The Ben Evans column: ITV aren’t bad

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Another early start for the UK’s armchair fans unfortunately didn’t equate to another exciting race last Sunday. Ferrari dominated and McLaren floundered – with Lewis Hamilton struggling get close to Mark Webber’s Red Bull and Jarno Trulli’s Toyota, let alone actually make a move.

Yes he may have been driving for points (in the second race – come on!) but as a serious title contender you would have expected him to be blasting through.

Far more entertaining for the viewing public in the UK was watching the ITV team working as if their lives were on the line. Even Mark Blundell’s comments seemed less blindingly obvious than usual.

Much has been made about F1’s move back to the BBC, the end of advert breaks, and potentially the end of James Allen.

But amid the celebrations of the move it would be churlish to forget that ITV have done a rather good job since they took over. Even as recently as 1994 the BBC was not screening all the races live (in 1994 Interlagos, TI Aida and Montreal were not shown live) and qualifying only became a regular fixture in 1996.

Furthermore in its time away from F1 the BBC has been a poor servant to motor sport, completely abandoning its coverage of national racing (which in the past was often excellent and served to promote up and coming drivers), and doing a very mixed job with international motorbike racing.

The problem is that for all its protestations there always seems to be something else more important on the BBCs agenda. For example the Moto GP season opener was dispatched to BBC3 to make room for Crufts. Likewise in 2004 the BBC cut away from the best Moto GP of the decade (at Mugello) to show an Eastenders repeat.

In fact sport in general has declined on the BBC. Ski Sunday, once the preserve of thrilling race action, informed commentary and spectacular accidents, is now a magazine show about celebrities learning to ski. Heaven forbid, but I can already see features about the BBC weather team driving around Silverstone as the build up to many a GP.

Of course there will have been multiple assurances to Bernie Ecclestone, and guarantees to viewers, but faced with the choice between Strictly Come Dancing or the Brazilian GP, I have the horrible feeling that C-list Celebs in sequins will win the day.

For all its quirks the ITV coverage is basically. Yes, James Allen can be irritating, but actually his double act with Martin Brundle works well. Furthermore ITV have had to cover some of the most boring seasons in the sport’s history and have done a good job in the face of processional races. (That said the highlight of the 2002 Spanish Grand Prix was the adverts.)

Already speculation is rife as to who will be the BBC’s presenting team. Despite the howls of derision I think Richard Hammond would do a good job, his enthusiasm and popularity would do more to introduce F1 to a new generation of fans than any amount of traction control bans. Already the BBC has a great commentary team with Maurice Hamilton and David Croft, and another potentially brilliant summariser waiting in the wings in Anthony Davidson.

In 2009 F1 will be entering a new, hopefully more competitive and exciting era, and I hope that the BBC’s coverage will match it, being a blend of accessibility for newcomers (after all most of us cut our armchair motorsport teeth listening to James Hunt and Murray Walker) and informed enough for the anoraks.

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Ben Evans
Motorsport commentator Ben is RaceFans' resident bookworm. Look out for his verdict on the latest motor racing publications on Sundays....

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15 comments on “The Ben Evans column: ITV aren’t bad”

  1. The one thing the BBC has over ITV is its 3 "red button" interactive channels on Freeview. If they could find a way to add these channels to the existing live uninterrupted race coverage, then I’m all for it. Hopefully they will upgrade their F1 website to the standard of ITV’s – complete with exclusive video footage etc.
    However, I get the sneaking suspicion we’ll end up with the same old "F1 continues on BBC2. Now on BBC1 – a 20 year old repeat of Murder She Wrote followed by 2 hours of Eastenders", with presenters of the calibre of Fearne Cotton and Reggie Yates in the studio, Graham Norton doing the gridwalk and Ben Fogle reporting from the pits.
    Please, Aunty Beeb: prove me wrong.

