Nicholls and McNish to remain with BBC 5 Live for 2017

Jack Nicholls and Allan McNish are to remain with the BBC for the 2017 Formula One season, it has been confirmed.

Speaking to Henry Hope-Frost at the AUTOSPORT show, McNish said that he would be continuing his Radio 5 Live commitments in 2017. McNish said that he hoped to commentate on around eight or nine races this season, a similar number to last season.

McNish said: “5 Live has been good fun because it’s a very tight knit group. Last year it was busy, I did eight or nine races and I’m hoping to roughly work out the same number to fit in with the other schedules. I really enjoy it, so I’ll be back in the chair talking about it with a bit of passion.”

Update on February 8th – Jack Nicholls wrote the following on his Twitter this evening: “Contract signed and flights booked for Melbourne for another season with #BBCF1, every F1 race live on @bbc5live”

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Flashback: 1995 Brazilian Grand Prix

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, we’re not picking these races 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, 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.

We are time travelling back to the mid-1990s for the start of the 1995 Formula One season. After a controversial championship decider in 1994, Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher are ready to do battle again, starting with the 1995 Brazilian Grand Prix! First things first, the key UK broadcast details:

  • Date: Sunday 26th March 1995
  • Channel: BBC Two
  • Time: 16:45 to 19:00
  • Presenter: Steve Rider
  • Reporter: Tony Jardine
  • Commentator: Murray Walker
  • Commentator: Martin Brundle
  • Analyst: Jonathan Palmer

1995 was the first year that the BBC aired the Brazilian round live. In previous years, the channel had only aired highlights of the race from Interlagos. Qualifying was not aired live, instead the session was delivered through a ten-minute slot in Grandstand, the norm for Formula 1 in 1995. If you were lucky, you probably watched Eurosport’s coverage of Formula 1 instead, with Ben Edwards and John Watson at the helm.

Pre-Race
After the bass riff that is Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ and a reminder of events the previous November in Adelaide, Steve Rider welcomes us to proceedings from BBC Television Centre. We are shown Schumacher’s two accidents from practice, which is one of the key strands of the weekend. Rider talks through the leading drivers on the starting grid, before a snippet of Damon Hill’s post qualifying press conference interview is shown.

Rider hands over to the World Feed in Brazil, with Murray Walker taking over proceedings from this point forwards. It is clear that the commentary team are in Interlagos as they are talking down a telephone line. Rider notes that Martin Brundle is alongside Walker, which is possible as a result of Brundle’s drive share at Ligier with Aguri Suzuki. I believe Brazil 1995 was the first time that Brundle and Walker were together in the commentary box, the two working well together from the get go, without any issues. I imagine BBC would have liked to have him a bit earlier instead of Jonathan Palmer if they had the choice.

Walker’s role as lead commentator is different to that of David Croft or Ben Edwards in 2016: Walker has the job of introducing viewers to the sights and surroundings of Brazil, whilst also explaining the rule changes (such as the engine size and changes to the fuel tank). It is a difficult job to summarise all the key stories from the Winter and keep the viewer engaged within a very small time period. It does mean that the smaller teams are neglected somewhat at this stage in proceedings. For example, a story regarding the demise of the Larrousse team prior to Brazil is mentioned briefly in passing as the cars are lining up on the starting grid.

Race
A cameraman in the centre of the starting grid greets the 26 cars as they pull away. Amusingly at this point, Palmer reiterates that this isn’t the start proper, which is something you couldn’t imagine Croft or Edwards say in the present day. There is the assumption that the casual fan knows more nowadays than the mid-1990s. Whether that is necessarily true or not, I don’t know, but it is an interesting observation nevertheless.

Pierluigi Martini in the Minardi is the first casualty of both the race and our local World Feed director (Rede Globo) who managed to miss his retirement on the formation lap. To the credit of the director however, the start of the race was handled well, managing to capture briefly the aftermath of an accident at turn one involving Olivier Panis whilst also getting in an on-board shot with Hill as the first lap came to an end. No replays were shown of the start, nor of how Panis spun at turn one.

