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. btw…its ‘the’ not ‘teh’…

  2. ILoveVettel said on 24th April 2009, 20:16

    Thanks Jay, for the wonderful artical.
    Could not agree with you more.
    I have beeb watching F1 for quite a few years in India(Mostly they are on Star Sports).
    The most annoying part is the advertisement. Every five minutes you get lots and lots of Ads.

    Forget about FP or even SP (They don’t have time after showing the replay of a cricket match thousand times!!!)

    The commentry is horrible.They talk about absurd refulling times and strategies.

    Now I am in the US watching F1 in SPEED… I can say its much much better even with its ads….

  3. I remember it being even worse — a few years ago, the Indonesian ESPN Star coverage would piggyback on the Taiwanese feed. The race commentary is the same, but the pre-race commentary is hosted by some Mandarin-speaking commentators — this, in a country where only 2% of the population are ethnically Chinese (myself included) and more than half or those do not speak Mandarin!

  4. Well written article. I’m from India and although cricket takes a center stage here there r loads and loads of F1 fans here but ESPNStar has not done anything ti improve the broadcast.

    I think its high time they did something. Especially track side commentary.

  5. Mouse_Nightshirt said on 24th April 2009, 23:09

    I’m going to be in Singapore for 8 weeks for work over the summer – is this the feed they get?

  6. NowImScared said on 24th April 2009, 23:48

    I’m just thankful that there is Star Sports coverage in Korea. I used to live in the US, and I exclusively watched Speed Channel, with the exception of other channels for cycling. Slater and Goodwin are o.k., Sanjeev is a useless dork, and Paula is very professional, but new to the game, so she doesn’t have much to say. Alex Yoong knows a lot about the circuits, etc., but I ALWAYS cringe when I hear him introduced as “Formula 1 Superstar Alex Yoong” (or something similar). I’ll take what I can get, but I do want better.
    The problem is in Asia there really isn’t the market to support some of the high-cost changes suggested, like track-side commentary, etc. Without companies that are willing to pay big buck for advertising, Star Sports has to do what they can with what they’ve got.
    I also really enjoy their WRC coverage, but I have a few suggestions:
    1. Flush Sanjeev
    2. Get a sound engineer that understands that we can’t hear them talk with the race engine background noise set louder than the commentators. (this especially goes for WRC-they must have BBC production engineers, it’s so bad)
    3. Hire someone to travel exclusively with the teams and actually provide some interesting info and interviews.
    4. No more ‘wine and cheese’ segments about the host country. We don’t care – we are watching to see F1. If we wanted to know about the host country’s culture, city life, etc., we’d be watching Food Channel.
    5. Get more racing programming on Star, maybe even a seperate channel. WRC and F1 are great, but Aussie V8 supercars are a kick, the various Touring Car Championships are great for my bumper car addiction, and Truck racing is absolutely hysterical!
    6. Put more video on-line, possibly even a subscription-based service. I’d buy it in a heartbeat!
    Just my 2 cents…

    • Praveen Titus said on 25th April 2009, 14:22

      You’re absolutely spot on. We don’t need to see about the host country’s food and marketplace. That’s what I was saying they just don’t have the resources or access to anythng good they can show. It’s really bad.

      More motorsports action is also necessary. We need more of a wider picture. They’re trying to cover it all up with a half an hour Engine Block show, which still falls way below expectations. Tin-top racing is spectacular, especially WTCC, DTM and V8 Spercars. But if you’re in India, NEO Sports provides NASCAR action LIVE and Delayed. They used to cover V8 SUpercars last year.

    • Journeyer (@journeyer) said on 25th April 2009, 15:47

      NowImScared, it’s not that easy. Motorsport is spread out across other channels

      V8 Supercars – on AXN, oddly enough.
      WTCC – on Eurosport Asia – now there’s a contradiction in terms!
      NASCAR – not sure who has this now, but with ESPN having US rights to it, ESPNStar should have a good shot at getting this.

      I’m lucky I have AXN and Eurosport Asia, but it’s tough going to be a motorsport fan living in Asia.

  7. S Kiran said on 25th April 2009, 3:09

    You are spot on, Jay. Steve Slater must go.

