To celebrate the fifth anniversary of The F1 Broadcasting Blog, we are looking back at five races from the archive and chewing over them. Being a broadcasting site, these races are not being analysed from a racing standpoint, but instead from a media perspective.
The five races include Grand Prix from the BBC and ITV eras, crossing over from the Americas, into Europe and Australia. Some races picked are your usual affair, whilst others have major significance in Formula 1 history. I did think about looking at five ‘major’ races, but each race has equal merit from a broadcasting standpoint, irrespective of how great the race was.
The fifth and final race of the initial series keeps us in Australia, for very good reason. The 2012 Australian Grand Prix marked the start of a brand new era in Formula 1 broadcasting and was, partly, one of the drivers behind this site starting one month later. The race was the first that Sky Sports F1 covered.
This piece gives us an opportunity not only to look back at how Sky’s coverage started, but also to see what has changed and evolved since their inaugural race five years ago. On track, the 2012 season saw six World Champions on the grid: Schumacher, Hamilton, Vettel, Button, Alonso and Raikkonen. It was arguably the strongest field Formula 1 ever had. The key broadcast details can be found below:
- Date: Sunday 18th March 2012
- Channel: Sky Sports F1
- Time: 04:30 to 09:15
- Presenter: Simon Lazenby
- Presenter: Georgie Thompson
- Reporter: Ted Kravitz
- Presenter: Natalie Pinkham
- Commentator: David Croft
- Commentator / Analyst: Martin Brundle
- Analyst: Damon Hill
- Analyst: Anthony Davidson
It was a stacked line-up to begin Sky’s coverage. Five out of the eight people listed above defected from the BBC, two of the eight were internal to Sky, whilst Damon Hill was the only person making a return to the TV broadcasting scene, having previously been part of F1 Digital+ in 2002. Sky’s Formula 1 channel launched on Friday 9th March, with a live studio show, followed by the Australian weekend one week later.
Sky used stylish VTs in the opening minutes to cover the past greats for newer fans of the sport who may not be aware of the sport’s legacy. The channel set the scene for the season ahead; introducing fans to the various methods of watch Sky’s Formula 1 coverage, making it clear that they intend to cover the sport from all angles. Presenter Simon Lazenby introduced viewers to the rest of the team, with the crew stationed around Albert Park. Anthony Davidson and Georgie Thompson are in the Sky Pad, Ted Kravitz in pit lane and Natalie Pinkham in the paddock.
Following the qualifying wrap-up is a discussion about HRT’s abysmal performance, the team having failed to make the 107 percent rule. Martin Brundle in particular was scathing of his assessment of them. Further discussion follows about the Mercedes concerning that innovative ‘F Duct’.
One feature that was prominent during the build-up was the usage of live driver interviews from the paddock. Our first is with Williams driver Pastor Maldonaldo (the timing of which slightly amused me given that it directly followed some promotion for Sky’s Legends of F1 series). Nevertheless, it is a good interview with comment given on his live qualifying performance. A paddock interview with Romain Grosjean followed later in the pre-race broadcast. It is not clear whether these interviews are actually live, the impression is that they are, but the timing is slightly suspect as Grosjean is not in his race gear at this stage.
However, if it makes for a more compact show, I am all for that approach. My only criticism of these is that the interviews are brief, which is unfortunate. There are more in-depth pit lane interviews with Christian Horner and Martin Whitmarsh. Whitmarsh says that the tyres look better which may “detract from the show and the challenge”, Whitmarsh also commenting on the relationship between Hamilton and Button in their third season.
The Sky Pad segments are infrequent throughout the build-up, with Davidson and Thompson housed inside a miniature studio, making them feel detached from the rest of the programme. Neither Sky Pad segment is in great depth, showing that Sky did not know how to best utilise the tool at this stage, but this is very early in its development cycle. The analysis itself was great, with Davidson on top form already.
In 90 minutes time with the world watching with bated breath those five red lights will go out and the 2012 Formula One season will have begun. Many are saying it’s the greatest field ever assembled. Six world champions they and the rest of the grid gunning for one thing. To be called the best driver on the planet. – Sky presenter Simon Lazenby introducing the programme
Thompson introduced us to the track walk with Brundle and Hill focussing on the key parts of the circuit. Again, this feature shows off Sky’s virtual graphics (courtesy of New Zealand company Virtual Eye). The show flows well at this point, with Kravitz next up talking about the various strategies that could play out during the Grand Prix. Brundle notes that the tyres look a “bit too good and durable to me!”
