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.

History

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?

  1. Robert McKay said on 24th April 2009, 10:55

    I think it often tends to be a vicious circle in many respects. If you’re only getting modest viewing figures then there’s no real incentive to drastically increase the effort you put in to your broadcast. But having not put in the effort, you can’t then necessarily expect lots of new people to tune in and be wowed by your coverage.

    Having said that, though, if you get the right personnel then you can make a big difference to the quality without too much drama.

  2. glamourBob said on 24th April 2009, 11:35

    I have on occasion, watched ESPN Start Sports for F1, and agree with everything the writer says. Seriously, my condolences to all of Asia. Slater is so, so , so bad. how can anyone who has been commentating on the same sport for so many years still not know next to nothing about it?
    And the commercial breaks – all the time.

    I have nothing against him, but I personally was no fan of James Allen, but I concur he would be a 1000 times better than Slater.

    The main problem is commentating when you are 1000’s of miles away. This really is an impossible task. The lack of atmosphere just seeps through the broadcast, and just adds to the cluelessness of the commentary.

    An all round disaster. ESPN Star treat F1 as if an afterthought, with nothing more than contempt.

  3. Pete Walker said on 24th April 2009, 11:51

    I think its a bit harsh writing off Alex Yoong on the basis of “what else can you say about the worst F1 driver in recent years?”.

    I met him at Brands Hatch and he was very polite, knowledgable and well-spoken and his performances in A1GP have proved that he wasn’t the total disaster he appeared to be in F1.

    Besides, he’s probably a better pundit than Blunders Blundell was – Alex might have struggled to handle an F1 car, but Mark could barely handle the English language!

  4. iceshiel said on 24th April 2009, 12:37

    The ads ESPN plays during F1 are ESPN ADVERTISEMENTS ON THEIR F1 PROGRAMME.

  5. Hakkinen82 said on 24th April 2009, 12:52

    yoong is ok and he is easy on the eye for the female fans

    slater is a joke- i dun understand what he is blabbering about half of the time. I would make a better presenter than him – in fact any brain dead person would too

  6. 248f1 said on 24th April 2009, 13:11

    i live in Indonesia but we got BBC coverage here (which aired in local television with several disturbing adsssss!)

    i once watched ESPN Star Sports F1, but thanks a lot. it was really really rubbish to me. the commentary was errrr– disturbing the race itself!

    i always loved the combination of Brundle and Allen on ITV. James Allen was very very expressive during the race! i want him back on BBC now, replacing someone-who-accompanies-Brundle.

  7. alex yoong is good compare to other…but PMA should stop being a presenter….f1 is not her style….slater is just rubbish…how bout james allen for star sport???

  8. I live here in the Philippines, and I remember Robert Kung on the mic during early 2000. it is much better now than before, honestly. What can we say or do if we do not have any options at all. I’d say, lets just be settled on what we have for now.

  9. Nayanesh said on 24th April 2009, 14:53

    I live in India and i find star sports coverage as terrible.the only reason i tune in for any pre-race or pre-qualy programmes is because of Karun Chandhok and Steve Dawson.alex yoong isnt bad.The rest are pathetic to say the least.There is a commercial ad after every 5 laps.No telecasting of Free practice sessions.Slaters shouting and mumbling gets me irritated.atleast chandhok and goodwin for that matter provide some insightful thoughts.The only thing good about this is that atlest they broadcast every race LIVE!!!

  10. Journeyer (@journeyer) said on 24th April 2009, 16:44

    Wolf needs to be here. :D

    I’ve said my piece on this many times, so I’ll do a rundown for each person on the team.

    Slater – Ah, yes, Steve. Easily the weakest link in the lineup – he’s not even easy on the eyes like PMA. He’s been doing this for more than a decade and hasn’t really improved much in that time. He doesn’t add anything of value to the show, but he keeps the mic because they can’t find anyone to replace him. I’d love Allen to come over here (even if most Brits hated him at ITV), but I don’t think ESPNStar can match what RAI (the Italian network) is paying him to do part-time work for them.

    Chandhok – easily the best analyst ESPNStar has had (even better than Goodwin). He’s a keeper. But I dread the day we lose him to Force India. It would be great that he got a shot at F1, but his replacement in the booth wouldn’t be as good as him, even if it were…

    Yoong – He’s OK, I guess, but I don’t really notice him. Again, he’s not able to add much to the broadcast. His soft voice doesn’t help his cause, either. But hey, he’s better than Blundell, so that’s a start.

    Dawson – He’s an OK presenter for what it’s worth. He knows little more than the basics of the sport, but he doesn’t talk much anyway, so it’s fine. Worth keeping, but I wouldn’t mourn his departure from the lineup either.

    Ali – She’s easy on the eyes, and would do well if she were talking about the other side of F1 – the glitz/glamour/lifestyle side of things. But I don’t think she’s in her comfort zone partnering Dawson in the studio for Raceday. We need a more sports-oriented type of girl in there (think Louise Goodman or Lee McK), not a former VJ.

