The evolution of the grid walk

Last year marked the twentieth anniversary of Martin Brundle’s grid walk, a much-loved segment of Formula 1’s pre-race programming. Here, we look at how the grid walk has evolved, from inception to present day.

The origins of the grid walk go back to the late 1980’s. It was the 1989 British Grand Prix, Nigel Mansell’s first season in a Ferrari, when he played a part in the first ever grid interview. But, things did not quite go to plan between him and BBC presenter Steve Rider.

Writing in his book, Rider recalled “Nigel caught my eye, winked and nodded, even though he was still wearing a full-face helmet. At exactly the same moment the floor manager indicated that Murray Walker had handed down to me with Nigel Mansell.”

“I had to go for it. I shoved the mike into his helmet and he seemed to be giving me a lucid, animated reply, although with no off-air sound I had no idea what he was saying.”

“But, suitably encouraged when he stopped talking I asked another question. It went on like this for a few minutes, and it was only later that I was told that Nigel, in fact, was talking to his pit-crew and was desperately trying to get me to shut up.”

For a variety of reasons, logistics notwithstanding, the BBC did not attempt a full Formula 1 grid walk in their original stint up until the end of 1997.

“We didn’t think of doing a proper grid walk at the BBC, and it’s also the fact that you were restricted as to where you could go by FOM,” explained Tony Jardine, who worked as the BBC’s pit lane reporter at the time.

“I was literally arrested by Pasquale Lattuneddu, Bernie’s number two man, by going over some yellow line, and had to sit outside the [Formula One Management] office for several hours like a naughty school boy!”

In the BBC’s later years, the broadcaster interviewed selected British drivers on the grid. As time went by, the gates opened to the introduction of a fully fledged grid walk, which ITV used to their advantage, starting in 1997. Louise Goodman, ITV’s pit lane reporter for the duration of their coverage, watched events unfold.

“It was ITV’s first year of covering Formula 1, and we wanted to do something special to mark our home race, the British Grand Prix,” Goodman noted, in a chat to me at the Autosport Show. “We wanted to do something new, bringing the viewers closer to the drivers and cars, making the sport more accessible not only to current fans, but to bring in a new audience to Formula 1.”

2001 German GP - Brundle and Montoya.png
The grid walk segment shines a light on all angles of Formula 1. From the glitz and glamour, through to the technical directors, as well as interviewing drivers at both ends of the grid. Here, Martin Brundle interviews pole sitter Juan Montoya prior to the 2001 German Grand Prix.

The responsibility was placed on the shoulders of Martin Brundle, who retired from Formula 1 racing at the end of the 1996 season, having started 158 races. Being at the forefront of the sport for the previous 15 years meant that Brundle was well equipped to interview the stars of the show, even if there was trepidation to begin with.

“When Neil [Duncanson, executive producer at Chrysalis] first floated the idea to Martin, Martin wasn’t actually that keen on doing it,” Goodman tells me. “It’s an unpredictable live TV situation, and Martin was only in his first year as a broadcaster at that point, so I can understand why he was a little bit apprehensive to do it.”

Of course, walking the grid was not just a Formula 1 thing. At the same time in the mid-1990s, Jonathan Green and Steve Parrish started doing the same for Sky Sports’ coverage of World Superbikes, as did other personalities elsewhere in the motor sport spectrum, but it was arguably Brundle that took the concept mainstream.

“People think that Martin is just wandering around on the grid, but there is a lot of organisation that goes into it. You’ve got to have that knowledge to fill those moments where you are just wandering around looking for your next person to talk to,” explains Goodman, who herself has been in the grid walk role now for the past nine years with ITV’s British Touring Car Championship coverage.

“It is a daunting task to have a camera on you for five or six minutes. I remember when I first did it for touring cars, it was like ‘oh my god, I’ve got to fill all that space!’ And now, everybody does a grid walk. It was Martin’s character and personality, alongside his knowledge that made it what it was.”

“During the grid walk, you have three or four other people talking in your ears, so you’re trying to hear the driver, but you’re also hearing all the production chat that’s going on.”

“You learn to go with the flow of it, you could have had an interview set up, and when it comes to it, and this happens quite frequently in touring cars, the driver you planned to start the grid walk with, his car is not there, so you then make it up as you go along, grab somebody else, the first person that comes to mind. It’s a very fluid environment.”

For Jardine, Brundle’s knowledge and expertise shone out prior to his ITV days. In 1995, as well as car-sharing with Aguri Suzuki at Ligier, Brundle spent the remainder of races alongside Murray Walker and Jonathan Palmer in the BBC commentary box. “Martin could explain technical things in a very simplistic manner, not talking down to people, but just bringing it to a language you could understand, and maybe even have a little quip to boot.”

“Towards the end of the BBC’s tenure, Jonathan was with Murray in the commentary box and they brought Martin in as a third commentator. Brundle saw the race unfolding, and made a prediction which Palmer disagreed with, and the rest of it. But, what Brundle said was concise, he had a great idea of the strategy, and it was a great drivers’ perspective of what was going on.”

“It was a no brainer for ITV to bring him on-board. He took all that incredible knowledge, wit, wisdom, connectivity with drivers into the grid walk which we know and love. The art of good broadcasting is that you make it look easy, but believe you me, when you’re actually doing it, it’s not.”

