The BBC F1 Team: The 2013 Verdict

2013 has passed in earnest, with Sebastian Vettel winning his fourth Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship in dominant fashion. Off the track, it has been another interesting broadcasting year, with the new Formula 1 broadcasting era in full swing, as BBC and Sky Sports now share the television rights. Now that we are firmly into December, it is time for ‘The Verdict so Far’ series to make a triumphant return!

Throughout this series of blogs, I will look back on 2013 and analyse both BBC’s and Sky Sports F1’s programming and cast an eye towards the future as F1 heads into 2014. I should note that it is unlikely that there will be a ratings analysis piece in this series of blog posts, the reasoning behind this can be found here. As always, we start the series of by looking at each member of BBC’s F1 team. Here is how the team changed between 2012 and 2013:

Who came In
Allan McNish (replaced Jaime Alguersuari as 5 Live F1 commentator; moved from Sky Sports F1)
Suzi Perry (replaced Jake Humphrey as presenter)
Tom Clarkson (expanded on 2012 commitments)

Who went Out
Jaime Alguersuari (moved to pastures new)
Jake Humphrey (moved to BT Sport)

When you look at it like that, blank piece of paper, before the start of the year and you weight it up, the in’s are stronger than the out’s. However, Jake Humphrey, was always going to be a big loss for the team. Throughout 2013, it was evident that the programming was sorely missing Humphrey’s presense…

Allan McNish – @AllanMcNish
– one and only season with Toyota in 2002
– sporadic appears with ITV F1 in 2003
– made a broadcasting return with Sky Sports F1 last season

When McNish made his return to the television screen as a sporadic member of the Sky Sports F1 team last year, I anticipated him expanding his role for 2013. What I did not expect though was for him to move sideways to BBC’s 5 Live F1 team. Nor did I expect them to announce him as commentator before the season… but only doing six races, which felt farfetched. I didn’t really have an issue with McNish only doing six races. The bizarre bit for me was that no one else was announced to do the other thirteen races. Was this a cost cutting move by 5 Live? On the suface, it definitely looked like it.

McNish’s only two appearances since the Summer were in Belgium and Italy meaning that there is not much to say here. I have not listened to 5 Live a lot this year, so I don’t know if people prefer hearing Susie Wolff or Alexander Rossi, but no permanent co-commentator for the remaining thirteen rounds does shout out cost cutting. If both parties are happy with the current arrangment then I imagine McNish will be back, although I hope the races he is at is spread out a bit more thinly rather than a big lump in the middle next year.

Ben Edwards – @BenEdwardsTV
– began F1 commentary with Eurosport in 1994
– next F1 exploits in 2002, for F1 Digital+, before A1 GP and BTCC commentary duty
– returned to F1 in 2012 with the BBC F1 team

As good as ever, in my view. Many times before, Edwards was in the wrong place, at the wrong time. For the start of ITV’s coverage in 1997, Murray Walker continued his commentary, meaning Edwards was not an option. For 2002, James Allen was chosen as ITV’s lead commentator, whilst Edwards did F1 Digital+. And in 2009, the BBC chose Jonathan Legard over Edwards. Thankfully, for 2012, BBC made the right move and Edwards was announced as lead commentator alongside David Coulthard in the box.

It was a long time in the making, and about time too in my book. Edwards has stuck to what he does best: commentating. No extra presenting, no extra interviews. Just commentate. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his commentary throughout 2012 and 2013, and is one of the main reasons why I pick BBC over Sky Sports for the race itself. Yes, he makes mistakes, but who doesn’t. I prefer a commentator that makes the hairs on your neck stand up, and Edwards does just that. Hopefully Edwards has many years of Formula 1 commentary duty ahead of him.

David Coulthard – @TheRealDCF1
– raced for Williams, McLaren and Red Bull
– 13 wins in a 15 year F1 career
– moved to broadcasting in 2009, joining BBC following his F1 retirement

It was known within the paddock for a while before his final Formula 1 race that Coulthard would be moving into broadcasting with the BBC F1 team. At the 2008 Chinese Grand Prix, both him and Jake Humphrey were in the Red Bull garage, presumably looking at what laid ahead for 2009. Coulthard’s role in 2009 was simply being a pundit alongside Eddie Jordan. Which worked very well, both were streets ahead of the ITV product before it. Pundit turned commentator in 2011 with Jonathan Legard leaving.

Coulthard has arguably been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the BBC and Sky Sports deal, with more air time and doing more VT pieces too. One highlight of the 2013 broadcasting year has to be the McLaren piece at Silverstone with the Scot and Mika Hakkinen. Sublime, and beautiful to watch. Coulthard has also been doing the grid walks as of late, his calm approach appearing to be a winner with drivers’ and resulting in better grid walks for it. Again, I hope nothing changes here, Coulthard is great with the team, it doesn’t yet feel old or stale for me, so hopefully things continue as they are.

