The F1 coverage debates: What do Asian fans think of ESPN Star Sports?

ESPN Star Sports didn't show last year's Singapore GP live in all regions

ESPN Star Sports didn't show last year's Singapore GP live in all regions

We’ve already covered the new BBC coverage in Britain and how Speed TV broadcast F1 in America. Now guest writer Jay Menon tells us about ESPN Star Sports’ Asian F1 broadcasts…

For a region as big as Asia, it?s a pity its F1 fans and motor sport lovers get such poor television coverage.

I am Malaysian, and like the other fans in 24 other Asian countries, we are subject to the deeply disappointing F1 broadcast that is available to us via the ESPN Star Sports network.

Although significant improvements have been made to their Barclay?s Premier League coverage over the years, the F1 broadcasts have remained the same, although efforts have been made to improve.

Despite being a large network, owned by ESPN and Rupert Murdoch?s News Corporation, both of which have significant experience in sports broadcasting, they?ve failed to live up expectations.


ESPN Star Sports has been broadcasting F1 to a significant number of Asian countries for about a decade. Before they bought the rights to F1 most countries in Asia broadcast races live or delayed on their local terrestrial channels, for free.

In Malaysia we used to get the ITV feed until the early 2000s. Initially, the show just started with host Steve Dawson presenting the race, with very minimal pre and post race analysis.

The number of bodies in the studio has increased over the years, with the addition of a second host and resident pundits. Since the inception of F1 on the channel, the commentator?s microphone has been firmly held in the grasp of Steve Slater.

Though widely criticised among fans, Slater has managed to hang to the mike since. He was accompanied by Chris Goodwin in the beginning. Chris was great, very insightful and sensible, he was constantly covering for his less competent colleague for a good number of years.

Goodwin was then temporarily replaced by Julian Bailey before making a brief return. Since then, Steve Slater has shared commentary positions Asian ex-F1 drivers Alex Yoong and Narain Karthikeyan, and GP2 racer Karun Chandouk.

The format

Coverage begins on the Saturday with qualifying. Almost all the qualifying sessions are broadcast live, barring a number of exceptions over the years.

The most glaring one in recent years was, ironically, last year’s inaugural Singapore Grand Prix, where the broadcast was delayed due to a rugby match. Sessions from Montr??al, Interlagos and Indianapolis have been delayed in the past as well, due to schedule clashes with live football.

Qualifying is typically hosted by the calm and concise Steve Dawson with Alex Yoong in the studios. Steve Slater shares the commentator?s mike with Yoong during qualifying although both of them are thousands of miles away from the track. ESPN Star does not practice track side commentary, which is disappointing. Their race central is in some Sky studio in London.

Poor commentary usually accompanies qualifying. They do employ a pit lane reporter, Sanjeev Palar. He gets sent to a handful of races over the course of the season, but doesn?t do very much.

The pre-race show begins an hour before race time. The show is hosted by a former model/VJ/Princess (seriously, she was married to a Malaysian Prince once) called Paula Malai Ali, with Yoong as the pundit. Paula may look good on camera, and is capable of holding her own as a presenter, but unfortunately, her statements and comments pertaining to the sport appear to be very coached.

The show features a number of special segments, nothing much in the way of high profile interviews, technical insight, commentaries etc. To be fair, they do try, but the quality isn?t really very good. There?s a bit in the show called ??Mobil 1 Flying Lap??, which as you?ve guessed, shows a flying lap around the respective circuit. This is typically with Heikki Kovalainen or Lewis Hamilton, nothing like what British fans get with Martin Brundle.

During this show, race central, with Slater now joined by Chandouk (he?s been sharing the commentary position since the end of last season), links up to the studio for a live pre-race discussion. The only credible comments during the pre-show, race and post-show are from Chandhok.

I can?t take Yoong seriously, and neither can hordes of others. I mean, what else can you say about the worst F1 driver in recent years?

Dawson takes over 15 minutes before the race for latest updates, which isn?t really very much either. There are no grid walks, pre-race interviews with drivers, nothing in ways of that. You do get a few bits here and there from the pit lane reporter, that?s the best we can hope for.

The race coverage itself isn?t much to shout about either. Slater?s bubbling commentary makes things rather annoying. Chandhok stables the ship with his curt comments cutting Slater off when he makes mistakes. I can safely say he calls a good race.

Commercial breaks every 20 minutes too, can?t help that I suppose. There are no ongoing pit lane reports during the course of the race, like Ted Kravitz and Lee McKenzie, just wayward guessing from Slater. No communication with the pit lane reporter whatsoever either.

Post-show the indifferent quality remains. Press conference, bits of interviews if we?re lucky and a re-cap on the race followed by a post race discussion between the studio and commentators.

