The BBC F1 Team: The 2012 Verdict

After being wiped out last year as a result of the deal with Sky Sports, the BBC F1 production team was left to replace and fill the empty holes that had appeared. Out went Martin Brundle and Ted Kravitz from BBC TV, along with Anthony Davidson, David Croft and Natalie Pinkham from BBC Radio 5 Live. In their place came Ben Edwards and Gary Anderson for TV, whilst James Allen, Jaime Alguersuari and Jennie Gow formed the all-new 5 Live F1 team.

With the season now over, all in all, the BBC did a fantastic job with their recruitments, and in this piece I shall look at each member of the team in detail. As with my August piece, though, I will not be looking at the 5 Live team as I have not listened to them a lot this season, so it would be unfair to write about their team. I did do a brief piece on them here though for those interested.

Ben Edwards
Regular motor sport watches will have recognised Ben Edwards’ voice long before 2012. Edwards made his first Formula 1 commentary appearance at the 1994 Japanese Grand Prix, commentating alongside John Watson for British Eurosport. That race was just the beginning for Edwards as the two formed one of the best motor sport commentary partnerships of all time. Edwards continued his Formula 1 duties until the end of 1996 when Eurosport (and the BBC) lost their Formula 1 rights to ITV. Edwards moved his commentary duties stateside, commentating on CART for Eurosport.

In 2002, Edwards was part of the F1 Digital+ team, again alongside Watson and also alongside Matthew Lorenzo, Damon Hill, Peter Windsor and Perry McCarthy. A great team did not reap rewards, as Bernie Ecclestone closed the channel down at the end of the year. Despite his commentary being well-received, though, ITV or BBC never gave him the lead commentary position. Edwards moved onto A1 Grand Prix, commentating on their world feed alongside Watson until that particular series went bust. Whilst Edwards commentated live on ITV’s British Touring Car Championship programming, it was not until this year that Edwards broke back into Formula 1, joining the BBC as lead commentator.

It was worth the wait. Although Edwards was not alongside Watson this year, his partnership with David Coulthard quickly became a favourite with BBC F1 viewers. The partnership was in sharp contrast to other partnerships in previous years that have not gone so well, as the two gelled well together and called the action enthusiastically and excitedly. Alongside Gary Anderson, the three make the race day commentary worth watching. 2013 prediction = Edwards to stay with the BBC team

David Coulthard
A successful Formula 1 career for Coulthard spanning 15 years and 13 wins concluded in 2008, following spells at Williams, McLaren and Red Bull. A long career left Coulthard well placed for a broadcasting role, so it was no surprise to see BBC sign Coulthard up to restart their coverage from 2009. Coulthard to me seemed like one of those drivers’ that would move onto broadcasting at the end of his racing career due to the way his Formula 1 career ebb and flowed, which leaves him in a better position than those that have just had success to talk about the sport he loves – something I think will also happen to Jenson Button when he retires.

The three man team of Coulthard, Jake Humphrey and Eddie Jordan from 2009 has excelled in the past four years, and the same can be said for this season. Coulthard took on extra responsibility this year, performing the grid walk for BBC’s ten live races, a role he managed successfully, even bumping into Martin Brundle on more than one occasion.

Whilst his commentary with Edwards has also been top-notch, the question must now be asked whether Coulthard will remain with BBC for 2013. As I outlined in my 2013 predictions piece though, I do not see what Coulthard has to gain from moving to Sky Sports. There is an arguable point that he may want to reduce his commitments, but at the age of 41, Coulthard is in his prime, so I really don’t anticipate that happening just yet! In my opinion, Sky don’t offer him anything BBC do, unless he considers the prospect of live TV as appealing as Martin Brundle… it is worth noting that the few articles this morning say Coulthard will indeed remain at BBC for 2013. 2013 prediction = Coulthard to stay with the BBC team

Eddie Jordan
Probably the most charismatic member of the BBC team, Jordan has been with them since the start of 2009 as analyst alongside David Coulthard before and after the races. Jordan, who was well known for being the boss of Jordan Grand Prix through their stay in Formula 1, has appeared at all of the live races this year as well as a few highlights rounds. Although some will interpret this as him winding down his BBC commitments, I think it was the sensible option and probably one Jordan would have preferred. There was no real point of him travelling out to the ten highlights races only to talk for about 5 to 10 minutes in the pre and post-race show.

