A tale of two halves as TV ratings increase slightly

The 2013 Formula 1 season brought in a higher viewership than 2012 in the United Kingdom, according to unofficial overnight viewing figures. However, a deeper look inside the figures shows that the season was a tale of two halves.

The season, when taking into account Sky’s longer running time for each race programme, averaged 4.11m across the nineteen races on BBC One and Sky Sports F1. This is an increase of 130k (or 3.3%) on the 3.98m average recorded for 2012, but is again down on the figures recorded between 2009 and 2011 when Formula 1 was exclusively live on the BBC. Despite an overall increase, viewing figures dropped a million viewers from the first half to the second half of the season. The first half of the season averaged 4.58m (2012: 4.06m), whilst the second half of the season averaged 3.59m (2012: 3.89m), a 27.6% drop compared with a 4.4% drop in 2012.

BBC’s Formula 1 coverage was the reason for the increase, averaging 3.42m viewers throughout 2013 for their race-day coverage, compared with 3.22m in 2012, an increase of 6.2%. The main source of the increase was the high German Grand Prix highlights rating, which averaged 5.15m and benefited from following the Wimbledon final. Removing this would still keep 2013 above 2012 for the BBC. Nevertheless, the first half of the season averaged 3.81m (2012: 3.21m), with the second half averaging 3.00m (2012: 3.23m), a 27.0% drop compared with a 0.6% increase last year, slightly below the overall average drop. It shows how well the first half of the season did, helped not only by the German Grand Prix, but also the controversial Malaysian Grand Prix.

Unlike BBC, Sky Sports F1’s coverage dropped throughout. When putting it on a level playing field with the BBC, the main part of their race-day programming averaged 685k, down on the 767k recorded in 2012, a decrease of 12.0%. There is no particular race that struggled, but rather an overall declining picture for the channel compared with 2012. 770k (2012: 855k) watched the first half of the season with Sky, this number dropping to 590k (2012: 659k) for the latter half of the season. In both 2012 and 2013, Sky’s coverage has dropped across the season: a decrease of 30.5% compared with a 29.7% drop in 2012.

The F1 Broadcasting Blog says: The season from a ratings perspective can only be described as a tale of two halves in about every possible way. From a television point of view, producers would expect and hope for the season to start slowly and then build to a crescendo towards the end, 2008 is a perfect example of that with the Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa battle bubbling up at several points in the season before the season finale. 2013 was almost the opposite in that round two had the biggest story of the entire year, with Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel’s on track battle. It was downhill from there. Casual fans love stories like that. Sadly though for companies around the world, it was never followed up on where the on track action was concerned. There was no juicy follow up, and I don’t think Webber and Vettel ever got close on track again.

Instead, the second half of the season seen Vettel dominate, and viewing figures plunge. I imagine, although I cannot verify, that a similar picture was repeated around the world. I’d be surprised if the UK was an anomaly given the context of the season. Which leads me onto double points.

AUTOSPORT has learned that teams were pressured into supporting the move because they were told by Bernie Ecclestone that television companies and race promoters had asked for a way to ensure the world title battle was kept alive for longer. – AUTOSPORT – December 20th

Obviously broadcasters can see the ratings as soon as they are released and may well have done the same comparisons as I have shown above. Has one of them forced Formula One Management (FOM) to press the panic button? I think they did. And rather stupidly too, given that 2013 was definitely not a typical season in terms of layout. As good as the Webber and Vettel story was, the other stories, the public simply don’t care about, for example the ‘tyre test’ and the outcome of that. They care about personalities. More of Webber and Vettel, less of the tyres which I suspect no one out of the Formula 1 bubble really cares about.

A good season for the BBC, they will be pleased to be up versus 2012. Yes, they did drop in the latter half of the season, but given the context, it is difficult to have expected anything different. What I would say is that the BBC ratings do show is that Formula 1 needs to keep the terrestrial television presence, which I hope continues beyond 2018, although that is a long, long way away yet. Whilst Sky’s decline in the latter half of the season is unsurprising, the first half of the season also declined, which was not a good sign from the get-go. From a ratings perspective, they desperately need stability and avoid the free-fall continuing into 2014. How do they do that?

