Davidson and Brundle highlight strengths and weaknesses in Sky’s Formula 1 team

The 2016 Formula One season is Sky Sports F1’s fifth year on the air. The channel, launched in 2012, features the likes of Martin Brundle, David Croft, Ted Kravitz and Anthony Davidson at the head of its line-up. Along the way, there have been relatively few changes and additions: the only major story was in early 2013 when Georgie Thompson left her presenting duties for pastures new.

Sky fill in the hole left by Davidson and Brundle
The Canadian and European rounds of the 2016 season signalled, temporarily at least, a changing of the guard for Sky. Both Davidson and Brundle were absent due to their 24 Hours of Le Mans commitments, whilst Brundle also had a medical procedure following the Monaco Grand Prix. It was the first time Brundle had not commentated on a Grand Prix since 2008, on that occasion Damon Hill deputised for him in the commentary box for ITV.

The absence of Davidson and Brundle resulted in a significantly weaker line-up for Sky. Simon Lazenby and Rachel Brookes headed up the various presenting duties, with David Croft in the commentary box. Paul di Resta substituted for Brundle as co-commentator and lead analyst, with Johnny Herbert, Damon Hill and Ted Kravitz on-board as usual.

More interestingly, we got to see what Sky Sports F1 would look like without Martin Brundle. A great team is one that still looks and feels the part, even when one of its main casting members have disappeared. Unfortunately for Sky, you had the impression that without Brundle, the team looked distinctively “second class”, as if it was a two tiered system previously, whereby the likes of Herbert and Hill were one or two levels below Brundle. And the same applies for a Sky without Davidson.

The commentary duo of Croft and di Resta was not that bad. But, it wasn’t great either. Di Resta in isolation was good filling in for Brundle, but he is not someone I would want to listen to on a regular basis. That is not a criticism of him, instead it is a reflection of how much we have come to appreciate Brundle’s commentary over the years. Furthermore, Brundle’s absence meant that most discussion segments contained Lazenby, Herbert and Hill. The problem here is a trio that is growing increasingly stale as time progresses.

Poll – Who do you think is Sky Sports F1’s biggest asset?

Back in 2012, I said that Herbert was a fantastic addition to Sky’s team. The problem is Herbert has since turned into a shadow of his former self on-screen. There are more comedic segments or bizarre opinions as opposed to actual analysis from him – stating on multiple occasions that Lewis Hamilton’s head is not “in the game” or that Fernando Alonso should retire. Both of these appear like attempts to generate headlines for Sky as opposed to a genuine thought. Opinions like these have started to, as of late, leak towards other members of Sky’s team, with Kravitz and Croft talking about Mercedes “conspiracies”. If that direction is coming from the production team, then it needs to be reined in, in my opinion.

Elsewhere, Davidson has been brilliant analysing the events so far this season, irrespective of the role he is placed in. The events of Spain and Austria placed greater emphasis on Davidson’s analysis, which was fantastic to listen to as he dissected the collisions between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Sky Sports F1’s coverage without Brundle and Davidson would be a significantly weaker television programme, and the programming that Sky produced in Canada and Baku only serves to demonstrate that point (the highlight of their Canada coverage came thanks to a seagull, which to be fair to Sky did go viral).

Should Sky head towards a “rotating team”?
A twenty-one race season is a major undertaking for everyone within Formula 1: teams, drivers, media, mechanics, you name it. From a fan perspective, seeing the same faces on-screen fronting each of the 21 races means that the opinions you get are repetitive. That is not Sky’s fault, in fact they’re probably happy that there are more races in 2016, as it means that they will reach more viewers. But, at the same time, have Sky failed to adapt to the changing dynamic?

When you look at the proposed 2017 calendar of 18 races, maybe not. Sky air every session live, as they themselves are keen to emphasise. With that, there should also be an emphasis on exploring, experiment, trying something different and changing personnel. Fresh faces are needed, in the same way that Channel 4 have brought in voices that the UK audience had previously never heard as pundits, such as Karun Chandhok and Alain Prost. Both men were not ‘obvious’ choices for Channel 4, but have been well received.

