The BBC F1 Team: The Verdict so far

In the first part of my series at looking at Formula 1 broadcasting in the UK, I focussed on the newly formed Sky Sports F1 team and analysed each person, giving my perspective on each member of the team. I move on from that in Part 2 of the series, to focussing on the BBC TV team. As noted in Part 1, I will not be focussing on BBC Radio or Sky Sports News for the purposes of this series.

Ben Edwards
If you haven’t heard of Ben Edwards, you’ve probably been living under a rock. If you are not a broadcasting ‘expert’ or stick purely to F1, then you’re forgiven. Either way, Edwards is considered one of the best, if not the best current motor sport commentator at the moment. So good, that he is compared to Murray Walker. I’ll leave you to discuss that comparison…. Edwards began his commentary journey in the early 1990’s at Eurosport. His first Formula 1 commentary was at the 1994 Japanese Grand Prix for Eurosport, which was the beginning of a long partnership with John Watson. The two commentated on Eurosport until the end of 1996 (when Eurosport lost the F1 rights due to the new ITV deal), before reuniting for the pay-per-view series F1 Digital+ in 2002, and again commentating on the A1 Grand Prix world feed.

Edwards’ commentary is renowned for having a similar style to Walker, with his ability to commentate fluently during all stages of the race and keep the viewer engaged, whether the action is pedestrian and you are struggling to keep awake, or whether a pass is about to take place on the last lap – in which case Edwards will probably shout at the top of his voice with the emotion in his voice clearly on display. Edwards puts the action across to the viewer informatively and articulately. Although he’s with BBC for 2012, and there are absolutely no faults with him, one has to question why BBC did not pick him up in 2009, nor did ITV pick him up after Murray Walker retired? The fact that Jonathan Legard got the BBC TV gig in 2009 and Edwards didn’t, robbing us of the Edwards and Martin Brundle combination fans have wanted for years, is staggering. No disrespect to Legard, but his and Brundle’s commentary was a bigger disappointment than Shrek 2…

David Coulthard
One of the more familiar faces of BBC’s 2012 coverage, Coulthard’s Formula 1 career began at the 1994 Spanish Grand Prix. Initially a Williams test driver, Coulthard was drafted in place of Ayrton Senna, who was tragically killed at the San Marino Grand Prix. Coulthard had 13 wins in a career that spanned 15 years, through Williams, McLaren and Red Bull. Coulthard, like Martin Brundle did 13 years earlier, moved into broadcasting, becoming a pundit for BBC’s Formula One coverage in 2009 alongside the outspoken Eddie Jordan. Coulthard suited the role very well, and quickly grew into it, once he realised Jordan was outspoken in just about everything he said!

Seriously though, the combination of Coulthard and Jordan works well because there is someone like Coulthard that quickly counters insane argument 138 that Jordan throws in his direction. Coulthard moved into the commentary box alongside Brundle in 2011 after Jonathan Legard was dropped, the two having a good rapture in the box together. With Brundle moving to Sky for 2012, Coulthard opted to stay at BBC, partnering Ben Edwards. The combination between the two is just as good as that with David Croft and Brundle on Sky, giving viewers that have access to both platforms an extremely difficult decision to make with regards which commentary line-up to watch.

Eddie Jordan
Eddie Jordan started up his own Formula 1 team in 1991, running the team until 2005 when the team was sold to Midland F1 (now known as Force India). During his 15 years, he was known for his outspoken opinions, or opinions that were extremely easy to challenge and disagree with. Jordan’s team had three wins, the memorable 1998 Belgian Grand Prix with Damon Hill and Ralf Schumacher scoring the team a 1-2, along with two victories in 1999 season with Heinz-Harald Frentzen at the helm.

Jordan was announced as a pundit for BBC beginning with the 2009 season, in which was actually a move of genius by the broadcaster. Why? In the years’ preceding that ITV were criticised for having a dull pre-show, partially down to having a ‘wooden’ pundit in Mark Blundell, so having someone who has outspoken opinions, along with someone in Coulthard to counter argue him was a genius move and a brilliant way to keep viewers engaged. Although obviously this won’t be very necessary in the highlights shows, he will be definitely a plus for them during the live races and give them an edge over Sky with regards the punditry line-up. His role, has however, led him to being thrown into a Red Bull swimming pool on more than one occasion….

