The Sky Sports F1 Team: The 2012 Verdict

Note: I have completed this piece while feeling ill, so I apologise in advance if it is not up to my usual standard. Some portions towards the end I have cut/pasted in from the August Sky verdict, with small amendments.

Following on from my piece looking at the BBC F1 team, it is time to turn our attention to how the Sky Sports F1 team have performed this season. This, part three of the ‘2012 Verdict’ series will be followed by a look at the respective programming that BBC Sport and Sky Sports put out with the final part looking at the television ratings from this past season.

As with the BBC F1 team review, I will look at each person individually and give my prediction ahead of 2013. Sky Sports had a lot of pundits this season, and it is impossible to review every single one of them, so for the purposes of this review I shall only look at the main pundits that have appeared at several rounds although I will have a section at the end to look at other pundits.

Allan McNish
Having raced in Formula 1 in 2002 as part of the Toyota team, and having competed in endurance racing, McNish is well placed to give his thoughts on motor sport. McNish first appeared with the Sky Sports team at the Monaco Grand Prix. It was not his first appearance though as previously UK viewers would have seen him briefly as part of the ITV F1 team back in 2003 when he was Renault test driver.

McNish is one of those people who puts his thoughts across eloquently and in detail, and is good to listen to in practice commentary when substituting for Anthony Davidson. As well as practice commentary, he is more often than not alongside Johnny Herbert for The F1 Show and during pre
and post-race coverage, again worth listening too. Whilst he will not appear at every race due to his endurance racing commitments, my 2013 prediction = McNish to stay with the Sky Sports F1 team

Anthony Davidson
Like McNish, who did not have a successful Formula 1 career, Davidson found more success in endurance racing. After rides at Minardi and BAR/Honda replacing Alex Yoong and Takuma Sato, Davidson was a part of the Super Aguri team from 2007 until its demise in 2008.

From 2009, Davidson was alongside David Croft in the 5 Live commentary box, in a commentary line-up that was very well received. Davidson remained in that role until the end of 2011, when he joined Sky Sports F1. His commitments were briefly disrupted thanks to his horrifying crash at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which could have resulted in significantly worser injuries. As part of the Sky team, he continued the practice commentary role, Davidson joined Georgie Thompson on the Sky Pad for Saturday and Sunday of the weekend coverage, in a segment that usually works well when they analyse the key incidents in great detail.

Some wonder why Davidson is not there on his own and Thompson elsewhere. In my opinion, the answer is that Davidson is not a natural broadcaster, so whilst he may be able to describe a particular incident very well, he may not be able to lead an entire segment, hence why Thompson is there to help guide the segment and bring a steady ship on-board. I personally don’t have an issue with their being two people there, arguably it works better with two people than one. 2013 prediction = Davidson to stay with the Sky Sports F1 team

Damon Hill
The only Formula 1 World Champion on either the BBC or Sky teams, Hill was crowned Drivers’ Champion in 1996, fending off competition from Williams’ team-mate Jacques Villeneuve. Along with stints at Arrows and Jordan, Hill retired at the end of the 1999 season. Since then, Hill has done sporadic commentary roles with ITV F1 – specifically various Hungarian Grand Prix’s.

It was not until this year though that Hill returned permanently to a Formula 1 role, becoming pundit for Sky Sports F1. Whilst Gary Anderson won the most improved member award for the BBC team, I think it is fair to say that Hill deserves this award for the Sky Sports team. At the start of the year, after the Australian Grand Prix, the duo of Hill and Simon Lazenby grated. A lot But thanks to the introduction of Johnny Herbert in China, Hill has come on leaps and bounds and seems significantly more comfortable in his role.

I think the issue here was that Hill had not been in a broadcasting role similar to that previously. Formula 1 is one of the few sports where you can’t rehearse a build-up months before because it is ‘out in the wild’, none of it is studio based, unlike say a football match where the build-up is in a studio. In any case, Hill definitely is much better in his role compared to the start of the season, and it will be good to see him hit the ground running in 2013. 2013 prediction = Hill to stay with the Sky Sports F1 team

David Croft
Starting in 2006, Croft became a familiar voice to Formula 1 fans in the United Kingdom, becoming a part of the BBC Radio 5 Live team, initially alongside Holly Samos and Maurice Hamilton. Croft became more recognisable, though, from 2009 when BBC won the television rights. As part of the deal, practice was to be broadcast on BBC’s Red Button service, with TV taking the 5 Live commentary of Croft alongside Anthony Davidson.