1995 Brazilian GP - on-board.png
On-board with Damon Hill’s Williams during the 1995 Brazilian Grand Prix feat. a retro speedometer!

In the early laps, the director is fixated on the battle between Schumacher, Hill and David Coulthard which given the close gaps is understandable. The decision paid off, as an attempt by Hill to overtake Schumacher failed, but most importantly was captured live as Walker reminds viewers of the history between the two drivers. The battle does mean that Walker is having to recite the running order and the relative gaps to viewers regularly, as the graphics provided do not display this information.

A consequence of the battle up front meant that other activity down the grid is ignored. Johnny Herbert’s fall down the order in the early stages is missed by the director. Frustratingly, the director is not relying on replays to show viewers the overtakes that were not aired live. It is clear that the director cares about the leading drivers and little else. If you are below tenth place in the race, you’re not being shown on television (unless you’re a Forti and being lapped), the equivalent of neglecting anyone McLaren downwards in F1 2016. Crumbs for the lower teams, really.

Just watch, the next time we have some in-car shots, the amount that the steering wheel is moving. I’ve never seen that kind of movement in a Formula 1 car in all the years that I’ve been around. – BBC co-commentator Martin Brundle

Walker and Palmer do a good job to keep the battle between Schumacher and Hill interesting, but it is Brundle who is the stand out, analysing the on-board footage and his own driving expertise to comment on the various styles during the race. Two years before his permanent broadcasting debut and you can see some of his brilliant commentary traits starting to come to the forefront.

The leading pit stops are all captured live (including Schumacher having to avoid a very slow Rubens Barrichello on his way into the pit lane). It is noticeable that there are no references to soft or hard tyres, just one set of tyres off, another set on. Palmer does describe the effect degrading tyres can have on the car, but no reference to the specification of the tyre. Instead, the focus back in the mid-1990s was on the refuelling strategy, with drivers also refuelling whilst stopping.

1995 Brazilian GP - on-board 2.png
On-board with McLaren’s Mika Hakkinen as he battles Tyrrell’s Mika Salo in the 1995 Brazilian Grand Prix.

The commentators do well with the equipment that they have: a lack of television graphics mean that they have to explain repeatedly why Mika Hakkinen finds himself in a Hill and Schumacher sandwich during the first round of pit stops (different strategy). Tony Jardine’s first input into the Grand Prix comes on lap 24 following the pit stop sequence.

I’m surprised Jardine was not used earlier during the stops to get a first-hand insight into whether there were any issues that were not caught on the World Feed. As with the race as a whole, very little pit stop action is shown regarding the midfield teams. On-board shots are shown from the leading teams sporadically throughout the Grand Prix, adding to the spectacle and the speed of the show. Hakkinen’s overtake on Jean Alesi’s Ferrari heading down to turn four was captured from Hakkinen’s car, showing how close Hakkinen was to going off onto the left-hand side grass.

The race settled down after the retirements of Hill and Benetton’s Johnny Herbert. Walker notes that Mika Salo in the Tyrrell has climbed to third position, which is unfortunate because his rise wasn’t captured by the local director. Brundle called Salo’s performance “stunning”, with Walker noting that he will be a “potential world championship contender for the future.”

It’s going to get extremely confusing from now on because the Brazilian Grand Prix, as every Grand Prix will do this year, has become a series of sprint races interspersed with tyre and refuelling stops. – BBC lead commentator Murray Walker

Salo was only on-screen for a couple of laps as he chased Hakkinen, but ended his chase in a spin, losing time. Salo’s name was unrecognisable to the wider audience, meaning that the Tyrrell driver rarely received airtime during the Grand Prix itself. It is a shame, but a sign of the era where great drives went unnoticed because the director was focussed on certain teams or drivers.