Unlike BBC, which is purely dependent on the on-track action, Sky need to consider how Formula 1 is packaged within their portfolio of channels. Limiting who can, and cannot view Formula 1, and punishing people through loopholes is not the way to go. At the end of the day (and this will apply to BT Sport with MotoGP too), Sky need to make their coverage more accessible to people and not price them out of the market. I’m not sure that will happen, and if it doesn’t happen, then I only see viewing figures continuing to drop for Sky. The aim of the game needs to be to get Formula 1 ratings in the UK back up to the levels seen between 2009 and 2011. And who knows, for the moment, 2014 may be make or break where that is concerned.

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Looking ahead to 2014

The first four parts of the 2013 verdict looked back at the year gone by and analysed both the BBC and Sky Sports F1 products, along with their respective teams. But of course while Formula 1 plays a large part in this blog (hence the blog name), it is easy every so often to get wrapped in the Formula 1 bubble. Which in why in 2013, I have been trying to cover more than just Formula 1 on the blog, on both two and four wheels.

Sometimes, in the broadcasting and media world, you have to look at the bigger picture to see what patterns are emerging, to see where the landscape is heading, to see what could be the next big thing. Enter BT Sport. Launching on August 1st, 2013, BT has only been on air for five months. March 2014 will signal the beginning of their MotoGP coverage. Sitting here, writing this at the end of 2013, we still do not know who will form part of the line-up. Obviously first impressions are vital, so it will be interesting to see who is announced, no doubt within the next month I imagine.

I hope that viewing figures are good for MotoGP, but we will only get the full picture after a few races of the season. Critically, they need a championship battle to last for the majority of the season to prevent viewing figures dropping. Of course, the figures will be lower than BBC, I just hope by not a huge amount. Another story in 2014 will be the Formula E rights announcement, which will be make up break for the series. If it is not on terrestrial television, then it will simply blend in with the rest and won’t stand out, simple as. If they want the concept to be successful in this country, it needs to be easily accessible. Time will tell.

And then of course we have all the usual Formula 1 discussion, from both BBC and Sky, home and abroad. Year three of a seven year contract means that both sides should have firmly settled in, although like last year, we could well see some surprising changes. Along with that there will be the usual ratings analysis, will the draw of the ‘2014 formula’ bring viewers back to Formula 1 again, or will viewing figures slip down a notch further? A lot of questions ahead for 2014, some bigger than others, and it looks set to be another interesting year on the broadcasting front.

Sky Sports F1’s output: The 2013 Verdict

The first two parts of the 2013 verdict looked at both the BBC and Sky Sports teams, as I looked at each individual’s contributions. The third part focussed on BBC F1’s programming, and suggested potential improvements. Part four switches attention again to look at Sky Sports F1’s programming over the course of the season, whilst the final part will cast an eye into the future as 2014 draws ever nearer.

Although the programming during a race weekend has largely stayed the same, it is the schedule outside of the race weekend which has seen the most movement. Before a Formula 1 weekend gets under way, Sky screen the Thursday FIA press conference, along with a ‘Gear Up for…’ programme which is a summary of the interviews precluding a race weekend. Their main action, however, begins on Friday’s with live coverage of practice.

Practice
Sky’s coverage formally begins with live coverage of all three practice sessions. The build-up for each session is typically 15 minutes long (Australia FP1 the exception at 30 minutes) with Simon Lazenby hosting the Friday sessions and Natalie Pinkham hosting third practice on Saturday morning. During the session itself, Sky take the World Feed, except this season they have done things a bit differently compared with 2012. Many would have noticed Sky cutting away from FOM’s feed in last season. In comparison, this season they have adopted a split screen approach, which I personally prefer as long as it is not overused.

There was nothing more annoying than Sky cutting away from the World Feed, so the split screen was a good replacement. As the season went on, I feel that they did get the balance near enough to okay, just got to make sure that when split screen is used, there is a justifiable reason to use it. Another addition to the practice coverage, and in general was Sky putting captions over FOM’s graphics, which was a nice addition from time to time. The actual look and feel aside from the above did not really change: David Croft and Anthony Davidson were on commentary and the issues surrounding practice three and going off air earlier remained.

Martin Brundle did stand at a corner of the circuit explaining differences he sees in car vs car and driver vs driver, but as I noted in part two, this really could benefit with a camera being down there with him. Like I said though, I’m not sure how possible this is. The only annoyance for me is Sky still rushing off air after practice three for no apparent reason, sometimes only three or four minutes after a session has ended. Aside from that, the coverage Sky provide for practice is good and not much more can be suggested here.