Eddie Jordan
– Jordan team owner from 1991 until 2005
– 4 victories as team owner in 250 races
– joined the BBC in 2009

Love him or hate him, Eddie Jordan is just one of the people that made Formula 1’s return to the BBC that much better. It was a genius move by the corporation to get him on board for the coverage, lighting up the pre-race coverage. Obviously there are others that subscribe to the theory that he always acts and is “a bit of a prat”. I don’t subscribe to that category of thinking. Jordan brings a lot to the BBC’s shows. Does he brings as much as he used to? No, due to the broadcasting rights changes, which meant that his commitments were reduced, but he is still a valuable asset.

You only have to look at his track record for exclusives to know how valuable he is to the BBC F1 product as a whole: predicting Michael Schumacher’s return and Lewis Hamilton’s move to Mercedes are two highlights. He has also sometimes this season done the grid walk, which to his credit in India went according to plan and very smoothly! Things do not work as well sometimes with just him and Perry, compared with him and Jake Humphrey, but I really do feel that BBC’s team would be worse off without Jordan, although like I said at the start: you either love him, or hate him!

Gary Anderson
– veteran technical director at Jordan and Stewart
– broadcasting exploits with Setanta Sports
– moved to BBC’s F1 team for the 2012 season

When Ted Kravitz moved to Sky Sports F1, along with a pleothra of other people, it did leave a gaping hole in BBC’s team. Enter Gary Anderson, who replaced Kravitz as BBC’s technical analyst and roving pit lane reporter during practice. Given that Anderson had been round the block many times, he was definitely the most logical person for the role. As I noted a few times last year, I felt that Anderson was out of his depth during the first half of the season as he struggled to convey technical information to a casual audience. But since then, Anderson has come on in strides.

It is a strange one actually, as you would probably logically feel that Anderson and Kravitz should be the other way around. Anderson doing more technical stuff on Sky Sports F1, with Kravitz on BBC F1. Both do fantastic things in their respective roles though and I would not want that to change. As well as being in the pit lane, Anderson is also in the commentary box for many races. Some may not realise this, but Anderson does at times form a three man commentary booth alongside Edwards and Coulthard, with Anderson dipping in from time to time. So far, the three man booth has worked definitely well, and gives them an advantage over the opposition.

James Allen – @JamesAllenOnF1
– started off as ESPN pit lane reporter in mid 1990’s
– part of ITV’s F1 team for their entire F1 stay, Allen as reporter then commentator
– joined BBC’s Radio team for the 2012 season

The announcement at the beginning of 2012 that Allen was going to join BBC Radio 5 Live was a surprising one, but as Allen noted himself, he felt that radio commentary was a new challenge compared to his previous ITV commitments. Since ITV’s coverage ended, Allen has set up a blog site which is still going to this day and has grown substantially.

There is not a lot more to add here for Allen. I have not listened to a lot of the radio coverage for 2013, but listening to little bits and Allen seems more comfortable and relaxed on the microphone than he did in the ITV days. Allen does not commentate on every race either, with Jonathan Legard commentating on some races. Sadly, whilst Allen does seem more comfortable, Legard does not with commentary and appears to have not improved that much compared with his TV days.

Jennie Gow – @JennieGow
– first appeared on the motor sport broadcasting scene in 2010 as BBC’s MotoGP presenter….
– …but was dropped at the end of that year in favour of Matt Roberts
– returned to the BBC as 5 Live’s F1 pit lane reporter from 2012

The idea of people being dropped from broadcasting roles after just one season is never a nice one. Back in 2010, I didn’t think Gow was the greatest motor sport presenter ever seen, but on the same note I thought the decision by BBC to drop her was not justified either, although admittedly this was at a time when the costs of everything was being reigned in, as the Formula 1 team found out several months later. Thankfully it was not too long before Gow got another chance, starting with the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix with BBC Radio 5 Live, not a bad race to start with!

I don’t think 2010 was too early for Gow, but may well have been in hindsight too early for the role. Nevertheless, Gow returned to the F1 paddock full time with 5 Live last season, Gow benefiting from the BBC and Sky deal. Alongside the pit lane role, Gow presents the other 5 Live F1 shows, the main contribution being ‘Slicks-O-Six’ phone in show on the station, which I have enjoyed listening to, and hope continues on a regular basis into 2014. Should there be any TV changes, then personally I hope Gow benefits from that.