Unlike the ITV races we have previously covered, there is a lot of ‘still to come’ and ‘coming up’ in Sky’s initial broadcast, with extensive promotion of Sky’s new ‘Legends of F1’ series and paid advertising from Hilton Honours leading in and out of adverts, along with Brundle’s Ferrari feature receiving attention. There is too much filler leading in and out of commercial breaks, resulting in shorter paddock discussion.
The Brundle piece at Ferrari’s Fiorano base featured contributions from John Surtees, Nigel Mansell and from Stefano Domenicalli. The feature was promoted too much by Sky, meaning that the viewer expected more than what was aired during the programme. As a feature, it was good but not memorable. Arguably, this segment should have been a standalone 30-minute programme in its own right. As Brundle said moments after the VT aired, he ran at Fiorano for 40 laps, so we should have seen a greater depth of footage instead of small snippets.
On the other side of the break, there is a second recap of the grid, but the top ten this time is presented in a different format to previously with focus on the individual drivers, going from 10th to 1st using virtual animations. Brundle’s first grid interview is with the youngest driver on the grid, rookie Jean-Eric Vergne in the Toro Rosso.
The grid walk shows off how vibrant Formula 1 is, helped by the sunshine and blue skies beaming down onto the circuit. It is a great grid walk, with various voices heard from celebrities to drivers and onto the pit crew, from Leo Sayer through to Ciaron Pilbeam. The grid walk was unrestricted by the national anthem at quarter to the hour; drivers back in 2012 were not required to walk to the front of the grid. Thompson takes viewers through the various viewing options, with Sky Race Control available through the Red Button, iPad and online. There are a few interviews in pit lane before a further Sky Pad bit with Thompson and Davidson, and then, it is race time!
One of Sky’s early changes was to show key interview snippets in a picture-in-picture format during the warm-up lap, I cannot remember whether Sky dropped this after the first race though.
Brundle and David Croft handled the start sequence well, with a lot of energy on display throughout a frantic opening phase of the Grand Prix. We also saw one of the classic Brundle phrases in relation to Sebastian Vettel, as the German fought his way past Nico Rosberg at turn nine, “and that’s the man they said can’t race in Formula 1, he can only win from the front apparently, I don’t think so!” Moments later, Maldondo successfully overtook Grosjean, but ended up whacking the Lotus in the process, eliminating the French driver from the race.
FOM caught the majority of drama, but the opening laps also shows why you cannot be trigger-happy with replays in the early phases. Nevertheless, the replays did help to show what unfolded in the second half of the field at the start. The on-board footage, notably from the Red Bull and Ferrari drivers, showed how badly the Pirelli tyres were to handle towards the end of a stint, as showcased on various occasions with drivers struggling with understeer and oversteer. The on-board of Vettel also captured Schumacher heading off the circuit and into retirement.
The only commentary bugbear, which became clear early on, was a Sauber and Williams misidentification. Other than that, commentary was good, and more importantly, Croft and Brundle gelled, doing well to keep on top of the changing order during the pit stop phases. There was a ‘talk too much’ tendency at times more so in the early laps, but this brews back to Croft’s 5 Live days, radio commentary and television commentary are two different beasts, and it takes time to transition from one to the other.
I forgot how good this race was, to be honest! Australia’s Melbourne circuit has always shown off the speed of the cars, and this race is no exception as Button streaks off up front with Hamilton behind.
The focus is on Sauber’s Sergio Perez, attempting a one-stop strategy against a two-stop strategy for the other leading runners. The artificial DRS overtakes do not detract from Perez’s brilliant race, which Brundle and Croft sell brilliantly. At this point, Pinkham also gets a paddock interview with John Button, which is unfortunate timing as the Sauber of Kobayashi and Raikkonen bang wheels in a clean fight.
