Following on from my BBC F1 review looking at each team member, part two looks at each member of the Sky Sports F1 team. ‘The Verdict so far’ series will then look at BBC F1’s and Sky Sports F1’s programming throughout the year so far, whilst the fifth and final part will analyse the ratings picture and compare it to previous years.
Again for the mid-season piece, I will only be looking at the main Sky Sports F1 team members. Last year there were ten people I looked at during the Sky mid season piece, this year there is only eight, with two noticeable absentees:
– Allan McNish – defected to BBC F1
– Georgie Thompson – left before the season began, recently moved to America
The rest of the team is identical to last year. For this purpose therefore Anna Woolhouse, Craig Slater and Rachel Brookes are not included in this piece, although I may briefly mention them later on.
Anthony Davidson – @AntDavidson
Like Allan McNish on the BBC F1 team, Davidson’s main success is in endurance racing, his highest finish in the 24 Hours of Le Mans is second. His first chance in Formula 1 came in 2002 alongside Mark Webber for two races at Minardi. Unfortunately for Davidson, this did not lead to a race drive for 2003. He did have one outing for BAR, at the 2005 Malaysian Grand Prix, but it wasn’t until 2007 that he was given a permanent race seat – at tail-enders Super Aguri. Davidson’s highest finish there was 11th at the Spanish Grand Prix. He held the seat until Super Aguri’s demise in the middle of 2008.
Davidson’s first Formula 1 broadcasting exploit was in 2004 for BBC Radio 5 Live, before joining David Croft in the commentary box for every session on 5 Live several years later. It was this role which built up the Croft and Davidson partnership, and one that fans hugely enjoyed due to their relaxed style while debating viewers questions and tweets throughout the practice session. Davidson and Croft continued to commentate for 5 Live until the end of the 2011 season, when both of them defected to Sky.
Since joining Sky, Davidson has held two roles. Alongside his practice duties with Croft, he has also been on the Sky Pad alongside Georgie Thompson. I thought this worked fairly well last year, aside from the fact that they were in the middle of nowhere in a not so vibrant ‘box’ (or at least that’s what it felt to the viewer). This year, the Sky Pad has relocated outside, and minus Thompson. At first I was fearful because Davidson did not look natural on his own, but that has since changed, with Davidson now almost looking like a veteran on there. It helps I think too that the Sky Pad is integrated much more into the live shows which helps the overall product.
One of the few father-son combinations to win Formula 1 championships, Hill made his Formula 1 debut at a relatively late aged 31 for Brabham in 1992. Hill moved to Williams for 1993, leading the team from 1994 onwards due to the death of Ayrton Senna. Twice he came close to winning the championship in 1994 and 1995, but 1996 would prove third time lucky as Hill won his one and only championship. In what Frank Williams described as a mistake on his behalf for not resigning Hill, Hill moved to Arrows and then Jordan to end his career in 1999. His final win came in a frantic 1998 Belgian Grand Prix which seen him lead home a Jordan one-two, with Ralf Schumacher in second.
His broadcasting career started in 2002, again with Sky as part of the F1 Digital+ service, as a pundit alongside Matthew Lorenzo and Perry McCarthy in the studio. The studio role, based at Formula One Management’s headquarters in Biggin Hill, only lasted a year with Bernie Ecclestone pulling the plug on the series. After several sporadic ITV F1 commentary appearances (the last one being the 2008 Hungarian Grand Prix), 2012 would be his next return to the paddock as part of the Sky Sports F1 team. Hill was, at the start of 2012, a bit wooden alongside Simon Lazenby but has since improved.
The introduction of Johnny Herbert alongside him loosened him up for the better, which has continued into this season. I don’t know if this is just me, but it feels like Hill has been on screen less this season. That’s not a bad thing, entirely the opposite as it shows that the load is balancing out more. There is not much more to add really as Hill has not done anything new this season, he’s just been there giving his opinions where necessary. Whether he stays with the team long term, we shall see.
David Croft – @CroftyF1
A Formula 1 commentator for the past eight season, David Croft’s broadcasting career started in 1995 with the BBC. Croft moved up the ladder, working with the BBC Radio 5 Live team covering the 2002 FIFA World Cup and the Olympics in 2004. He moved up to the Formula 1 commentary role from 2006 onwards alongside Maurice Hamilton in the commentary box. From 2009, Anthony Davidson was alongside him in the commentary box, a combination that was a hit with viewers and listeners as I described above in Davidson’s section.
Croft, like Davidson, moved to Sky Sports F1 at the end of 2011. As he did in his Radio 5 Live days, Croft commentated on every session, whilst also appearing sporadically on The F1 Show throughout the season. I’m not entirely sure his commentary has improved on Sky, though. Unfortunately, the insistence of Sky to promote their own products throughout doesn’t help (Sky Race Control) a lot to be honest. I do wonder how many people hear “You can ride with Lewis Hamilton on Sky Race Control” and actually go onto Sky Race Control? I just don’t see many doing that. I subscribe to Sky, I’ve watched them for a year and a half, I don’t really need the same viewing options at each race rammed down my throat.
