The Sky Sports F1 Team: The 2013 Verdict

Sometimes, they say that the second year is tougher than the first. In broadcasting, I think the reverse is true. The first year is for building the blocks and the second year is for expanding and cementing those blocks. Sky Sports F1’s second year was largely more successful than the first, as I will analyse in this piece and also the programming piece later on. Sky’s team was assembled at the beginning of 2012 as two presenters, one commentator, five ex-drivers and two pit lane reporters.

Whilst they did indeed build the blocks in 2012, the off-season seen two blocks disappear. Like BBC, the Sky team encountered several changes. Here is how the team changed between 2012 and 2013:

In
– Anna Woolhouse (now presents Midweek Report, although she is not a ‘formal’ part of the team)

Out
– Allan McNish (moved to 5 Live F1)
– Georgie Thompson (moved to pastures new in America)

Thompson’s departure came as a massive surprise to most considering it was only announced (on a blog, nonetheless) four weeks before the start of the season! Nothing official was ever released concerning her departure, it was all rather odd. Anyway, as it turned out, some things are for the better, and Thompson leaving ended up fitting into that category.

Anthony Davidson – @AntDavidson
– main racing activities in endurance racing
– 24 F1 races spanning eight years
– joined 5 Live F1 in 2004, before moving to Sky in 2012

One of the highlights of BBC’s Formula 1 coverage between 2009 and 2011 was the Red Button service used for practice sessions, with commentary from Anthony Davidson and David Croft. The two were universally praised by fans due to their relaxed and interactive style with viewers texting and tweeting their thoughts. Moving onto the present day, and Davidson can also be found standing at a Sky Pad, although in 2012 things were slightly…. different. In 2012, Sky had Davidson and Georgie Thompson stand at the Sky Pad, in a portacabin. The analysis was great, but the location was awful, the two may as well have been in London!

As it turns out, Thompson was not off to London, but off to America. Before the start of the season, I said Davidson would struggle going solo. How wrong was I. Combined with the Sky Pad moving outside, it is one of the biggest improvements to Sky’s coverage year-on-year. Moving it to outside allows them to do more things, which I’ll discuss more in the later pieces. As for Davidson, he has gelled in brilliantly with the team more so this year, it felt last year like he was hidden away because of the Sky Pad location. I suspect he will reduce his commitments for 2014 with good reason, as he now has a new born to take care of!

Damon Hill
– won the 1996 Formula 1 championship
– retired in 1999 after Brabham, Williams, Arrows and Jordan stints
– sole year at F1 Digital+ in 2002, returning to broadcasting in 2012 with Sky

It is not often that people go ten years without appearing in broadcasting, but in the case of Damon Hill, that happened. Of course, he has been ITV F1 commentator sporadically when Martin Brundle was on holiday, but being announced as Sky Sports F1 pundit for 2012 would be his first permanent role since 2002. At the start of last season, Hill was not great to put it lightly. Him and Simon Lazenby were wooden to watch and it was bordering on the cringeworthy. Thankfully, things did improve and with the help of Johnny Herbert, Hill loosened up as a pundit.

2013 has been better for Hill, thanks to Herbert alongside him and also the general rule that the second year tends to be better than the first. In terms of his role, it has not been that much different for him, the commitment level has remained the same. There have been some races where Hill has not travelled to, which is a good thing as Hill is better in small doses. Will he stay for 2014? I think he will, but it is worth bearing in mind that his son Josh retired from motor racing back in July, so Damon may take the opportunity to step back his commitments further for the time being.

David Croft – @CroftyF1
– began broadcasting career at BBC in 1995
– climbed up the latter to 5 Live F1 from 2006 onwards….
– …before moving with Davidson to Sky in 2012

Moving with Anthony Davidson to Sky Sports F1 from BBC Radio 5 Live was always the most logical move for Croft once BBC had reduced their coverage. I did enjoy Croft’s commentary with 5 Live as I alluded to above, his and Davidson’s practice ramblings was sometimes the highlight on an F1 weekend. Whilst I still do like Croft’s commentary, for me, he is still what puts him and Brundle below Ben Edwards and David Coulthard. The first point is with Sky self promotion, which sadly is beyond his control, but very tedious nevertheless considering most viewers know about said services, yes Sky Race Control, I’m looking at you!