The F1 Show
Throughout 2012, The F1 Show was live on Friday’s, from either a race track or the studio, with Ted Kravitz and Georgie Thompson presenting. It was by far the best part of Sky Sports F1’s coverage, with Kravitz and Thompson presenting week in and out a high quality show. The duo were great together with a lot of rapport and were liked by viewers. Despite being on the initial Sky Sports F1 advertising for 2013, Thompson took the decision to head for pastures new, meaning it was Natalie Pinkham alongside Kravitz for the first ‘The F1 Show’ of 2013.

The majority of editions in 2012 were must see, with some good discussion points. 2013 has not been as good for the show, with the Midweek Report showing it up on occasions. Yes, there have been some good changes, for example featuring GP2 and GP3 more, but I’ve been left feeling that watching some editions has been a chore rather than must watch. Being on Friday’s for non race weeks does not help. I know it was following multi-21, but the highest rated edition was actually aired on a Thursday.

Sky appear to be persisting with the Friday slot for 2014. I just don’t think a Friday night works at all when most of its core audience are probably out and not wanting to watch F1. Interestingly, for one episode they did have a heavy social media presence, with people being invited to tweet their thoughts in. Whether that was a test for something in 2014, I don’t know. As it turns out, I really enjoyed that particular episode, but there have not been a huge amount of highlights this year for The F1 Show. I enjoy it still, just not as much as I did in 2012.

Pre-Session
Unlike in 2012, Sky’s race day programming now has three distinct parts. The track parade tends to take up the first twenty to thirty minutes of the build-up, whilst the remainder of the build-up is discussion and VT based. However, it was always signalled on the EPG as one part, that was until the Indian Grand Prix when the decision was made to have formal introductions for each of the three parts, thus splitting it into three parts. Some say that this was a ratings influenced move and they may well be correct…

One complaint last season was that the pre-show just did not have the right flow to it, thankfully the pre-show in 2013 feels more polished and overall a better feel than what it did this time last year. The VT quality has slightly improved as well, with the Sand Grand Prix actually turning out surprisingly well, one of the few things that Sky have hyped this year that have delivered to expectation. On the same level, the mundane VT’s wrapped around breaks have remained, and don’t look like disappearing any more. As thus, expect Foals to be getting a lot more playouts in 2014!

The Sky Pad has been used more than ever before in the build-ups, but very effectively too. As I noted previously, moving the Sky Pad outside was probably one of the best decisions Sky made this season, and it paid dividends for them with more attention being paid to drivers’ taking themselves around a lap of a particular circuit in these segments. I don’t think they need to change a thing with the Sky Pad segments for 2014, because they’ve turned something good from 2012 into an absolute gem in 2013 with Anthony Davidson at the helm.

Post-Session
Throughout the 2012 season, Sky typically went off an air between 90 and 120 minutes after a race had finished. At the beginning of 2012, the difference between Sky and BBC was alarming, as Simon Lazenby and Damon Hill were not the best duo, and the post-race show just felt completely wooden. It did improve a bit, but felt like they were a level below BBC’s previous efforts. They shortened the length slightly for 2013, consistently going off air at about 16:15 for European races. It turned into formally being called ‘Paddock Live’ from India onwards.

Whilst the pre-show has undoubtedly improved, it is the post-session coverage that has reaped the rewards in 2013. The post-show is 2012 was fairly structured, but now, with a bit of reworking, I think they have crucially got the structure right. Segments at the Sky Pad with Anthony Davidson looking at key moments from the race, discussion and analysis, and Ted Kravitz’s Notebook now means that Sky Sports F1’s post-race analysis is a step above BBC’s. Obviously, it helps them that BBC have a change in presenter, but credit to them nevertheless.

The Notebook’s in 2013 have been better than ever, from testing through to the last race in Brazil. Within the post-race show, the Notebook is normally five to ten minutes long with an extended version on the website. I do think the programming would be significantly weaker without his contributions, as the Notebook makes up a fair chunk of the post-race. Looking ahead to 2014, and I hope the post-race programming continues in the same vein. It is better than BBC’s post-race forum at the moment, so hopefully Sky don’t change for the sake of change.