Anthony Davidson in mid-flow during Sky Sports F1's coverage of the 2016 Austrian Grand Prix, dissecting the crash between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
Anthony Davidson in mid-flow during Sky Sports F1’s coverage of the 2016 Austrian Grand Prix, dissecting the crash between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

Sky should be looking at a similar strategy going forward if the long-term intention is for the F1 calendar to remain around twenty races. Marc Priestley has joined their team which is all well and good, but why are they using him in an off-air capacity during race weekends and not a regular on-air capacity? I’m hopeful the changes Channel 4 have made compared to the BBC will mean that Sky will try to push the boundaries where their own team is concerned. However, I’m not sure how likely a “rotating team” is for Sky though, a wider variety of faces during the season team means a bigger pay bill overall…

The F1 channel feels the effect of Sky’s “efficiency savings”
When the Formula 1 channel started in 2012, there were a lot of positive vibes about what could be done to make the channel look and feel like an ‘F1 channel’. 2012 was a learning year, but it was 2013 and early 2014 when the schedule started to mould into one with classic races, F1 Legends, journalist specials, studio editions of The F1 Show. On top of this, Sky produced special material: ‘Senna Week’ remains the best ever week for the channel from a content perspective.

The hope was that Sky Sports would continue to improve and refine the output. But, focus turned elsewhere. With big money being splashed on Premier League rights, efficiency savings had to be made across the board. So far in 2016, Sky Sports have not produced one documentary about Formula 1. Not one has made the air (yet). The classic races that are airing are not new, and are simply now being repeated on a loop as and when each evening. The last new episode of F1 Legends (or Architects of F1) to make the air was November 2015. No new episodes of Tales from the Vault have been produced. The F1 Show in its 2015 form was essentially axed in favour of the weekly, recorded F1 Report shows. The F1 Report tends to be good but the quality of the guests varies massively with a shoe string budget.

Sky have aired several features this season that could have also been edited into stand-alone documentaries. The channel produced two short films focussing on the Spanish and Monaco rounds of the 1996 Formula One season, the latter in particular was excellent in my opinion as a variety of characters were interviewed. But, the problem was that both features were too short at less than 5 minutes in length when both could easily have been thirty minute documentaries to flesh out the two stories, adding to the content on the channel. Sky are not maximising what they have in the F1 channel, in my view.

So, as a consumer, let me ask the question. Why should I (or you) pay the same amount of cash that you do to Sky if the content being produced at the end of the production line has been reduced? Because that is what has happened. It is clear to me that the Sky Sports F1 channel currently exists as a contractual obligation, and nothing more. Sky (and BT Sport) are spending a ridiculous amount of money on rights acquisition, meaning that they have less money to produce supplementary material.

How will Sky’s attitude towards this change as we head towards 2019, I don’t know.

25 thoughts on “Davidson and Brundle highlight strengths and weaknesses in Sky’s Formula 1 team

  1. Croft has gone down in my opinion, the conspiracy theories about Mercedes came from his #AskCrofty section when he was stupid enough to read out some daft tweets. He did something similar in Baku as I recall and followed it up with ‘Don’t shoot the messenger’. Well he should use his brain a bit more anf filter before he speaks when it comes to social media.

    I can see where Herbert was coming from when he spoke about Hamilton and Alonso, it made sense to me.
    Marc Priestley has been a good addition to the ‘Midweek Report’, I hope he replaces Pinkham permanently. The studio F1 show in 2014/15 was awful, god knows what they were trying to achieve with that.

    “Why should I (or you) pay the same amount of cash that you do to Sky if the content being produced at the end of the production line has been reduced?” – well that’s life, it’s happening with a lot of businesses. It’s unlikely but Sky could say that their early content was way above their budget and what the customer was paying for, a loss leader, and now you are getting what is their ‘norm’.

    One thing that Sky are doing is providing full live coverage of every race on a long term basis, something which no other broadcaster wants to do.

    *Johnny Herbert is missing from your Poll, not that I want to vote for him, just pointing it out.