For many people, Croft’s and Davidson’s chatty nature suited practice as the two discussed all things Formula 1, inviting viewers’ opinions on Twitter along the way. One year ago, it was announced that Croft would become part of the Sky Sports team, commentating alongside Davidson for practice and alongside Martin Brundle for qualifying and the race. Whilst the commentary on the whole is very, very good, I feel like Croft and Brundle are not quite as good as Ben Edwards and David Coulthard and the practice commentary appears to have taken a significant step backwards compared with the 5 Live F1 days when interactivity was the main drawing point (admittedly though, this is not Croft’s fault, but worth mentioning here).

Similar applies for the race commentary, the mentions of ‘Sky Sports F1 HD’ and ‘Sky Race Control’ are unnecessary and are a detriment to the overall product. The commentary is made worse for it. I don’t think Croft is necessarily a bad commentator, in fact it is quite the opposite, it is just that those higher up in the Sky Sports chain are dragging his commentary down by getting him to ‘PR’ many times within commentary. 2013 prediction = Croft to stay with the Sky Sports F1 team

Georgie Thompson
Having been with the Sky Sports News team for over ten years, Thompson left the team at the end of last year, joining Sky Sports F1 as presenter for The F1 Show. There was criticism at the time for Sky’s decision, however, she does have motor racing experience before, notably presenting some of their A1 Grand Prix coverage. Plus, with over ten years of presenting experience, Thompson is a safe pair of hands on board.

For me, Thompson, alongside Ted Kravitz on The F1 Show have done a great job as presenters, with instant rapport between the pair. If anything, she needs to be used more during the race weekend coverage as the only part she plays on Saturday and Sunday is on the Sky Pad with Davidson and presenting FP3 – although the latter is significantly rushed thanks to time constraints. It would be nice to see her, and possibly Davidson or Herbert presenting support race coverage in 2013. 2013 prediction = Thompson to stay with the Sky Sports F1 team

Johnny Herbert
With a long racing career spanning stints at Lotus, Benetton, Stewart and Jaguar, Herbert is very well placed to comment on all things Formula 1 thanks to his extensive career. Herbert did not initially appear with the Sky Sports team at the start of their coverage, instead making his first appearance at the Chinese Grand Prix. From the beginning, Herbert was very comfortable in front of the camera, which in turn made the rest of the product seem better, as noted earlier with Hill.

I think, in hindsight, Herbert should have been with Sky since the start with Hill being brought in later, but on the other hand, Sky probably wanted a world champion to boost their line-up instantly from the get-go, which Hill offers. The introduction of Herbert also helped loosen up what was a slightly wooden presentation for the first two rounds, which helped things considerably – as a wooden presentation can bore the viewer and switch them off. 2013 prediction = Herbert to stay with the Sky Sports F1 team

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 back 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 during 2012 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. 2013 prediction = Pinkham to stay with the Sky Sports F1 team

Martin Brundle
From Formula 1 driver to Formula 1 commentary, Brundle is now a firm fixture with Formula 1 viewers around the world thanks to his commentary spanning fifteen years. Brundle drove for Benetton, Ligier and Jordan, before hanging up his Formula 1 boots at the end of 1996. Thankfully, ITV called and Brundle found himself alongside Murray Walker in the commentary box from 1997 to 2001. Brundle remained with ITV until the end of 2008, joining BBC for 2009 and then again moving to Sky Sports for the beginning of 2012, thanks to the draw of the new channel.

But when is too much, too much? Now, I love Brundle’s contribution. On BBC, he was commentator for qualifying and race whilst participating in most post-race F1 Forum’s. Sky have upped that. Brundle can be seen before and the majority of practice, qualifying and race sessions as well as commentating on the qualifying and race sessions themselves. In my opinion, it is overkill. Were they hoping Brundle’s presence all around would draw viewers? Quite possibly, after all Brundle was a very popular figure in the BBC and ITV days, with his famed grid-walk.

I can see Sky’s approach in having Brundle as their lead figure. But I think for 2013 it needs to be re-evaluated otherwise you risk burn out with his opinion being stirred and stirred constantly saying the same things. At the moment, it feels like ‘The Brundle Show’, especially when you cut-away from practice sessions multiple times to see him talking in the pit-lane. I want Brundle to say for a long while yet, but for 2012, I felt it was too much Brundle. 2013 prediction = Brundle to stay with the Sky Sports F1 team

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.

