The Sky Sports F1 Team: The Verdict so far

A few months ago, I decided to launch an F1 Broadcasting blog. Since April, the blog has racked up over 100 posts and over 7,000 hits. For what is quite a niche topic, I would like to think of that as a success, so thanks to each and every one of you for reading.

With the Summer break now in full force for the Formula 1 teams and drivers, ‘The Verdict so Far’ series makes a return to the blog, with myself looking back on what I wrote in April and adding to my thoughts from the original ‘Verdict so Far’ series. If you have not read the original posts, fear not, you can find them here. Heading into 2012, we had nine new voices presenting, commentating, reporting on Formula 1 for BBC and Sky. Since April, more new voices have been heard on a regular basis. They are:

– Allan McNish (Sky)
– Tom Clarkson (BBC TV)

So both of them will be included in the series from now on, assuming Clarkson will be back on TV reporting. You may be wondering why I am not including Nick Heidfeld or Jacques Villeneuve, who both appeared as pundits on Sky Sports F1 during Europe and Canada respectively. Neither are regular pundits, and both only appeared once as a one-off appearance, so there is not much to be gained from me ‘analysing’ both in detail. I will, however, say that it is good to see Sky using a variety of pundits aside from the regulars, which can add to the weekend broadcasts when it is a different voice being heard. Obviously there’s no guarantee that said voice will be good for the broadcast, but it is a risk worth taking.

As with April’s series, parts one and two will focus on the Sky Sports F1 and BBC F1 teams respectively. Parts 3 and 4 will be reposted from April, with probably minor alterations while Part 5 will be updated fully with the ratings picture as it is currently. For the purposes of this series, I will only be focussing on the two main TV teams, as thus the Sky Sports News or BBC Radio teams will not be covered.

Allan McNish
I’ve always been a fan of Allan McNish, both as a pundit and a driver. It was unfortunate that he only got one chance as a Formula 1 driver with Toyota as 2002, but in any case he has since had a highly successful career in endurance racing. We first saw McNish on screen with Sky Sports F1 during the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, alongside David Croft in The F1 Show. Like with Herbert in China, it was stating the obvious very early on, that McNish would be a super pundit for Sky Sports F1 with his breadth and depth of motor sport knowledge so I was very pleased when Sky announced that he would be staying on.

As a pair during practice, McNish and Croft are a much better pair than Croft and Jerome d’Ambrosio as it was before. McNish is much more of a veteran in motor sport than d’Ambrosio and therefore was able to talk in depth about technical issues within the sport. I hope we continue to see McNish on Sky Sports F1 as the season continues.

Anthony Davidson
After a short lived Formula 1 career with Minardi, BAR and Super Aguri, Davidson moved into the BBC Radio 5 Live commentary box at the start of the 2009 season where he partnered David Croft. He flourished in the role with Croft, with their commentary style in practice sessions universally well received. Davidson moved into other motor sports, mainly focussing on endurance races including the Le Mans 24 Hours. Davidson moved to Sky Sports in the same role for 2012, except instead of commentating on every session, he only commentated on the practice sessions, with Martin Brundle taking over for qualifying and the race. Davidson’s other role has been with Georgie Thompson in the ‘Sky Pad’.

Due to Davidson’s horrific accident at the Le Mans 24 Hours, his activities with Sky Sports F1 have since mid-June been curtailed, only appearing at the Hungarian Grand Prix in Sky’s London studios. In my April piece, I did comment that Davidson was “under-utilised massively on Sky”. Although I agree still with that sentiment, it is unfair to comment further on it as he has not been on screen a lot since then.

Damon Hill
From someone who didn’t have a successful Formula 1 career to someone that did have a successful Formula 1 career. Hill won his only title in 1996, in a fantastic battle with Jacques Villeneuve which came down to the final race in Japan. Hill’s career went downwards from that point onwards, however, moving to Arrows in 1997 before retiring in 1999 while part of the Jordan team. Hill’s role with Sky Sports F1 is not his first broadcasting role, however. Some may remember that Hill was part of the short lived F1 Digital+ concept in 2002 which seen him join Matthew Lorenzo, Ben Edwards, John Watson among others at Biggin Hill during that season to preside over the pay-per-view channel. Hill has the main punditry role in Sky’s coverage, with him alongside Lazenby and Brundle in the pre and post shows.