  2. sChUmAcHeRtHeGrEaTeStEvEr
    28th March 2008, 14:42

    itv’s coverage hasnt been all that bad but there are a few very annoying bits to it. Mainly the obsession with lewis hamilton, before that it was jenson button, just because its british tv doesnt mean all we want to hear about is british drivers. Brundle is fantastic and offers real life scenariors to explain what hes talking about which are informative and at times funny but then mark blundells analysis is so straightforward considering hes an ex grand prix driver he mite aswell not be on there as he only ever says what everyone else has already thought.

    one thing i am worried about is how much air time the bbc will give to f1 before and after the grand prix. The only time any football matches get any more than 15 minutes build up and post match analysis is the fa cup final.

    But the main thing is it will be the end of the adverts ruining the show and james allen praising lewis hamilton and ferrari for nothing

  3. I think that the way that the BBC used to handle F1 is really academic now. Sports and sports coverage have changed a huge amount since the Beeb last played Fleetwood Mac’s iconic tune to introduce race coverage in 1996. Don’t forget that it was only in 1976 that F1 started to be shown on any TV in the UK – let alone all of the races – and since ’96 the amount of competition in the market has meant that terrestrial television has changed out of all recognition.

    Allied to that the BBC over the last ten years has lost a huge amount of sport to other channels (football, rugby, etc.) to justify their license fee so you can’t blame them for having had to concentrate on other material since then.

    When ITV got the F1 rights, starting in 1997, they did a magnificent job of re-packaging the UK F1 coverage – pre and post race analysis, grid walks, etc. – and I think the BBC now have the opportunity to take that one step further again by showing more sessions (as ITV have just started to) and using their interactive channels as well.

    As for Richard Hammond presenting – that’s just farcical. As big a fan as I am of The Hamster and Top Gear, Richard makes no secret of the fact that he simply isn’t into the sport. They strapped him into a Renault F1 car last year specifically because he wasn’t interested in Formula 1.

  4. Perhaps I will regret saying it, but it may not be a bad thing if they get less time to give the build-up to a grand prix.  At least there will be less emphasis on interviews with the likes of Naomi Campbell.
    As long as they concentrate on racing, I’ll be happier. There’s enough said about the race during the race, anyway.

  5. Given Bernie’s whole goal of fattening his pockebook, I have  to wonder why FOM doesn’t offer their live feed to the public via the internet… even if it’s for a fee.  I’d easily pay a fair amount to get an uninterrupted raw live feed… especially if it came with some extra features (like on-demand viewing of old races, multiple camera angles – just imagine watching the whole race from Kimi’s onboard), etc.

    Every other major sport in the US has something similar to this (for NASCAR you not only get access to just about every camera at the track, but you can view live telemetry from the cars, and hear ALL pit<-> car communications).

  6. Robert McKay
    28th March 2008, 15:24

    "I think that the way that the BBC used to handle F1 is really academic now. Sports and sports coverage have changed a huge amount since the Beeb last played Fleetwood Mac’s iconic tune to introduce race coverage in 1996."

    Exactly. Why more people have not said/cannot see this, I really don’t know.

  7. The use of the red button could make F1 a lot better. The BBC have used this feature to offer alternative commentary at international football matches and the chance to watch different matches at Wimbledon. Surely they could utilize this facility and offer an interactive F1 experience, or would it be impossible due to the FIA’s control over what is shown?

  8. The BBC have been using their red button technology to offer fascinating insights into the coverage of Strictly Come Dancing!

    On an even more immature note, here’s Photoshop at its best showing James Allen at the Job Centre –

  9. Interesting idea on the use of the red button. What I’d love is if they could synchronise the tv coverage with radio 5 commentary, which is very good quality. They do this for football matches occasionally, and it works very well.