2005 French GP - Brundle and Friesacher.png
The grid walk became an opportunity for viewers to learn about drivers’ further down the starting order. Here, Brundle interviews Minardi’s Patrick Friesacher prior to the 2005 French Grand Prix, a face and voice that was unrecognisable to the UK audience at that point in time.

Although Brundle’s first grid walk at Silverstone 1997 was prone to technical difficulties, the foundations were there for years to come. Fast-forward over twenty years, and the grid walk is now a staple of motor racing television worldwide. Imitation here is absolutely the sincerest form of flattery.

Natural progression and evolution suggests that grid interviews would have become commonplace at some point in time, but Brundle helped stamp his authority on the segment that no one else has since.

Brundle made the format his own, with memorable grid walks across his years at ITV, BBC and now Sky Sports. One of the Brundle’s more memorable grid walks that garnered attention worldwide came with the 2005 United States Grand Prix, Brundle attempting to play peace keeper whilst the Formula 1 spectacle imploded around him.

Many broadcasters have walked in Brundle’s footsteps, including David Coulthard, Jennie Gow, Neil Hodgson, Will Buxton and Goodman herself.

Because the grid walk is now so frequent across all motor racing output, it has lost some of its edge that it had in the early years. However, some of that is a result of drivers being heavily PR trained rather than anything a particular broadcaster has done wrong.

Despite the drivers being more media savvy than yesteryear, the grid walk still creates memorable, special, off the cuff moments that broadcasting rarely has in the modern age.

As for the next twenty years? The aim of the grid walk in 1997 was to bring fans watching around the world closer to the drivers and the cars, which remains ever true today. Since then, and into the digital era, broadcasters have gone beyond the grid walk.

In 2014, Sky went behind the scenes with Williams at the Italian Grand Prix, following their every movement immediately before the race, from garage through to the starting grid, removing a barrier typically there for viewers.

And as 2018 begins, fans have access to every single car through F1 TV Pro, a service that aims to revolutionise Formula 1 viewing. But, for everything that changes, the basics remain the same.

The grid walk is ingrained into motor racing broadcasts that it is difficult to see it disappearing. At least, not just yet…

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Flashback: 1997 Spanish Grand Prix

2017 marks twenty years since ITV’s Formula 1 coverage first hit our television screens. Their inaugural season covering the sport was a roller-coaster ride, with the championship battle between Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher going down to the wire in Jerez.

Here, we turn our attention to the 1997 Spanish Grand Prix, which marked round six of the championship. Through the early fly-away races, the season had been a very competitive affair, dominated by the tyre war between Goodyear and Bridgestone. The previous round in Monaco saw Schumacher dominate in the pouring rain. Would Villeneuve be able to bounce back in Catalunya?

At this point in proceedings, ITV’s coverage was beginning to gel together into a cohesive unit. Here is how the team lined up for the weekend:

  • Date: Sunday 25th May 1997
  • Time: 12:35 to 15:10
  • Presenter: Jim Rosenthal
  • Reporter: Louise Goodman
  • Reporter: James Allen
  • Commentator: Murray Walker
  • Commentator: Martin Brundle
  • Analyst: Tony Jardine
  • Analyst: Simon Taylor

In the early years, ITV’s build-up for the European rounds would typically last around 25 minutes, expanding into the early 2000s to the typical one-hour length that we currently see for live free-to-air broadcasts.

Pre-Race
After an opening interlude from Jim Rosenthal highlighting Schumacher’s Monaco success, Jamiroquai plays in ITV’s F1 coverage. We are straight into a qualifying wrap up, with Louise Goodman providing voice over. It is a quick-fire round-up, no fancy graphics or music, just Goodman narrating with Walker providing the commentary over the key bits. The grid graphics (more fancy for 1997!) follow on.

1997 Spanish GP - ITV's grid graphics
ITV’s grid graphics for the 1997 Spanish Grand Prix.

Williams driver Jacques Villeneuve gives his post-qualifying opinion to James Allen, describing his last lap as “near perfection”. All the above occurring within the first five minutes, unsurprising when there is not much build-up time to play with for ITV.

The studio atmosphere between Rosenthal, Taylor and Jardine is good (there is enough time to mention Taylor’s seasickness from Monaco, for example!). ITV strike the right tone, with discussion varying from personality driven to one of a technical nature.

A feature of ITV’s coverage from day one was an on-board lap of the circuit, but in 1997 this took the form of a virtual tour. The channel used an early version of the F1 1997 PlayStation game for the virtual lap, with Martin Brundle narrating. There are no additional features during the build-up, with the remainder of time allotted to covering grid interviews and studio chat.

Allen and Goodman provided the grid interviews, interviewing Damon Hill, Eddie Irvine, David Coulthard and Jean Alesi. Studio chatter interspersed the interviews, but this did not work well, and you can quickly see why ITV introduced a grid walk later in the season. Whilst the studio segments are good, you do not get a sense of the atmosphere building, in the same way you do in later years with the grid walk format that Brundle made popular.

Nevertheless, the studio discussion does produce some excellent technical conversation tailored to the casual fan, with Taylor dissecting why Ferrari are struggling around the Barcelona circuit.

JR: Again, for those coming to grips with the world of Formula 1, why should the Ferrari win in Monaco, which I know was a very different sort of circuit, and you say now this place just doesn’t suit them at all, with all the testing, all the money, with all the things like that.

