In front of the camera, life as a Formula 1 presenter or pundit may be glamorous being on location from many different places around the world. During a race weekend, the presenter and pundits would run through the respective shows’ with the editors and discuss the running order. From then, the show goes to air, with both BBC and Sky presenting their output live from a buzzing pit lane as the intensity increases closer to the race. Behind the camera though, things are not as glamorous. “Well firstly I get to spend very little time in the paddock as I am usually sat in a technical room, OB Unit or cabin within in the Broadcast Compound!” Laughter as it may sound, those are the words of one member of the BBC F1 team.
Carl Dolan is a small, but essential member of the BBC F1 production, working as part of the SIS Live Outside Broadcast team. Dolan’s role as Sound Supervisor involves him mixing the presentation output throughout the live BBC programmes. “When a large sporting outside broadcast happens, there are often two production areas or galleries operating at the same time. One gallery covers the actual event for example a football match, often called the host coverage, and the other covers the presentation. The presentation gallery runs the programme titles on and uses the presenters to introduce and close the event,” Dolan notes.
Like many people within the BBC F1 team, Dolan’s career in the industry has spanned decades. Starting out at Television Centre with the BBC in the 1980’s, Dolan moved onto their Music department, becoming a radio producer with the corporation. Moving into the 1990’s, Dolan recalls: “Motorsport has always been my first love, although I am actually more into rallying than racing. I drove in the Mintex National Rally Series in the 90’s, and I was involved in the British Rally Championship coverage on Top Gear Motorsport, working on the Rally GB and previously the Lombard RAC Rally coverage back in the day with Tony Mason.”
More recently, Dolan has been a part of the ITV4 team producing the British Touring Car Championship programme, before becoming a part of the BBC F1 team in 2012. The ITV programme presents its own challenges, as the team are on air for seven hours during a race day. Despite this, from a production perspective, the advantage for ITV over BBC is that any issues can be fixed during commercial breaks.
“They both present their own challenges,” Dolan says. “ITV is broken into segments of race coverage and obviously commercial breaks, and these can be very useful whether it might be to solve a technical problem or take a comfort break! The live BBC One coverage is a marathon session of concentration – I have to totally focus at all times. During the race, Ben Edwards throws to Gary Anderson regularly often without warning, so I have to make sure that I am listening and don’t miss fading Gary’s microphone up. When the programme is over, we have 1 minute before the forum starts on the Red Button so it’s quite a quick changeover. The highlights show is equally demanding as although we may not be live in the UK, Ben and David’s commentary is still going out live in other territories.”
Dolan’s first race was the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix. Dolan shadowed the previous Sound Supervisor before taking over fully a few races later. Because of this, it was one of Dolan’s only opportunities at witnessing Formula 1 live. “As I was shadowing the previous Sound Supervisor, I managed to nip out to watch and hear the start of the race. Alonso overtook the two Red Bull’s and Hamilton to lead going into the first corner and the Spanish crowd went mad – it was an amazing experience. I knew that I would never get the chance again to witness it as I would be mixing sound levels in front of a monitor in the compound.”
Although Dolan is a part of the BBC team for every Formula 1 race, he does continue his British Touring Car Championship duties – following the Malaysian Grand Prix, Dolan will be going straight to Brands Hatch for round one of their season. Alongside this, Dolan also works on programmes such as The One Show, Top Gear, Film 2013 and ESPN’s coverage of The FA Cup. In his interview with me, Dolan discussed the effect that the Sky Sports F1 team had on his output and said what the future held for himself: “It has been great and never viewed on the ground as a competition. We know many of the technical staff from various broadcasters not just Sky – some of them worked on the BBC coverage and as I say many other international broadcasters. So there is a feeling of camaraderie and team work throughout the broadcast compound. The industry moves very quickly as we saw in 2011 when the deal was announced that BBC was to share rights with Sky, so who knows what the future holds for me personally.”