    Palar – a close 2nd to Slater as the most annoying guy on the lineup. Points for effort, but not much else. I can understand that they don’t send him to all races due to budget constraints. I think they’re better off just losing him from the lineup altogether and using the money somewhere else.

    I’m surprised they don’t attend races in person – it makes their performance suffer for it. They can improve in a lot of areas – streaming all sessions online, more interviews with F1 people, doing more research. There have been some improvements (like spending more time on pre- and post-session coverage), but much, much more needs to be done.

  11. Journeyer (@journeyer) said on 24th April 2009, 16:46

    BTW, commercials – I understand ads for products, but for their own shows?! Just silly. If they really want to do it, fine, but at least show the race on at least some part of the TV screen. It’s not worth missing part of the race just to see commercials for other TV shows.

    Which is why I keep a BBC JTV feed running in the background – it’s a lifesaver sometimes.

  12. rajlesta said on 24th April 2009, 17:03

    Singapore grand prix was shown “live”. I am Malaysian too.. even they did broadcast practice session.

    few things that i really dont like from espn are:-
    1. too much of adv (this is really too much)
    2. inexperience commentators

  13. Arun.....India said on 24th April 2009, 17:32

    Well the broadcast sucks big time with lousy commentary from steve slater and that to not trackside.They dont show the free practice at least they can show it online in their website.The press conference is very late and there is no pit lane reporter.What these people can do is instead of wasting so much resource and giving such a lousy show,They can give a direct feed from probably bbc.

    But this all said i am happy that i atleast get this.

  14. PaulRS said on 24th April 2009, 17:50

    I will not purchase any product from companies whose ads disrupt a grand prix, anyone care to join me?

    As for football, it seems to me nobody actually watches it, all i see are “fans” with 3 cell phones taking bets.

    So put the football on the radio, cut the ads, fire slater and yoong, replace PMA with some young eye candy, and get someone to commentate who does not sound like he is talking down to a 5 year old.
    After a decade of negative comments towards slater it is obvious star do not care what their paying customers think.

  15. Praveen Titus said on 24th April 2009, 18:10

    I was just thinking, why aren’t fans in Asia complaining about teh USELESS F1 coverage we’re forced to watch. All the points Jay Menon said are true – he wasn’t harsh at all. On teh contary he was bit too polite! I don’t need to repeat the faults already mentioned and the solutions proposed as you guys have understood them properly. I’ll just throw some light on another glaring fault(too light a term I think) about ESPN Star Sports’ F1 and motorsport coverage. Don’t they have access to films of past F1 races? In 2004 they showed a little tribute on Senna before the San Marino Grand Prix without showing his crash. It was there in You Tube but these guys don’t have access to it, it seems. And before every race it would be better if they could play us highlights from some race in the past rather than wile away the time with Paula’s poses or some usless bits of information they provide about the area. For the Australian Grand Prix coverage in India, they showed something about the sports stadiums in Melbourne as well as a few secs showing cricket being played in a stadium there. They wasted precious seconds on a sport which we’re too tired seeing here in India. Instead they could have shown highlights from the 1994 Grand Prix at Adelaide where Schumy lunged into Damon Hill. It would give viewers a deeper perspective about the sport. They give Cricket Gold about previous historic matches and do teh same for football, but nothing for motor racing. They’ve never given insights on the Senna-Prost battles, the Stewart-Cevert friendship, Prost’s comeback championship swansong, Gilles Villeneuve’s magical races, Jim Clark’s genius behind the wheel, NOTHING! A few minutes devoted to a look-back highlights package would work wonders. But along with that, all the other faults must be rectified as well. Paula and Slater should go (I have to admit though, noone can match Slater for enthusiasm unless perhaps Murray Walker), pit-lane interviews during teh race must be included, etc. etc.

    All that said, there are places in teh world but there is virtually no motorsports coverage. At least we’re getting to see the F1 action as it unfolds, even though Slater and co. can’t analyse them without bordering teh realms of insanity. How much ever we may cry about the way ESPN Star Sports treats motorsport fans, I don’t think things can ever change. There isn’t a worthy competitor to ESPN Star in India or Asia that broadcasts or at least analyses F1 better. WHO”S THERE, TELL ME! They’re enjoying this monopoly they have. Even if we boycott watching their races they’ll happily switch over to more Cricket, Football, Golf, Tennis, NBA,and other action. We’re a neglected lot and have to live with it. Keith, can u help us in any way here?

    This is beside the point, but I’m glad that thanks to other sports channels in India such as Zee Sports, Neo SPorts, Ten Sports along with ESPN Star, we’re able to watch F1, A1GP, MotoGP, NASCAR and World Superbikes all mostly LIVE! Not many countries even in Europe and the Americas can boast that. Hope any of these channels takes over F1 coverage, after the contract with ESPN Star ends, and gives us hardy motorsport fans a better deal.

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