The camera shots used throughout the Grand Prix are distant, long shots with some angles used to capture multiple bends, in particular at the start of the infield section. The positioning is strategic to capture advertising hoardings as the main focus of the shot rather than the racing cars (that line probably sends familiar to regular readers).

Nevertheless, while the cars look slow through the infield section, they look fast where they need to: down the long start finish straight, with the camera panning in to the Benetton and Williams on multiple occasions. A static camera placed above the start-finish line shows off the speed of the 1995 cars.

1995 Brazilian GP - sponsor logos.png
In the background, Benetton’s Michael Schumacher laps a McLaren and a Pacific. In the foreground, a whole array of sponsorship logos is on show.

There are no long holding shots of either the pit wall or the paddock, with the focus of the director only on the race track or the pit lane. I’m missing team radio, although Brundle notes later in commentary that team radio is used as little as possible and is only in used in “emergency transmissions”. The different fuel strategies mean that Coulthard briefly leads the middle section of the Grand Prix, but once Schumacher makes his final stop, the German retains his lead despite making one more stop.

The race turned into a race of attrition with the majority of the midfield being decimated: the retirements of Forti’s Roberto Moreno and Taki Inoue in the second Arrows were both captured by the director. Following the final stops, the director followed Schumacher and Coulthard round until the race conclusion, but the gap was static at around five seconds. The next question mark was around the fuel irregularity for both the leading contenders which meant that they were racing under appeal, as referenced in commentary on multiple occasions.

Inoue’s team-mate Gianni Morbidelli was another driver who rose through the order to sixth position but suffered the same fate as Salo earlier in the race, with the director disregarding Morbidelli’s attempts at closing in on Alesi’s Ferrari. Unfortunately, the director then ignored Morbidelli’s car slowing down and dropping down the order, instead choosing to focus on the front-runners.

Post-Race
There is no team radio so we see the cars head back to the pit lane as usual, with Walker summarising the order in the background. No immediate interviews from anyone at Benetton and Williams in the pit lane. We do see the Forti team a few times with Pedro Diniz running down pit lane holding a Brazilian flag. There are a lot more shots of Diniz and Forti here than in the race itself!

Between parc fermé and the podium, holding shots are shown of the pit lane and the circuit before the podium proceedings begin. The analysis starts as soon as the champagne is sprayed on the podium with Walker and Palmer looking at Jordan’s disappointing race amongst other topics. It is a good chance to reflect on some of the performances that went unnoticed down the order, Walker praising the performance of Keith Wiggins designed Pacific car, with Andrea Montermini at the wheel.

The BBC aired the first half of the FIA post-race press conference, which is the same format as the 2016 post-qualifying press conference with the top three drivers speaking: Schumacher, Coulthard and Gerhard Berger. The BBC broadcast goes back to Steve Rider is London before Berger can speak, with Rider running down the points order. A replay is shown of Hill’s crash half way through the race, before Rider closes the programme.

And that, is a wrap.

Until the two leading drivers are disqualified and then reinstated two weeks later…

Note from David: This is the first time I’ve run content like this on the site – please leave a comment if you would like to see more reflective pieces going forward.

Channel 4 F1 vs Sky Sports F1: Your 2016 Verdict Revealed

2016 saw a wave of change in the Formula 1 broadcasting world, with the BBC announcing its television exit at the end of 2015 and Channel 4 stepping into the fray. As usual, this site has had feedback on the coverage of both Channel 4 and Sky during 2016, and positives can be picked out from both sides.

The popular opinion amongst readers is that Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage has started off brightly, with some wishing that Channel 4 and Whisper are able to continue covering Formula 1 in some form beyond 2018.

