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Sky Sports F1 – The verdict so far

26 Jun

Before the start of the season I wrote an article on the high hopes that I had for Sky Sports F1, and now that we’re eight races in to the season I’m going to offer up my verdict on how they are doing so far. This article won’t be a comparison of BBC versus Sky; firstly I don’t see that as a constructive exercise, but mainly because I have hardly watched BBC coverage this season so it wouldn’t be balanced.

The Team

The core presenting team of Simon Lazenby, Martin Brundle, David Croft, Ted Kravitz, Natalie Pinkham, Georgie Thompson and Anthony Davidson are all performing their respective roles as well as I anticipated, but my stand-out favourite has to be Ted. I’ve always liked his enthusiasm for the technical side of F1, but it has really notched up several gears now he is working for Sky. The graphics, the sky pad and the cars in the studio on the F1 show make him look as happy as a kid in a sweet shop and it is great to watch.

The Sky F1 team in action (picture via Daily Mail)

The pundits who join the team for some of the races really add to the dynamic on race weekends, and Johnny Herbert is definitely my favourite. His cheeky humour and the expertise he brings as one of the driver stewards are a great addition. I know a lot of others didn’t like Jacques Villeneuve on the Canadian GP coverage but I enjoyed his input too as he is so honest. This is the weaker point of the other regular pundit, Damon Hill. He doesn’t tell it as straight as Johnny, and his flip-flopping on the Bahrain political issues weakened his credibility. Karun Chandhok took to presenting on the Sky Pad with Georgie like a duck to water and I really hope that Sky bring him back in for more races (and not just while Ant recovers from his spinal fracture).

The strongest moment for me for the whole team was the Bahrain weekend. The tone of the programme changed perfectly, with a fair assessment of the troubles in the Gulf state and the effect it had on Force India personnel and others. The light-heartedness of a normal weekend e.g. the F1 Buzz Game just wouldn’t have been appropriate there and it didn’t happen.

My only small criticism would be the openness with which some of the presenters show their allegiances to certain drivers. The worst offender is probably Martin Brundle with regards to Lewis Hamilton. I am biased here because I am anything but a fan of Lewis, but I would prefer him to show more neutrality. Alan McNish wasn’t exactly neutral either.

The presenter who has come in for most criticism from the press has been Simon Lazenby due to a couple of unfortunate incidents; the Grace Kelly reference in Monaco, and his reported conduct on the flight home from Valencia. This criticism for me has been too harsh. We all make inappropriate jokes and comments at times, myself included, and who hasn’t acted inappropriately when they’ve got a few drinks inside them? I think Simon does a great job and I hope these incidents don’t jeopardise his role on the team.

The coverage itself

Sky’s coverage of race weekends is definitely comprehensive, and on the whole runs for the right amount of time. The pre-qualifying and pre-race build up runs for the right amount of time, and the post-qualifying and post-race coverage runs for a good amount of time although I think they could easily fill at least another half hour. With a dedicated channel at their disposal it would be good for them to stay on air as long as possible while there is still stuff to say and F1 folk to talk to. I might just be being greedy there though!

The number of advert breaks in the coverage was always going to be a high-profile feature of the coverage, and I like the timing of the advert breaks. Given the length of the coverage it is actually quite handy to have a few breaks for us viewers to do our own refuelling and pit-stops without having to pause it and miss anything (shudders at the thought). My only irk with the advert breaks is the regular opportunities they provide (after the break) for the presenting team to remind us yet again of the ways that we can access Sky’s coverage and that it is broadcast in 5.1 digital. WE KNOW!!!