ST: The real problem here in Barcelona is long, fast corners. And if you have a car that understeers, that’s a car that wants to go straight on in a fast corner, then you won’t get a good time. That’s Ferrari’s problem, they can’t get the grip in the long, fast corners. They can get the grip in the tight turns of Monaco. Here, it is very abrasive, they’re worried about tyre wear particularly on the front left tyre. So, it’s not looking good for Ferrari, but you can never discount them.

We see the championship standings much closer to the race start than usual instead of at the start of the broadcast, in the context of Benetton’s disappointing year so far following Alesi’s grid interview.

Race
There is no batting around the bush about what to expect for the race, with Walker calling Villeneuve the “hot favourite” for the Grand Prix. The five minutes before the race are great from the local host director, as there is a take on Formula E’s segway with the camera man focusing on each car one by one, which is a nice touch. During the segway, Walker mentions the driver change at Sauber, Gianni Morbidelli replacing Nicola Larini.

In 1997, the Barcelona circuit was one of the newer races on the calendar, then in its seventh season nevertheless the crowd, whilst smaller than other races, is still a healthy number. Ralf Schumacher stalled his Jordan car at the first start, resulting in an aborted start. At this stage, Walker and Brundle have access to team radio information from the Jordan team, with material relayed back to the viewers. An abandoned start is a good thing for viewers at this stage, as it meant that ITV could take an advert break without ‘losing’ any laps, meaning that the first 19 laps were live and uninterrupted.

1997 Spanish GP - on-board Coulthard
On-board with David Coulthard’s McLaren as he hunts down the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher.

Whilst the pre-race angles on the grid were good, the first lap was a mess from the local director. Multiple camera operators were far too slow to respond to the cars, resulting in cameras that panned to action half way through the field instead of the action up front. We can just about pick out, as does Walker, the “meteoric” start from Schumacher’s Ferrari, although Walker does make it sound better than it was, which Brundle points out half way round lap two! (Stating he started 9th and not 7th). The replays do make up for the host directors’ inefficiencies, with a helicopter replay, and a replay showing on-board footage of Schumacher’s start, which is amazing to watch and decipher.

The early laps are close between the front-runners, the excitement in Walker’s voice is loud and clear, even if Brundle proclaims that Villeneuve will “run and hide”. The attention is on the battle between Schumacher and Coulthard, with a queue quickly developing. Walker covers the rest of the action as best as he can at that phase in the Grand Prix, but the director is right to focus on the growing train behind the leading Ferrari.

It is a tyre dependent formula, which explains and justifies ITV’s pre-race stance to explain this element adequately to viewers. The local Formula One Management director uses helicopter shots to show the growing gap between Villeneuve and Schumacher. Coulthard finally makes the move before his first of three stops. ITV use James Allen during the pit stop sequence, pointing out a near collision between Schumacher and Benetton’s Gerhard Berger in the pit lane.

Damon Hill is in fifth position! Damon Hill in the Arrows Yamaha is higher than he has ever been this season, a terrific performance, whatever reason. Some of it of course will be due to the fact that people have been in for tyres and he hasn’t. Villeneuve leads, Alesi is in second position… and Hill stops! Ohh… as I say it. That is six races and six failures for Damon Hill. And even his patience and tolerance must be severely tested. – Murray Walker with the commentators’ curse

Villeneuve’s performance with one less stop is dominant. On return from the first break Rosenthal hands us over to Simon Taylor who covers Alesi’s first stop ‘as live’ (which occurred during the commercial break), before handing back to Walker, a neat move as he moved in front of Ferrari’s Schumacher. Through the first pit stop sequence and Villeneuve’s different strategy, Coulthard has closed in on Villeneuve with the gap down to three seconds, whilst Panis on the Bridgestone tyres in third before pitting.

Our TV director missed Alesi and Schumacher passing Hakkinen, instead cutting to Frentzen pitting despite the German driver being out of contention at this phase in the race. Walker and Brundle continue to bring into play the tyre situation, noting that blistering is a factor and that the Goodyear tyres are “too soft” for this race track. There is limited coverage of runners below sixth place, beyond the pit stop sequences, just one of ways that the feed became diluted in the late 1990s compared to the F1 Digital+ service that was starting across Europe. However, the gaps throughout the field are marginal meaning we see the likes of Johnny Herbert’s Sauber running in 4th place briefly, Walker describing it as an “interesting and exciting race.”

A lot of pit stop strategies have gone completely out of the window this afternoon. And as we look out of our commentary box window itself, there seem to be as many cars coming down the pit lane as down the pit straight! – ITV co-commentator Martin Brundle

The tyre war theme continues into the second half of the Grand Prix as Panis on Bridgestone tyres overtakes Coulthard’s McLaren on Goodyear tyres for third position (a beautiful helicopter shot at this moment showing Panis move ahead), Panis then comfortably pulling away from the McLaren! Clearly a Prost car overtaking a McLaren was previously unheard of, but made possible because of the 1997 formula, Walker notes that all the races so far in 1997 have been tyre dominated. Brundle seems in almost shock regurgitating to viewers that Coulthard may end up on a “four stop strategy” as ITV head to a further break. The differing strategies raises the prospect of Panis winning the race thanks to his lightning pace.

1997 Spanish GP - best vs last lap
A graphic I like in the tyre dominated formula: ‘Best Lap vs Last Lap’ time comparison helps show if a drivers’ tyres have hit the cliff.