Improvements needed

F1 or motorsport in general, isn?t really the sport of the continent. Football takes center stage in most parts of Asia and of course there?s cricket in India. This is probably the reason why much budget isn?t set aside for F1 coverage. In my opinion, these need to be done in order to improve the broadcast:

1. Get a proper commentating partnership going. A great relationship in the commentary booth blossoms over time, you can?t keep swapping people around. Slater must go before any of this happens. Just in case anyone from ESPN Star is reading this – James Allen is out of a commentary job…

Constant communication with the pit lane reporter during the race would be handy as well. The thing I never got round to was, why send a guy over there, when you?re not using him?

2. The commentary crew must broadcast from the race venue. This would allow more access to up-to-date information and all the on-goings in the paddock on a race weekend. It would also allow more interviews, pre-race comments, grid walks etc…

3. More technical insight is required. More segments on car development and F1 technology are required during the pre-race show.

4. Credible hosts and guests would make things a lot better. The large problem with Asian television is that you can get on camera because you have a pretty face; this applies to both male and female. People without the proper credentials, both host and guests, should not be appointed. Only Dawson and Chandouk are worth keeping from the current line-up.

If there?s anybody who watches or has watched the ESPN Star broadcast, what do you think? Have I been too harsh?

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78 comments on The F1 coverage debates: What do Asian fans think of ESPN Star Sports?

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  1. Kherubim said on 24th April 2009, 9:27

    They showed the Singapore GP live on ESPN Star Sports, last year (Starhub), so it’s probably depending on which region you happen to be in.

    Agree with you on Slater, his commentary leaves a lot to be desired, think the worst bits of Allen and Legard (can’t stop talking).

    Chris Goodwin is a good commentator, but he is eventually limited by how much he can say about certain teams (McLaren, in particular, which employs him for their driver development program). Poor Julian Bailey, we never got to know you, because you could never get a word in between Slater’s exposition…

    Alex Yoong isn’t THAT bad, he is miles better than some of the TV actors who were roped in by Mediacorp to comment during FP1 last year (you know they are hopeless if they mistake spark showers from bottoming out with electrical problems). GP2’s Karun Chandhok is probably more updated in terms of technical matters but is seriously underused.

    If you ask me, Sanjeev and PMA need to be replaced immediately, I don’t see the purpose of having them around, and PMA seems to have pretensions of being a lifestyle reporter rather than a serious presenter.

    Keeping the multi-talented Dawson and Chandhok around is probably wise, and getting a test driver is also a good idea in case Chandhok gets the big call…

    Finally, get rid of the damnned ads which repeat themselves ad nauseum every five minutes!!!

    • stu davis said on 26th September 2009, 12:36

      Could not agree more, today (26 Sep) just find out Star Sports are not showing quali live in Malaysia, they are however showing it live in Singapore. 2 weeks back I watched Monza in Jakarta on local TV. MUCH better than Star Sports! Not sure where the feed came from (BBC or ITV?) but they had knowledgeable commentary, at the beginning lots local adverts but the last 20 odd laps were add free. And thats from a local free channel.

      If I hear Steve Slater say ” let’s savour the sound of those V8 engines” (he says it cos he has nothing better to say), the TV’s out the window. Unfortunately where I leve (Malaysia) its Star sports or nothing… Get your act together guys.

  2. FLIG said on 24th April 2009, 9:30

    Where’s the Bahrain GP Prediction?

  3. LJT said on 24th April 2009, 9:31

    a tad too harsh i think…steve slater is definitely lacking some enthusiasm juices…

    it will be interesting to know how much espn/star sports invest (time + $$) in their F1 and EPL coverage..wouldnt be surprise if F1 is only a small fraction of EPL…

    • Kherubim said on 24th April 2009, 10:15

      Lacking? No, his problem is that he lets his enthusiasm get in the way of his commenting. And if I had a dollar for each occasion he says “100% committment” (as if the drivers are not trying to keep the cars on the track every lap), I could be the 14th entrant for the 2010 F1 season… :D

  4. longlive Ferrari said on 24th April 2009, 9:36

    yes thats true!
    we all have to bear woth this bad coverage of the race. after each race, i have to download bbc race coverage to get a feel of the grid environment before the race! :(

  5. Nirupam said on 24th April 2009, 9:42

    Well, I live in India, and have to watch F1 on ESPN-STAR sports.
    Thanx to them that they show it LIVE!
    But at the same time, it is irritating for following factors as well!
    1. You dont get to see FP sessions.
    2. Pre-race interviews also very rare.
    3. Adds every 5 minute during qualifying as well! And they just dont have any idea about the ad timings.Just imagine, you are a BRAWN fan and Button has decided he will do only one flying lap in Q3. It is highly possible that you will only be able to get updates only! ;)
    4. commentators, Slater is horrible, so is Yoong. And god only knows why PMA is there!

    But everything said, at least it is because of them I get to see the sport back home!

  6. Ninad said on 24th April 2009, 9:44

    We had good commentator in form of Chris Goodwin, but he was helping Bruno Senna during 2007 and 2008 season, so he has not been commentating since then.

