In conversation with Simon Lazenby

The F1 Broadcasting Blog kicked off the AUTOSPORT show weekend yesterday by chatting to a familiar face. Simon Lazenby (@SimonLazenbySky) has presented Sky’s Formula 1 coverage since its inception in 2012 having previously anchored their rugby programming.

Here, we chat to Lazenby about his tenure with Sky, including how he found the transition to Formula 1 and who within the broadcasting landscape was on hand to give him advice…

F1B: How did you start off in the media?

SL: I came straight out of University, where I was studying biochemistry and I became a commodity trader for about a year and a half. My sister, who worked in TV and still does now, works for Channel 4 funnily enough as one of their Heads of Entertainment. She was having such a great time on the initial stages of The Big Breakfast, I thought “that looks like a lot of fun”, I’d like to get into that.

F1B: This was about the mid-90s then.

SL: She got in around ‘97 and I came across from Cargill around 1998 as well. I started off doing some work experience, making the teas and coffees at Sky in rugby. And then after three months, I moved back in with my parents and got a job as a runner, and then an editorial assistant job. At that point I said “can I have a go at reporting” and that led to a bit of presenting. I remember I was in an edit suite one day and they said “go home, you’re on this evening!” After an hour’s training with autocue, they put me on Sky Sports News, I should imagine the tape exists somewhere. I’ve never been so nervous.

F1B: Would you like to see the tape again?

SL: I don’t know, it probably exists somewhere, but hopefully they’ve burnt it!

F1B: That seems like a similar way for people to get into the industry, I know your colleague Ted Kravitz came through the ITV F1 route, similar kind of thing.

SL: Yeah, he was in radio with Capital and then into ITV. He’s always been there [for me] and Ted is one of my closest friends. On the circuit, we hang around a lot together. He has a good habit of stitching me up in interviews, so if you asked me what his bad habits were, I’d probably point out a few! He got into the industry in a similar way to me. He’s an absolute nut for anything mechanical whether it flies, goes on water or as a car, if it moves, he loves it.

F1B: You became Sky’s rugby presenter in the early 2000s and you were doing that gig for a good ten years.

SL: Yeah, we were doing that for ten years. And then we got the [F1] contract, and Martin Turner who was my boss on the rugby, asked if I would be interested in it. I said “of course I’d be interested in it”, I mean who wouldn’t be interested in it! It’s an amazing sport. You know how quickly this sport changes, so you come in and think “wow, I’ve got a lot to catch up on.” When I was in on a Sunday, I’d always watch the race, half the time I was working. I got into it in the early 90s like most people did with [Nigel] Mansell. I love the way he drove in that era of so many greats. He epitomised the British spirit. He was strong, brave, everything. And then Damon [Hill] came along, he’s become a really good friend of mine now, as is Johnny [Herbert] and Martin [Brundle]. It was a good era for British sport. Williams had an extended period of success, and of course McLaren earlier, it was great to see.

F1B: During that time, you were honing your presenting skills and so on and so forth, you did a lot of studio based work. Did you think about jumping ship before the F1 offer came along?

SL: One of the frustrations of being a TV presenter is that, depending on your time slot, you might be squeezed into two hours for rugby. I might go all the way to the ground, to “hello, here’s the commentators”, to three minutes at half-time and then straight off at the end. That can be a little bit frustrating, so when I found out that we were going to have a dedicated channel [for the F1] with loads of time to talk around the issues, that was really exhilarating for me, but also one of the biggest challenges.

Everyone when we came in, you’ve done it yourself, Sky versus BBC, you get your fair share of criticism, I do understand that because people have got to get used to you and you’ve got to work on your on-screen chemistry.

SL: I remember at the time, you’ll know that the sound of the V8 is a lot different to the sound of the V6 Hybrid, that first race in Australia, the nerves were massive with the start of a new channel. Trying to hear what you were doing in the pit lane with all that going on around you was the toughest thing I’ve ever done in presenting. I still think it’s one of the toughest things in sports broadcasting because it’s such a movable feast, anything can change at any point. That’s one of the things that gives you a real high, a real adrenaline rush.

F1B: Was the transition from rugby to F1 more difficult than you expected?

