Following on from my ‘Verdict so Far’ series’ in April and August, the series’ makes a return as I look back over the 2012 season from a broadcasting perspective, looking at both the BBC F1 and Sky Sports F1 teams, their programming and the ratings from this past year.
Before formally beginning ‘The 2012 Verdict’, however, I am going to begin with my 2013 predictions. The reason for doing the predictions before posting the series of verdict blogs and not after is because it is likely that announcements will be made before Christmas, so I want to get in my predictions and thoughts before that happens, and then get into the verdict itself.
We already know one change for 2013, that being Jake Humphrey will no longer be BBC F1 presenter. What we do not know yet, though, is who is replacing him. Back in September, I wrote who I thought were the lead contenders’ to be Humphrey’s successor. Since then, Mark Pougatch has also emerged as a contender. Despite that, I stand by the thought that Lee McKenzie is highly likely to succeed Humphrey. To me, it seems like the obvious choice. McKenzie has extremely high rapport with the drivers’, is a likeable character, and would also be a steady person to lead the BBC F1 ship. Going into 2013, McKenzie will have been in the Formula 1 paddock for five years, and I believe the time is right for her to step up to fill the presenter shoes. It would not be surprising, but it would be sensible. It would not be the first time someone has stepped up from the pit-lane to presenter role, after all Ted Kravitz was a pit-lane reporter last year for BBC, and this year has took on extra responsibilities as host of The F1 Show on Sky Sports F1, whilst back in 2002, James Allen moved from pit-lane reporter to succeed Murray Walker as lead commentator on ITV.
If McKenzie does fill the presenter slot, as I expect to happen, the question then will be who is replacing her. Tom Clarkson, having replaced her in the Summer when Humphrey was called up for other sporting events, will be a leading possibility. Aside from Clarkson, I think BBC should be making moves to get Will Buxton on board. Passionate and articulate, Buxton ticks the right boxes should BBC (or Sky) wish to employ him now that his SPEED commitments have finished. One other option is to have Jennie Gow conducting the interviews for both BBC TV and Radio 5 Live, which would save costs for all concerned.
Whilst Gary Anderson and Ben Edwards are expected to remain on board, I remain less convinced about Eddie Jordan and David Coulthard. Jordan reduced his commitments for 2012 by only appearing at the live races and three highlights rounds (Australia, Italy and USA), so it is possible that was the first step towards him leaving the team altogether. Coulthard on the other hand is linked to Sky, due to his friendship with Martin Brundle. I can not see neither leaving, but there again I did not initially anticipate Brundle leaving last year either, the new channel swinging it towards Sky for him. Coulthard at the moment does the grid-walk, punditry and commentary on BBC. Is he likely to advance further up than that on Sky? I don’t see it myself. If anything, it would just add more pundits for the sake of adding more pundits. The only possiblity of him going to Sky is if one of their main faces leaves. If no one on Sky leaves, then adding Coulthard makes no logical sense. If someone on Sky leaves, then yes, that would leave a gap for Coulthard to enter. But who?
I think David Croft possibly. Not leaving Sky, but leaving their Formula 1 team. Sky could always ask him to be a commentator on their Darts coverage, which is inside the realms of possibility, thus opening a gap for Coulthard to partner Brundle in the commentary box. Over on BBC then, John Watsonn would fill Coulthard’s gap to partner Ben Edwards on a full-time basis. I don’t consider this highly likely though. Brundle said at the beginning of the year that in the middle of last year it became apparent that the lead commentator role was not for him, so he would have to persuaded to switch back to that role. One also wonders if it would be wise for Sky to change their line-up after their first year. Would they gain viewers and close the BBC vs Sky viewer ratio by adding Coulthard to the commentary line-up? I don’t know.
Lastly, will Simon Lazenby stay with Sky Sports F1? It would be easy to say “get rid of Lazenby, get rid of [Natalie] Pinkham”. But would it be worth it? Not particularly. Sky are not in the knee-jerk business of moving people about after only one season. Yes, Lazenby in my opinion has not been fantastic, but next year, with a year already on board, he could improve and develop as a Formula 1 presenter. The first half of this year was the ‘bedding in’ phase for the team. There is no guarantee, with anything, that a team will come out of the blocks and be great from the get-go. You do not get ‘three amigos’ of Humphrey, Jordan and Coulthard every day. There will be some teams that take more time to blend on screen than others. That is how broadcasting works. But making a knee-jerk move and replacing X with Y after year one does not do anything. What if Y is even worse than X? Then you are back to square one. For Sky, it is better to have the same faces on board for next year, and if there is still problems or areas to work on at the end of 2013, then change. Martin Turner, the executive producer of Sky Sports F1, moved over from Sky’s Rugby team with Lazenby, so hopefully Turner can get the best out of Lazenby in 2013.
It reminds me a bit of BBC in 2009. Yes, the ‘three amigos’ were fantastic, but Jonathan Legard received severe criticism. Instead of the knee-jerk option of dropping him at the end of 2009, BBC persevered with him in 2010. When it still was not working, they went their separate ways. Similar happened in the ITV days with James Allen, except in that case Allen was kept on until their coverage ended in 2008. The crux of the matter is that it does not do anyone any good to make knee-jerk decisions. Lazenby, for all intents and purposes, should be better next year than this year, but as always time will tell.
On-screen, I expect Sky to remain status quo, but, I think and hope that the balance will be different. One of my concerns was that Lazenby was presenting too much and that Georgie Thompson was doing too little over a race weekend. So hopefully that balance is sorted out now that Sky are heading into year two. I’ll go into more detail regarding that later on. Over on 5 Live, with no Jaime Alguersuari, John Watson looks set to replace him if Coulthard does not leave over on TV, with Allen and Legard probably rotating the lead commentator position. And finally, over on Sky Sports News, Rachel Brookes has already confirmed that she will be at nine races next year, so expect to see Craig Slater at the other races again.
With the above in mind, I anticipate the BBC and Sky teams for 2013 to look like the following:
Presenter – Lee McKenzie
Commentators – Ben Edwards and David Coulthard
Pundit – Eddie Jordan
Pitlane – Gary Anderson and Will Buxton
BBC Radio 5 Live F1
Commentators – James Allen/Jonathan Legard and John Watson
Pitlane – Gary Anderson and Jennie Gow
Sky Sports F1
Presenters – Simon Lazenby and Georgie Thompson
Commentators – David Croft and Martin Brundle
Pundits – Anthony Davidson, Johnny Herbert, Damon Hill and Allan McNish (rotation)
Pitlane – Ted Kravitz and Natalie Pinkham
News – Rachel Brookes and Craig Slater (+ David Garrido as extra)
I should add a disclaimer at the bottom saying that I don’t have any inside knowledge as to who is going where, so all the thoughts above are my own. As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.