Once the leading runners pit, the order is Villeneuve, Panis, Alesi and Schumacher. ITV take their last break with 12 laps to go, and on their return the battle for first is a battle for second between Panis, Alesi and Schumacher, thanks to backmarkers failing to move over, with Alesi gesticulating repeatedly to the marshals. Panis does close in on Villeneuve again near to the end, but Brundle clearly annoyed in commentary at how long it took Panis to clear the traffic, leaving Villeneuve to win the Grand Prix.

Like at the start, the host director struggles at the end as Villeneuve tours back to the pit lane, missing Johnny Herbert overtaking Coulthard’s McLaren on the last lap. Brundle brutal in his assessment that the local director has missed “just about everything else” this weekend.

Post-Race
ITV stick with the podium without going to an advert break. The process from parc ferme to the podium itself appears to be a lot quicker than it is now. Following the Canadian and British national anthems, it is time for the obligatory champagne! An all French-speaking podium, which might be a rare occasion.

1997 Spanish GP - ITV studio
ITV’s pundits dissect the race.

We see the classifications rundown again, as Walker outlines the key achievements including a 1-3 for Renault and a strong performance for Prost. Walker also compliments Goodyear’s 350th win against the onslaught of Bridgestone (who were successful in CART), saying “heaven knows where Grand Prix racing would be if it wasn’t for Goodyear.” This is to a degree to fill time before the press conference, ITV airing it live instead of switching back to the studio for initial post-race analysis.

At the start of the analysis, Rosenthal made it clear that the three post-race interviews would be with Patrick Head, Johnny Herbert, and Michael Schumacher. The three main subjects as a result are Heinz-Harald Frentzen’s poor performance (which the consensus is that it was not his fault, but instead a result of poor set-up) and Schumacher’s brilliant start which Jardine analyses.

The last interview with a happy Herbert, describing how his tyres got better with each set, which led into a studio discussion about the scrap involving Schumacher and Coulthard during the first phase of the Grand Prix. There is not much else covered, aside from the promos for other events, all that is left is for Rosenthal to publicise the Canadian Grand Prix and to wrap up proceedings in Spain.

News round-up: Sky linked with MotoGP; F1 App updates for 2017

In the news round-up, more speculation on where MotoGP could be going next, whilst the official F1 app is given an early Spring clean ready for the 2017 season.

Sky set to take MotoGP off BT Sport?
A report from Bikesport News has linked Sky Sports with MotoGP’s UK rights, which BT Sport currently holds until the end of 2018. In response to their report, Sky’s Euan Fordyce said, “I’m afraid we don’t comment on rights we don’t currently have, so we are unable to help on this occasion.”

I do not know what prompted the report, however given the amount of money BT Sport have splashed out to retain the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, it is not surprising to see Bikesport News’ piece.

Their piece does corroborate with what was reported on this site last month. It looks like the relationship between BT and Dorna is not as rosy as it could be, but I do not want to emphasise that point simply because media outlets reported the same on the BT/UEFA front, and we know what happened there…

Sky Sports were previously involved in MotoGP in the early 1990s under its previous mantra, with Keith Huewen and Julian Ryder providing commentary. The rights soon moved over to British Eurosport as Sky focussed on the Superbike World Championship

As of writing, there is no official news about who will be broadcasting MotoGP highlights in the UK, but expect some news on that front imminently.

Superbike action resumes
The World Superbike Championship was the first major international series to get back underway at the end of February live on Eurosport, and with it, there was a personnel change. Gregory Haines, who was lead World Superbikes commentator for Dorna in 2016, has moved over to Eurosport, succeeding Jack Burnicle as their World Superbikes commentator.

In the overnight viewing figures, the first round of the season from Philip Island peaked with 55k (6.2%) at 04:30 on Sunday morning (including VOSDAL) as the second Superbikes race of the weekend concluded. As a comparison, last year’s MotoGP race from the same track on BT Sport 2 averaged 126k (10.7%), peaking with 176k according to numbers supplied by Overnights.tv.

Elsewhere in the superbike world, ITV have extended their contract to cover the British Superbike series in highlights form until the end of the 2020 season.

F1 App updates for 2017
The official Formula 1 app has received an update ready for the 2017 season. Aside from an update to the user interface, there is no major change for readers. There was some confusion around whether the content will be different depending on location, however this site can confirm that users will receive the same content regardless of location.

On a related note, I mentioned last October that users in the Netherlands were testing a new version of an app featuring in-car footage during live sessions. This site understands that live in-car footage is still on the cards to feature, but at what stage during the season is unclear due to hurdles that need to be cleared. The delivery method also needs to be agreed with each broadcaster.

ITV F1 – twenty years on
ITV’s F1 coverage launched twenty years ago this week, with the 1997 Australian Grand Prix. As readers may have noticed, there has been a running theme so far throughout the year so far looking at various aspects of ITV’s coverage, including flashback pieces looking at past races (thanks to all who said that they would like to see these continue).

There is a lot of reading over here for those of you that fancy a trip down memory lane and want to relieve some more ITV F1 goodness.

Flashback: 2008 Australian 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, 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.

We are heading down under for race four in the series, the start of a new Formula 1 season. Formula 1 aimed to put a controversial 2007 season behind it, with 2008 set to offer another close championship battle between McLaren and Ferrari. McLaren, led by Lewis Hamilton following Fernando Alonso’s exit, would fight both Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa.