SL: I think inevitably when you come in to a new sport from something else, people are used to what’s gone before. The guys at BBC and ITV did a fantastic job, and Channel 4 continue to do so. I think what we’ve always said is that we hope we offer something different to them and I think they hope to offer something different to us. We know from the information that we can gather now, from demographics and the way that TV is so digital now, you can get information on the type of viewer that you are getting. Everyone when we came in, you’ve done it yourself, Sky versus BBC, you get your fair share of criticism, I do understand that because people have got to get used to you and you’ve got to work on your on-screen chemistry. It inevitably takes time, I hope five years down the line, we’ve got it reasonably honed into a good product now. We’ve been nominated for a broadcasting award for Best Sports Programme last year, we’re against the Paralympics and the Olympics, it’ll probably be a tough category to win. It’s nice to know that people appreciate our product.

F1B: It doesn’t matter whether it is rugby in the studio or F1 in the paddock, it’ll always be the same, if you put out a bad show, people will criticise you.

SL: It’s like anything David. You’ve got to accept that not everybody is going to like what you do and that doesn’t matter who you are, whether you’re the President of the United States, or the incoming President of the United States, or your muggins like me! I consider it a great privilege to have this job and I love it. I find myself institutionalised, it’s only taken three or four years but I get to the off-season now and I think “oh god, when do we get going again?” It becomes very, very addictive, the travel, the friends you make, it’s just a great thing to be involved in.

F1B: You found out that you’re getting the presenting gig in 2012, did you go to anyone for advice, did anyone give you advice?

SL: There’s a good story here actually. It was New Year’s Day in 2012, I have to admit I was a little bit hung over. I had a text, I woke up, and I laughed out loud! It was a text from [former ITV F1 presenter] Jim Rosenthal saying congratulations on the job. I was up in Scotland with my wife and I couldn’t believe it, Jim texting me to see if I wanted any advice. We met and he said it’s a tough gig. Jake [Humphrey] said some very kind things to me and said how difficult it was, when he started and there were people gunning for him. I faced the same, Steve [Jones] faced the same. It’s about knowing that you’ve been put in that job for a reason and that you can do it. You just hope people accept that you’re trying your best and that’s all you can do.

F1B: I guess the moment doubt comes into it, is the moment it’s a slippery slope.

SL: Maybe. I try not to doubt myself. One of my producers joke about the day you get the ‘presenting yips’ i.e. you come on, camera goes on, and you forget what you need to say. If it happens, you’ve just got to laugh your way through it. You get yourself into tricky situations, but you battle your way through it.

F1B: Walking into the paddock for the first time, seeing everything around you. How was the emotion?

SL: The first time is intimidating. People think “who is this?” The one thing about the paddock is that it takes you time to earn respect. I think it was Andy Stevenson of Force India, again a really good friend now. He said it can take you three years to win the respect of people in the paddock You must remember a lot of the things that get thrown at us is because we are pay-TV, and a lot of the fans that had it for free, we understand that and we’re not arrogant about it. We just want to do a good job and hope we have a product that people want to pay for and if they don’t, fine, that’s their choice and they’ve got another option. I hope we do give you what your money’s worth.

F1B: With 2017 coming up, what sort of preparation do you do going into the season?

SL: It starts now, the AUTOSPORT show is here. It’s great to see some people again and dust off the cobwebs after Christmas. December goes like that, and all of a sudden testing is on the horizon. We’ll probably have some media days, it’s about keeping across everything that is happening and right now there’s a lot still to happen! There’s a lot to fall into place which will affect the championship. There’s new regulations to get your head around. It never stops. There are events to host and other bits and bobs to do.

Jake [Humphrey] said some very kind things to me and said how difficult it was, when he started and there were people gunning for him. I faced the same, Steve [Jones] faced the same. It’s about knowing that you’ve been put in that job for a reason and that you can do it. You just hope people accept that you’re trying your best and that’s all you can do.

F1B: How have you found it over the past few years building the relationships with both drivers’ and teams? Not every driver is the same, when interviewing them I imagine some are a bit coy.

SL: What you find is, a general rule of thumb, the more well-known they are, the more difficult it is to have a personal relationship with them. The exception is Daniel Ricciardo.

F1B: Ricciardo’s probably one of the best personalities around at the moment.

SL: Yeah, he’s great for the sport, he’s everything we want from the sport and so is Max [Verstappen]. They will all talk to you, but a lot of them only talk to you when the camera is on because they are so acutely aware that anything said out of context these days can get turned into a story because everyone is around with a microphone. I understand that as you get more famous, everyone wants a piece of you. That’s the good thing about having done it for five years, is that in some cases you’ve been there longer than they have, you’ve seen them come in from GP2. I think the respect works both ways.

