The BBC F1 Team: The Verdict so far

The Summer break is here, the teams, drivers and journalists have gone on holiday, so I have taken the opportunity to revist my series that I wrote in April focussing on Formula 1 broadcasting in the UK. As with the April series, part one here focussed on the Sky Sports F1 team, their strengths and weaknesses. In part two, I move on from the Sky F1 team, to 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, and also that everything written here is a hybrid of my April thoughts and my thoughts now during the Summer break.

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…

I wrote the above in April, and there is very little worth adding to it. The only phrase that comes to mind is “keep doing what you are doing”. I would like to see Edwards a bit more on air, maybe doing an interview here and there for pre-race pieces, but apart from that, there is nothing more to be said here.

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.

Due to Coulthard’s and Brundle’s friendship, there will always be speculation about Coulthard’s future at the BBC and whether a move to Sky could be in the pipeline for 2013 or after. My feeling is that Coulthard will stay at BBC, because he is in one of the main roles there now, he is a pundit and a commentator. If he went to Sky, would he be a commentator? Questionable, unless you went down the route of having three commentators on race day. I think Coulthard’s happy where he is, and I would be surprised to see this aspect of the line-ups changed for 2013.

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. An interesting point is that Jordan has only been present for the live races in 2012, and not for the highlights races (Australia being the exception). I don’t necessarily mind this, because two pundits for a highlights show is redundant, but I thought it is worth noting. Is Jordan winding down his Formula 1 punditry slowly?

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. I was sceptical of Anderson in my April, me describing him as a “solid replacement” to Kravitz. I also said how I think Anderson will improve throughout the season, a point that is definitely turning into fruition. Anderson’s “Gaz Pad”, otherwise known as a pen and a piece of paper, is proving to be a hit, and is just as good as the Sky Pad. His pieces to camera as well have improved as the season has gone on. In the highlights shows they sometimes use simple graphics to describe things and the flow of whatever it may be around the car. I mean, why pull out all the stops on snazzy graphics when you can do exactly the same with a much lower budget?

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 five, or even ten years down the line Most recently Humphrey has missed races to cover Euro 2012 and London 2012, both of which were fantastically covered by the BBC, Humphrey’s presenting on the latter for BBC Three gaining him more fans. I was slightly confused, though, when Humphrey presented Valencia live, specifically travelling over from Poland and then back again after the race. I know it was due to how the Euro 2012 schedule fell, but what exactly was the purpose of that? I’m not sure whether that was his decision or someone else’s decision at BBC Sport but it seemed odd to me, meaning that Lee McKenzie did not present Europe live as was originally planned.

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. McKenzie also presents the Inside F1 show on BBC News, and has this season presented several shows due to Humphrey presenting other sports. I do think she has been unable to ‘show off’ her presenting skills though however due to the fact that she never presented any live shows as I noted above. Highlights shows are not live and are mainly to the point which meant that her presenting talents could not be showcased as much as they could have been in live shows, hence my disappointment that she never presented the European Grand Prix live.

Tom Clarkson
If you are from Australia and are reading this, you will be familiar with Clarkson as he is a regular voice on TEN Sport’s Formula 1 coverage. As Humphrey is back for the remainder of the season as a presenter, I don’t believe that we will see Clarkson again, but as we have seen him several times, I thought I would give him a section here too. My memory of Clarkson though comes from Canada when he was asking questions to a slightly miffed Mark Webber here,Webber either unimpressed or bored with Clarkson’s line of questioning.

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 is turning into a fantastic technical analyst. 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. What they will be hoping now is that they keep that team and stabilise it for 2013. I don’t expect BBC to sign anyone, or approach anyone else, the only way they would lose anyone is if they were approached and signed by Sky, forcing BBC to find someone else. I’ve summed up in the below bullet points the chances of anyone moving to Sky, all my thoughts:

Ben Edwards – unlikely unless David Croft moved on
David Coulthard – not out of the question, but rejected Sky last year
Eddie Jordan – if it was a BBC decision for him not to travel to highlights races, then possible
Gary Anderson – unlikely unless Ted Kravitz moved on
Jake Humphrey – Olympics has come and gone, new challenges possibly with Sky although move unlikely
Lee McKenzie – she said in AUTOSPORT (subscription needed) last year that she rejected Sky, so more would need to be offered to tempt her
Tom Clarkson – unlikely

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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2 thoughts on “The BBC F1 Team: The Verdict so far

  1. As I understand it, DC was contracted to the BBC for another year at the time they sold the rights to Sky (hence the public comment from Brundle that he was out of contract at the end of last season). That said, he is currently the big fish at the BBC and has more of an opportunity to develop his TV role as Brundle did over a decade ago. His gridwalks are slowly improving. If he was to move to Sky, I’m really not sure where he’d fit in. They already have four ex-drivers on varying punditry roles as well as Ant Davidson (who I think is still as under-utilised as he was at the BBC).

    Without going into detail there are rumours that EJ is frontrunner to take over from Bernie at FOM when the time comes for him to step down. That time can not be far away given Bernie’s bizarre comments that Sky Sports reaches more households than the BBC. It will be interesting to see whether EJ remains with the BBC in 2013 as he is the “other half” of DC. Without EJ the BBC’s coverage would be incredibly dull. Yet we know how EJ feels about viewers of F1 from his comments at China (remember the interview with Lau?) and it would be interesting to see how F1 broadcasting changes under his management if he does take the helm at FOM.

    I completely agree with your comment on Ben Edwards. He needs to appear on camera more and build his on-screen presence. I think the only time I’ve actually seen him on camera was during the BBC F1 Forum (Singapore?) when they were milling about the paddock and bumped into Martin Brundle (who tried and failed to run away… LOL).

    What I’d say in closing is that the BBC’s live coverage feels more “friendly” (if that’s the appropriate word) with the three “amigos” frequently having a laugh and involving the audience in their unique way. Here’s an example of the BBC’s “friendly” coverage. It’s no more than I’d expect from EJ. He later went on to use the word “bollocking” on-air which of course was a no-no under the special rules the BBC has to adhere to but other broadcaster’s don’t. Classic EJ: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvcqfPxIv4Y

    • Some interesting points there, I agree that the BBC coverage feels more friendly, I think as well more accessible to the viewer for those with only casual Formula 1 knowledge as well as those that consider themselves ‘hardcore’ or ‘dedicated’ F1 fans.

      I would love to know where the EJ/Bernie rumour comes from though, haven’t heard that one before! That would fall under the bizarre category if it ever happened…

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