Midweek Report
I was debating whether or not to include the Midweek Report as a separate section, but given that it has been a regular in the Sky Sports F1 schedules for the majority of the year, I thought it was necessary to give it its own section. Last year, Sky Sports did not have a midweek Formula 1 show. This year, the Midweek Report started online for the first few rounds with Anna Woolhouse presenting. It was pretty clear how cheap the budget was immediately, the show was filmed in the tightest of studios possible, and against a green screen!

Which does not really do it justice. It soon moved to the channel itself from April, which made complete sense. Irrespective of who’s budget the programme comes from, it is an F1 based programme made by Sky Sports, therefore it should be screened on the channel, simple as. The show itself is 30 minutes and is chit chat and discussion with two guests. And the difference between the Midweek Report and The F1 Show is simple. The F1 Show’s ‘guests’ are actually not really guests, but members of Sky’s team. The Midweek Report actually has proper guests.

Obviously for its low budget, the guests are not always fantastic (having someone from Planet F1 scraped the barrel), but on other occasions it hit a top note in a big way. After Abu Dhabi, they had Will Buxton and James Calado on. The discussion in that particular show was fantastic, because the guests were actually expressing opinion and not towing any line! It was brilliant and great to see. Midweek Report should continue in 2014, with a bigger budget, proper studio and who knows, maybe it will fully overtake The F1 Show too. It wouldn’t surprise me.

Other programming
Starting at the start, Sky’s 2013 contributions began with a few launches, kicking into gear further with live testing. I really enjoyed the testing coverage from them, with general chit chat and also insight from Mark Priestley. I normally would say that I hope live testing returns for 2014, with testing more critical than ever next season. Three letters, one word: FOM. If Sky want to screen testing live, once again they have to go through them. As always, FOM give Sky access, Sky can’t just walk in and around a live F1 circuit with cameras and start filming. So, we’ll see what happens.

Classic F1 has also began on the channel this season, with Sky screening near to 100 classic races. I’ll admit to not watching them all, but it was a much needed addition to the channels schedules and helped fill the gap between races. Hopefully the classics continue for 2014. GP2, GP3, Fast Track and Weekend in Stills have all continued on the channel. In particular, GP2 and GP3 have had a great year, with more fantastic commentary from Buxton and, at times Alex Brundle. GP2 and GP3 are back on Sky Sports for 2014.

One problem has continued though: advertising. I’ll keep this to this paragraph, but GP2 and GP3 need advertising. Desperately. How much does it take to knock a 30 second trailer together and air across multiple Sky Sports channels to get the message out? Similar arguably applies for the Midweek Report and Classic F1, although those are more of a case for the Sky social media team to get the message out given that I would expect neither of them to be advertised on-air. I’m hopeful this will improve, but who knows. All good advertising F1, but there is other programming too.

From a programming stand-point, Sky have improved leaps and bounds, albeit most of the changes have come outside of the race weekend. Which is good, after all we are talking about a channel here and not one individual programme or airing. The scheduling needs to change on some of the programming (original programming shouldn’t air beyond 23:00 or midnight), but 2013 has improved significantly on 2012’s baseline.

BBC F1’s output: The 2013 Verdict

The first two parts of the 2013 verdict looked at and analysed the BBC and Sky Sports F1 teams, suggesting possible improvements in both areas. Parts three and four switches the focus from the personnel to the programming.

Part 3 will look at BBC’s Formula 1 programming. The new deal from 2012 onwards has meant a reduction in what the BBC serves up. Unsurprisingly, some parts of the programming have been affected since, both due to that but also due to personnel changes as I will look at in this piece.

Practice
The look of practice changed significantly on the BBC this year. From 2009 to 2011, BBC shown every practice session live via its Red Button service. This halved from 2012 with the revised contract, but the raw coverage was the same. The broadcaster was simply taking the Formula One Management (FOM) World Feed from the five minute sting to five minutes after the session with Radio 5 Live’s commentary. For 2013, that changed thanks in part to the significant reductions to the Red Button, which meant that practice was heading to BBC Two.

At the time, they touted this as ’40 extra hours of network output’, whilst technically true, of course the raw hours they were showing was not increasing, merely changing stations. It did make me wonder how many people were completely oblivious to them showing practice between 2009 and 2012 behind the Red Button! In any case, the change to BBC Two meant that it had to become a proper programme, start titles, end titles with proper presentation from Suzi Perry and A.N. Other (mostly Gary Anderson).