As well as the above, it feels like some of his commentary at times is forced for the purpose of whatever VT package follows where you know you will hear the ‘5 lights’ line or ‘….wins the X Grand Prix’. It is painfully obvious. I do enjoy Croft as a commentator, and have done since his 5 Live days from 2009, but at Sky his commentary feels like the Sky publicity man, for some reason. It is nice though to see #AskCrofty on Twitter, although I’m not sure straight after the race is a good idea when in reality I should be engaged in the post-race coverage. However, that is probably the time when they get the most exposure, so I can see why that choose that particular time.
Johnny Herbert – @JohnnyHerbertF1
A motor sport career spanning three decades, Herbert began his Formula 1 career in 1989, nearly a year after breaking both his legs in an accident at Brands Hatch. Herbert raced with seven teams from 1989 to 2000, but it was Benetton where he would have his most successful spell. He won the 1995 British and Italian Grands Prix, on both occasions benefiting from Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill colliding. As well as his wins at Benetton, Herbert also scored a famous win for the Stewart team, winning in mixed conditions at the 1999 European Grand Prix.
Unusually, Herbert did not appear with Sky Sports F1 at the start of their coverage, instead his first race with them was round three in China. Whether that was always the plan, I don’t know. In any case, he worked fantastically alongside Damon Hill as a pundit and made the broadcast for the better as a result thanks to his lighter hearted style of pundit. Herbert has also been a regular on The F1 Show both last season and this season. My only concern is if he could turn into a parody of himself…
Let’s make it clear that I like Herbert on the Sky Sports F1 team, my only worry is if the light hearted things with him take over the show. Take Herbert’s Lemon as an example, which for some reason turned into a 15 minute standalone programme on the channel. Sometimes it can get a bit too much at times. At the moment it is mostly okay, and I hope that doesn’t change. Too much banter as I have said in the past can obviously become a bad thing. I know some people find it funny but I’m afraid it is cringey at times. As a pundit though, Herbert is good and I wouldn’t want him to leave any time soon.
Martin Brundle – @MBrundleF1
Although probably more famous for to younger audiences for his 17 years of commentary, Brundle’s Formula 1 career began in 1984 with Tyrrell. His first Formula 1 spell only lasted four years as he moved to find success in sports car racing, winning the 1990 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was 1992 when he finally broke out of the tail-enders in Formula 1, joining Benetton and racing alongside Michael Schumacher in the team. His Benetton stint reaped rewards with several podium finishes, although he was dropped at the end of 1993, moving to McLaren for the beginning of the 1994 season. His final two teams would be Ligier and Jordan, as Brundle retired at the end of the 1996 season.
Brundle, like David Coulthard did when he joined BBC, remained in the paddock, joining the newly formed ITV F1 team for the 1997 season. He would commentate alongside Murray Walker and then James Allen for the next twelve years alongside doing his now famous grid walk. Both of his roles were well received, back in 1997 you would not see many broadcasters doing the grid walk, now you see broadcasters from many different countries doing the walk before the race. When ITV lost the Formula 1 contract, Brundle moved to BBC where he remained co-commentator. This role changed in 2011 when Jonathan Legard was dropped from the team – the pairing of Legard and Brundle not blending well. Brundle was only a lead commentator for a single season alongside David Coulthard, Brundle was heading to Sky.
Last year, it felt to me that Brundle was on screen too much at nearly every opportunity possible. Thankfully, as I noted earlier in the piece, things have become balanced out so the amount of screen time Brundle gets has reduced. Brundle is still doing some fantastic features though, the feature recently with Mark Webber on the art of overtaking was a great insight which we would not normally get. Also, I’m not completely gelling with the Croft and Brundle combination, if I have a choice of Croft/Brundle vs Edwards/Coulthard, I’m more likely to go for the latter two, at the moment. Still, Brundle is a great asset to the Sky team and it would be a significant loss if he went elsewhere.
Natalie Pinkham – @NataliePinkham
Graduating from the University of Northampton, Natalie Pinkham spent the 2000’s working her way up the ladder through various roles including The Wright Stuff on Channel 5. Her previous motor sport presenting experience before Formula 1 included the Goodwood Festival of Speed with ITV alongside Steve Rider and the Isle of Man TT. Pinkham became BBC Radio 5 Live pit lane reporter from the start of the 2011 season, succeeding Holly Samos in the role. The role only lasted a year for her, as she moved to Sky Sports for 2012.
With Georgie Thompson leaving the Sky Sports team in February, it meant Pinkham was given the nod to present The F1 Show alongside Ted Kravitz for this season. I’m not a fan of Pinkham’s to be honest where Formula 1 is concerned. I have no problem with her doing driver interviews, she is fine doing that, but outside of that, she is too ‘bubbly’ for my liking. For shows like The Wright Stuff, that’s great, probably the exact sort of person you need. But in an F1 paddock? I’m not sure I particularly agree.