Despite his air-time reduction, Jordan is still a real asset alongside Coulthard and one to bring along a few scoops with him. The Lewis Hamilton to Mercedes scoop, started by him was dismissed by some on the paddock, including Sky Sports F1, only for the scoop to turn out to be 100 percent accurate. It is the scoops like this that give Jordan credibility, and you can see why BBC will be extremely keen for him to say with them for 2013.

I think with no Jordan as well, the life would be taken out of the live BBC F1 shows as I do not think Jordan would be very easy to replace. 2013 prediction = Jordan to stay with the BBC team

Gary Anderson
Like Jordan above, before his BBC duties, Anderson was most famous as the chief designer of Jordan Grand Prix, Anderson being there for the majority of its lifespan. Since then, Anderson has done TV work mainly for Setanta in Ireland, as well as doing website work for AUTOSPORT.com, amongst various other pieces.

Anderson succeeded Ted Kravitz as BBC’s pit-lane reporter. For the first few races, to be honest, I was sceptical about Anderson’s appointment. I got the impression that he was not gelling well with the remainder of the team on screen and that he was not being utilised properly, this a particular concern for the highlights races where sometimes he was heard very little. As the season has progressed though, Anderson definitely wins the award for most improved member of the team. Anderson, who also played a part in 5 Live’s practice coverage, is heard a lot more during the race day commentary, with Edwards bouncing back to him regularly in races, which has helped integrate him in the team.

In the pre and post-race programming, Anderson gives his technical analysis, and, despite not having the budget as Sky Sports F1’s Sky Pad, Anderson puts the latest developments over to the general audience in a language they understand – without dumming it down too much. As I said during the Summer, this was where he struggled in early races, but has improved massively now. 2013 prediction = Anderson to stay with the BBC team

Jake Humphrey
Advancing through the BBC ranks from CBBC to Fame Academy and onto BBC Sport, Humphrey became BBC F1 presenter in 2009. It was clear from day one that BBC had made the correct decision.

This part of ‘The 2012 Verdict’ will not be long, because as we all know now, Humphrey is moving onto pastures new for 2013, so there is not much for me to say here. I do think, though, that BBC F1 will be worse off without Humphrey. Reading a lot of Twitter comments, and you can tell that Humphrey’s style of presenting has helped open Formula 1 open to a new audience that did not exist before, which should not be forgotten. I do hope, ten or fifteen years down the line we do see Humphrey back in the motor sport circles in some capacity. But for the moment… 2013 confirmed = Humphrey is off to BT Vision

Lee McKenzie
Throughout the 2000’s, McKenzie filled several motor sport broadcasting roles, such as A1 Grand Prix pit-lane reporter and presenting Speed Sunday on ITV1 in 2004. It was in 2009 when McKenzie joined F1, becoming BBC F1 pit-lane reporter alongside Ted Kravitz.

McKenzie has continued that role ever since, stepping in as presenter for the 2010 Japanese Grand Prix and the 2012 Canadian, German and Hungarian Grand Prix’s. With her presenting experience, alongside her good relationship with all the drivers’ thanks to her reporting from 2009 to 2012 makes her the prime candidate for the BBC F1 presenter role. One of the best interviews for me this year was her interview with Lewis Hamilton, which shows her ability to get the best answers out of drivers and acting professionally when doing so. Her interviews with Sebastian Vettel are another stand-out, such as his championship winning interview and when the two presented the first part of the F1 Forum at Silverstone this year.