  8. Freeman said on 25th April 2009, 3:14

    I have a simple solution for Star Sports. Just simply follow Canada and Australia’s broadcasters’ examples. Do your own pre-race shows, then show the BBC race feed. If Bernie really does think Asia is an important growing region for F1, then surely a top class BBC F1 team will do wonders to attract/educate Asian fans to F1.

    Those clowns at Star Sports really do not cut it. During every race, me and my buddy would shout “Oh, Shut Up!” countless times at Steve Slater. How dare he calls himself a petrohead, when I think I know a lot more about F1 than him? He is annoying and plainly incompetent for the job.

    Here’s an example where top class F1 coverage vs Star Sports. My wife is at best a casual fan. Watching Star Sports, she gets really annoyed and would simply wander off after the 1st pit-stop (provided it is a “normal” race). But on occasions when she missed the live Star coverage, she watches the BBC coverage which I religiously download after every race, she is glued to the seats and says she’s amazed how informative the BBC crew are. She’s impressed by the live pit-lane driver interviews, and thinks F1 is just that much better with Martin Brundle on the mic.

    Here you go, another race weekend, another round of shouting at Steve Slater. Then desperately download the BBC coverage after the fact, and enjoy how the “real” F1 experience should be.

    Great post. I now know I’m not alone in thinking Star Sports is an insult to us F1 fans.

    • Journeyer (@journeyer) said on 25th April 2009, 15:49

      Freeman, that’s exactly what I do. I watch the race on Sunday, then watch the BBC coverage on Monday. It’s amazing what you can learn from Brundle and Kravitz, even on a replay. For all of people’s criticisms about Legard and Allen, they’re both miles better than Slater.

  9. wasiF1 said on 25th April 2009, 3:31

    I wont say HARSH
    Yes Steve is not so good as u want any1 2 b.Chris was awesome.Alex does good.Karen is doing good.But my biggest frustration is commercial ads.It eats up more than 2/5 of the race.But thats all we can have here in asia.

    I pray they improve there coverage.

  10. Chua said on 25th April 2009, 4:16

    From my recollection, the Singapore feed for race day has never been pre-empted or delayed by any other event, sporting or otherwise. Might need someone to confirm on this.

    Regarding the commentary and programme quality, I cringe whenever I think about the days when I thought Steve Slater was knowledgeable and engaging :D That was the early days, before I got to know the sport much more in-depth.

    I generally agree with the view that he is excessively talkative, incompetent, has poor grasp of the important things that are happening, and just far too excitable. I commend his enthusiasm, but calling every overtaking maneuver “absolutely SUPERB” and “FANTASTIC MOVE” cheapens the really good moments.

    The worst is when he sounds simply clueless. I remember this year in Sepang, he called Ferrari’s move to switch Kimi to full wets before the rain came as “potentially brilliant” (paraphrased). “HOW?!,” was my cry, together with a few million others I guess.

    I think he also completely missed why Glock was so slow in the last lap last season, but my heart was pounding too hard to hear properly, so I can’t be certain about that.

    Chandhok is great, Alex is ok, but the main problem is with Slater. The team does give information when the timings go green or purple, but hey, I have live timing
    for that myself.

    I’ve come to accept that advertisements are essential in the grand scheme of things, so don’t have many problems with them. Usually just switch to an online feed when that happens.

    I’ve never seen any other broadcasts of the race weekends, so I can’t compare well. Really have to get my hands on the BBC coverage.

    We badly need more people to watch the sport to get a critical mass, I suspect. I’m sure there WILL be more people watching from Singapore these few years, but the 4.8 million here can’t do much.

