Trying to justify unpopular decisions

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.

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6 thoughts on “Trying to justify unpopular decisions

  1. It does seem crazy to get rid of a technical analyst at the beginning of a season which introduces such great technical changes. Despite what the BBC might think F1 is, and always has been, a technical sport and to fully appreciate it one has to understand at least the basics of its technology.

  2. Gary Anderson was erudite, informative and casual all at once, with good screen presence and a happy knack of speaking TO the viewer via the presenters who asked him the questions.
    I wager that most F1 fans are very interested in the technical aspects of the sport, they’re petrol-heads essentially, and appreciate information on the very complicated current cars.
    As usual, the intelligence of the F1 audience has been seriously under-estimated by the BBC, who believe that viewers prefer the inane prattle of E Jordan to the cogent explanations of G Anderson.
    Gary should establish his own F1 blog, free from all constraints, in which he could combine tech info with insider reports.

  3. i’m really missing gary this year. alan and tom just dont cut it for technical stuff. i loved it when anderson would explain complicated things really simply or by using pen and paper(Now we dont even get told what upgrades teams have brought). also his quali time predictions were also spot on. it really annoys me how f1 fans are percieved to be like football fans but instead we are a very knowledgable bunch who like to understand the technical side as well as enjoying and aprreciating the racing and the competition.

  4. I really miss Gary however I don’t think I’m representative of the average F1 audience.

    I think most people are casual watchers who tune in for the racing itself. The technical aspects of F1 are mainly for avid fans or, perhaps an unfair term, geeks – I hold my hands up, how about others reading this blog?

    I guess most people in the poll above will vote “Yes – the coverage needs a technical expert”. I suspect the majority of Spy Sports F1 viewers would vote the same but I’ll bet a representative sample of the BBC audience would be much more ambivalent.

    Lack of actual on track action during the BBC’s highlights shows in favour of chat about yesterday’s qualifying and news we already know is also representative of this and that the BBC doesn’t really have the culture of motorsport in general. The tab on their site under “Sport” should read “Motorsport” not “F1”. There are lots of amazing stories to tell in lower motorsport categories as well as in top level non-F1 categories.

    On Sports Personality Of The Year Dan Weldon got a very brief mention after he died and I don’t think Dario Franchitti has ever been mentioned in the competition let alone being nominated despite being a British multiple Indycar/Indy 500 champion, a huge achievement compared with many other SPOTY nominations.

    It’s a shame because the BBC seem keen on the technical aspects of most other sports they cover but not so much when it comes to F1.

    #bringbackgary

  5. I think the thing about Anderson is that he wasn’t an excellent broadcaster (IMHO!) – he had a tendency to gabble his words, wasn’t the clearest speaker and certainly wasn’t a reporter. He certainly wasn’t a suitable ‘Ted replacement’ as Ted had the technical knowledge, yes, but also skills as a voice-over man, presenter of features and pit-lane reporter. Anderson was sorely lacking at all three of these skills, which is why he was shifted sideways after 2012. Clarkson is a better pit-lane reporter, in terms of his communication skills during the race, plus he is a ‘smoother’ broadcast all round. That’s not to say that he replaces Anderson on a technical level – of course he can’t! But, he is a better fit within the pit lane (again, IMHO) during the race than Anderson was in 2012.

    You then look at how Anderson was used in 2013, what with Clarkson now in the pit lane position. It seemed to be a good fit – he was better in the commentary box(es) and did deliver some excellent pre- and post-race analysis, alongside some great VT packages. But, he was there under the auspices of being the 5 live co-comm, I would have thought, and when the opportunity arose for McNish to take on more rounds, that is why Anderson was asked to leave. The BBC in effect chose McNish over Anderson (that’s the way I read it, anyway). Was that the correct decision? Possibly – McNish is excellent. Would you rather have another driver’s view over the technical output that Anderson brought? I would rather have Anderson, truth be told, but I can understand why the BBC elected to let him go, as he is not a natural ‘Ted-replacement’ – Tom Clarkson has plenty of potential in that area, IMHO.

    Also, don’t forget that Ted took his time to become a confident pit-lane reporter. It was only really with the advent of the BBC coverage in 2009 that he came out of his shell and showed everyone what he was capable of. He made some very silly mistakes early on in his ITV career. So Clarkson must be given a few years to mature and really grow his technical knowledge.

    I don’t know why they couldn’t keep Anderson on the website doing a video blog, or column, though, even if they couldn’t afford to pay for him to attend the races. It is a shame that he is no longer part of the Beeb’s coverage at all.

  6. The fact is that the coverage has been dumbed down. Watching others point out “technical matters” makes my blood boil – Gary has the ability to explain the most complex technical issues in simple every day language. It’s an absolute disgrace the way he has been treated by the BBC.

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