Barring a change of direction or tactics over the forthcoming weeks, it looks like Channel 4’s new Formula 1 presenter will be someone who is completely new to presenting live sport. As stated previously, this writer understands that the name in the frame is Steve Jones.
Channel 4 will not be releasing any further information about their Formula 1 team until early March. However, by this stage, the new presenter (Jones, or someone else) will know by now that they will be the person travelling to Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix. For anyone in the Channel 4 team who is new to Formula 1, the first time they will walk into the paddock will either be during Barcelona testing or Melbourne itself. The former appears unlikely for anyone in front of the camera (in an official capacity at least) given that an announcement is not expected until early March.
What Channel 4 have to their advantage is that their Australian coverage is not live. Their first live race is round two of the 2016 season in Bahrain. This gives them, and Whisper Films, the opportunity to refine the product, if necessary performing re-takes, so that the perfect product hits the screen, a “dry run”. This all works on the assumption that Channel 4’s highlights coverage is not based in a studio.
Alongside the new presenter will be David Coulthard. With seven years at the BBC, Coulthard is now a veteran broadcaster, and will know what works and what doesn’t, meaning that he should be in a position to make the new presenter feel at ease in the paddock. I’m reminded of when the BBC first started Formula 1 in 2009. We had the fresh faced Jake Humphrey stepping into the limelight as lead presenter of their Formula 1 coverage. Humphrey’s preparation for the Formula 1 role started in Autumn 2008. Following the conclusion of the BBC’s successful Olympic Games coverage from Beijing, Humphrey soon turned his attention to Formula 1.
To get an early indicator of what to expect for 2009, Humphrey, alongside BBC colleagues which included Mark Wilkin, travelled to the 2008 Chinese Grand Prix. Humphrey, met up with Coulthard, as Humphrey briefly watched ITV’s Steve Rider present their live programme from the Shanghai paddock. Rider spoke briefly about Humphrey’s appointment in his book (page 237), Rider saying that he “thought it was an excellent, brave decision, although inevitably many regarded him as just ‘the bloke off kids’ telly’.”
It is interesting to read Humphrey’s perspective on stepping into the Formula 1 paddock for the first time. Humphrey recites this in his book (pages 19-24), and it shows a different angle on life behind the camera for those stepping into the limelight for the very first time. Speaking about his Shanghai adventure, Humphrey said:
My general mood of excitement and impatience suddenly began to give way to a strange feeling of loneliness – it was as if I had been pitched into a party where everyone knew each other except me. I watched the cameramen as they seemed instinctively to know where to wait to get the right photos and video footage of the drivers, while the journalists moved around in a hunting pack, going from team home to team home at set times to get the drivers’ thoughts.
Furthermore, Humphrey described the ITV team of Rider and Mark Blundell as looking “so small, so insignificant and so alone, looking incredibly vulnerable” in the pit lane during the build-up. You almost get the impression that, by going to a Grand Prix beforehand, the expectation increased as a result for Humphrey. But, you can see why it was necessary for him to attend a Grand Prix beforehand. It meant that some of the learning had been completed well in advance of the 2009 season beginning. It meant that some of the key introductions had already been made, and relationships with teams could now be built. Because of the sheer scale of it, Shanghai I can imagine is probably the most daunting paddock to walk into first, something Humphrey admits in his book.
Fast forward to March 2009. Humphrey was again walking into a Formula 1 paddock. This time, he was going live on air to the sound of The Chain. Humphrey described the Melbourne experience as “walking on to a packed platform on the London Underground in rush hour, but in Technicolor.” On March 19th, 2016, another presenter will hear that famous bass riff and the 5-second countdown to go on air in Melbourne.
In essence, Melbourne is Channel 4’s equivalent of “Humphrey’s Shanghai”. Two weeks later, the Channel 4 team will be going live for the first time for Bahrain. For now, the countdown continues…