For me, McKenzie is not only the obvious candidate, but the logical one. Any other decision may make her reconsider her BBC F1 future if the presenter role gets given to a Formula 1 newcomer. 2013 prediction = McKenzie is promoted to the role as BBC F1 presenter

Tom Clarkson
As Clarkson has not been on the BBC programme since Summer, I will not add any more to what I wrote back in August, which you can see below:

“If you are from Australia and are reading this, you will be familiar with Clarkson as he is a regular voice on TEN Sport’s Formula 1 coverage. As Humphrey is back for the remainder of the season as a presenter, I don’t believe that we will see Clarkson again, but as we have seen him several times, I thought I would give him a section here too. My memory of Clarkson though comes from Canada when he was asking questions to a slightly miffed Mark Webber here,Webber either unimpressed or bored with Clarkson’s line of questioning.”

I will end this part with a story that is making the rounds this morning and that is that Suzi Perry is the front-runner to become BBC F1 presenter from 2013. The move, if true, would be a surprising one. As I noted in September, Perry was dropped from BBC’s coverage of MotoGP a few years ago. The fact that she was dropped from the MotoGP coverage makes it seem far-fetched that she would be considered for a higher priority role. To me, the two do not add up. Perry also has been more two wheels than four wheels in the past thanks to her MotoGP commitments. The reason given publicly that she was leaving was because of time commitments, however Formula 1 takes up more time than MotoGP with 20 races.

But, I note from her Twitter than she has said that she “will be back in full flow soon [with presenting]” and she will be back on TV “soon“. So this story appears to have some legs…

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The 2013 Predictions

Following on from my ‘Verdict so Far’ series’ in April and August, the series’ makes a return as I look back over the 2012 season from a broadcasting perspective, looking at both the BBC F1 and Sky Sports F1 teams, their programming and the ratings from this past year.

Before formally beginning ‘The 2012 Verdict’, however, I am going to begin with my 2013 predictions. The reason for doing the predictions before posting the series of verdict blogs and not after is because it is likely that announcements will be made before Christmas, so I want to get in my predictions and thoughts before that happens, and then get into the verdict itself.

We already know one change for 2013, that being Jake Humphrey will no longer be BBC F1 presenter. What we do not know yet, though, is who is replacing him. Back in September, I wrote who I thought were the lead contenders’ to be Humphrey’s successor. Since then, Mark Pougatch has also emerged as a contender. Despite that, I stand by the thought that Lee McKenzie is highly likely to succeed Humphrey. To me, it seems like the obvious choice. McKenzie has extremely high rapport with the drivers’, is a likeable character, and would also be a steady person to lead the BBC F1 ship. Going into 2013, McKenzie will have been in the Formula 1 paddock for five years, and I believe the time is right for her to step up to fill the presenter shoes. It would not be surprising, but it would be sensible. It would not be the first time someone has stepped up from the pit-lane to presenter role, after all Ted Kravitz was a pit-lane reporter last year for BBC, and this year has took on extra responsibilities as host of The F1 Show on Sky Sports F1, whilst back in 2002, James Allen moved from pit-lane reporter to succeed Murray Walker as lead commentator on ITV.

If McKenzie does fill the presenter slot, as I expect to happen, the question then will be who is replacing her. Tom Clarkson, having replaced her in the Summer when Humphrey was called up for other sporting events, will be a leading possibility. Aside from Clarkson, I think BBC should be making moves to get Will Buxton on board. Passionate and articulate, Buxton ticks the right boxes should BBC (or Sky) wish to employ him now that his SPEED commitments have finished. One other option is to have Jennie Gow conducting the interviews for both BBC TV and Radio 5 Live, which would save costs for all concerned.

Whilst Gary Anderson and Ben Edwards are expected to remain on board, I remain less convinced about Eddie Jordan and David Coulthard. Jordan reduced his commitments for 2012 by only appearing at the live races and three highlights rounds (Australia, Italy and USA), so it is possible that was the first step towards him leaving the team altogether. Coulthard on the other hand is linked to Sky, due to his friendship with Martin Brundle. I can not see neither leaving, but there again I did not initially anticipate Brundle leaving last year either, the new channel swinging it towards Sky for him. Coulthard at the moment does the grid-walk, punditry and commentary on BBC. Is he likely to advance further up than that on Sky? I don’t see it myself. If anything, it would just add more pundits for the sake of adding more pundits. The only possiblity of him going to Sky is if one of their main faces leaves. If no one on Sky leaves, then adding Coulthard makes no logical sense. If someone on Sky leaves, then yes, that would leave a gap for Coulthard to enter. But who?