There are other issues, though. I said in the BBC piece that I liked Edwards because he makes the hairs on the neck stand up, and it doesn’t feel forced. With Croft, the opposite is true. Every time the race ends, and every time an overtaking move happens (DRS assisted or not) it feels like he needs to shout for whatever reason, maybe because it sounds good in VT’s after, who knows. But to the viewer watching it live, it doesn’t come across as good, it is forced. I know Croft does a lot of fantastic things off the microphone, #AskCrofty for one, I like those, but inevitably he will be judged on his commentary. Good, but no Edwards, in my view.

Johnny Herbert – @JohnnyHerbertF1
– began his Formula 1 career in 1989 after breaking both legs
– recorded three Grand Prix victories before retiring in 2000
– first race with Sky Sports F1 at the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix

The first few races on Sky Sports F1 in 2012 from a presentation stand point were not the best. It needed a more ‘bubbly’ personality, shall we say, to enter the fray. Enter Johnny Herbert, who became part of the team from the Chinese Grand Prix. Whether that was always the intention I don’t know, but it was a much needed addition to the team which was a wooden, as I noted in Hill’s section above. It is also interesting to note that, despite retiring in 2000, his role with Sky is the first time that he has appeared on the F1 broadcasting scene, having never previously held a role with BBC or ITV.

In terms of opinions, Herbert gives the obvious opinions and doesn’t really say anything surprising, if anything he toes the ‘party line’. Another issue is if things get too light hearted, as has happened on occasion, but has not yet gone overboard, thankfully. Saying that, the Sky team would suffer without him, as he helps hold the show together in my view. I think Herbert will stay with the team for 2014, he is a safe pair of boots and there is no logical reason for them to get rid of him.

Martin Brundle – @MBrundleF1
– veteran Formula 1 career from 1984 to 1996
– part of ITV’s coverage for their entirety, commentating alongside Murray Walker and James Allen
– moved to BBC in 2009, and then hopping over to Sky for 2012

One of my criticisms of Sky in 2012 was the overuse of Martin Brundle. I can understand the reasoning behind it, as he was the face of their pre-season advertising, but throughout last season it felt like they needed to shoe horn Brundle into every segment and session possible. Brundle was present doing pieces to camera during practice in pit lane right the way through to appearing on the post-race show regularly last season. This has been reigned in somewhat during 2013, but it is still a minor issue for me.

Instead of being in pit lane during practice, Brundle now reports from a particular corner during practice. Whilst this is a great addition, it really could do with a camera man being down there with him, although I appreciate that safety is an issue when reporting from track side, which probably prevents Sky from doing this. His grid walks are still as strong as ever, although I think his commentary has dipped from when he was with the BBC. The lack of a championship battle does not help in that respect, but it was noticeable as the season progressed. Hopefully Brundle rebounds where that is concerned in 2014.

Natalie Pinkham – @NataliePinkham
– various roles on way up to F1, including The Wright Stuff
– became BBC Radio 5 Live pit lane reporter from 2011….
– …but the role was only for a season, she was soon heading to Sky

Due to Georgie Thompson choosing to leave Sky Sports at the start of the year, it meant that Natalie Pinkham’s commitments were expanded. Pinkham throughout 2013 presented The F1 Show alongside Ted Kravitz, and for me it is one reason why The F1 Show has dropped in quality compared with 2012. If I had a choice of who to keep in the team for 2013 between Thompson and Pinkham, it would have been Thompson for me purely because she is the better presenter and can be more ‘serious’ than Pinkham.

