Yesterday morning, after finding out that Ben Edwards would be alongside John Watson for Free Practice 1, I decided that I would deviate from my normal practice of watching practice on Sky Sports F1. As good as David Croft and Anthony Davidson are, for me, Edwards and Watson are one of the best motor sport commentary duo’s out there past and present from Eurosport in 1995 and 1996 to F1 Digital+ in 2002 to A1 Grand Prix from 2005 to 2009.
For those unfamiliar, BBC 5 Live’s practice coverage is simulcast on the BBC Red Button service for BBC’s live Formula 1 weekends from five to the hour (the five minute FOM sting) to five minutes after the session has finished, whilst Sky Sports F1 has a short build-up and short outro. Unlike their TV coverage, 5 Live’s coverage is produced by USP Content, so in other words they are not made by the same people, which is why they have different teams. Because the TV people are not doing much on Friday, they help with the radio output, hence why Edwards and Gary Anderson pop up on 5 Live occasionally.
The 5 Live format followed the same discussion style format that was seen from 2009 and 2011 with Edwards and Watson discussing the latest stories depending on what was shown on screen, as well as answering people’s Twitter questions from time to time. Anderson and Jennie Gow joined in the discussions too and talked to one another down in pit-lane, the two doing a fantastic job in grabbing information, and of course without a camera. A camera can be good, there was a point where Anderson was explaining the latest upgrades for (I think?) the Mercedes and I was thinking that a camera down in pit-lane just to illustrate the upgrades would be useful – as long as the camera is used appropriately (see below). From a cost-perspective you can see why there is no camera, as staying on the World Feed for 100 minutes is significantly more cheaper than switching between a BBC pit-lane camera and the Formula One Management World Feed.
I think the good thing about having someone like John Watson as well is that he can say what he feels, he’s not in the Paddock for the entire year, so he has no Paddock Pass to lose, whereas other people do, so it was refreshing to hear him criticise the FIA and GPDA, labelling the latter organisation “toothless” for failing to clamp down on the poor driving that we have seen this year.
Over on Sky, there is the instant negative in that there are commercials. Even in the BBC live weekends, they choose to run commercials in practice. Some will moan, on the other hand, I would just say “press Red and go onboard”. That is what it is there for, to be used, so it may as well be used, plus the Onboard and Pitlane channels can pick up things that may not be seen on the main feed. I do find that they don’t answer many Twitter questions though when you compare 5 Live from 2009 through to today. I’m not sure whether it is because they don’t want to or because they don’t get enough questions through, but the interactivity has not done much for me this year in terms of getting the viewers involved. Even on The F1 Show on Friday’s there is no interaction at all for what is meant to be a magazine style show. I raised the Twitter point back in June and it still applies now.
The camera issue still frustrates me as well, and does not appear to have changed one bit. Watching practice two this afternoon on Sky and every time they cut to Martin Brundle, so does the camera. Why? It does not enhance the broadcast, plus you only cut away from the World Feed when someone is setting a competitive lap-time. Another thing is that the cut-away’s are too long, almost as if the director has fallen asleep. Five to ten seconds is enough to illustrate a point, not half a minute. Hopefully they re-evaluate this for 2013. I should make it clear that I do not mind it if something is being shown, ie. Ted Kravitz showing us an upgrade because that is very useful (and something I prefer over the BBC here) and helps the viewer see clearly what is being explained. I think the problem is that they have too many cameras down in pit-lane, for example in Practice 1 on BBC, I spotted about 16 minutes in on the World Feed a Sky Sports F1 camera following Lewis Hamilton despite FOM doing a perfectly capable job there. It seems a waste of resources to me.
A better use of cut-away’s would be sending Martin Brundle to a fast corner (say Mergulho in Interlagos, turns 11 and 12 in Melbourne) and putting the camera there and getting him to do pieces to camera live analysing X, Y and Z and saying what he sees from the naked eye. I’m surprised Sky have not done a feature like that this year, because I’d find that more informative than keeping Brundle in pit-lane restrained. Sky have practice build-up and outro, the build-up is not very much, just talk-and-chalk, but the outro is a good half an hour length which includes interviews, today had Martin Whitmarsh, Mark Webber and Monisha Kaltenborn, so this is worth watching.
Overall, if you remove Watson, then the Sky commentary and Kravitz because of the camera would mean that I would choose Sky over BBC, whereas Gow would mean I choose BBC over Sky as I find Natalie Pinkham too lightweight for F1 coverage. However, on days like today, I do find 5 Live’s coverage more informative and interesting to watch than Sky Sports F1’s practice coverage.
As always, I am interested to hear your thoughts, so comments are welcome!