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. Moe said on 27th April 2009, 1:51

    Sorry to respond to this so late. But you I think BTV coverage for Middle east is much worse..

    The Arabic Commentary is extremely rubbish. The guy never shut up. His voice is louder than engine noises..

    He is showing off his knowledge, trying to explain every single damn thing rather than concentrating on the race itself.

    During races I just hope he just shut up for one second.

    For me I would rather, watch the race without commentary.

  2. Henry said on 27th April 2009, 3:01

    Totally agree with most of what you said. Slater must go – no quibbling there. Chandouk is good, as was Chris Goodwin – shame he went! I’m not hugely taken with Dawson – he always gives me the impression that he would be much happier commenting on football, and he, to me, is the one with the ‘groomed’ or coached comments.

    What’s wrong with Paula? I know that we are all supposed to be serious petrolheads and all that, and I am indeed one of those most of the time, but Paula injects an element of fun and humour into an otherwise pretty dull show. She somehow seems to be surrounded by mundane people, and thus stands out. Keep her, please, along with Chandouk, who will almost certainly move on to greater things next year.

    I agree again with your suggestions for improvement, especially where more technical information is needed, both before and during the race. How can the race commentators possibly do their job when they’re thousands of miles away? Lunacy!

    Jay – you can usually pick up the BBC audio and video feeds on one of the Justin TV channels, as recommended by F1Fanatic.com. The downside is that there is a delay of about three seconds between the Justin feed and the ESPN feed, so it doesn’t really work as an alternative source for good commentary.

    Does anyone else have a better solution?

    Nice article – thanks.

    H.

  3. Liquid said on 27th April 2009, 11:10

    Well.. Jay, youve said it all.. If its anything.. it might be a little too soft.. but definitely not harsh..

    Its time Star Sports had a self analysis and do something about their coverage.. We dont expect them to be the same as beeb.. but there are a lot of things that they could learn from them. and as most of you here agree i think Steve Slater should be replaced. People complain about james allen.. but if youve seen the asian broadcasts youll realize how good he is.. I mean who would be interested in listening to a commentator who cant recognize btw two drivers of the same team.. i mean sure the cars look similar n all but there are ways to identify it and if a commentator doesnt know tat, then he doesnt deserve to be commentator. But i don blame Slater alone for the bad service its Star sports as it is.. they don have paddock coverage. nothing from the track as is.. except for the 30sec when sanjeev appears on screen at the beginning of the race..

    With asia being such a huge market and with f1 moving to a lot of asian countries recently, the popularity of the sport has skyrocketed. I dont know why Bernie uncle would want to offer such poor service to a market with such potential. He should be tied to a chair and made to watch the Star Sports telecast of a race weekend! I’d love to watch his face when he finds out what ppl see f1 as, here in Asia.

  4. Ross Macfarlane said on 10th May 2009, 14:58

    Steve Slater is the worst sports commentator I have ever listened to. He knows little, is overly opinionated considering his poor knowledge and is rude to his co-commentators.
    Worse he has an unfortunate tone and manner that just grates on the ears.
    I am lucky – i can switch on another channel and listen to the BBC feed – I only have to hear him when the other feed is on commercial breaks…I always felt that Chris Goodwin wanted to hit him when his interetsing insight would be inturrepted by Slaters uninformed interuption….
    ESPN – I know you have a low budget and Slater will work for peanuts – but please give someone else a try….I am fed up listening to a monkey!!!

    • 1) Steve Slater must go…end of story. I’m at my wits end having to listen to such a bubbling idiot who has no comprehension of what good commentary is all about.

      2) Why in the hell do Star Sports insist on having ads every 5 laps when 95% of the content of the ads is promoting Star Sports coverage!!! If I’m already watching Star Sports I don’t need to be sold it again and again. WE ARE ALREADY PAYING FOR IT YOU F***** TOSSPOTS. I officially hate Star Sports and I hope all their scheduling genius’s get run over in a freak rhino stampede.

