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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