  11. mahesh said on 25th April 2009, 4:19

    In ASIA f1 viewers are less when compared to European continents. ESPN STARSPORTS have been broadcasting this F1 since a decade but no improvement at all!!!!! it remains the same .When it comes to INDIA,cricket is the only sport all people knows because of the vast popularity of this sport many sports are not shown that much interest and coming to F1,many people dont know what is meant by F1 also rather then educated people thats where the F1 stand in india !!!!!!!!!!!!! and ESPNSTAR sports as they dedicated 1 channel to cricket like that if they dedicate one channel to motorsports (oh will it happen ??? no but day dreaming)

  12. kody said on 25th April 2009, 4:21

    and to add to that, the commentary during the race/qualy are sometimes inaudible — but on the second thought, you may not want to hear ‘em anyways ;)

  13. ok everybody..just forget star sports and every race please get yourself to a wifi hotspot and watch all sessions online from now on..fp1, fp2, fp3, qualy and race..

    goto http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk, participate in live blogging, goto http://www.f1.com startup the live timing and open another window for the live feeds provided by f1fanatic..cheers

    btw, i have also met alex yoong courtesy of anthony hamilton and i can say that alex is useless, a shame to the nation, he was introduced to me by anthony but he just ignored me when i asked him a question 4 times, maybe i wasn’t rich so he didn’t want to bother..

    worst of all, anthony hamilton asked me earlier what i thought of alex and i let it rip..later anthony asked alex whether malaysia supports him and the answer was – “of course, they love me!” and anthony thought to himself – “well you haven’t met my friends have you?”. what a shame to the country..and he can’t commentate on the race properly either..he should go just like slater, paula and palar..

    my God..palar is the worst..save the money and throw him out pleae..

    • Journeyer (@journeyer) said on 25th April 2009, 16:02

      Alvin, I’d keep Star Sports for the video quality, but little else. I keep their audio open sometimes so I can hear the cars properly, but if Slater gets too annoying, I mute him and switch to my BBC feed’s audio.

    • Jay Menon said on 26th April 2009, 3:51

      Guys, thanks for all the comments, great to hear that there is support from the masses to diss the ESPN Star broadcast. I even sent them an email, stating their glaring shortcomings..no reply as you’d expect.

      Journeyer,

      Do you mind me asking as yo how you get the BBC audio feed?

  14. Raj said on 25th April 2009, 8:59

    Chris Goodwin was very good commentartor..and as many i really feel Steveslater is like a brand ambassador for lewis hamiltion rather than giving some insightful in to racing and sometimes he is totally underequipped with info. (for ex when alonso was qualified 2nd..he is quite interesting to see how KERS works at start of race..and truth is not Renault didn’t use KERS..). and the most disappointing is Alex young..and i really wonder he is past F1 driver. Karan gives very good insight in to technical handling of car etc.. overall ESPNSTAR has lot to do in finding good commentators..and moreover they take breaks at very important times. and more over most of breaks contain ads for EPSNSTAR programs rather ads that bring commercial money..hope ESPNSTAR improves..

    • ruud said on 26th April 2009, 9:54

      ok the race coverage , i think is spot on. most of the time , i get my f1 info here before the race, and i dont usually watch the pre race show of star, i only peek at paula, then i try to get a feed from jtv.

      i guess the problem is, if the race coincides with a football match, the football is shown firs(done it at time last year) i can understand if its a big four bpl match(only chelsea, man u, liverpool and arsenal have enough fans in asia) but why would i care if it was hull city vs middlesbrough, i mean i wouldn’t watch it, no disrespect, there aren’t many fans of some teams other than the four succesful teams, so why bring on f1 and i will watch the highlights of that football match later in sportcenter?

      you know. when i first saw the itv feed, i thought james allen was a genius, and brundle a god. lol then i saw comments against allen, but for me he was doing ok, compared to what we have. we had a feed of itv in 2005, shown by a sports cable channel called solar sports. but espn star stepped in and flushed out f1 from them, or else they would cancel the contract with the cable company and pull out their channels. shame, i always watch the feed from itv that year, coz star has a delayed live telecast. like 5-10 sec i suppose. sometimes the only way i watch raceday is to see what paula is wearing and imagining she’s going home to me tonight.haha then i get my f1 info here and other sites, classic videos etc, because we don’t get it here on star sports. i thank them for giving us dedicated football coverage, but not for f1. i mean the info i get from the net has more sense than what i get from raceday.

      i support the ausie way, i saw an old race on the net that the ausies presented but they bought the bbc/itv broadcast and its the one they air on tv.

  15. TifoSi said on 26th April 2009, 9:01

    I totally agree on the quality of the show, it really needs a makeover.

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