Pinkham’s role is more or less the same as Lee McKenzie’s on the BBC, except the latter is leagues ahead of the former. When Pinkham does attempt to do something serious, it is difficult to take it seriously, and feels completely out of place. I do wish that Sky chose Rachel Brookes ahead of Pinkham for The F1 Show, but sadly I think that boat has sailed. I wouldn’t mind Pinkham just as a ‘features reporter’ (even if it did mean her taking a, dare I say it, Beverley Turner style role from ITV) as long as it meant that her air-time was reduced significantly as a result. I’m not a big fan of Pinkham, I’m afraid.

Simon Lazenby – @SimonLazenbySky
– presented Sky’s Rugby coverage up to and including 2011
– moved, along with executive producer Martin Turner, to Sky Sports F1
– stayed with the team for 2013

When Sky were first announced as joint right-holders for Formula 1 from 2012, there was no logical person to give the presenting role to, and it was quite obvious early on that the hiring for the role would come from internally. If you are to talk about choices though, I guess you’d be looking at Keith Huewen and Jon Desborough from a motor sport background. Why Sky Sports never went for either of those for the F1 role, we will never know. After that it was almost a free for all, but in the end Simon Lazenby got the role. 2012 was not great for Lazenby, and I said that strong improvements had to come for 2013.

Sky kept him for 2013 (as his only likely successor decided to leave), and happily Lazenby appears more relaxed in the presenting role. It probably helps for him also that there has been a bit of movement at the BBC, with Lazenby now up against Suzi Perry, who herself has not had the strongest of years. Whilst Lazenby has improved, I don’t think he is near the level of Jake Humphrey, who I think the consensus now is that Humphrey is leagues ahead of most of the Sky presenters with his style of presenting (when not in a studio, that is!). Hopefully Lazenby improves further for 2014, should he stay.

Ted Kravitz – @TedKravitz
– began with ITV in 1997, moving in front of the camera in 2002
– jumped to the BBC in 2009, with commitments improving significantly
– moved to Sky for 2012

They always say ‘leave the best to last’. Not deliberately, but in this piece, Kravitz is the last of the main individuals on the Sky Sports F1 team. And in my view, the best. Kravitz was a main part of BBC’s output from 2009 to 2011 and with more air-time, Sky seemed the logical home for him considering his Notebook’s, which have been even better in 2013 – and expanded with testing and Saturday’s covered too. An always amusing moment is when he fails to stick inside his allotted time, on multiple occasions running 5, 10 or sometimes 15 minutes over his scheduled slot!

The Notebook has definitely the highlight of 2013 from a broadcasting standpoint for me, whether it is Kravitz wandering around Suzuka’s amusement rides or giving us a behind the scenes look at Sky’s operations as he did late in the season. Alongside the Notebook, Kravitz roves up and down pit lane, whilst also presenting The F1 Show. For reasons I’ve noted briefly above and I will note later on, it has declined in quality, although the reasons for it are out of Kravitz’s control. I’m hoping Kravitz’s Notebook’s are back in force from February with F1 testing again!

Others
If you haven’t watched much of Sky Sports F1’s coverage outside of race weekends then you will probably have not heard of Anna Woolhouse. Woolhouse is the presenter of the Midweek Report. An interesting story is that it was initially online only and filmed against a green screen, with a shoe string budget. Only a few weeks later was it noted how pointless an online only show was when you have an entire channel! So, from China, the programme had its first airing on Sky Sports F1. And since then, at times the programme has been better than The F1 Show! I’ll explain more in the next few parts, for me, the choice of guests on occasion is infinitely better. As a presenter, Woolhouse does a fine job, but there is not much more to add here.

Over on Sky Sports News (where Woolhouse also is!), is Craig Slater and Rachel Brookes. Nothing has changed here, except that Sky Sports F1 now tends to use more Sky Sports News interviews which is a good thing, as it makes complete sense for F1 and News to share resources. It made no sense to me why BBC TV and Radio were initially completely independent of one another in 2009, that soon changed where TV people started appearing in Radio’s coverage of practice. My only wish is that Brookes is more prominent on the channel, preferably replacing Pinkham, but that doesn’t appear to be happening yet.