Another thing annoying me is some of the editing. Monaco was particularly bad. Within about half an hour we saw the same excerpt of Georgie’s interview with Heikki Kovalainen three times. This was pretty poor, but thankfully isn’t a regular occurrence. The other thing is that Sky don’t always cut to the post-quali or post-race drivers’ press conference as soon as they could. I think it was Canada when they were interviewing Christian Horner in the pits and you could hear the press conference being broadcast around the track. I appreciate that live interviews can be difficult to secure, but the press conference is a key part of both quali and the race and I’d like to see it take precedence over anything else. I’ve seen tweets from fans watching other broadcasters around the world who have been ahead on the press conference and it has spoilt it a bit.

The two reports on McLaren show-runs, just weeks apart, showed a slight lack of imagination but show-runs are a really important connection between F1 and its fans so I am willing to overlook this.

The F1 show is a really good addition to the schedule. With so much news on a race weekend it allows that extra degree of coverage, and the shows in non-race weeks are great for further post-race analysis and an F1 fix between races.

I also really like the Thursday and Friday press conferences being broadcast on the channel.

Team Coverage

In my previous article about Sky I said that the amount of coverage they gave to teams in the mid-field and back of the grid was a crucial factor for me. I think so far I can say this is “not bad but could do better”. There is still a tendency to focus on the big teams. It was always inevitable (sadly so for me) that McLaren would dominate this, but rather than just being a McLaren and Red Bull love-in as we saw in recent years on the BBC, there’s a pretty good balance beyond the McLaren priority, across Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus. I’d still like to see more of the mid-field and back of the grid teams. Sauber and Williams are inevitably getting the best coverage in the mid-field because of their strong performances so far this season.

I can understand that McLaren is considered to be *the* British team, but I think it is important for the British broadcasters to consider that two-thirds of the teams are based in the UK. I am located equidistant between Red Bull in Milton Keynes and Caterham F1 while they are based in Hingham in Norfolk. The majority of their personnel are British, and their foreign ownership shouldn’t affect the amount of coverage they get. You only need to watch BBC Look East to see how proud our region is of Red Bull and Caterham, both of whom get regular coverage on the local news. More coverage could also be given to Paul Di Resta – he is just as British as Jenson and Lewis and I am sure will be a force to be reckoned with in the next few years. When it comes to forming allegiances to drivers and teams I am swayed by skill and personality rather than a blind allegiance borne from shared nationality, and I am definitely not alone in that amongst F1 fans. Thankfully for me Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel and Heikki Kovalainen all get a reasonable amount of coverage from Sky, but those who support others like Vitaly Petrov or Daniel Ricciardo will be waiting rather impatiently for decent coverage of their heroes. Please, Sky, give fans the chance to warm to other drivers.


Taking on coverage of a global sport like F1 is no mean feat, and I think Sky are settling in to F1 really well. The niggles I’ve mentioned here are all pretty small and it is definitely a good sign that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the coverage. I am sure it will only get better as time goes on. I’ll give Sky a 7/10.

Fans who have access to Sky, but have opposed watching their coverage on principle, really ought to give it a try. From what I’ve seen so far I can safely say that they will like it.


“Our Men in Bahrain”

16 Apr

After a thrilling race in Shanghai, the F1 paddock is currently making its way to Bahrain ready for the race due to take place this weekend. Some have gone straight to Bahrain, while others are biding time in the UAE or elsewhere. Amongst those who’ve gone straight to Bahrain are some of the F1 press corps.

The debate about the Bahrain Grand Prix has been simmering ever since the race was confirmed on the 2012 calendar, but the eyes of the world have been focussed on other areas of the MENA region since the uprisings last spring with little attention being paid to events in Bahrain. In recent weeks as the race weekend approaches, the question about whether F1 should return there has inevitably been making headline news.

As we’re all aware, the authorities in Bahrain are telling the world all is well in the country and that the race will unify the country, while blaming the foreign press for overstating the ongoing tensions there. This isn’t surprising; it goes against the very essence of the UNIF1ED promotional campaign for the Grand Prix which was intended to tell the world that the race is a good thing for the country.