Channel 4’s coverage has been excellent, I would love them to continue after 2019. – Tom

Given the relatively short amount of time C4 had to prepare, I think they have little to be disappointed about, which makes it all the more frustrating that from 2019, no live coverage. – davidd93

In particular, the revolving punditry received praise from the likes of James Hurrell and Naz, with multiple commenters noting how the mix of pundits from Susie Wolff to Eddie Jordan was right for the programming. Steve Jones was liked by the majority of readers. TMD_NASCAR noted that Jones settled in well whilst others added that the relationship on-screen between Jones and David Coulthard is excellent.

Channel 4’s coverage on the other hand has been like a breath of fresh air, with Steve Jones’s role and his banter with DC, key to the whole tone of their presentation. They don’t give Karun Chandhok enough airtime, but he still manages to always fill it with key points and predictions and his knowledge is incredible. – Golly

Channel 4’s graphics were largely praised by rosswilliamquinn and TMD_NASCAR, although steven felt that they would have suited 2006 more than 2016. One element that received criticism from multiple people was the ‘missing pundits’ as davidd93 correctly pointed out.

I do need to raise one point – missing presenters from the announcement.

  • Where was Nic Hamilton?
  • Where was Bruno Senna? (I only remember seeing him during the opening sequence of Brazil)
  • Where was Alain Prost (I only remember seeing him during one race weekend, but I can’t remember which one)
  • I’m not including Alex Zanardi since even before the first race, he basically denied any involvement, despite C4’s announcement.

As they were part of the C4 announcement, I was expecting more from all of the above as part of the rotational basis, but I was disappointed that that never materialised.

The second point of criticism concerned the lack of ‘in-depth analysis’ according to James Hurrell, with simonhullf going as far to as calling Channel 4’s output ‘dumbed down’.

Over on Sky, one of the main people praised was Simon Lazenby. Lazenby annoyed ThomasJPitts less in 2016, with simonhullf comparing him to a familiar name…

I think Simon Lazenby has really grown on me – he’s the modern day Jim Rosenthal – very solid, and most often asking the right questions. The much improved chemistry between Lazenby, Herbert and Hill has really helped.

A few readers noted that whilst Sky’s line-up has been around for a while, and opinions differ on whether this is a good thing.

I’ve been a hardcore viewer of Sky’s F1 coverage since the very beginning and have to say on the whole I’ve been very impressed with their coverage this season. I would agree that Sky’s lineup is becoming stale, but without a doubt Ted Kravitz, Martin Brundle and Anthony Davidson are the gems. – simonhullf

The rest of the team are their usual high quality, even if it does feel a bit stale now, 5 (?) seasons in. – ThomasJPitts

In terms of Sky, I’m bored of Lazenby, Herbert and Hill. Too stale and far too matey in the way they interact. – stevvy

The commentary line-up of David Croft and Martin Brundle received widespread praise with readers noting that Brundle is still the best commentator out there. Sky did receive the (now usual) criticism about their content outside of the weekend decreasing along with overhyping features, this being noted by stevvy, simonhullf and Rob Bortkiewicz.

Elsewhere, the BBC’s radio coverage received compliments from blog readers, in particular theirb podcast.

Five Live coverage has been good (although hidden away from the radio itself too often) – the dynamic between Tom Clarkson and Jack Nicholls is good in the absence of Allan McNish and it makes for an entertaining listen. – DC

As a group they actually seem to be having the most fun and have the most passion and aren’t afraid to argue their points with each other. Their post race review show/podcast is a staple of my Monday mornings providing a little more insight on the event and any fallout from long after C4 and Sky have packed up and gone. – James Hurrell

There is a lot more opinions on the post itself, including some 2017 suggestions for Sky and Channel 4 (most include the word ‘Jenson’) which is worth a read, as always the above is just a taster of feedback on the site.

The alternative reality

The 2016 Formula One season comes to an end this weekend in Abu Dhabi, marking the end of Channel 4’s first season of covering Formula 1. But, the outlook could have been so much different. Here, this site looks at the alternatives that might have materialised.