As a unit, if I was to compare the two teams directly and ignoring the programming outside of it, the BBC for me have the edge due to their team being more all rounded than Sky. Sky throw their eggs all in one basket with former drivers whereas with BBC you have an ex team boss and an ex technical director, neither of which Sky have. I do think the Sky team is much improved on 2012, but it will always have the ‘imbalance’ problem for me until they get in another non-driver to add some balance to the programming.

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9 thoughts on “The Sky Sports F1 Team: The 2013 Verdict

  1. Just on the last piece of the blog where you say the BBC have an ex team boss and ex technical director……..I know it’s a long shot as he may not want to do it, but what about Brawn (for either team)? Very recent obviously, very handy in terms of good with reg changes and next year being a major change, could give some seriously good technical insight to either team, though not entirely certain what sort of role he could have.

  2. When was the last time you saw broadcast quality footage of an F1 car on track that wasn’t from an FOM camera, outside of the pitlane?

    It’s not safety that keeps things back.

  3. Sky’s second year was a flop, with a loss of nearly one fifth of their unique viewers.

    Why people abandoned the broadcaster is open to debate, but it’s likely that the initial hype of having a dedicated channel didn’t live up to expectations, with most individual programmes making ‘little impact’, and many programmes having ‘zero viewers’, largely due to repeats and uninspiring content.

    Has SkyF1 bottomed out, or will they continue to lose viewers (even taking into account Sky’s rather childish attempts to ‘rig’ the viewing figures by misrepresenting programme lengths)?

    I suspect they’ve probably found their level, but only time will tell.

  4. Interesting views.

    Has Lazenby improved or is it all relative?

    Perry is appalling, Lazenby is slightly better, but that’s a bit like saying getting syphilis is slightly better than getting genital warts .

  5. Hold on – your comments on why you dislike Crofty are exactly what Ben Edwards does! Ben Edwards is forced to do so, just compare his F1 commentary to his BTCC commentary or his Porsche SuperCup commentary; Edwards is leaned on by the BBC and I actually cannot stand him.

    Crofty may not be the best F1 commentator ever (obviously Muzza), but he is a damn sight better than James Allen, Jonathan Legard, and Ben Edwards!

  6. Rhys, IMO Croft and Edwards are as bad as each other for over exuberance but Edwards is the better commentator, and this is why.

    When something goes wrong with a car Croft will say with absolute assertion ‘that’s an anti-roll bar failure’. He won’t ask for a 2nd opinion from Brundle, just divine the ‘facts’ with total conviction and never retract an inaccurate statement. I bet he wouldn’t know what an anti-roll bar looked like if someone hit him in the face with it. He’s a local radio jobbing sports commentator, he wouldn’t care if he was talking about F1 or Crown Green Bowling as long as he was getting paid.

    Edwards on the other hand is an ex race mechanic and an ex driver. In lower formulas he actually raced against Coulthard and Häkkinen.

    So the next time one of them sounds a bit over excited, remember one is the real deal, with passion, knowledge and experience and the other is Alan Partridge.

    • To be honest, I’m seeing it the opposite way round. Back in Australia 2012 Crofty asked Brundle what was wrong with Grosjean’s car and got a lot of stick for not diagnosing it as an obvious broken suspension! There’s no pleasing some people! And another reason I don’t like Edwards is, well, I’ll give it in quotations:

      Monaco 2012:
      “HE’SDONEIT!!!!! HE’SONPROVISIONALPOLE!!!!!! BUTHE’SGOTAPENALTY!!!!!”

      Australia 2013, where he massively over-hyped Hamilton’s off in Q1?
      His CONSTANT bias towards Paul di Resta?

      I know Crofty’s endless plugging of Sky RC can be annoying, but I’d take him over Edwards hands down.

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