  2. Andy – I don’t think full live coverage of every race on a long term basis is something “no other broadcaster wants to do”. Whether other broadcasters can afford to spend £1billion on the rights, or are even given an opportunity to, is a different matter. That money was paid not to ensure Sky got the sport, but that BT did not. Time will tell how healthy that approach is both to F1 in the UK and to Sky.

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if Sky have to cut off F1. The amount they are spending on rights is ridiculous and something will have to give. With F1 probably being among the least viewed, it will be first among the axe.

      • Well they’ve missed their opportunity to do it, having signed such a monstrous contract…

    • I was surprised when Sky extended their deal, I thought that they would drop it. I might be wrong here but I don’t recall Sky ever backing out of a contract. I agree that what they spent to acquire sole rights was ridiculous and terrestrial TV is never going to pay anywhere near that.
      I assume that Sky know what they are doing, after all they also have another business interest with CVC outside of F1.

  3. Johnny is the problem, for reasons i wont go into here. I like him, but hes not adding anything, time to go.

    • I think use of Johnny Herbert should be scaled back, he is used too much. The race in Barcelona where Johnny was absent led to an improved Damon Hill and some use of Marc Preistley and Simon Hughes which made for more varied and interesting coverage.

      How on earth did he get the gig speaking to the drivers on the track parade? He is terrible at it! Will Buxton did a much better job in Spain!

  4. Sky does a fantastic job all around. I miss the F1 Report immensely. I am American and have to deal with subpar coverage of a race weekend by having to watch NBC Sports. I do enjoy the boys from NBC but the coverage and extra content is weak to put it nicely. I stream and torrent Sky F1 any chance I get and honestly wouldn’t watch F1 if NBC Sports was my only option. Keep up the good work Martin, Crofty and the Boys(and girls)!

  5. The problem is the lack of racing , not the commentators ,martin and crofty are often the only entertaining part of a grand prix these days

  6. Herbert is atrocious, even farcical at times. The drivers have no respect for him at all which has been shown on many occasions.

  7. Sky make it so you have to get the sports package to get the F1 and it’s the only sport worth watching and to get it in HD you have to get some family package and pay £67 a month… The coverage is amazing bulky don’t want customers as they make it a pain to get the channel.

  8. Channel 4 are just plain better, when the loose live coverage, I will probably stop watching F1; sad day. Lazenby is the weakest link, don’t know why he’s there, waste of money. One final point, just how many ex drivers do you need? Sky must have really wide angle lenses to get them all in!

  9. In my opinion there is far too much bloat and rubbish to fill the huge almost all day coverage on the F1 channel. I still like Johnnie Herbert he’s fun and sometimes we need a bit of “Clarkson” to be on the edge and promote comment. Damien I could live without. Lazenby was rubbish at first but has improved as has his knowledge. Pinkham is OK and seems to get access to stars and asks more probing questions. Rachel Brooke’s adds some glamour for us older guys but not much else in my opinion. Back to Sky Sports News maybe? Crofty is getting stale and boring, tries to stay current with Twitter but rarely anything of interest or sensible and as for conspiracies… Just stop it! Maybe I’ve been listening to him too long? Then again if Sky’s race day coverage was reduced to the 3 to 4 hours the BBC and now Channel 4 provide maybe some of these problems would become less of an issue?

    Ant Davidson is another legend and the best analysis man in the business. Sorely missed when away on WEC duties except by us watching his still top class driving in the Toyota Hybrid.

    Martin Brundle a legend in his own broadcasting lifetime and the best I have ever heard back to the Walker Hunt era.

    I stopped subscribing to Sky Sports entirely this year as for me as a Virgin customer £39.50 a month extra for 1 or 2 GPs and 1 or 2 Premier League games was just far too excessive. Especially since I get BT Sports included “free” and it shows far more of interest to me like Indycar, Blancpain, Brit GTs, DTM even NHRA Drag Racing. Then of course the incredible Moto GP circus which provides 3 excellent races each meeting. I love F1 always have since I got my first Scalextric set when I was about 7 or 8 and always will despite it’s current decline and problems but it’s no wonder it cannot attract the younger generation when it struggles to keep us die hards!