It is also worth noting that press outlets in Bahrain are either owned by the government or closely linked to it; opposition press is pretty scant. It is relatively easy to convince those in the city that there are just a few skirmishes happening in villages when the streets of Manama are quiet. Having this much media scrutiny which they can’t influence will be making many in the halls of power in Manama extremely uncomfortable. To refuse visas to journalists arriving for the Grand Prix would be a guaranteed PR disaster, so they need to take their chances and let them in.

From what I have seen and heard recently about life in Bahrain, it strikes me that the authorities in Bahrain have been naive about their ability to convince the world that all is well, and up until this week it has been a bit of a case of ‘he said, she said’ between their PR machine and the western media. This week, we can find out once and for all how things really are through the eyes and ears of those members of the F1 press corps who are already on the ground in Bahrain. Other sections of the media are also watching the situation closely.

While perusing my twitter timeline this afternoon I was fascinated by updates appearing from two journalists, Byron Young (The Mirror – @byronf1) and Ian Parkes (Press Association – @ianparkesf1), who had gone to the village of Salmabad to observe the final day of mourning for a local cameraman who had been shot and killed on Friday. They tweeted what they saw as it happened, including a number of pictures. Tensions were high and resulted in a clash between the police and protesters. I can highly recommend reading their tweets from this afternoon.

Other journalists besides Byron and Ian are in Bahrain, including Kevin Eason (The Times – @easonf1). Kevin has been one of the most outspoken F1 journalists about the way in which FOM and the FIA have handled the decision about Bahrain, and you may have seen his piece over the weekend criticising Jean Todt. Kevin was first man at the Bahrain circuit today, and his first piece from Bahrain will be in the Times tomorrow which I’m sure will be another good read (note: I am in no way affiliated with News International….or related to Kevin…).

Every journalist from every news outlet will have their own slant on a situation, and so it is always worth reading across the spectrum to get a balanced view. Other journalists/news outlets worth following (some in Bahrain and some not) this week for some different perspectives are:

Gary Meenaghan – @GMeenaghan (Sports Writer for The National, Abu Dhabi – the main non-gov’t newspaper in the UAE).

Will Buxton – @willbuxton (Speed Channel. Will was in Bahrain in February last year).

Frank Gardner – @FrankRGardner (BBC Security Correspondent & Middle East expert – Frank isn’t in Bahrain but has been reporting on the Bahrain Grand Prix for the BBC for the last week or so).

Aljazeera – @AJEnglish (Arabic news channel based in Qatar – this is their English news feed. Aljazeera tends to be associated in our minds with videos of hostages or messages from Bin Laden, but they are a good source for Middle Eastern news so don’t be put off!!).

The situation in Bahrain is likely to get more tense as the race weekend approaches, and opinions amongst the press are likely to diverge. I can’t predict who will go which way; only time will tell.

Since I’m writing about the F1 media, I wanted to take a moment to tip my virtual hat to those who bring the F1 news to us . We tend to get a lot of our F1 news from the broadcasting teams who host our TV coverage, but there are so many more journalists following the F1 circus around the world who bring us a range of insights in to our beloved sport. Some we will agree with, some we won’t but that’s the whole point of journalism for me – to get people talking.

As Ian Parkes tweeted, it is his duty as a journalist to see for himself what is happening in Bahrain, and after all these weeks of speculation it is great to see these professionals doing just that. Some of their colleagues are spending time in Dubai before going on to Bahrain later in the week. I’ll be interested to see if they do the same as their colleagues when they arrive in the country.

Likewise, some broadcasters and journalists aren’t travelling to Bahrain at all this week due to security concerns or out of conscience. I can understand these reasons completely as I have been very critical of the decision to proceed with the race, but as a complete news junkie who has been following events in Bahrain closely, I am also curious to know more about what is happening there this week.

Whatever happens, it is going to be a fascinating week and I am grateful to all those journalists who have travelled to Bahrain to share what they see with us.

Bahrain – will anyone blink?