  5. Steve Slater is hopeless. He gets almost everything wrong. He attributes almost everything (like going off the track) to strategy. He doesn’t listen. He rudely and continually cuts off his colleague. Clearly ESPN don’t take F1 seriously or they would dump him.

  6. Nico M said on 1st October 2009, 9:04

    Coming from a TV network I can’t complain with their coverage. Of course, it could stand improvement but I think they did a fair job. Good to have non-technical people there also as a lot of potential F1 fans don’t know the first thing about racing. F1 is more a lifestyle event than pure racing anyway. I would like to see more stories about the drivers

  7. there a site dedicated especialy for this purpose
    http://wehatestarsports.indivibes.net/

  8. Neerav Ahir said on 19th January 2010, 12:56

    well i live in india & watch f1 on star sports which is a pity.. The BBC sports telecast in UK is far better than this star sports telecast… The frequent breaks in between the races are annoying… But i think u people are to harsh on Steve slater he is not that bad a commentator… what i think is dat they should replace Karun Chandhok. They should also extend race analysis.

  9. Neerav Ahir said on 19th January 2010, 19:13

    well i live in india so i m forced to watch the star sports telecast of f1 which is a pity.. The BBC sport telecast in UK is much much better… & frequent advertisments between d race are annoying.. but i think u people are to harsh on steve slater, he is not so bad a commentator. What i think is that they should replace karun chandhok. Steve dawson is doing a good job.. The fact is that there is not much craze about f1 in asia as there in UK… so UK telecast is much better..

  10. I’m new to Malaysia; I’ve been brought up on BBC coverage and thought the brief ITV coverage was awful. However, I now forgive ITV having watched a race on Star Sports. I can ignore the commentary – although a woman in chatting about some drivel during the qualifying session right now. It’s the adverts that I find unbelievable. It was annoying during the last race, but to put adverts DURING a qualifying session is absolutely stupid. The amount of ads during the race is bad enough – seems every 2 or 3 laps they go off for a lpas worth of adverts. Murdoch’s link doesn’t surprise me with ESPNStar, his company(ies) has a poor reputation for quality of sports broadcast, even though he is able to buy the rights of all the sports. Just goes to so – profit ans sport don’t make good bedfellows.

  11. Ross Macfarlane said on 12th September 2010, 3:16

    Please please please can espn retire steve slater….he cannot think and talk at the same time which seems to me to be an essential quality in commentary. Add to the fact he is so rude…cutting off the irish guy (and all comers before him) with inane observations. And finally his “i am shuuuuure” suffix comment leaves me hunting for the mute button…thank goodness i can also access bbc commentary for most races…
    i think the rest of the team are ok considering this is asia although the football guy is a bit out of his comfort zone….and paula is easy on the eye :)

  12. I realise that the F1 commentators are at the studio but that should not mean that we have to screw the sound up so high in order to hear them – especially the Irish guy mumbling away. He usually has something interesting to add but cannot be heard. Surely they can turn up the mikes – the annoying ad are always very loud, of course!

  13. 99degrees said on 22nd April 2012, 14:25

    I am currently in Thailand, watching the 2012 F1 Bahrain GP on Star Sports. There are two commentators. Karun Chandhok is cool, knowledgeable, confident and extremely good. Steven Slater is the polar opposite: he is useless. The OP was not too harsh but hit the nail on the head. For the good of the English-speaking Asian F1 audience, Star Sports needs to retire Slater and get someone who is Chandhok’s equal, but probably better at the dead-air-filling weightless commentary.

    • They did have Gary Anderson co-commentating in 2010 and 2011 but he departed and I wasn’t surprised at all. The environment at Star Sports is so devoid of any real F1 juice. They wouldn’t ask Gary an good questions. And the questions from viewers which they ask people like Gary are so naive and elementary. I had emailed some quality questions to their f1@espnstar.com ID but those were never asked. IMO even Yoong should go along with Steve Slater. He just does not have it in him. Star Sports also had Cosworth’s Mark Gallagher but that was only for one race this season.

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