    Incidentally my son is a race car dynamics engineer and his favourite era for work and viewing is Historic F1, Can-Am, Sports and saloons. Proper engineering mostly sensible rules and bl**dy good wheel to wheel racing!

    Channel 4 not bad, better than expected. Lee McKenzie still very good, commentator not bad, DC and KC very good, just dump Eddie Jordan and that totally inept and extremely annoying link man Steve Jones and hire Lazenby and in time Ant & Mart and they truly have the dream team!

  10. im not to bothered by who presenting the pre race show . the bit im interested in is the 1h 30minute race. The rest for is irrlevant. I dont much care if its bbc , channel 4 or sky comentating on the race as long as i can watch the race.

  11. Sky’s coverage is far too dry at the best if times so with brundle and Davidson missing it made it more obvious that they need to shake things up.

    Firstly, I’d wave goodbye to Croft. Oh. My. God. He’s so annoying and has seemed out of his depth on many occasions. Plus he loves to just throw stats out there like he’s playing top trumps. #askcrofty? You can but you’ll be lucky to get anything that resembles an opinion. F1 needs a Murray Walker type commentator who talks from the heart not a stat sheet. There must be one out there somewhere…

    The next thing I would do is ditch Lazenby and promote Rachel brookes to main presenter as she’s far more natural. She may be a touch light on knowledge but that will come with time.

    Next I would bump off a couple of the driver pundits. Love him or hate him, Eddie Jordan brings a spark to the coverage and makes it far more entertaining so I would try and bring in someone similar.

    Finally, I’d trim the coverage and make it more compact. There are far too many VT filler and repeated items.

    • I so agree with promote Rachel and get rid of Lazenby, and with reducing race day coverage; less is more, we want quality, not quantity. Also, save money by reducing the number of ex drivers, or at least rotate them; again, less is more.

  12. I agree that the non-race weekend coverage leaves a lot to be desired.

    Has anyone noticed that some of the classic races don’t actually go right to the end? I Sky+’d some recently and one of the commercial breaks on two separate races led on to a McLaren feature or something and they never showed the conclusion of the race. It is filler content to the extent that they don’t even think anyone is watching so nobody will notice…

    Also, why do they only show the classic races in between races during the season? It’s the winter time that we could do with getting a bit of an F1 fix given that there’s no more fortnightly races.

    The F1 channel used to just be Paul di Resta in a helicopter over Silverstone on repeat and it hasn’t gone up too many gears since then.

  13. I was committed to BBC coverage and wouldn’t watch Sky out of (stupid) principle – Since they abandoned us (F1 and MotoGP), I switched to Sky and get a really good HD package that costs me around £37 a month by taking only the F1 Channel and not Sports. Brundle, Davidson and Kravitz brilliant – the rest I can be kind to – and by the way, it’s Damon 🙂

  14. It’s time to tweak the Sky F1 coverage.

    1. Drop Herbert, and replace him with Di Resta on a permanent basis.

    2. Bring in some new analysis talent on rotation with Damon Hill. preferably someone with strong opinions, Maybe Jacques Villeneuve? Graham Lowden would also be good, but he’s busy with the Manor WEC team.

    3. Make more use of Rachel Brooks & Natalie Pinkham for features/films they are both knowledgeable under used.

  15. Agree the weekday coverage is now really poor with no new features, I used to watch it a lot during the week but now tend to only watch during the race weekends and for the occasional fixes of ‘proper’ engine noise.

    I like Herbert, a bit of a clown but so,etc,Es it good to see some fun coverage. I like Hill as well, he is well informed and although a bit wooden in delivery it’s still interesting comment.

    I’m in the older men group but think Brooke’s is natural and recognises she hasn’t the knowledge of the ex drivers, I prefer her to Lazenby who for me feels a bit of a wide boy and tends to be sycophantic towards the senior team people.

    As for Brundle and Croft, kind of works for me but the loos of Brundle would be a catastrophe, Croft’s falibilities are exposed when Brundle isn’t there.

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