While I would not call Hill a fantastic pundit, I do think he is improving as the season progresses. In the first few races, it was not easy to watch Hill and Lazenby together and it felt somewhat ‘awkward’ with both of them new to the Formula 1 broadcasting scene (in Hill’s case, he is not new, but to my knowledge he has not done a lot of F1 broadcasting since 2002 aside from a few ITV commentary duties). Since then, however, Hill has improved somewhat, and definitely seems to be more at ease when Johnny Herbert is on screen alongside him, the two able to bounce off each other. As I said back in April, pundits can make the difference between a dull and good pre and post shows, the combination of Steve Rider and Mark Blundell was one that was badly received in 2008 at ITV, but the combination of Jake Humphrey, Eddie Jordan and David Coulthard in 2009 at BBC had the opposite effect. In both cases, very good presenters, but it was the pundits that made all the difference – in the example above Jordan and Coulthard being better than Blundell. At the moment, I do feel Hill is improving, but the verdict is still out on him. Can I see him staying with Sky Sports F1 for 2013? Probably, but in a reduced role, maybe attending a few races in the season but not week-in, week-out.

David Croft
In his 7th season now as a lead commentator in Formula 1, Croft began his commentary journey at the 2006 Bahrain Grand Prix with BBC Radio 5 Live commentating alongside the likes of Maurice Hamilton for the first three years. At the start of 2009, he was joined by Anthony Davidson for every session, a combination that has been well received. With the change of broadcasting rights for 2012, the inevitable question was ‘who would partner Martin Brundle?’ While the answer was not Ben Edwards, the answer was David Croft (I’m sure you have your own opinions on which line up would be better). Given how James Allen and Jonathan Legard fared alongside Brundle as a commentary pairing, fans wondered whether the Croft and Brundle line-up would fare better.

There is not much to pick fault with the commentary so far this season, I have not had any problems with the Croft and Brundle partnership, the two are working well alongside each other and is definitely the most successful partnership involving Brundle since Brundle was alongside Murray Walker in the commentary box. Sometimes there is driver identification problems (most commonly involving Sauber’s and Williams’ I tend to find) but again, you can pick fault while looking at a massive television, while Croft and Brundle are calling things on the spot, without the luxury of a large screen in front of them. So that is case of apples and oranges, in my view. Aside from his commentary, I hope we see Croft becoming a regular presenter of a journalists show on Sky Sports F1, which I shall elaborate on in part three.

Georgie Thompson
Probably one of the more controversial appointments given her drink driving record. But I don’t think Sky took that into account when hiring her. And neither will I, it doesn’t affect her ability to call and present Formula 1 coverage, so I won’t mention it again. Thompson, like Simon Lazenby, has been with Sky since the late 1990’s, mainly as a presenter on Sky Sports News. Unlike Lazenby however, Thompson has had experience on presenting motor sport, she presented A1 Grand Prix on the channel when it debuted in 2005. Thompson was announced as partnering Ted Kravitz to present ‘The F1 Show’ on the Sky F1 channel.

It would be hard for me to find complaints about Thompson in the coverage. She seems enthusiastic and genuinely interested in the sport. The show, for me has been the best part of the weekend, and her combination with Kravitz is definitely a joy to watch. The two gel together brilliantly and I hope that the Thompson and Kravitz duo is maintained in the latter stages of this season and into 2013. If Sky choose to expand their support race coverage for 2013, then I hope to see her present that, but on the other hand we may well find her in the main presenting role, should Lazenby leave after this season. Time shall tell…

Johnny Herbert
A Formula 1 veteran, Johnny Herbert’s career began in 1989, lasting until 2000. He won three races during that time period, two during 1995 while at Benetton alongside the memorable 1999 European Grand Prix with Stewart. Herbert did not initially feature in Sky’s Formula 1 coverage, suggesting his appointment was last minute. In any event, Herbert’s first appearance was on the March 30th edition of The F1 Show alongside Georgie Thompson, Ted Kravitz and Christian Horner.