I think David Croft possibly. Not leaving Sky, but leaving their Formula 1 team. Sky could always ask him to be a commentator on their Darts coverage, which is inside the realms of possibility, thus opening a gap for Coulthard to partner Brundle in the commentary box. Over on BBC then, John Watsonn would fill Coulthard’s gap to partner Ben Edwards on a full-time basis. I don’t consider this highly likely though. Brundle said at the beginning of the year that in the middle of last year it became apparent that the lead commentator role was not for him, so he would have to persuaded to switch back to that role. One also wonders if it would be wise for Sky to change their line-up after their first year. Would they gain viewers and close the BBC vs Sky viewer ratio by adding Coulthard to the commentary line-up? I don’t know.

Lastly, will Simon Lazenby stay with Sky Sports F1? It would be easy to say “get rid of Lazenby, get rid of [Natalie] Pinkham”. But would it be worth it? Not particularly. Sky are not in the knee-jerk business of moving people about after only one season. Yes, Lazenby in my opinion has not been fantastic, but next year, with a year already on board, he could improve and develop as a Formula 1 presenter. The first half of this year was the ‘bedding in’ phase for the team. There is no guarantee, with anything, that a team will come out of the blocks and be great from the get-go. You do not get ‘three amigos’ of Humphrey, Jordan and Coulthard every day. There will be some teams that take more time to blend on screen than others. That is how broadcasting works. But making a knee-jerk move and replacing X with Y after year one does not do anything. What if Y is even worse than X? Then you are back to square one. For Sky, it is better to have the same faces on board for next year, and if there is still problems or areas to work on at the end of 2013, then change. Martin Turner, the executive producer of Sky Sports F1, moved over from Sky’s Rugby team with Lazenby, so hopefully Turner can get the best out of Lazenby in 2013.

It reminds me a bit of BBC in 2009. Yes, the ‘three amigos’ were fantastic, but Jonathan Legard received severe criticism. Instead of the knee-jerk option of dropping him at the end of 2009, BBC persevered with him in 2010. When it still was not working, they went their separate ways. Similar happened in the ITV days with James Allen, except in that case Allen was kept on until their coverage ended in 2008. The crux of the matter is that it does not do anyone any good to make knee-jerk decisions. Lazenby, for all intents and purposes, should be better next year than this year, but as always time will tell.

On-screen, I expect Sky to remain status quo, but, I think and hope that the balance will be different. One of my concerns was that Lazenby was presenting too much and that Georgie Thompson was doing too little over a race weekend. So hopefully that balance is sorted out now that Sky are heading into year two. I’ll go into more detail regarding that later on. Over on 5 Live, with no Jaime Alguersuari, John Watson looks set to replace him if Coulthard does not leave over on TV, with Allen and Legard probably rotating the lead commentator position. And finally, over on Sky Sports News, Rachel Brookes has already confirmed that she will be at nine races next year, so expect to see Craig Slater at the other races again.

With the above in mind, I anticipate the BBC and Sky teams for 2013 to look like the following:

BBC F1
Presenter – Lee McKenzie
Commentators – Ben Edwards and David Coulthard
Pundit – Eddie Jordan
Pitlane – Gary Anderson and Will Buxton

BBC Radio 5 Live F1
Commentators – James Allen/Jonathan Legard and John Watson
Pitlane – Gary Anderson and Jennie Gow

Sky Sports F1
Presenters – Simon Lazenby and Georgie Thompson
Commentators – David Croft and Martin Brundle
Pundits – Anthony Davidson, Johnny Herbert, Damon Hill and Allan McNish (rotation)
Pitlane – Ted Kravitz and Natalie Pinkham
News – Rachel Brookes and Craig Slater (+ David Garrido as extra)

I should add a disclaimer at the bottom saying that I don’t have any inside knowledge as to who is going where, so all the thoughts above are my own. As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.