5 Apr

There’s been a flurry of articles from the F1 media today about the ongoing situation in Bahrain. The race is only a fortnight away and as things currently stand, the F1 circus will be rolling in to Manama to race. If you’ve been following my blog then you’ll know that Bahrain is a topic I’ve written about several times, and these are my latest musings.

Hill’s rethink

Earlier in the year it was revealed that Damon Hill had gone to Bahrain on a fact-finding mission with FIA President Jean Todt in order to better understand the situation. On their return, Hill stated that as things stood it was fine for F1 to go to Bahrain. I wrote a blog at the time about these comments, and used several words to describe Hill’s comments: surprising, perplexing and foolish.

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, Hill has reconsidered his stance on Bahrain stating that “Things are different now. The protests have not abated and may even have become more determined and calculated. It is a worrying state of affairs.” I have a huge amount of respect for Damon Hill, but I stand by the words I used back in January to describe his earlier comments – things aren’t really different from when he visited the country, but there is greater visibility of the ongoing issues compared to what I assume was a government-arranged visit where Hill and Todt will have been shown what the authorities wanted them to see. It certainly seems as if the wool was pulled over their eyes, and Hill wasn’t (at least publicly) cynical enough to see through it.

I’d have liked to have seen Damon Hill make an equally bold statement this week calling for the race to be called off, but he has only urged the FIA to consider the situation carefully. As a pundit working for Sky Sports F1 he will need to choose his words carefully but if he feels more strongly then he should say what he thinks.

If anybody within F1 is going to stick their head above the parapet and call for the race to be cancelled I’d continue to put money on Mark Webber.

The views of others

There have been various comments from across the F1 paddock about Bahrain. Drivers like Michael Schumacher have said they’re happy to race there and aren’t worried about the situation, Eddie Jordan isn’t concerned about safety and nor (obviously) is Bernie Ecclestone. I’m now going to pick a new word to describe all of them: naive (and yes it pains me to say that about Schumi). With tensions heightening the race, the hotels, the media and fans are all at risk.

Speed Channel’s F1 pit lane reporter, Will Buxton, has said that he won’t be staying in the usual media hotel or using the transport laid on for journalists as he’s concerned about it being a target. Sensible chap.

F1 teams have been towing the line, stating that they’re happy for the race to go ahead. They are all reported to be making contingency plans for getting  staff and freight back to Europe after China rather than moving on to Bahrain, so there must be some strong hunches out there that the race won’t go ahead as any such contingency won’t be cheap.

Conspicuous in their absence of comments, however, are McLaren. I am sure this has nothing whatsoever to do with them being 30% owned by the Bahraini royal family….

The Bahrain International Circuit and race organisers are naturally continuing to promote the race, announcing today that LMFAO will be performing over the race weekend.

While we wait

Since we’re likely to be waiting a wee while longer to hear if the race will go ahead, you may wish to follow these two accounts to hear the pro-race message coming from Bahrain – always important to see what both sides are saying.

Bahrain International Circuit: @Bah_Int_Circuit

The Bahrain UniF1ed campaign: @uniF1ed

If the race does proceed

I think it goes without saying that if the race doesn’t happen, many will either secretly or not-so-secretly breathe a sigh of relief, and I hope that Bahrain will be evicted from the race calendar until the country is truly stable.

If the race *does* go ahead, I’ll be interested to watch how the teams and drivers conduct themselves in the build up to the race. In Malaysia and Australia, the teams and drivers went about their usual business – e.g. public appearances at shopping malls. None of these are likely in Bahrain as they are an invitation for potential trouble. What will be telling, however is:

  • How early drivers and other key personnel arrive in Bahrain (there’s only a few days between China and the start of the race weekend). Will they stay on in Shanghai for a few days, or have a convenient stop-over in the UAE (or elsewhere) until they need to be at the circuit on the Thursday? The rest of the teams will need to go straight to BIC to set up garages etc.
  • Who accompanies the drivers – if I had to go somewhere a bit volatile for work, I would be very reluctant to take my nearest and dearest with me if their safety would be at risk. Will drivers travel to Bahrain with a minimal bubble e.g. just their staff and not parents/WAGs?