Since that show he has appeared at multiple F1 races and multiple editions of The F1 Show. There’s a word used every so often to describe people on the some wavelength, or that can understand each other, and that word is rapport. Herbert seems to have an extremely good rapport with a lot of people, which makes for a better Sky Sports F1 show all around, whether he’s on the Sky Pad with Thompson, discussing something with Kravitz or getting asked questions by Lazenby. Herbert has also, in my opinion, made Hill feel more comfortable in his role when the two are together, a world apart from just having Lazenby and Hill in Australia. Hopefully we shall see Herbert in a lot more races with Sky this season.

Martin Brundle
Another Formula 1 veteran, but probably better known nowadays as a commentator for 16 years. Brundle’s F1 career ended in 1996, his last year competing with the Jordan team. Despite retiring, Brundle stayed in the F1 paddock, and quickly found himself new fame, as a broadcaster and a commentator alongside Murray Walker. The combination, a collection of ‘Murrayisms’ and ‘Brundleisms’ quickly became popular with the public, as did Brundle’s famed gridwalk which was introduced at the 1997 British Grand Prix. When Walker left at the 2001 US Grand Prix, he was replaced by James Allen, whom Brundle partnered until ITV relinquished the rights to Formula 1 in 2008. Brundle jumped ship to BBC for 2009, partnering Jonathan Legard. Although Brundle was well liked, neither the Allen/Brundle and Legard/Brundle combinations were well received. Legard was dropped at the end of 2010, allowing Brundle to take on a ‘fresh challenge’, moving into the lead commentator, with long time friend David Coulthard alongside him. Due to the change in broadcasting rights halfway through that season, the combination only lasted a year. Despite this, the combination helped bring back out the best in Brundle.

Brundle ditched the BBC at the end of 2011, moving to Sky and becoming the main face of the channel, dividing his time between pitlane, paddock and the commentary box. There is not much to add here, as I noted above, the Brundle and Croft combination is in my view the best involving Brundle since he was with Walker. That may not be too hard to achieve given how Allen and Legard were criticised, but it is still worth noting. Brundle being with Sky also means that get superb access outside of race weekends, Brundle at Maranello and Brundle’s Le Mans Diary were both fantastic features and insightful to watch (even if he has driven a Ferrari before!).

Natalie Pinkham
More of an entertainment reporter than motor racing reporter with her duties for various Channel 5 programming including The Wright Stuff, Pinkham moved onto the Formula 1 scene in 2011. Pinkham replaced Holly Samos as BBC Radio 5 Live reporter, Samos moving to pastures new. Pinkham has the role of interviewing drivers’, and occasionally smiling on camera whenever necessary. There’s honestly not much to say here, apart from improve the line of questioning. Or is there?

Pinkham was not with Sky Sports F1 in Germany as she was getting married. In steps Rachel Brookes. If you haven’t seen how Sky Sports News are covering Formula 1, then you’re probably thinking “who”? Brookes in the past few months on Sky Sports News has been vastly underlooked by many, so I was extremely glad to see she got a chance to shine in Germany. Brookes appears, to me, to have a better understanding of the sport than Pinkham, despite only being apart of it since the start of the year, and asks the right questions where necessary, unlike Pinkham who appears to ‘rinse and repeat’ the questions. If I had a choice between Brookes and Pinkham for the pit-lane reporters role, I’m afraid I would go with Brookes nine times out of the ten. I really don’t see them making any changes here for 2013, but it is just an observation worth making.

Simon Lazenby
When the Sky F1 team was announced last November, it was no great surprise that Sky chose Simon Lazenby as their presenter. After joining Sky in 1998, Lazenby was Sky’s Rugby presenter for the best part of a decade, before moving over to their Formula 1 team. At this point, you could argue ‘why did Sky choose someone with no motor racing experience’. The answer is quite simple, and that is because they preferably want someone in-house. This is a tendency that all broadcasters have, ITV moved Jim Rosenthal to their Formula 1 coverage when they began broadcasting the sport in 1997, while BBC did similar with Jake Humphrey when they regained the rights for the 2009 season.