The journey starts with the 2008 Australian Grand Prix! ITV enhanced their Formula 1 offering for 2008 with live World Feed coverage of Friday practice via ITV.com, a welcome addition and the first time that UK viewers received live practice coverage since F1 Digital+ in 2002. The key broadcast details can be found below:

  • Date: Sunday 16th March 2008
  • Channel: ITV1
  • Time: 03:30 to 06:40 (re-run: 15:45 to 18:30)
  • Presenter: Steve Rider
  • Reporter: Louise Goodman
  • Reporter: Ted Kravitz
  • Commentator: James Allen
  • Commentator: Martin Brundle
  • Analyst: Mark Blundell

For 2008, ITV retained the same team as in 2006 and 2007, with Steve Rider continuing to lead the presentation line-up.

Pre-Race
The pre-show covered three main strands: McLaren’s expectations after turmoil in 2007, a preview of the new drivers and teams, and the rule changes that have come into effect for the 2008 championship. With an hour-long build-up, and only one commercial break, there is ample time to cover the three angles.

We join Rider in a scorching hot Melbourne situated outside the McLaren garage alongside Mark Blundell. The two talk about Hamilton’s early season prospects following a poor qualifying session for the Ferrari opposition, Blundell describing the hot conditions as “very tough for the boys out there.” In between, the VTs and interviews, Rider and Blundell discuss the various teams, with BMW Sauber’s strong performance getting a mention.

2008-australian-gp-allen-and-brundle
James Allen and Martin Brundle decipher the qualifying session.

Both Ted Kravitz and Louise Goodman voice the first feature as they run down the complete grid in a quick fire manner. It is a good way to introduce viewers to the new faces and revamped teams (Force India) on the grid in 2008 for those that do not follow the off-season gossip. This kind of feature has disappeared in recent years, as there is an expectation that viewers have followed Formula 1 in the off-season, which is not always the case.

Kravitz also talks through the rule changes for 2008, with the likes of Nico Rosberg and Hamilton giving their opinion on the new regulations, including the banning of traction control. “It’s lovely to see a car with opposite lock on, fantastic,” says Blundell, noting that it will be good to see drivers’ make mistakes.

Attention briefly switches back to McLaren with Anthony Hamilton and Pedro de la Rosa giving live interviews. The Hamilton interview does not bother me; it is short enough to be harmless in the context of the show, whilst de la Rosa gives good insight into the strategy for the race ahead.

James Allen voiced over the qualifying report, appearing in-vision at the start of his piece. ITV’s virtual grid graphics are lovely, scrolling down the grid row by row, with an instrumental version of ‘Lift Me Up’ in the background. Following some post qualifying interviews, Allen and Brundle recognise the “changing of the guard” that is taking place due to the new regulations, giving control back to the driver, with recognition for Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Vettel who has benefited as a result.

I enjoy it; it’s a challenge for everyone. This is real racing. I’ve been saying for years that I wished that the cars were like what they were in the Senna and Prost days and we’re slowly moving more towards that. Without traction control, it’s tricky. It’s hard work. – Lewis Hamilton speaking in a pre-race interview with Steve Rider.

There is some foreshadowing at two stages in the build-up around Honda. With Jenson Button on the cusp of a new three-year deal, Nick Fry states, “Our objective is to make him world champion.” Later on in the build-up, Dannii Minogue has a good bit of fortune telling, “Things are looking up [for Honda], I saw Ross [Brawn] with a smile on his face. This year and the next, they’ve got a long-term plan. The team morale has lifted; it’s wonderful to see because I’ve followed Honda for a long time.” Even this early on, there are signs of 2009 looking good for the outfit!

It is time for a lap of Melbourne, Brundle on top form with his voice over of Hamilton’s pole position lap. An excellent sit-down piece between Rider and Hamilton follows; it feels more down to earth than a present day Hamilton interview, with emphasis on technical detail. ITV’s cameras catch Hamilton chatting to mechanics with Rider and Blundell talking in the background about the mechanics camaraderie from both sides after the frayed relationships in 2007.

2008-australian-gp-kovalainen-and-hamilton
McLaren drivers Heikki Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton chatting in an on-camera feature.

The next feature looks at the new venues on the 2008 calendar, Goodman at the location of the 2008 European Grand Prix. The comments in hindsight are amusing, a long-term contract, with an exciting layout. Err… Martin Brundle is out in Singapore. “I can see drivers adoring this race track,” is the comment made from Brundle. Nine years later, it is still on the calendar, Singapore a lot more loved than Valencia ever was.

A further feature on McLaren focusses on Ron Dennis after speculation that he might leave Formula 1 following the spy gate saga. The one piece of fluff that does make its way into the broadcast is a chat between Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen, which focusses on the raw characters of the two drivers. Brundle’s grid walk rounds off the pre-show, but is one of the more difficult segments due to the warm weather conditions and it being race one of the new season, leaving Goodman to conduct most of the grid interviews.

Overall, it is a strong build-up to start ITV’s season, with McLaren the common denominator. Yes, the majority of VTs were dedicated to the team, but it was not repetitive, with each VT focussing on a different element. Rider and Blundell mentioned most of the leading teams, and gave credit where due. Next, it is race time!

Race
Allen sets the scene for the start of the 2008 season, with attention on the hot weather conditions. Within a minute, the first piece of team radio comes from Nick Heidfeld in his BMW, along with a nice graphic showing his key Formula 1 statistics, the same also appearing for Hamilton. The grid graphics on display are plain in terms of format, but do the job nicely, no jazz necessary.

