It is fair to say that over the past few years, Formula 1 has made some strange and unpopular choices. Whether it is your odd stewards enquiry decision, or something a bit more extreme, such as double points, the poor decision making has been an undercurrent throughout. This ‘odd’ decision making has not been limited to the FIA and FOM though. Earlier this year, the BBC and Gary Anderson parted company, a move which surprised many readers at the time, and still does considering his role has never really been replaced. The only technical expert now in the UK Formula 1 broadcasting scene is Ted Kravitz on Sky Sports F1. Whilst Kravitz is great at what he does, having only one technical person across two channels is simply not good enough.
The role of technical analyst can be traced by twenty years in the UK’s Formula 1 coverage. Starting off with Jonathan Palmer on the BBC in the early 1990’s, James Allen took over the baton when ITV started screening Formula 1 in 1997. When Allen moved to the commentary box, Kravitz became the technical expert from 2002 onwards, a role he has maintained across ITV, then BBC and now Sky Sports. With the increase of air-time that the BBC’s coverage gave from 2009 onwards, the role of technical analyst has become a vital commodity. Several years later, and Kravitz is now doing his own Notebook’s over on Sky Sports. When Kravitz defected to Sky, Anderson was brought on board over on the BBC. Sadly, it didn’t last long. Less than two years later, Anderson and the BBC parted company.
There’s two ways you can look at Anderson’s departure. One is that he simply walked, and the second is that he was fired. The truth is somewhere down the middle. As Anderson noted, he was typing up a resignation e-mail, only to get a phone call about the subject! So the BBC wanted to get rid of Anderson, and Anderson, feeling he was being misused, wanted to leave. When blog readers were asked about this subject earlier this year, a whopping 5,000 people responded – and 95 percent of you thought that BBC and Anderson parting company was a bad move all around. In a request for comment from this blog, Ben Gallop, BBC’s Head of F1, said that the team had been adjusted in order to to bring the “best package for audiences across TV, radio and online”. Half a season on from Anderson’s departure, has the BBC product benefited from Anderson’s departure?
I think, if you’re going to look at what Anderson brought to the broadcasts, the answer has to be no. As mentioned above, the BBC have not replaced him. We can run around that point as much as we can, but that is the fact. Tom Clarkson and Allan McNish may bring a lot to the team, but again, neither are technical experts. They do not have the knowledge or expertise with thirty years and beyond in the field like Anderson does. You can’t replace that expertise just like that. One train of thought is that the new deal that began in 2012 meant that Anderson was more expendable. You can’t get rid of commentators, you need someone to interview drivers, you need a presenter and analyst. That leaves Anderson left for the chopping block. It almost feels like that the role of technical analyst was kept on for 2012 and 2013 as an ‘olive branch’. The BBC may also think that they cannot provide much technical analysis during a highlights show. I thoroughly disagree with that thought, as you are basically saying that you cannot provide technical analysis for a casual audience.
By not hiring a replacement for Anderson, are BBC saying that technical analysis is a dying breed? Does the general Formula 1 audience not care about the latest technical innovations? I would hate to think that the answer to those two questions is yes, although Anderson’s comments back in February certainly hinted that the BBC believe that the latter is true. If anything, the technical aspect has been even more important in 2014. Just ask Craig Scarborough or Matt Somerfield and I’m sure they would confirm this. Earlier this year, Formula 1 was facing a barrage of criticism, because apparently the ‘new formula’ was not up to scratch. A lot of that, you guessed it, concerned the technical aspects. But where was Anderson? Well he wasn’t communicating that to four million people because BBC had decided otherwise! Anderson would have been fantastic earlier this year in justifying the new technology to viewers and explaining why it is necessary for Formula 1 to move with the times.
Anderson leaving the BBC was a sign that he felt that he was being misused. Half way through 2014, do I miss Anderson’s contributions? If I’m going to be honest, the truthful answer is that the void left has not been as big as I expected it to be. Whether this is a result of them not using enough of him in 2012 and 2013, I don’t know, but I’m not left feeling that I miss his input in the coverage. Despite this, I do think it was a big mistake for them to part company. 2012 and 2013 were the same formula in essence, whereas 2014 was a complete reboot, and he would have been one of BBC’s most important assets for 2014 (or, should have been). Sadly, that didn’t happen.