BBC TV stay covering Formula 1
An unlikely alternative. BBC’s television coverage of Formula 1 had always been well received and applauded, but the problem was that it cost the corporation too much money. The licence fee settlement resulted in another round of budget cuts at BBC Sport, and Formula 1 was in the firing line. On December 21st, 2015, the BBC announced their television exit from Formula 1.

Had the BBC continued to cover Formula 1, I suspect production costs would have been slashed and the quality of the show would have decreased. Yes, viewing figures would be higher on the BBC than what they are currently on Channel 4, but viewing figures matter less to the BBC. Their obligation to Formula One Management (FOM) was to cover half the races live and half in highlights form, but they were not obliged to have high-quality build-up coverage, so could have cut the extras if they so desired.

It wouldn’t have been a popular move with the viewers, but if it kept F1 on the BBC, there might have been supported. As it turned out, the BBC did the right thing. In March, it was announced that Sky would be taking the exclusive live rights from 2019 onwards.

ITV take over Formula 1 from BBC
The major surprise was that ITV did not grab Formula 1 from the BBC and instead took horse racing from Channel 4. Horse racing provides ITV and ITV4 with a lot more hours than Formula 1 and is cheaper to produce. ITV were unwilling to broadcast Formula 1 without adverts, which is what swung the deal in Channel 4’s favour.

A return to ITV would have meant a return to Formula 1 being interrupted by commercial breaks. Beyond that, it is likely ITV’s coverage would have again been produced by North One Television as it was in 2008. Remember that Whisper Films and North One were the leading two contenders for Channel 4’s production contract. As we know, Whisper won that battle but had the two been battling over at ITV, chances are that North One would have grabbed the deal.

On the personnel side, ITV would have still faced the same hurdles as Channel 4: they would still need to fill their line-up within a very short two-month period. The talent pool wouldn’t change meaning that the ITV line-up would have been quite close to what we saw at Channel 4 with ex BBC faces moving over, alongside some new faces.

Channel 5, Eurosport or BT Sport
The three broadcasters listed above are unrealistic in an alternative reality. Channel 5 could have stepped in, except taking on Formula 1 for around £20 million a year would have hurt their overall budget significantly. Demographically, it would be a fantastic fit for the channel but the price range makes this an unlikely venture.

Eurosport and BT Sport were unlikely as a shared deal between them and Sky would take Formula 1 off free-to-air television, although BT could have committed to showing Formula 1 on their BT Sport Showcase channel on Freeview. Had Liberty Media’s acquisition of Formula 1 happened a year earlier, it would have made the landscape even more interesting: would Eurosport (owned by Discovery, who are in turn owned by Liberty) have splashed the cash to take Formula 1 exclusively from 2019 onwards? We’ll never know.

Sky’s exclusivity blocked by teams
Of course, Sky wanted to step in for the BBC as early as this year. Once Sky got wind that the BBC were planning to exit their TV contract at the end of 2015, the broadcaster made moves to try to secure Formula 1 exclusively from 2016 onwards. The contract featured a clause stating that, should the BBC exit, then Sky pick up the rights exclusively. As referenced in March:

When it became apparent in the run up to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last November that the BBC were set to terminate their contract, Formula 1’s teams are understood to have requested that Formula 1 remains on free to air terrestrial television in the UK in some capacity until at least the end of 2018. The concern for teams was that they would have difficulty persuading sponsors to stay on board with F1 behind a pay wall in the UK. This led to the sequence of events that saw Channel 4 step in and take over BBC TV’s rights from 2016 to 2018 inclusive.

Sky’s new deal from 2019 onwards was signed early after an onslaught from BT Sport, who attempted to take the rights away from Sky.

The only way the destination would change is if Channel 4 or ITV committed to a longer time frame when the signed the contract with FOM last December. However, that would have required Sky’s involvement, and given the amount of money they were prepared to lay on the table, I think the same conclusion would have been reached.