I’ve said many times how I prefer Rachel Brookes to Pinkham and I have seen nothing in the last few months to change that, Brookes deserves a bigger role within the team whereas I haven’t seen much from Pinkham to justify the air time she gets. Last year, I enjoyed the Thompson and Kravitz combination presenting The F1 Show, one of the best aspects of the channel, but this year I’m not liking the Pinkham and Kravitz combination, Pinkham’s style of presenting grating on me, I’m afraid. I don’t think Pinkham is well suited to Formula 1 presenting in my opinion, similar applied for that matter when Charlie Webster presented GP2 for ITV in 2008.
Simon Lazenby – @SimonLazenbySky
Joining Sky Sports in 1998, Lazenby’s first role with Sky was as part of the Sky Sports News channel. Lazenby soon moved on though, becoming presenter of their rugby coverage. It was this role which he has held for the majority of his time at Sky, remaining as presenter until the end of 2011. With Sky’s Rugby producer Martin Turner becoming Sky Sports F1 executive producer, the decision was made for Lazenby to jump over with Turner. As thus, Lazenby became the main Sky Sports F1 presenter from the beginning of 2012. It goes without saying that the two roles would be vastly different, the rugby presenting role was mainly confined to a studio whereas the Formula 1 presenting role is more sporadic in nature, and in the middle of a vibrant environment.
Throughout 2012 on this blog I was critical of Lazenby as it looked like he was struggling with the role and sometimes on the screen he came across as a little bit lost from time to time as well as courting ‘controversy’ on occasion. I said at the time that he should be kept on for 2013 and that any decision to drop him would be a knee jerk reaction. Instead, it turned out that Georgie Thompson was to leave the team, with Lazenby remaining presenter. Has Lazenby improved? I think overall, he has. Is he as good as Jake Humphrey yet in the role? No, but improving he is.
It looks to me that he appears more relaxed in the role this season than last, it helps that the line up is mostly the same around him so that there have not been any big changes. I think we will continue to see him improve as time goes on, but one thing that still needs to be toned down slightly is smugness. I was not happy with his and Pinkham’s presenting on The F1 Show Special a few weeks ago for that reason alone. However, anyone hoping (or thinking) Sky will drop him I think will have to think again, that boat has passed now and, unlike Legard on BBC in 2009 and 2010, Lazenby on Sky has got better between 2012 and 2013. Unless he wants to leave, I don’t see Sky dropping him.
Ted Kravitz – @TedKravitz
Last but not least in the Sky Sports F1 jigsaw is Ted Kravitz, who is now in his eleventh season as appearing on screen. Kravitz has been a part of the Formula 1 broadcasting world since 1997, starting off as a producer on ITV’s Formula 1 coverage. Working up from there, the shuffle as a result of Murray Walker’s retirement meant that Kravitz was promoted to the role as pit lane reporter, a role that began for him in 2002. He kept the role until ITV’s coverage ended in 2008, memorably ending with Kravitz holding the British flag against the railings in Brazil!
It wasn’t until 2009 on BBC where Kravitz grew further. Thanks to more air-time, Kravitz was seen on the BBC forum shows as well as the practice sessions on BBC Radio 5 Live. By the end of 2011, Kravitz was overwhelmingly liked by viewers, and it was no surprise that Sky picked him up for 2012 onwards. It was a good move on his behalf as it meant that his role expanded and viewers seen more of his insights. Alongside his pit lane duties, Kravitz has presented The F1 Show in both 2012 and 2013 – presenting with Georgie Thompson and Natalie Pinkham respectively. But the main highlights for me are the Notebook and Development Corner.
The former was a big part of Sky’s practice coverage back in February and something I thoroughly enjoyed on a nightly basis to get his thoughts on what had occurred. Kravitz is helped also down in pit lane by more freedom in what Sky are allowed to do, with cameras down in pit lane allowing Kravitz to get into the nitty gritty regarding technical developments. By far in my opinion Kravitz is the best member of the team, and I hope that does not change any time soon. Whilst Sky’s team is good as it is, something I alluded to in the BBC piece has to be alluded to here. BBC has a ex team boss, ex technical director and two ex drivers. Sky has four ex drivers.
Arguably, BBC’s line-up is more all rounded. I’m not saying that is a bad thing for Sky, but it just means that on BBC you may get differing opinions due to the different roles previously whereas on Sky you may get four ex drivers towing the same line. I don’t think Sky should bring in an ex technical director because they have Kravitz (although I don’t understand why they have not used Marc Priestley that much given recent experience), but there is a definite argument in my view for Sky dropping an ex driver and bringing in an ex team personnel. Sky’s viewpoint when starting out in 2012 would be to get ‘names’ on board, people will have heard of ex drivers more than former team personnel. But in my view, they should definitely get a non-driver in there so that another opinion is heard. As always, you’re thoughts and comments are welcome, should Sky drop one of their former drivers and bring in someone else?