Also telling will be the ease with which F1 journalists and photographers get in to the country. Any sign of trouble and they’ll be the first ones held up at the airport.

Will anyone blink?

All we can do now is wait to see if anyone blinks and calls off the race or refuses to participate.

I suspect if the race is called off it will be a last-minute, shambolic affair, potentially with some personnel already in the country.

I can only hope that nobody is harmed, and that cynics like myself are proved to be wrong.


High Hopes for Sky F1

12 Jan

The change in broadcasting rights in the UK has been the most controversial topic of conversation for British Formula 1 fans over the last six months. In the twitter communities that I dwell in, there has understandably been anger about the change. It has been difficult to be too excited publicly about Sky gaining the rights because I wanted to be sensitive to those who are not in a position to get the Sky channel. I know that I’m very fortunate to be able to have Sky. Now that the dust has settled and a new season approaches I feel comfortable in writing down what I’m looking forward to most about Sky F1 and my hopes for how they handle live action before and after the races.

What I’m looking forward to

There’s a range of fairly predictable things that I’m looking forward to – every race live, being able to record each of the practice sessions and watch them at my leisure, as well as the additional coverage available on the dedicated Sky Sports F1 channel.

The presenting team is seriously impressive – Sky have successfully poached the cream of the BBC presenting team crop and coupled it with the experience of two of their own big names, Simon Lazenby and Georgie Thompson.

The Sky Sports F1 Team

Before and after the race

I have no doubt that Martin Brundle and David Croft will provide an excellent commentary over the footage provided to them by FOM – this is the easy bit. Likewise it almost goes without saying that Ted Kravitz and Natalie Pinkham will continue to do a brilliant job of reporting in the pit-lane during the race. Sky provide slick presentation so there are no worries there either, and If I’m really lucky none of the presenting team will be Norwich City FC supporters 😉

The challenge for Sky lies elsewhere in how they manage the race build-up and post-race analysis. For me these are as important as the coverage as the race itself. Some aspects will be easy to deliver – For example, Martin Brundle will be continuing to do his grid-walks and will be joining in with the rest of the coverage when he’s not in the commentary box.

We have frequently seen on the BBC coverage that it can be tough to get hold of drivers and team principals/directors for interviews before and after races – the real low point was when Jake Humphrey & co resorted to talking to Rick Astley in Singapore while hanging around waiting for Martin Whitmarsh. With an extra broadcaster in the paddock (particularly one keen to make its mark while its rival fights hard to provide decent coverage), demand for driver interview time after the race will be even higher.

Driver interview time is limited after the race, and access to drivers is at the discretion of their Press Officer and the team. There is no obligation on them to provide equal time to Sky and the BBC (or any other broadcaster). It is inevitable that each broadcaster will be desperate to speak to the drivers of the day, so there is a risk of more procrastination while waiting for them to become available. I suspect the only member of the Sky team brave enough to ‘do an Eddie’ and drag a driver away from whatever they’re doing will be Martin Brundle.

Additional hanging around would, of course, provide additional time for presenting teams to talk to mid-field drivers, but I am reliably informed that this is not how it tends to work. For me, the BBC spent far too much time talking to Red Bull and McLaren after the races, when there had been plenty of interesting action going on in the mid-field. How many times did Heikki Kovalainen do a stirling job battling up to the middle of the pack, and how many times did we hear from him afterwards? I only really recall the Brazilian GP forum interview with Heikki, Tony Fernandes & Mike Gascoyne (thank goodness that happened before the power cut).

Will Sky make the effort to interview a broader spectrum of drivers after the race? Or will they procrastinate or cut to more advert breaks?

This is the feature I will be judging them on during the 2012 season.