I guess this was okay for what it was, although I was somewhat wondering what the point was when sometimes they only had five minute intro and outro. I can understand having a proper programme if they had more air-time, as they did after the session in Canada, one great example where they had half an hour on BBC Three. I imagine they will continue with proper presentation in 2014, but hopefully they manage to get five or ten more minutes post-session to go with that, instead of rushing off the air.

Inside F1
One of the minor parts of BBC’s Formula 1 coverage since 2009 has been the ‘Inside F1’ show. The show has typically aired on the BBC News Channel on Friday’s and Saturday’s at 18:45 during race weekends. It has more recently been fronted by Lee McKenzie on location. Normally, every Formula 1 show has some kind of purpose. Considering its timing, you would say Inside F1 simply aims to wrap up the on-track action for Friday and Saturday respectively. Which is, fair enough, considering its fifteen minute slot. The utter confusion for me comes with one word: Why? And more importantly: Who?.

Why is BBC’s F1 team still filming this show, and secondly, who is this show actually aimed at? The main purpose appears to be that it is only there to fill air-time on the BBC News Channel. Again, it comes to the question of why Formula 1’s target audience would be watching at the time. The answer is that they simply would not be. It does follow after Sportsday, but I’m not sure what it achieves. Yeah, its a harmless show in nature, but it could be much better. BBC Three, 19:00, 30 minutes. Why not? It makes a fair bit more sense than the BBC News Channel in my view.

The BBC Three programming, instead of Inside F1, could bring a different demographic towards Formula 1, which is needed to try and reverse the difficult ratings patch as of late. In effect, I’m saying scrap Inside F1, and bring in a new show. Make it a hybrid Friday review with a different slant. The other option (for Saturday’s) is to have a BBC One tea-time show for live races, which could work in a similar way to Murray and Martin’s ITV F1 Specials in the late 1990’s. Either way, BBC need to be open to new ideas, and a new F1 show to cater to a different demographic is an interesting perspective.

Pre-Session
One of the points that has largely remained the same since 2009 is the length of both the Qualifying and the Race build-ups. For live races, this has consistently been between 50 and 60 minutes irrespective of location. I’ll begin though with the highlights, as the format is largely formulaic: a quick intro, Qualifying wrap up, maybe an interview feature, grid interviews and then onto the race. It doesn’t need to be anything more for the highlights show, and given the programme length of between 90 and 120 minutes there is not much room for manoeuvre anyway.

It’s the live programmes where all of their energy goes into. Starting with the positives, the quality of their VT’s are unmatched. From a technical standpoint, the team still produce some jaw dropping VT’s, whether it is a particular race retrospective, or throwing some old McLaren’s around Silverstone. It is great to see too that there is still a bunch of talented people behind the camera and that the BBC and Sky deal did not rip the production team apart. In front of the camera, the show has still been good.

Good, but not great. Partially, this has not really been their fault in the latter half of the season with stories drying up. Nevertheless, it hasn’t quite felt ‘must watch’ for me at several stages this season. Assuming we have a championship battle, and with Suzi Perry in her second season, I do think things will rebound. I’ll allude to this a bit in the Sky piece too, but broadcasters’ thrive with a championship battle with stories bouncing from pillar to post and possible angles to take. When that disappears, so does possible content. Hopefully 2014 is a more competitive year for all concerned.

Post-Session
The only real negative for me comes with BBC’s post-session coverage. From 2009 to 2011 we had a high quality forum, which was generally very highly regarded. Quality dipped in 2012, but appears to have plunged for 2013. This is not an issue for highlights show, but for the live races it is a major issue. For those that didn’t watch, between 2009 and 2011 the forum consisted of a hybrid of chit chat and good, solid in-depth analysis. This did vary a bit from sitting down outside with guests, or inside a motor home, or later on walking along.

Changing presenters does not help thanks to the very nature of the forum, but what has not helped at all for BBC is that this is where Sky have made the biggest strides, particularly this year. And it is one area where I feel Sky are now actually better than the BBC. BBC mastered the forum from 2009 to 2011 and it is quite sad to see it go downhill. Does it still have its good, great TV moments? Of course. But it appears to be just a few people wandering around now, meaning that the entire feel of the forum has changed for the worse since a few years ago.