2008-australian-gp-renault-pit-crew
A camera located on Renault mechanic Greg Baker as he is changing tyres during Fernando Alonso’s pit stop.

Tyre strategy discussion starts as the drivers head to the grid, with a white line down the middle groove denoting the soft tyre. Whilst tyre choice is important, it is not deemed critical enough for Formula One Management (FOM) to display in their on-screen graphics. “When the five lights go off, the 2008 championship will be under way… and it’s go in Australia!”

The start was confusing, with the World Feed failing to identify whether Massa had spun out of the race during a melee at turn one. Only after a multitude of replays did we identify who caused what, with five cars eliminated. Whilst the director focussed on the leading drivers in the early stages, FOM used replays to pick up overtakes not seen clearly by external cameras. A camera looking back from Nelson Piquet Jnr’s Renault captures Kazuki Nakajima overtaking him from some distance back.

A lot of on-board footage is shown from Raikkonen in the early stages, tracking his progress nicely through the field, a rarity to see so much on-board Ferrari footage on the World Feed compared to even five years earlier. Allen uses the quieter gaps to add context and ‘colour’ to the stories that have not been covered, such as Super Aguri’s takeover.

Raikkonen trying to distract [Honda’s Rubens] Barrichello rather than trying to overtake him, he’s getting frustrated. Isn’t it great to see the cars moving around, the drivers fighting the car, all the way through the corner, they cannot point the nose in any longer and floor the throttle, let the electronics worry about it and think about the next corner. They’ve got to drive these cars every metre of the race track, great news. – ITV co-commentator Martin Brundle

The Ferrari driver eventually gets past Barrichello in a move that FOM managed to miss live but like previously aired in the form of a replay. The ‘ticker’ is a key form of FOM’s product in 2008, but is too transparent to be useful compared to the rest of the graphics set. Also seen here is an early version of the driver tracker during the first pit stop phase as Hamilton regained lead with Kovalainen exiting the pits just in front of Raikkonen (who had not yet pitted).

Allen interrupts an interview between Goodman and Toyota driver Jarno Trulli half way through, as Massa’s front left tyre connects with the right rear of David Coulthard’s Red Bull! The latter retired immediately with a lot of damage, causing a second Safety Car. Straight away, we hear analysis from Brundle, who gives both perspectives on the incident from how Coulthard and Massa would have seen the accident, using his driving experience to good effect. Coulthard used some colourful language in his interview with Goodman to describe the incident!

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A collage of how Formula One Management caught Timo Glock’s violent accident live.

ITV did not miss much action during this race, with Safety Car periods helping. Ferrari’s day deteriorated, with Raikkonen taking a trip straight across the gravel attempting to overtake Kovalainen, and then spinning attempting to overtake Timo Glock in his Toyota, both incidents caught live by the director.

Shortly after, Glock was involved in a high-speed accident, causing the live camera to shake violently as the operator struggled to keep up with the speed and velocity of Glock’s car. The on-board shot of this would have been interesting to see, but was never aired (presumably the camera was not live at the time).

The Safety Car rules meant that Kovalainen and Alonso were unable to enter the pit lane as the Safety Car came back onto track, resulting in both cars exiting at the tail of the pack once both pit. Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Bourdais was briefly fourth before he retired with engine failure, Allen referencing his time in IndyCar where Safety Car periods are prominent. After a dramatic race, Hamilton wins! Heidfeld finished second in his BMW Sauber, with Rosberg third, the latter claiming his first ever podium.

Post-Race
Kravitz gets the first interview with Ron Dennis as the cars head into parc ferme. On this occasion, the podium room is full of joy, Hamilton jumping around and congratulating Rosberg as Allen and Brundle remind viewers of the relationship between the two.

Following the podium procedure, Rider and Blundell praise Hamilton’s performance, Blundell calling it “very mature” given the number of Safety Car periods. The two review the start from the various angles provided by FOM, also commenting on the strong performance of the Ferrari car when Raikkonen was in clear air, although Blundell described some of his moves as “absolutely unbelievable”.

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Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen discusses the race with the media.

ITV aired the complete English-speaking press conference, an unusual occurrence. The remainder of the post-race programme flies by, with the major incidents covered by Rider and Blundell. The two start with Massa and Coulthard’s crash, before moving onto the mid field runners such as covering Barrichello’s performance in his Honda. All of this is in quick fire fashion, but given the number of incidents in the race, this should not be a surprise.

By ITV standards, the post-race segment is long at around 30 minutes in length, even that amount of time is impossible to cover every story that happened in the race. Kovalainen joined Rider and Blundell live, Kovalainen giving his reaction to his battle with Alonso in the closing laps (Kovalainen accidentally hitting the neutral button).

Kovalainen and the presenters preview Malaysia, before Rider and Blundell wrap up the show to conclude the 2008 Australian Grand Prix!

Note from David: I’m coming to the end of this initial series of five races. Is there interest in having a flashback piece every month, or something of that nature? Please leave a comment if you would like to see more pieces after the fifth race. It is still a work in progress, so tweaks will be made along the way.

Flashback: 2005 United States 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, 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.

Race three takes us to North America and the 2005 United States Grand Prix! The 2005 season was a real turning point for Formula 1, with the Schumacher era of 2000 to 2004 now consigned to the history books. 2005 was the time for the likes of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen to come to the forefront and shine. The previous weekend in Canada, Raikkonen reduced his gap to Alonso and hoped to do so again at Indianapolis.