Gary Anderson
From the team owner, to someone who worked for him, we lead on nicely to Gary Anderson. Anderson replaces Ted Kravitz as BBC’s technical analysis. Due to the fact that BBC have had three highlights shows so far and only one live race, its difficult to analyse Anderson so far. My initial thoughts so far is that, while he is a solid replacement for Kravitz, he needs to speak up a bit on camera and in the pit lane and explain his point more clearly to the novice viewer. I do believe though, he will improve on the latter point sooner rather than later as the races go along and he gets more use to the role. One of the things Anderson also has is a pen and piece of paper. An interesting, but effective way to show ‘what does what’ and a car. Sometimes the Sky Pad will work better, sometimes though I guess nothing will beat a pen and piece of paper. Time shall tell.

Jake Humphrey
Starting off his BBC career at Cbeebies, Jake moved onto BBC Sport, fronting portions of Olympics 2008 and Euro 2008 before moving onto the new BBC F1 at the start of 2009. It was evident clearly from day 1 that Humphrey was suited to this job and that this was one of the right decisions that those at BBC Sport made. I remember reading that Humphrey went and asked if he could be host, although I can’t remember where I read that, so I may be wrong. If that is true, then that shows his enthusiasm for F1 and that he is a fan of the sport. Humphrey’s presenting style is one that keeps both the hardcore viewer and casual viewer engaged.

In my honest opinion, Humphrey is the best F1 presenter in the UK, both past and present, ahead of Jim Rosenthal and Simon Lazenby, while as good as, if not better than Steve Rider. Humphrey has the tools to be BBC F1’s presenter for many years to come, something that I hope does happen as I can imagine him being in the role 5, or even 10 years down the line. While Humphrey is a brilliant presenter, there is no questioning that, sometimes he does let his ‘smugness’ get in the way of things. Take for example in China with ‘Lau’, there was no need to big up BBC F1 on camera over Sky Sports. The digs at the competition are unnecessary both on TV and on Twitter, although I understand at times they may be ‘in jest’. Nevertheless, I hope to see Humphrey presenting BBC’s Formula 1 coverage for years to come.

Lee McKenzie
Lee McKenzie comes from a background full of motor sport. Her father, Bob McKenzie is a writer for the Daily Express. Before joining the BBC F1 team, Lee was pit lane reporter for the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series. She also was a presenter of the short-lived Speed Sunday show, a show which aired on ITV1 on Sunday afternoons in 2004 when F1 races were not airing. These attributes made Lee a clear contender for the pit lane job. It is clear when interviewing people that Lee has a good relationship with many of the drivers’, something that is critical if you want to get the right words out of someone, or whether you want their style to come across to the audience at home.

I think Lee does her role well, there’s not much more to ask from her, nor would I expect her to do any more in her role. Her role is the same as Natalie Pinkham’s on Sky Sports, there’s not much else expected out of a pit lane reporter. Lee also presents the Inside F1 show on BBC News. It’s unfortunate, because I feel the show is somewhat hidden away on the BBC News channel, I’m pretty sure the target audience on that channel is not interested in Inside F1, so I would like to see Inside F1 get a higher priority in the BBC line-up, maybe Saturday teatimes on BBC One for the live races, although given the cutbacks at BBC, this is highly unlikely.

The crucial thing for BBC in 2012 was keeping the majority of the line-up. Although they were served big blows by losing Martin Brundle and Ted Kravitz, the fact that they retained the ‘three amigos’ (Humphrey, Coulthard and Jordan) was definitely a big relief for them, as it meant that their renowned pre-show style from 2009 to 2011 stayed largely intact. Arguably, in hindsight one could argue that losing Brundle or Kravitz was not as big as first. Both, are replaceable, as we’ve seen. Brundle has been replaced by Ben Edwards, who has fitted into the commentary role on BBC, as expected very well. Kravitz has been replaced by Gary Anderson, who I’m sure will be a brilliant technical analyst by the end of the year (he is already, but I’m talking about translating what he is thinking to something that makes sense to the casual viewer on TV). The only thing you are losing is Brundle’s gridwalk, which is a loss, but it’s not a big loss, given that Coulthard and Jordan will try and get people on the grid instead. In reality, I imagine when BBC were discussing 2012, they would have been wanting to keep Eddie Jordan more, as he brings the most to the pre and post-race shows with his opinions and flamboyant styles. Overall, BBC have coped with the changes very, very well and the new team will continue to blend even more in together as the season rolls along.

Part 3 shall focus on how Sky can improve on their product during the race weekend, while Part 4 shall focus on their other programming and why they are focussing on the wrong areas at the  moment. Part 5 will move onto the television ratings and how this deal is affecting the ratings picture. Comments, suggestions, things you agree with, and disagree with are welcome!

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