F1B: Looking ahead to the future, do you see yourself in the paddock in five to ten years?

SL: I hope so! We’ve signed a contract until 2024. I’ve got two children, one’s very young, ten weeks old.

F1B: Congratulations! Abu Dhabi baby?

SL: Rosie was born in between Austin and Mexico. I went to Austin, flew back on the Monday, Rosie was born on the Wednesday and flew back out on Friday. It couldn’t be further apart. Hopefully my wife will maintain patience with me!

F1B: Any final thoughts or comments heading into 2017.

SL: I think it’s going to be a great season. Last year, you knew it was going to be Mercedes again but this year anything can happen. What if we get a double diffuser situation? We know the cars are going to look a lot cooler. Between you and me, I’ve just had a sneak preview of what the McLaren is going to look like and it looks very cool. Zak [Brown]’s really excited about what’s going on there. I hope McLaren are going to surge forward, so many British fans want McLaren to do well. I think they’ve got realistic ambitions.

F1B: It’s one of the things actually, you can deliver the best programming that you’ve ever done, but if the race isn’t good then there’s not much you can do about it.

SL: One of the things I notice from reading your blog is that when the ratings go down, you’re quick to say this is the reason why, and quite often you’re very right with it. The one thing you have to pin it on more than anything is what is happening on the grid. If that’s going well, then the figures go up. I do hope the right decisions are made by the sport going forward. I hope that Chase Carey and Liberty Media do listen to those that have gone before, but are also bold enough to take it in a new direction to make it appealing to the fans. We’ve got to have racing at the front, it’s got to be inter team rivalries rather than just intra team rivalries. We hark back to the Senna and Prost days, but they were lapping everyone, and yet they’re seen as the glory days, it’s rose tinted glasses. It’s like with icons after they’ve died, some stand the test of the time, so I’m hoping we get a little era now of really good racing between three or four teams.

My thanks go to Simon Lazenby for spending the time with me on the above interview.

Channel 5 to continue World Rally Championship coverage in 2017

Channel 5 will continue to broadcast highlights of the World Rally Championship this year, it has been confirmed.

Scheduling information for the Monte Carlo Rally shows that the channel will broadcast highlights on Monday 23rd January at 19:00, the same slot as last season.

An official press release has not been released as of writing, but I would expect the same level of coverage as last season with live coverage of the Wales Rally GB in October.

BT Sport and Motors TV will continue to air daily highlights, with the former also airing live coverage.

The main change for the championship this year will come from Red Bull TV, which will be bringing a “fresh and exciting” approach to its new WRC coverage.

It looks like their programming will be different to what will be offered to broadcasters such as Channel 5 and BT, with Red Bull’s coverage featuring guests such as Mark Webber.

Brundle suffered “small heart attack” following Monaco Grand Prix

Sky’s lead Formula 1 analyst Martin Brundle has revealed that he suffered a “small heart attack” following the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix.

Speaking to Toby Moody at the AUTOSPORT Show, Brundle said: “I had a small heart attack running to do the podium in Monaco. I ended up with a 23mm stent in my left artery descending (LAD) I believe. I didn’t think I could do the race [Le Mans] and the cardio guy said to me ‘yeah, you can do the race, just don’t forget the blood thinners.'”

Hearing Brundle talk about his heart attack was remarkable, just two weeks before winning at Le Mans in the LMP3 support race. We knew at the time that Brundle had a medical procedure, we just did not know the extraordinary circumstances behind it.

Brundle also reflected on his current status with Sky and his move to the channel in 2012: “It took me a long time to take the decision to leave the BBC and go to Sky. Sky demonstrated to me that they were totally committed to the future of covering Formula 1 and they’ve stood by that, they’ve grown it much bigger than I ever thought they would.”

“I didn’t think BBC were committed and that proved to be the case, so that was a smart move for me. I love having the scope of so much live television. Live television gets my juices flowing and the adrenaline flowing,” Brundle said.

A high-level overview of who owns what in the motor sport media landscape

With many different take overs and acquisitions recently, it is easy to forget who actually owns what. To my surprise, there was not an easy to view diagram which shows all the different connections.

As a result, I thought it was worth putting together a handy diagram to show the relationships:

motor-sport-media-landscape
Link to full sized version here.

The above shows that control lays in the indirect hands of a select few people. Mike Zoi is an unrecognisable name to myself, but appears to be a key figure as the Pitpass link below shows.