The longer this race lasts, the more I realise how weird the FOM graphics set looks from an alignment perspective. The graphics set is not 4:3 safe, nor are they fully 16:9 centric. It is a halfway house to appease both the old and new worlds. However, the graphics are more informative: the ‘ticker’ at the bottom of the screen helps decipher the gaps between various drivers, which becomes critical during the pit stop periods. FOM also use a ‘Previous Gaps’ graphics regularly to show the variation, as Jenson Button increases his lead over Lewis Hamilton up front.
Petrov’s stranded Caterham on the start-finish straight causes a Safety Car immediately after both McLaren’s pit. Vettel jumps up to second after his pit stop as a result with Maldonaldo exiting just behind Alonso.
I might be alone in this, but I don’t like this rule. It’s the luck of the draw, if the leaders have to get through some backmarkers on the restart, so what. They’re the best drivers in the world, let’s see them negotiating them. I think we should get rid of blue flags, you’ll hear me say that once every three races, passing backmarkers is a core skill of being a racing driver. We’ve wasted a lap, we should be racing now. – Brundle on the lapped cars may now overtake rule.
Attention focuses on the battle between Vettel and Hamilton for second, as Massa and Senna collide in an extremely clumsy accident. “At least it’s not Hamilton he’s crashing into this year,” jokes Croft. The two Red Bull cars separate Hamilton’s McLaren, as Brundle and Croft remind viewers of Webber’s difficult start to the race. There are several stories still unfolding in the last few laps, with drivers scrapping over the last few points.
Regrettably for Maldonaldo, having had his performance praised by Brundle and Croft throughout, the commentators’ curse strikes on the last lap, crashing out of fifth position. “It is Button’s day down under!” Croft declares. Behind the leaders is a mess, with cars moving positions both on and off the circuit. The FOM replays just about pick up what happened, which was very difficult with a lot going on in the background!
Under the Melbourne sunset, Button, Hamilton and Vettel take to the podium to celebrate the start of the 2012 season. Hill’s comments about McLaren are quite sad now given their current predicament, Hill referring to their “technical expertise”, also noting, “When they’re down, they get back up”. The first post-race interview is with John Button, describing his son’s win as “an incredible start to the season”.
Lazenby covers Sky’s Malaysian Grand Prix programming, including the GP2 Series before heading off for the first ad-break. Lazenby and Hill analyse the race with Whitmarsh, although it turns into more of a chat, with Hill and Whitmarsh bouncing thoughts off one another, which makes for great television I feel.
Some interviews from Pinkham in the pen are aired next, starting with Mark Webber in fourth position. We start to move towards the more relaxed setting of the paddock, as Lazenby covers the various ways to contact the team, including Twitter and e-mail (no #AskCrofty back then). The McLaren theme continues, with a brief VT covering Button’s key moments, although it does not amount to much as his race was relaxed! Some of the discussion that follows does ramble a little bit with it being ad-lib, but overall it is good post-race discussion. Brundle is holding the show together and at times appears to lead the questioning.
This year is a very special year in Formula 1, last year was also having five world champions, but having six world champions and so many competitive teams, it’s good to see that Formula 1 is in a great place right now and it’s a great sport to be a part of – McLaren’s Jenson Button speaking in the post-race press conference
The rest of the post-race broadcast follows a similar structure, with ample discussion given to Red Bull, Lotus and Williams, the team conducting interviews with Christian Horner, Eric Boullier and Adam Parr respectively. All three interviews are structurally similar, touching on the various sporting and technical elements for each team, including the blown diffuser ban in relation to Red Bull. Sky did not air any FOM material during these interviews, meaning that the paddock analysis suffered as a result.
Thompson and Davidson in the Sky Pad covered the analysis, analysing the start and then the Maldonaldo and Grosjean incident later on. It is clear that, like in the pre-show earlier, Sky were unclear on how to integrate the Sky Pad segments into the overall package, something that they have worked to perfect. Intertwined in this was further pen interviews with both McLaren drivers and a paddock walk with comment given on Sauber’s strong performance.
Attention turns back to pit lane as Sky’s team assemble around the McLaren garage to wrap up the show under the Melbourne sunset. Viewers are shown tweets on-screen, which is followed by a final word with Button. Four and a half hours after Sky’s programme started with Just Drive, it is left for Insomnia’s Faithless to play out coverage of Sky’s inaugural Formula 1 race.