Thankfully, for BBC, this is a simple fix. All they need to do is to watch a tape of a 2013 forum and compare it to a 2010 forum and analyse where things have changed, and more importantly, do they think the changes are for the better. Personally, I don’t think the changes have been for the better and Sky’s improvements in their post-race show just highlight it further for me. I hope the forum does get back on track, because when it is good, it is easily the best piece of Formula 1 television during a race weekend. Let’s get the house back in order, please.

2013 has been a year of stability for the broadcaster, although the change of presenter has been highlighted significantly. Don’t get me wrong, the BBC is still one of the best, if not the best Formula 1 broadcasters in the world. I hope 2014 sees some programming changes and tweaks in order to improve the product further. I fear that BBC risk falling into the trap of complacency and resting on the laurels. 2014 looks set to be an exciting Formula 1 season on and off track, and I hope BBC’s coverage reflects that after what has been a solid, but unspectacular 2013.

The Sky Sports F1 Team: The 2013 Verdict

Sometimes, they say that the second year is tougher than the first. In broadcasting, I think the reverse is true. The first year is for building the blocks and the second year is for expanding and cementing those blocks. Sky Sports F1’s second year was largely more successful than the first, as I will analyse in this piece and also the programming piece later on. Sky’s team was assembled at the beginning of 2012 as two presenters, one commentator, five ex-drivers and two pit lane reporters.

Whilst they did indeed build the blocks in 2012, the off-season seen two blocks disappear. Like BBC, the Sky team encountered several changes. Here is how the team changed between 2012 and 2013:

In
– Anna Woolhouse (now presents Midweek Report, although she is not a ‘formal’ part of the team)

Out
– Allan McNish (moved to 5 Live F1)
– Georgie Thompson (moved to pastures new in America)

Thompson’s departure came as a massive surprise to most considering it was only announced (on a blog, nonetheless) four weeks before the start of the season! Nothing official was ever released concerning her departure, it was all rather odd. Anyway, as it turned out, some things are for the better, and Thompson leaving ended up fitting into that category.

Anthony Davidson – @AntDavidson
– main racing activities in endurance racing
– 24 F1 races spanning eight years
– joined 5 Live F1 in 2004, before moving to Sky in 2012

One of the highlights of BBC’s Formula 1 coverage between 2009 and 2011 was the Red Button service used for practice sessions, with commentary from Anthony Davidson and David Croft. The two were universally praised by fans due to their relaxed and interactive style with viewers texting and tweeting their thoughts. Moving onto the present day, and Davidson can also be found standing at a Sky Pad, although in 2012 things were slightly…. different. In 2012, Sky had Davidson and Georgie Thompson stand at the Sky Pad, in a portacabin. The analysis was great, but the location was awful, the two may as well have been in London!

As it turns out, Thompson was not off to London, but off to America. Before the start of the season, I said Davidson would struggle going solo. How wrong was I. Combined with the Sky Pad moving outside, it is one of the biggest improvements to Sky’s coverage year-on-year. Moving it to outside allows them to do more things, which I’ll discuss more in the later pieces. As for Davidson, he has gelled in brilliantly with the team more so this year, it felt last year like he was hidden away because of the Sky Pad location. I suspect he will reduce his commitments for 2014 with good reason, as he now has a new born to take care of!

Damon Hill
– won the 1996 Formula 1 championship
– retired in 1999 after Brabham, Williams, Arrows and Jordan stints
– sole year at F1 Digital+ in 2002, returning to broadcasting in 2012 with Sky

It is not often that people go ten years without appearing in broadcasting, but in the case of Damon Hill, that happened. Of course, he has been ITV F1 commentator sporadically when Martin Brundle was on holiday, but being announced as Sky Sports F1 pundit for 2012 would be his first permanent role since 2002. At the start of last season, Hill was not great to put it lightly. Him and Simon Lazenby were wooden to watch and it was bordering on the cringeworthy. Thankfully, things did improve and with the help of Johnny Herbert, Hill loosened up as a pundit.

2013 has been better for Hill, thanks to Herbert alongside him and also the general rule that the second year tends to be better than the first. In terms of his role, it has not been that much different for him, the commitment level has remained the same. There have been some races where Hill has not travelled to, which is a good thing as Hill is better in small doses. Will he stay for 2014? I think he will, but it is worth bearing in mind that his son Josh retired from motor racing back in July, so Damon may take the opportunity to step back his commitments further for the time being.