I wrote the above in April. The other day though, I read a piece by Tony Dogkins over on AUTOSPORT (subscribers’ only) written last year. Towards the bottom, he spoke briefly to Jon Desborough who works for Sky. So, let me just summarise this. Sky have two motor sport presenters working for them (the other is Keith Huewen), yet they went for someone who has never presented motor sport? Now come on, where is the logic in that? There is not. The only feasible reason I can see for Lazenby getting the Sky Sports F1 job is because Martin Turner, Sky F1’s executive, also wanted him to make the jump to Formula 1 from Rugby.

Now, to get onto the point in hand, is Lazenby as much as a motor sport enthusiast as Desborough or Huewen? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that both Desborough and Huewen have motor sport experience under their belts, stretching back over ten years. Lazenby, possibly due to the lack of motor sport experience, has not found his feet as quick as I thought he would. Of course, the F1 paddock is a much different environment to the calm Rugby studios, but it makes me wonder if Sky made a mistake in moving Lazenby over to the F1. Unfortunately, while I do agree that Lazenby is not the best F1 presenter, he has been unfairly criticised by certain sections on the gutter press, more information on that is here. The jury is still out on Lazenby, there is still nine races left of the season to go, so we shall see if he improves as the season concludes.

Ted Kravitz
One of the best aspects of the Formula 1 coverage is hearing what the pit lane guys have to say. It always has been, getting into the nitty gritty of it, but also putting it across to the viewer in a language that they understand – without dumbing down. Which is always the fear. Kravitz’s F1 career began in 1997 with ITV behind the scenes. He moved onto pit lane reporter in 2002 when James Allen moved into the commentary box. I was extremely glad when Kravitz moved to BBC in 2009, as I always considered his pit lane tidbits one of the better aspects of ITV’s coverage. With free practice sessions live on the BBC Red Button from 2009 to 2011, Kravitz excelled as we got his tidbits on all three days of the weekend. Furthermore, his video blogs helped us dive into the post-race strategies and gave us a great summary of the majority of the teams’ on the grid.

Kravitz’s role expanded further for 2012 on Sky as he became host of The F1 Show alongside Thompson. As I noted earlier, the two have gelled together brilliantly. Kravitz’s relaxed style makes the show all the better, as well as seeing him poke around old machinery and seeing him explain new inventions on the Sky Pad. One of the explanations so far is with the Mercedes diffuser, which wasn’t dumbed down, but still made the hardcore fan like it. I’m glad Kravitz made the jump, because I would have hated seeing BBC cut his contribution down to shreds in the highlights shows, if anything, Kravitz deserves all the exposure he gets on Sky. Kravitz is also now doing his notebook’s for both Qualifying and the Race, with the Race version being broadcast live on the Sky Sports F1 channel. Very quickly, it is turning into, for me, the best bit of the post-race show.

The above is a hybrid of what I wrote in April and my thoughts now. Some sections remain virtually unchanged, while other bits have been ripped up and torn apart depending on how my opinion has changed. Since April, Sky have added to the line-up with Allan McNish, a definitely much needed addition to the team. It also gives a bit of a variety to the punditry and allows them to rotate it around each race which helps keep the program fresh and ‘new’ to the viewer. There is no need for them now to add anyone else to the team for the remainder of the season, although no doubt the team will be reviewed at the end of the year depending on when talent’s contracts expire.

In part 2 of this series I’ll focus on all the BBC TV team members, in a similar fashion to what I have done above. Again, some sections will remain the same as April’s series’, while some will change.

Comments, thoughts, disagreements and suggestions are welcome!

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2 thoughts on “The Sky Sports F1 Team: The Verdict so far

  1. I’ve enjoyed Sky F1’s Practice/Quali/Race coverage this year but only online. During BBC’s live weekends I’ve been watching the World Feed on the BBC with my PVR delaying it about 10-15 secs and listening to Sky’s comms so they sync up! Brundle/Crofty is brilliant team in my opinion and I know my late friend would have also agreed. He was able to listen to 5LiveF1 comms while watching BBC1 during the 09/10 seasons.

    • I agree with you on Brundle and Croft, although for me they are just as good as Edwards and Coulthard on BBC. Brundle along with Kravitz and Herbert are the standouts on Sky for me, hence why I think The F1 Show is the best part of Sky’s programming during a race weekend so far.

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