You could say, well, why didn’t they choose Jon Desborough or Keith Huewen? Both of them have motor racing presenting experience and work for Sky. Whilst true, neither are high up in the hierarchy on Sky. On the other hand, Lazenby worked on a relatively high profile sport for Sky, and had the advantage that the Sky Rugby executive producer, Martin Turner was heading over to Sky Sports F1 as well. So in that sense, the move was not surprising.

Was it the right move? I’m not sure. As they say the jury is still out on him, although he has received some unfair criticism this season. Will he stay for 2013? As I said last week, yes, as Sky are not in the business of making knee-jerk decisions, and there is no guarantee than Lazenby’s replacement would be better than him. If he still is not gelling in fully by the end of 2013, then it may be time to re-evaluate. So, with that in mind: 2013 prediction = Lazenby to stay with the Sky Sports F1 team

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 has also been doing his notebook’s for both Qualifying and the Race, with the Race version being broadcast live on the Sky Sports F1 channel and it very quickly for me became the best bit of the post-race show. I hope that Kravitz is around for many years to come with the Sky team. 2013 prediction = Kravitz to stay with the Sky Sports F1 team

Others
Aside from the regular pundits, a lot of other faces popped up to give their thoughts on the Sky Sports channel throughout the season, notably Jacques Villeneuve in Canada. Having other pundits in addition to regular ones is a positive thing in my opinion as it allows for other viewpoints to be heard throughout the coverage, which is a positive for the channel as a whole. Sometimes the viewpoint even of said guest can get repetitive, especially when they are asked a million times (such as Villeneuve being quizzed about DRS), but at the end of the day it is only one weekend and it is a risk worth taking.

Onto the News team, and for me, Rachel Brookes is the better reporter than Craig Slater, Slater having the tendancy to stutter over his words, but in any case both have done a solid job for year one of Sky F1’s News coverage. On parts three and four, I shall look at BBC’s and Sky’s programming this year and analyse that.

For now though, your comments and thoughts are welcome.

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2 thoughts on “The Sky Sports F1 Team: The 2012 Verdict

  1. Good and fair reflection on what I’ve seen on Sky this year.

    I wonder if Sky F1 will still be free for HD customers next year and not just for ‘true’ Sky Sports customers, me being the former only. (although most of it was watched on Sky Go)

  2. I’ll do a shorter version of what you’ve done, but with my opinions:

    McNish: Always delighted to hear him, he’s intelligent, knows what he’s talking about, and most definitely adds to the coverage so the more races he’s there in some sort of capacity, the better, though obviously it’s mainly dictated by his sportscar commitments.

    Davidson: The same as McNish to be honest, but I also like his SkyPad stuff as well.

    Hill: Very wooden at the start I felt, but definitely improved throughout the season, and hopefully that’ll continue into 2013.

    Croft: A bit of a mixed season, sometimes he was right on the money with the tone of the commentary and such like, other times he grated a bit. Plus I didn’t need reminding about Sky Race Control, nor did I particularly want to know who was on the on board channels as if I wanted to watch those channels, I would.

    Thompson: A good addition, and I think as has been said, built up a great rapport with both Ted and the various guests, especially on the F1 Show, she’s had a good first year.

    Herbert: Sometimes I’m a little bit uncertain as he sometimes seems to sort of come across as a little unsure about what he’s saying, but overall, a good addition and I’ll be looking forward to seeing him again in 2013.

    Pinkham: Not sure really, could do with a bit more variety (eg don’t ask what happened if we already know, eg we get team radio saying the gearbox has gone, and don’t ask how they feel if they’ve retired, they’re obviously going to be rather annoyed). Not fussed either way about her really.

    Brundle: Made some mistakes, as did Croft, had some mixed gridwalks but that’s the nature of them. Would’ve liked to have seen more driving/technical/engineering features with him and maybe a bit less on screen, as if he’s there all weekend (a bit like Hill/Herbert I suppose) he can end up saying the same thing 4-5 times over the course of the weekend.

    Lazenby: Not going to lie, I wasn’t impressed at the start, and even at the end I’m not that impressed. He’s improved a bit, but nothing like enough. If I was in charge of hiring and firing I’d be seeing 2013 as a make or break year, either improve dramatically, or I’ll be looking for someone else.

    Kravitz: Fantastic, possibly the best member of the team, and love the notebooks, especially as they focus on things the main team would generally just ignore, ie the lower midfield/bottom 3 (now 2) teams. He’s probably the 1 person on the team who if speaking I’ll make 100% certain I listen to what is being said.

    When you do your programming blog post I’ll do something similar there (as I have a few opinions on the Sky programming).

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