David Croft – @CroftyF1
– began broadcasting career at BBC in 1995
– climbed up the latter to 5 Live F1 from 2006 onwards….
– …before moving with Davidson to Sky in 2012

Moving with Anthony Davidson to Sky Sports F1 from BBC Radio 5 Live was always the most logical move for Croft once BBC had reduced their coverage. I did enjoy Croft’s commentary with 5 Live as I alluded to above, his and Davidson’s practice ramblings was sometimes the highlight on an F1 weekend. Whilst I still do like Croft’s commentary, for me, he is still what puts him and Brundle below Ben Edwards and David Coulthard. The first point is with Sky self promotion, which sadly is beyond his control, but very tedious nevertheless considering most viewers know about said services, yes Sky Race Control, I’m looking at you!

There are other issues, though. I said in the BBC piece that I liked Edwards because he makes the hairs on the neck stand up, and it doesn’t feel forced. With Croft, the opposite is true. Every time the race ends, and every time an overtaking move happens (DRS assisted or not) it feels like he needs to shout for whatever reason, maybe because it sounds good in VT’s after, who knows. But to the viewer watching it live, it doesn’t come across as good, it is forced. I know Croft does a lot of fantastic things off the microphone, #AskCrofty for one, I like those, but inevitably he will be judged on his commentary. Good, but no Edwards, in my view.

Johnny Herbert – @JohnnyHerbertF1
– began his Formula 1 career in 1989 after breaking both legs
– recorded three Grand Prix victories before retiring in 2000
– first race with Sky Sports F1 at the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix

The first few races on Sky Sports F1 in 2012 from a presentation stand point were not the best. It needed a more ‘bubbly’ personality, shall we say, to enter the fray. Enter Johnny Herbert, who became part of the team from the Chinese Grand Prix. Whether that was always the intention I don’t know, but it was a much needed addition to the team which was a wooden, as I noted in Hill’s section above. It is also interesting to note that, despite retiring in 2000, his role with Sky is the first time that he has appeared on the F1 broadcasting scene, having never previously held a role with BBC or ITV.

In terms of opinions, Herbert gives the obvious opinions and doesn’t really say anything surprising, if anything he toes the ‘party line’. Another issue is if things get too light hearted, as has happened on occasion, but has not yet gone overboard, thankfully. Saying that, the Sky team would suffer without him, as he helps hold the show together in my view. I think Herbert will stay with the team for 2014, he is a safe pair of boots and there is no logical reason for them to get rid of him.

Martin Brundle – @MBrundleF1
– veteran Formula 1 career from 1984 to 1996
– part of ITV’s coverage for their entirety, commentating alongside Murray Walker and James Allen
– moved to BBC in 2009, and then hopping over to Sky for 2012

One of my criticisms of Sky in 2012 was the overuse of Martin Brundle. I can understand the reasoning behind it, as he was the face of their pre-season advertising, but throughout last season it felt like they needed to shoe horn Brundle into every segment and session possible. Brundle was present doing pieces to camera during practice in pit lane right the way through to appearing on the post-race show regularly last season. This has been reigned in somewhat during 2013, but it is still a minor issue for me.

Instead of being in pit lane during practice, Brundle now reports from a particular corner during practice. Whilst this is a great addition, it really could do with a camera man being down there with him, although I appreciate that safety is an issue when reporting from track side, which probably prevents Sky from doing this. His grid walks are still as strong as ever, although I think his commentary has dipped from when he was with the BBC. The lack of a championship battle does not help in that respect, but it was noticeable as the season progressed. Hopefully Brundle rebounds where that is concerned in 2014.

Natalie Pinkham – @NataliePinkham
– various roles on way up to F1, including The Wright Stuff
– became BBC Radio 5 Live pit lane reporter from 2011….
– …but the role was only for a season, she was soon heading to Sky

Due to Georgie Thompson choosing to leave Sky Sports at the start of the year, it meant that Natalie Pinkham’s commitments were expanded. Pinkham throughout 2013 presented The F1 Show alongside Ted Kravitz, and for me it is one reason why The F1 Show has dropped in quality compared with 2012. If I had a choice of who to keep in the team for 2013 between Thompson and Pinkham, it would have been Thompson for me purely because she is the better presenter and can be more ‘serious’ than Pinkham.