But, if you have come this far, you know that for Formula 1, the weekend of June 17th, 18th and 19th in 2005 was no ordinary weekend… The key broadcast details can be found below:

  • Date: Sunday 19th June 2005
  • Channel: ITV1
  • Presenter: Jim Rosenthal
  • Reporter: Louise Goodman
  • Reporter: Ted Kravitz
  • Commentator: James Allen
  • Commentator: Martin Brundle
  • Analyst: Mark Blundell

Back in 2005, smartphones were not really a thing. MySpace was the major social media player in its early stages. On the TV front, live coverage of North American qualifying sessions on ITV certainly was not a thing. The first I heard of any problems in USA was by tuning in to ITV’s race broadcast. Arguably, the US Grand Prix broadcast was ITV’s finest hour.

Pre-Race
“You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” by Bachman–Turner Overdrive is an apt song for the opening titles, given the events that are about to unfold. “This is definitely not Formula 1’s finest hour. As it stands, I cannot tell you whether there’s going to be a Grand Prix or not,” Jim Rosenthal says during his introduction. Rosenthal outlined the key issues from the outset, hinting at the possibility of a new chicane prior to the final bend, thus preventing Michelin’s tyres from failing.

We hear from ITV’s pit lane reporters Ted Kravitz and Louise Goodman heavily throughout the build-up, more so than Rosenthal and Mark Blundell. In the first half of the programme, Kravitz updates viewers from various locations, eavesdropping on Tony George’s office. In my opinion, this build-up is the start of the on-screen Kravitz that we see today. Most of his time on-screen until this point since 2002 had been the usual interview based material, but USA 2005 was a completely new challenge for all concerned.

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Renault’s Flavio Briatore and FOM’s Bernie Ecclestone in animated disagreement.

There are many hard-hitting interviews in the build-up, with the likes of Minardi team boss Paul Stoddart, Ferrari communications officer Luca Colajanni and Sir Jackie Stewart interviewed. Colajanni’s interview with Goodman does not reveal too much, but her pieces with Stoddart throughout the programme were damming. “If ever there was a time for Formula 1 to come together and leave the bloody politics behind, now is the time,” Stoddart said. Every anecdote revealed a new piece of information: Stewart in his interview mentioned potential lawsuits should the Michelin teams start the race.

Rosenthal and Blundell hold together the programme between the various interviews, discussing Formula 1’s future in America. Their discussion is a sideshow to the pictures, which show the gravity of the situation, paddock characters in heated conversation. Furthermore, not once have ITV shown viewers the qualifying order, or any features taped before the race weekend. The running order truly ripped up. The only feature that aired was a lap of Indianapolis on-board with McLaren driver Kimi Raikkonen. Rosenthal and Blundell analyse a slower version of the lap, showing the proposed location of the chicane. If the events of 2005 occurred in 2016, I think broadcasters would have used a broader range of material to cover the tyre issues, including the use of virtual graphics to show where they was failing.

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Bernie Ecclestone tries to explain the situation to ITV’s Martin Brundle.

As we approach race start, you can feel the anxiety increase as people realise that the building work is not happening any time soon. Martin Brundle joined the programme towards race time, Brundle recollecting his experiences from 1994 following Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger’s deaths when the GPDA and the FIA made changes to multiple tracks. The FIA made the changes prior to the race weekend, which was not the case with USA 2005.

The grid walk with Brundle is different, who “doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.” Brundle’s first grid interview is with Ecclestone. I wonder what Chase Carey would say in a similar situation…

MB – It looks like only four cars are going to start this race.

BE – Well there’s a lot more cars here. They’re all here [on the grid].

MB – I’m told that maybe even the Minardi’s will peel off at the end of the warm-up lap and just four cars will come down to the start line itself, they may be all here at the moment.

BE – Well, you know, so why you asking me.

MB – Well I want to know if I’m right or not.

BE – You wait and see.

MB – They can’t go round the track, they’ve been told they can’t go flat out and if they go slow, it’s more dangerous. You can’t have 14 cars effectively driving a different race track.

BE – The problem has been caused by the tyres, Michelin brought the wrong tyres. It’s as simple as that.

MB – But in the interests of Formula 1, you must have been screaming at the lot of them to say “sort yourselves out, I’m taking charge here.”

BE – Yeah, but the difference is you can’t tell people to do something when the tyre company says that you can’t race on those tyres.

MB – Did we need some more control on the paperwork that’s been flying about and the meetings, could we not bang some heads together and get this sorted out last night, why are we standing on the grid talking about this. You’re asking me and I’m asking you what’s going on!

BE – I wish I knew. The problem is simple, there’s not the tyres here where the tyre company is confident that those tyres are okay to use, especially on that banking.

MB – The future of Formula 1 in America, the future of Michelin in Formula 1?

BE – Not good.

MB – On both counts?

BE – Both counts.

MB – And what will happen this week, will they be slapped in some court?

BE – Well we’ll have to see. It’s early days, we don’t know. I feel sorry for the public, I feel sorry for the promoter here.

MB – I feel sorry for my eight million mates sitting at home, looking forward to a good Grand Prix. It’s too late now, we’ve ran out of time.

BE – We’ll see what happens now. People shouldn’t give up on Formula 1 because of this one incident. The incident is not the fault of the teams.