The diagram has been sourced using information from the following links:

Formula E secures minority investments from Liberty Global and Discovery Communications (March 2015, Formula E website)
Motorsport Network – About
Discovery Communication agrees to take full control of Eurosport (July 2015, Discovery Communications)
Liberty Media: Who are Formula 1’s new owners? (September 2016, BBC News)
Zak Brown joins McLaren as Executive Director (November 2016, Sky Sports)
Liberty Global to buy Virgin Media for $23.3bn (February 2013, BBC News)
Liberty Global and Discovery Communications Renew Long-Term, Comprehensive Distribution Partnership (August 2016, Discovery Communications)
– Motorsport Network buys Autosport (October 2016, Pitpass.com)
– Chase Carey key to F1 digital media success, says Zak Brown (September 2016, Motorsport.com)
US media firm Liberty Media to buy Formula 1 (September 2016, BBC News)
– Rupert Murdoch’s Fox makes Sky bid five years after hacking scandal (December 2016, The Guardian)

This is a second version, there may be parts that I’ve missed off. I’ve omitted anything without an indirect connection to motor sport. If anyone does find any additional links, please add a link to the source in the comment and I’ll produce further iterations.

Version 2 updated on Sunday 8th January 2017 at 19:00.

Channel 4 and Sky confirm 2017 scheduling details

Channel 4 and Sky Sports have today confirmed their 2017 Formula One calendar picks. The picks are as follows:

2017 Schedule Details
March 27th – Australia (Melbourne) – Sky
April 9th – China (Shanghai) – Sky
April 16th – Bahrain (Sakhir) – Channel 4 and Sky
April 30th – Russia (Sochi) – Channel 4 and Sky
May 14th – Spain (Barcelona) – Sky
May 28th – Monaco (Monaco) – Channel 4 and Sky
June 11th – Canada (Montreal) – Sky
June 25th – Europe (Baku) – Channel 4 and Sky
July 9th – Austria (Red Bull Ring) – Sky
July 16th – Britain (Silverstone) – Channel 4 and Sky
July 30th – Hungary (Budapest) – Sky
August 27th – Belgium (Spa) – Channel 4 and Sky
September 3rd – Italy (Monza) – Sky
September 17th – Singapore (Marina Bay) – Channel 4 and Sky
October 1st – Malaysia (Sepang) – Channel 4 and Sky
October 8th – Japan (Suzuka) – Sky
October 22nd – USA (Circuit of the Americas) – Channel 4 and Sky
October 29th – Mexico (Mexico City) – Sky
November 12th – Brazil (Interlagos) – Sky
November 26th – Abu Dhabi (Yas Marina) – Channel 4 and Sky 

Other than the picks themselves, the main piece of news to come out of the press releases is that Channel 4’s live races will continue to air uninterrupted from lights out to chequered flag, which is great news for fans. Neither press release mentions personnel details, I would expect any changes to be announced closer to the start of the season.

Sky’s press release is the usual format, the corporation touting heavily the launch of Formula 1 in ultra high-definition. The press release also mentions some of their usual supplementary programming such as GP2, GP3 and The F1 Report (which has essentially now replaced The F1 Show).

Channel 4’s Head of F1 Stephen Lyle said: “Following a thrilling first year covering Formula One, we’re delighted to reveal our schedule for the 2017 season. Once again our team will bring extensive coverage of every race with The Monaco Grand Prix, Great Britain and the finale in Abu Dhabi among our ten Live race weekends. It’s a particular delight to welcome Monaco back to terrestrial television Live, for the first time in five years.”

Sky’s Head of F1 Martin Turner said: “With UHD it’s Formula 1 like you’ve never seen it before. It will be the hardest, fastest, loudest season in years with new rules, new cars, new engines and new, massive tyres. From the opening Grand Prix of the year to the season’s home-stretch, Sky Sports F1 remains the definitive place for fans to see every twist and turn of the season.”

Compared to my predictions post, I managed to get 12 out of the 20 picks correct, which is not bad, a bit less than last year mind! My prediction was that Channel 4 would pick Canada after Britain and Abu Dhabi. Instead, it looks like that either USA or Monaco as their third pick, with the other being their fourth pick. The picks are a big change compared to the past few years. It is the first time Monaco has been live on free-to-air television since 2012, and the first for Singapore since 2013. It’s also the first time the US Grand Prix is airing live on free-to-air television since it returned to the calendar, which is really good news in my view.