Pinkham’s role is more or less the same as Lee McKenzie’s on the BBC, except the latter is leagues ahead of the former. When Pinkham does attempt to do something serious, it is difficult to take it seriously, and feels completely out of place. I do wish that Sky chose Rachel Brookes ahead of Pinkham for The F1 Show, but sadly I think that boat has sailed. I wouldn’t mind Pinkham just as a ‘features reporter’ (even if it did mean her taking a, dare I say it, Beverley Turner style role from ITV) as long as it meant that her air-time was reduced significantly as a result. I’m not a big fan of Pinkham, I’m afraid.

Simon Lazenby – @SimonLazenbySky
– presented Sky’s Rugby coverage up to and including 2011
– moved, along with executive producer Martin Turner, to Sky Sports F1
– stayed with the team for 2013

When Sky were first announced as joint right-holders for Formula 1 from 2012, there was no logical person to give the presenting role to, and it was quite obvious early on that the hiring for the role would come from internally. If you are to talk about choices though, I guess you’d be looking at Keith Huewen and Jon Desborough from a motor sport background. Why Sky Sports never went for either of those for the F1 role, we will never know. After that it was almost a free for all, but in the end Simon Lazenby got the role. 2012 was not great for Lazenby, and I said that strong improvements had to come for 2013.

Sky kept him for 2013 (as his only likely successor decided to leave), and happily Lazenby appears more relaxed in the presenting role. It probably helps for him also that there has been a bit of movement at the BBC, with Lazenby now up against Suzi Perry, who herself has not had the strongest of years. Whilst Lazenby has improved, I don’t think he is near the level of Jake Humphrey, who I think the consensus now is that Humphrey is leagues ahead of most of the Sky presenters with his style of presenting (when not in a studio, that is!). Hopefully Lazenby improves further for 2014, should he stay.

Ted Kravitz – @TedKravitz
– began with ITV in 1997, moving in front of the camera in 2002
– jumped to the BBC in 2009, with commitments improving significantly
– moved to Sky for 2012

They always say ‘leave the best to last’. Not deliberately, but in this piece, Kravitz is the last of the main individuals on the Sky Sports F1 team. And in my view, the best. Kravitz was a main part of BBC’s output from 2009 to 2011 and with more air-time, Sky seemed the logical home for him considering his Notebook’s, which have been even better in 2013 – and expanded with testing and Saturday’s covered too. An always amusing moment is when he fails to stick inside his allotted time, on multiple occasions running 5, 10 or sometimes 15 minutes over his scheduled slot!

The Notebook has definitely the highlight of 2013 from a broadcasting standpoint for me, whether it is Kravitz wandering around Suzuka’s amusement rides or giving us a behind the scenes look at Sky’s operations as he did late in the season. Alongside the Notebook, Kravitz roves up and down pit lane, whilst also presenting The F1 Show. For reasons I’ve noted briefly above and I will note later on, it has declined in quality, although the reasons for it are out of Kravitz’s control. I’m hoping Kravitz’s Notebook’s are back in force from February with F1 testing again!

Others
If you haven’t watched much of Sky Sports F1’s coverage outside of race weekends then you will probably have not heard of Anna Woolhouse. Woolhouse is the presenter of the Midweek Report. An interesting story is that it was initially online only and filmed against a green screen, with a shoe string budget. Only a few weeks later was it noted how pointless an online only show was when you have an entire channel! So, from China, the programme had its first airing on Sky Sports F1. And since then, at times the programme has been better than The F1 Show! I’ll explain more in the next few parts, for me, the choice of guests on occasion is infinitely better. As a presenter, Woolhouse does a fine job, but there is not much more to add here.

Over on Sky Sports News (where Woolhouse also is!), is Craig Slater and Rachel Brookes. Nothing has changed here, except that Sky Sports F1 now tends to use more Sky Sports News interviews which is a good thing, as it makes complete sense for F1 and News to share resources. It made no sense to me why BBC TV and Radio were initially completely independent of one another in 2009, that soon changed where TV people started appearing in Radio’s coverage of practice. My only wish is that Brookes is more prominent on the channel, preferably replacing Pinkham, but that doesn’t appear to be happening yet.

As a unit, if I was to compare the two teams directly and ignoring the programming outside of it, the BBC for me have the edge due to their team being more all rounded than Sky. Sky throw their eggs all in one basket with former drivers whereas with BBC you have an ex team boss and an ex technical director, neither of which Sky have. I do think the Sky team is much improved on 2012, but it will always have the ‘imbalance’ problem for me until they get in another non-driver to add some balance to the programming.