There is a lot more, Brundle even trying to doorstep the other Ecclestone. She has “nothing to say”; he says they need a “jolly good slapping!” On this day in history, I agree. Kravitz grabbed a final word with Michelin’s Nick Shorrock, who did the equivalent of no comment. Rosenthal and Blundell are pretty damning with their verdict, even before the formation lap gets underway.

Race
ITV did not take a break immediately before the five-minute World Feed sting, choosing to take the break later on knowing that the race would be quiet. James Allen noted that the majority of the crowd have “no idea” what is happening, which is clear as we head into the race itself. Allen recites the story so far, highlighting the key arguments from both Michelin’s and Bridgestone’s perspective. And into the formation lap we head, Brundle stating that he doesn’t want a “half-hearted start” as it would be “plain dangerous”.

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Farce.

If you watched the race live, you know what happens next. “Okay mate, you know what the plan is for the start, straight into the pits please mate,” is the message for Renault driver Fernando Alonso. 14 of the 20 cars peel off into pit lane. “It’s the strangest race ever, and it gets underway, now!” Allen described the crowd as sitting in “stunned silence.” Quite clearly, the director has an easy job with not many cars to focus on. Ferrari, Ferrari, Jordan, Minardi, Jordan and Minardi are the top six, the only six.

A six-car race is not an appetising affair. Many television stations agreed and pulled the race off air. ITV disagreed, and instead used a mixture of their own cameras in paddock and the World Feed for the duration. The first in-depth conversation came as early as lap two; Goodman interviewed Coulthard who described it as a “very sad day for the sport.” In total, ITV aired 13 interviews during the race. The silence turned to audible boos at sporadic phases throughout the race, a small minority at one stage hurled bottles onto the circuit.

ITV recognised that there was a human element outside of the microcosm of the paddock, and with that, the broadcaster headed into the fan zone, fans stating that they will not watch Formula 1 at Indianapolis again, shouting “refund!” It was a rare, sublime piece of broadcasting that no doubt kept viewers watching for the majority of the programme, even though there was very little to watch on track.

I remember standing on the grid in Adelaide [1991] when it was pouring with rain. [Ayrton] Senna wanted to race, [Alain] Prost didn’t, most of the rest of us were unsure. Bernie Ecclestone walked down the grid and said “get in your car,” the race is about to start. That was pretty much how it worked in those days, but that strategy wouldn’t have worked today because of this critical problem with the tyres and liability. – ITV co-commentator Martin Brundle

Brundle and Allen discussed previous scenarios, such as the 1991 Australian Grand Prix when heavy rain stopped the race and the FISA-FOCA war in the early 1980s where Formula 1 saw a depleted running order. They also noted that the attention was not as enormous as 2005. “It’s a different world now,” says Allen. Allen’s journalistic ability shines during the race, with his ability to explain a technical matter to a casual audience, whilst adding new snippets of information to the story (for example Bridgestone’s advantage after Firestone tyres were used on the “abrasive” Indianapolis 500 surface three weeks earlier).

The commentators also bring into play the political games that are happening in the paddock, such as a proposed breakaway series. Kravitz outlined a “single tyre formula” that was mentioned in 2008 documentation circulated prior to the race weekend, a move that ended up being implemented in 2007. This kind of discussion never occurs during the race, showing how unique the race was.

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Minardi’s Paul Stoddart addresses the world’s media

For Minardi and Jordan, the 2005 United States Grand Prix was their lucky day, with the World Feed director not having much else to focus on. Every second on-screen for them meant extra money and points. Nevertheless, Minardi boss Paul Stoddart gave a very passionate interview to ITV about the direction of Formula 1, about how the FIA are “meddling” with the regulations. Out in front, Barrichello leapfrogged Schumacher in the first round of pit stops. Despite Ferrari’s best efforts, the battle between the two drivers is not really a race, even if the two did nearly collide at one stage as Schumacher regained the lead after the second round of stops.

After 73 laps, in the strangest of circumstances, Schumacher wins the US Grand Prix!

Post-Race
Brundle remarked, “If Michael does a victory leap on the podium, I’m going to go and personally punch him.”

The usual post-race chatter begins on the warm down lap with Allen and Brundle looking forward to racing matters, starting with the French Grand Prix. Whistles and boos clearly heard in the background from the crowd as the podium ceremony starts (which ITV manage to miss, a very minor blot on their copy book).

A tricky event, but from a broadcasting perspective it was a blinding event to work on. It was the epitome of live television. As we went on-air, we ripped up the running order because we didn’t know what was going to happen. All of the features that we’d been carefully filming and putting together over the previous two days went out the window. The story had changed massively and we had to reflect that story, but we still didn’t know which direction the story was going to go in. We didn’t know whether there was going to be a race, how cars were going to be racing, what’s going to happen. The buzz of being involved in that was just phenomenal. – In conversation with Louise Goodman (Part One and Part Two)

Portuguese’s Tiago Monteiro enjoyed his moment in the sun having finished third; Schumacher and Barrichello headed straight off the podium. Blundell and Rosenthal react to what they have seen before them with some brief analysis of the Ferrari kerfuffle. The viewers hear more reaction from fans leaving the circuit with more “refund!” chants, followed by the start of the FIA press conference.

Rosenthal wrapped up the programme, stating, “We’ve seen an F1 fiasco in peak time, like David Coulthard, I feel sick and embarrassed to my stomach, circumstances beyond our control. We can only say sorry. Goodnight.”