  10. Nico Savidge
    29th March 2008, 7:34

    Throughout the season, I usually watch both American and British F1 coverage (normally during the European season, when I have too download the coverage… nobody tell!), and I have to say that ITV F1 coverage is usually dissapointing. It’s not just James Allen (although he doesn’t help), it’s not just the breaks (because I have to deal with that on American TV), and it’s not just  because of the nationalism (although it makes me want to list my grievances against ITV, Declaration-of-Independence-style). The reason I can’t stand the British coverage is because they have a vast amount of resources at their disposal and can’t turn it into great television. 

    The ITV broadcasting team goes to every single GP, while the guys commenting for the SPEED channel (bar Peter Windsor, of course) watch the races on the F1 feed from a studio in North Carolina. Not only are they half-way around the world, the network is so uncooperative, American fans get 1/2 an hour of pre- and (if we’re lucky) 10 minutes of post-race coverage. Whenever I watch the American coverage, I know that Bob Varsha, Steve Matchett, and David Hobbes are doing the very best they can given such limited resources. When I watch ITV, I can’t help but think that that SPEED’s guys would cover races so much better if they had the ITV budget at their disposal.

  11. I watched an old race the other day from the BBC era. It had the music, it had the intro graphics and then suddenly the disembodied voice of Muzza, with a helicopter shot over the circuit showing the drivers on their warm up lap. He had about 2 minutes to tell us where we were, what the situation in the championship was and what we needed to look out for and then we were "GO! GO! GO!"

    I did think, "gosh haven’t we come a long way". But even though I hadn’t seen the race for years that was all I needed to get me back into the moment. I can’t see that style bringing new fans in the door though, but it worked for me.

  12. I dont know why you are complainin about the BBC switching from BBC1 to BBC2 when a sporting event over runs, at least you will not miss defining moments.

    Currently, with ITV the whole race experience can be ruined while fans are watching ads. Do they ever cut from an ad to come straight back….I think not…..

    I am soooo happy that it is going back to the Beeb, I just hope that ALL the presenters currently on ITV are going to join the dole queue.

    I recall Brundle claiming at the Malysian GP that Hamilton was doing a short middle stint… wrong he was, it was clear to see, he was not!

    Bring it on BBC, you really cannot do any worse!

  13. Agreed, ITV has done a largely better job than the BBC… or so I thought.  Having watched the Malasian GP in Germany on RTL, I was embarrassed with ITV’s efferts.  I don’t know where to start.  

    RTL start there grid and pit walk more than half an hour before the race started.  I lost count of the number of drivers they spoke to.  The German audience was treated to an instant translation for non german speaking drivers.  The presenters are also multi-lingual.  RTL post race ‘sum-up’ went on for at least an hour after the race.  Again they spoke to so many drivers and team bosses I could not keep tally.  I only wished I could speak German because I felt I was missing out on a lot.  I could go on and on about other things they did but I won’t.

    Regarding the ITV race production, one of my biggest bug bears is split screen technology.  Example, when ITV cuts away to speak to a driver who has crashed out of the race, this should be presented as a small screen in the top corner with never a moment taken away from the racing.  I have been screeming about this for years.  I notice RTL does this.

    Richard Hammond would be absolutely terrible.  He would be a disaster.  Those that vote for him will deeply regret it before the first race broadcast is over, mark my words.  Not least the silly and corny remarks will no doubt have the viewers complaints jamming the BBC’s switchboard.  F1 is not Top Gears folks.

    Personally, I look forward to watching F1 on the BBC next year.  I desperatly hope the BBC bosses seriously up their game though.  Viewers demand much more these days.  I hope the BBC execs look at the production values of all the big F1 motor  racing countries and take the best parts of what they offer for themselves.

    Finally, if the BBC has any sense, Martin Brundle should most definately be retained.  He is brilliant and gives an insight from th drivers perspective that many of us will never truly comprehend or even have a clue about.  Perhaps Damon Hill will join him behind the microphone.  I sincerely hope Murray Walker remains retired as he was absolutely useless and had no clue about racing.

  14. Damon Hills voice would have us all sleeping.,…..someone like Eddie Irvine would be good though!

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