Lee McKenzie – @LeeMcKenzieF1
– remember Speed Sunday? ITV? 2004? Nope? Well Lee fronted that
– part of the A1 Grand Prix team as pit lane reporter
– first Formula 1 broadcasting exploits from 2009 with the BBC

I think it is fair to say that last December, a fair few people were disappointed. Overlooked? You could say so. The BBC chose Suzi Perry over Lee McKenzie for the Formula 1 presenter role, presumably under the rationale that Perry has more experience in live motor sport presenting than McKenzie. It was disappointing for McKenzie though considering she has been part of the BBC F1 team since 2009. Nevertheless, she decided to continue with her pit lane reporting role, a role that in 2013 has brought many advantages.

Early on in the season, McKenzie highlighted the advantages of said role thanks to the controversial Malaysian Grand Prix, she being one of the first people to interview both Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel thanks to her pen role. McKenzie has not done much more this season in comparison to other seasons aside from sporadic forum appearances and interviews, as a result probably is one of the more overlooked members of the team. She deserves to one day lead the BBC team, but given the choices made by higher up last year, I’m not sure if that will ever happen, sadly.

Suzi Perry – @SuziPerry
– part of BBC’s MotoGP team as presenter from the late 1990s through to 2009
– presented shows such as The Gadget Show amongst various other strands
– returned to live hosting as the BBC F1 presenter for 2013

McKenzie’s section leads me on very nicely to Perry. Do I understand the BBC’s logic? Of course. However, did they go with the most experienced back in 2009? Nope, and that paid off brilliantly for them. Sometimes, broadcasting is about taking risks, and taking Perry felt like the safe option. Well, it should have been, anyway. Up until this point in her career, Perry has largely been covering two wheels. And also, the air-time has been generally shorter, none of her BBC MotoGP shows were three hours in length with a one hour forum on the end.

I don’t think BBC were expecting a bumpy first season with Perry. She has been, for me, mediocre. Flashes of a potentially great F1 presenter, but nothing more. Comparisons can be made with Simon Lazenby’s 2012 season with Sky Sports F1, it has to be said. Of course, before Sky F1, Lazenby had no motor sport presenting experience. Perry did, and I think that is the difference maker. Nevertheless, I think Perry should stay for 2014 purely because I’m not a fan of rash decisions and, as we have seen with Lazenby, she should improve significantly next year. That’s assuming BT Sport don’t come calling…

Tom Clarkson – @TomClarksonF1
– a familiar face on Australian television, due to his TEN Sport F1 connections
– made his first BBC F1 appearance as interviewer in Canada 2012
– appeared full time as a member of the team this season

Last, but not least, we move onto Tom Clarkson, who, in my view is moving fairly quickly up the ranks. For the UK audience he has almost come out of no where, no formal announcement for Canada 2012, with some almost wondering “who is he?”. Clarkson was back though full time for 2013 (with a proper announcement!), roaming the pit lane during practice and conducting interviews in the paddock before and after the session.

Someone spotted Clarkson conducting an interview for TEN Sport during one of Ted Kravitz’s Notebook programmes on Sky, which suggests that he has been doing double duty for at least some of 2013, a man clearly in demand! I’ve enjoyed his contributions though throughout 2013, solid where they have been and seems confident doing pieces to camera, during practice too with him and Jennie Gow sometimes in pit lane. There is not much else to say, but I hope he remains with them into 2014.

It is fair to say that the BBC, as they always have had since 2009, still have a very strong team despite the change in broadcasting rights. 2014 for them needs to be like Sky’s 2013: stability. They’ve had two unstable years in a row, and desperately need to balance the ship. Should Perry stay, 2014 needs to build on 2013 with the team getting back to the award winning programming we seen from 2011. I know that the air-time for highlights limits what they can do, as I will talk about in a later part, but I really hope they bounce back in style for 2014.

Part two of this blog series will look at the opposition: Sky Sports F1 and their team, as I outline who has impressed me, or unimpressed as the case may be.

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2 thoughts on “The BBC F1 Team: The 2013 Verdict

  1. I have not watched any of BBC’s TV broadcasts this season so any comment on that would not be justified. However, due to a dodgy internet service (ironically provided by Sky) on the Sunday of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix I had to listen to the race coverage on 5 Live. To say I was massively unimpressed and disappointed would be an understatement. I thought James Allen did a decent job as ITV lead commentator back in the day, but alone (no-one alongside him for most of the GP, with Gary Anderson appearing occasionally) on radio was a disaster. It wasn’t until mid-way through the second lap did I know the order of the race, and much of the race-action seemed to be missed (after watching it back on Sky Sports F1). I didn’t think Gary Anderson’s offerings added to much, more to reinforce what James Allen had already said. Obviously, this was only a single race and may not be representative of the entire year, but I certainly wasn’t impressed with the coverage. Certainly a large step back from the days of Crofty and Ant Davidson on 5 Live, I wonder where they are now…

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