The state of TV coverage has always been a hotly-debated subject among F1 fans. But last year the debate shifted up a gear for those of us in the UK when Sky arrived on the scene and half the races disappeared from free-to-air television.
Steve Rider is particularly well-placed to judge the changes in how the sport has been broadcast. While Murray Walker was the voice of Formula One on the BBC in the eighties and nineties, he was the face of it.
Rider returned to F1 with ITV in the mid-2000s, and also had a long association with the British Touring Car Championship as well as BBC’s long-standing sports magazine programme Grandstand.
ITV made a big-money grab for the F1 TV rights in 1997, but Rider reveals how unprepared they were to take over the deal. He eventually left the BBC to join them but it turned out to be an ill-timed move, for at the beginning of his third year covering F1 with ITV the channel cut its contract with three years left to run.
The BBC swooped to pick up the rights for 2009 and, in Rider’s view, “bought F1 the way a Monopoly player buys Mayfair”. In short order the British government froze the BBC licence fee and the F1 contract was one of several expenses that needed to be slashed.
Rider’s recollection of his time spent covering F1 is highly entertaining and includes some superb anecdotes. A particular favourite concerned the launch of the 1995 McLaren MP4-10 and Rider’s attempts to keep photographers from inviting new driver Nigel Mansell to sit in it, because he wouldn’t fit.
Later Rider recalls how he inadvertently recorded Lewis Hamilton’s “expletive-laden delight” while turning a few laps in a kart during a publicity event, Hamilton having forgotten he has wired up to a microphone.
In the opening chapters these anecdotes tumble out in a rather confusing order. It eventually settles down though I had an urge to set about my copy with a pair of scissors and reassemble the chapters in a more coherent fashion.
Some glaring errors have survived the proofreading process as well. And at times it lapses into a pedestrian re-telling of past seasons with too little of Rider’s fascinating behind-the-scenes insights.
But he speaks from a genuine passion for motor racing in all its forms and an honest desire to see it promoted in the best way possible. He even admits ITV’s BAFTA win for their 2007 Canadian Grand Prix broadcast was strange given how swiftly they had pulled the plug on the coverage after the chequered flag fell on Hamilton’s maiden Grand Prix win.
Rider says he’s “had enormous fun and am more than happy to step aside for the next generation of more talented and energetic presenters”.
One of his successors, Jake Humphrey, is already calling time on his F1 broadcasting career, and his account of life in the pit lane is due for publication next month. Rider’s account of his three-and-a-half-decades in motorsport makes for entertaining reading – I wonder if Humphrey can find as much to say about his three-and-a-half seasons?
F1 Fanatic rating
My Chequered Career – Steve Rider – Thirty-five years of televising motorsport
Author: Steve Rider
Published: October 2012
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