much better.

  13. Nick said on 16th April 2009, 0:23

    Last year I had both tsn and speed and prefered tsn which used itv…speed usually had more commercials and the sound/picture was lackluster compared to itv. I also prefered itv commentary, however speed shows practice and the full interviews afterwards so it was nice to have and I could switch over when tsn went to commercial.

    I only have tsn/bbc feed now…the new commentary isn’t the best but still good.

  14. Jacob said on 16th April 2009, 0:28

    Over all F1 presentation is great… Team has huge knowledge of the insides in F1.
    Two facts that turn me of from American broadcast First is that i have to spend $60 a month in order to have SPEED package. Second there are comercial brakes every 6 to 7minutes (each 2min or more long). This is just getting rediculus. I watched few races in England when I was visiting my faimly and let me tell you there were only 5 to 8 comercial brakes total.

  15. I like Speed, but I wish they had a different parent company. Fox has done everything to hide European racing with the vain belief of NASCAR uber-alles. Instead of showing WRC races, they have 50 million repeats of Pinks, American Fattest TowTruck drivers, and other reality junk. I wish that ESPN would set up their own motorsports network (It is not like they have 15 ESPN channels anyways) and buy F1, MotorGP, WRC, IRL, and LeMans rights to go along with their NASCAR coverage. Fox management has squandered and destroyed Speed as a motorsports channel. Instead they have turned it into one lame reality show, with a big heaping of NASCAR, and only a slice other motorsports. I think there is an opportunity and market for another to exploit.

    However that said, for how pathetic motorsports journalism is in the United States, the US F1 broadcaster does ok. I really don’t have a problem with any of them except for Windsor. I discuss this in a post on my blog, but how is there not a conflict of interest with him setting up a team AND reporting on the grid. I am afraid that Speed is going to turn into the USGPE cheerleading network. It is going make James Allen’ affair with Lewis seem tame by comparison.

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