No matter what, the destination post 2018 remains the same: a deal with Sky showing every race exclusively live.

Scheduling: The 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

The longest Formula 1 season in history comes down to this. For the third season in a row, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg battle it out to become Formula One Drivers’ Champion. This year, the battle goes to the wire with Rosberg in front. In between him and his first ever F1 championship is 55 laps of the Yas Marina circuit. It is the first time ever that the GP3, GP2 and F1 titles have gone to the wire in the same season.

The action is live on Sky Sports and Channel 4, with both sides fielding their strongest line-ups. Channel 4 sees the return of Eddie Jordan, Mark Webber and Susie Wolff, whilst Anthony Davidson is back on the Sky Pad. Channel 4’s coverage is specially extended for the weekend as well: alongside two documentaries before the weekend, Lee McKenzie sits down with Mark Webber as his racing career comes to an end. Furthermore, their race day show is a whopping 4 hours and 40 minutes, which is certainly the longest billed time for any F1 programme on free-to-air television that I can remember (excluding any races extended due to wet weather or red flags).

Sky’s race day programme is simulcast on Sky Sports 2, the first time that live F1 action has been shown on that channel. As previously mentioned, Sky are also showing Mario Muth’s Formula 3 documentary centred around the rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Martin Brundle in 1982. Elsewhere, there’s a special Grand Prix show on talkSPORT 2 on Wednesday evening with Rachel Brookes and Johnny Herbert presenting.

Below are all the scheduling details you need, as F1 2016 comes to a close…

Channel 4 F1
Sessions
25/11 – 08:55 to 10:35 – Practice 1
25/11 – 12:55 to 15:00 – Practice 2
26/11 – 09:55 to 11:25 – Practice 3
26/11 – 11:55 to 14:30 – Qualifying
27/11 – 12:00 to 16:40 – Race

Supplementary Programming
20/11 – 19:00 to 20:00 – 0 to 60mph: Britain’s Fastest Kids
20/11 – 20:00 to 21:00 – The Lost Lotus: Restoring a Race Car
26/11 – 11:25 to 11:55 – Lee McKenzie meets Mark Webber

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
25/11 – 08:45 to 10:50 – Practice 1 (also Sky Sports 1)
25/11 – 12:45 to 14:50 – Practice 2 (also Sky Sports 1)
26/11 – 09:45 to 11:15 – Practice 3
26/11 – 12:00 to 14:35 – Qualifying
27/11 – 11:30 to 16:15 – Race
=> 11:30 – Track Parade
=> 12:00 – Pit Lane Live (also Sky Sports 2)
=> 12:30 – Race (also Sky Sports 2)
=> 15:30 – Paddock Live (also Sky Sports 2)

Supplementary Programming
23/11 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Preview
24/11 – 11:00 to 11:30 – Driver Press Conference
24/11 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut
25/11 – 16:00 to 16:30 – Team Press Conference
25/11 – 16:30 to 17:00 – The F1 Show
27/11 – 16:15 to 18:15 – Senna vs Brundle
30/11 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
24/11 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
25/11 – 08:55 to 10:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
25/11 – 12:55 to 14:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
26/11 – 12:55 to 14:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
27/11 – 13:00 to 15:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

talkSPORT 2
23/11 – 22:00 to 23:00 – The Grand Prix Show

GP2 Series – Abu Dhabi (Sky Sports F1)
25/11 – 07:15 to 08:05 – Practice
25/11 – 15:10 to 15:45 – Qualifying
26/11 – 14:35 to 16:05 – Race 1
27/11 – 10:15 to 11:30 – Race 2

GP3 Series – Abu Dhabi (Sky Sports F1)
26/11 – 11:10 to 11:45 – Qualifying
26/11 – 08:20 to 09:20 – Race 1
27/11 – 08:55 to 09:55 – Race 2

As always, I will update the schedule if anything changes.