    Actually 2 Brits, Chris Goodwin and Steve Slater were good pair.

    They also showed Singapore GP Practice Live with Sir Jackie Stewart. They delayed Singapore GP Qualifying but race was at proper time, live. They also get Julian Bailey, ex-F1 driver, a Brit for some races.

    ESPN Star usually delays qualifying (4-5 times a year) but never race.

    • Kherubim said on 24th April 2009, 10:20

      I remember that they had Sir Jackie Stewart there, but he could never get much in either, or that they (mostly PMA) kept cutting him off… Must have been hell for the famously pedantic Scotsman to have had a taste of his own medicine… :D

    • wasiF1 said on 25th April 2009, 3:41

      I agree with U that Steve & Chris were good pair

  7. i think your article is spot on. too harsh? not harsh enough. star sports coverage of the f1 races is just plain rubbish with crappy presenters who don’t know what they’re talking about (paula, sanjeev, alex)and keep on making mistakes and missing out on important information (slater, alex). only chandok is good and dawson to a certain extent. the worst part is the damn ads, non-stop and always cutting in at the wrong time like when somebody is about to overtake..arghhh! that so ****** me off

    now i don’t bother to watch star sports anymore,every race weekend i go online and participate in the live blog at f1fanatic, open the live timing and watch the live feed..

  8. ninad..last year star sports delayed 1 or 2 races because of another sport..that was %^&%$# crap for me..f1 takes a back seat compared to football or even c’mon..

  9. nirupam..go online and watch all sessions from nowon..fp1, fp2, fp3, qualy and race..nuff said..

    • Nirupam said on 24th April 2009, 10:17

      I know I can.. :P
      But isn’t it better to watch those on TV rather online??
      (Something I am enjoying with BBC!)

  10. Gautam said on 24th April 2009, 9:53

    Great article. Couldn’t agree with you more.

    Steve Slater is terrible. He doesnt have to try hard to put his feet in his mouth.

    Karan is pretty good. He pre-race analysis is good. His reading of various team strategies during the race is outstanding.

    I am from India. I think the number of people who watch F1 races on TV from India have doubled/tripled in the past 2-3 years.

  11. I really hope something gets done so people from Asia can get the experience.. the TV experience that is. The interviews, per-race grid walks, etc. make it so much more interesting.. adds the extra “spice” to the coverage.

    I’m so lucky here. SPEED from America, TSN (Canada) which broadcasts the Live BBC F1 feed from start to finish and TSN2, which does the qualifying each and every race.

  12. MiniME said on 24th April 2009, 10:16

    little off topic here but i thing Jonathan Leggard should be replaced. prefereabally by some one that knows what formula one is about, Hopefully by Anthony davidson.

    • Kherubim said on 24th April 2009, 10:25

      On one level I would like to get good commentators for F1 coverage, but I would rather see the likes of Ant Davidson, Bruno Senna and Karun Chandhok battling it out with the other guys on track next year, think they’ll factor into Lola and Prodrive/Aston plans?

  13. anirudh on rampage... said on 24th April 2009, 10:18

    Not to mention they dint air Monaco GP, where Adrian had the miss of his lifetime……

  14. Nirupam said on 24th April 2009, 10:32

    Anirudh, they did air Monaco 08 in India!

  15. Abhishek said on 24th April 2009, 10:50

    I had a chance to look at the ITV F1 Coverage last year after the season was over (thanks to all good guys who hosted High Defination Coverage on the net). After looking at that coverage whenever I read comments on how bad James Allen was or how many ad breaks were on ITV I think that if they start broadcasting ESPN Star telecast in the UK I guess after first qualifying fans will personally go to the ESPN office and corner the guys who broadcast and especially Slater… seriously coverage is pathetic….

    Slater is useless he is 100% on enthusiasm but 0% on sense and on the top of it he makes countless mistakes…. any Silver car is Lewis for him…. sometimes last season he even called a Force India as a McLaren of Lewis Hamilton !….

    Last year ESPN Star didn’t telecast live qualifying for Bahrain (EPL Soccer match) and then Singapore again soccer…. Thank god that now they have a dedicated channel for cricket otherwise god knows what they could have done….

    PMA and Sanjeev should try to take up a job with some lifestyle channel even there I don’t think they will do good…

    Now, add to all this this year during a Pre Race Show which they call RaceDay these guys are showing clips from last year.. so if any one watched racedays last year will remember the trip to Melbourne downtown and then recently Shanghai.. they are exactly same….

    Some how I tolerate the race proceedings as I concentrate more on the action on the rather then commentry by Slater and now Chandok… but then ad breaks .. the frequency a break for two minutes after every 5 laps!.. and worse these days they are showing cricket shots for the upcoming World Cup on June .. I mean how is it justified……

    Having said all that still F1 fans in India have no other choice but to watch the ESPN Star broadcast and some of us who have seen the broadcast in other countries only feel that there is a lot of scope for improvement.

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