James Allen hits back

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After eight years as ITV-F1 commentator James Allen will commentate on his final live Grand Prix – for the time being at least – at Interlagos this weekend.

In that time he’s been subject to a huge amount of criticism, much of it coming on internet forums and blogs.

In a retrospective look at his time with ITV-F1, Allen has finally spoken about his reaction to the criticism:

I was always pretty confident that when Murray decided to retire I would get the gig, but never anything less than utterly self-critical and seeking to improve with every race and every year, which I think I’ve done.

It’s a very difficult and high-pressure job, because with 20 cars there are 20 different points of focus.

You have to read the race, using a TV picture and the timing screens, while speaking at the same time and still leave spare brain capacity for talking to the producer and thinking about what comes next.

And as it’s live and it’s all happening very quickly it’s very easy to make a mistake, which is why you always need to allow yourself a margin.

Having a brilliant communicator like Martin Brundle as a partner helps a great deal too.

I take a journalistic approach to commentary, I’m a storyteller; it’s my job to tell the story, not to be the story.

Of course there are many people at home in their armchairs who think they could do it better and one of the challenges for me was that I replaced Murray just as the internet opened up to allow everyone to have their say in chat rooms and forums.

But I know from market research and viewer feedback that the pros massively outnumber the vocal minority of cons.

I’m very proud of the work that we have done with the North One production team over the years and we have 2 BAFTAs and 12 Royal Television Society awards to prove that the TV industry, like most viewers, rate our work very highly.

Read the article in full here and have your say below.

More on ITV-F1’s final race: ITV F1: goodbye or good riddance?

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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41 comments on “James Allen hits back”

  1. But I know from market research and viewer feedback that the pros massively outnumber the vocal minority of cons.

    That made me think of when people say “statistics support my view” but don’t actually supply said statistics because they don’t exist.

    But I’m in the vocal minority so what do I know?

  2. Personally I found James’ approach to commentary way too obvious, in what he said, and often ‘behind’ interesting developments that one could see happening on track (so he came over as slow and inattentive, unfortunately). Indeed he was very often way out in what he said about key drivers on track, seemingly just because he wasn’t following all that was happening. I know – this sounds critical. But when you’ve got someone in his shoes making rather a lot of money being like that…it’s just obvious why the criticism. But one thing about what he says here, in his ‘self-defence’ is basically that it’s difficult to do that job, having to concentrate on lots of different developments in the race, talk to producers and so on…given the end product of what we got it just makes you think he wasn’t really cut out for it; he found it challenging where someone else would have the natural speed of mind and so on to do the job perfectly all right. Quite a good voice, he’s got; but where are the real positives (leaving aside the other stuff), too, that you’d hope were there for us to be able to point to and say ‘but he’s good at that kind of thing’ etc etc. Sorry! he’s had his fun, got the money for doing the job, the TV crony friends etc; the viewer has a valid right to complain about what’s being dished up there though.

  3. michael counsell
    1st November 2008, 3:29

    Thanks for your time James, I’ve enjoyed it. In my opinion Murray was better, I believe I would have been too… I’ve lived F1 for all of my life, to gain my approval from me is near impossible yet I’ve enjoyed it. Next it will be BBC, they will have their chance, you can learn from it. Its up to you, keep commentating and disagreeeing with me.

  4. michael counsell
    1st November 2008, 3:45

    Yes James Allen is a journalist, he sees stories, I’m disappointed that this has dominated our F1 commentary for the last 8 years. He regurgitates stories until they have lost all meaning and appears to be far too anti FIA

    I am anti nationalist so I don’t appreciate JA’s pro Hamilton stance in the way JA is promoting it… Hamilton is an awesome driver and will be a deserving world champion yet I don’t back him…

  5. I don’t doubt JA’s enthusiasm – it’s just it comes out all wrong. The pro-hamilton stance, plus (moreover) that ever grating voice is just too much. I don’t really care about what he regurgitates in race, it’s more how it comes out.

    Fair play to the boy for sticking up to the critics, but I don’t believe the mass majority is the same mass majority he’s talking about. Have you ever met anyone who’s praised (not just indifferent, but proper praise) James Allen?

  6. As they say statistics are like a loose woman…… once you have them down you can do anything with them and that is what James appears to be doing. Anyone can manipulate figures to support their argument and James and his supporters have obviously done so – give me the same information and I will prove that I am right and that it is in fact a vocal majority that quite rightly complains. I email ITV-F1 after every race to make a number of complaints which are always ignored… I expect my emails don’t get counted as feedback.

  7. You have to read the race, using a TV picture and the timing screens, while speaking at the same time and still leave spare brain capacity for talking to the producer and thinking about what comes next.

    And as it’s live and it’s all happening very quickly it’s very easy to make a mistake, which is why you always need to allow yourself a margin.

    I have never heard to James Allen as I watch the GPs from another country, but this article sounds to me like an escuse to his detractors ( wich seem to quite a lot). Actually, F1, although is a live sport, is quite slow, things happen quite slowly and most of the time comentators (story-tellings as he names himself) have to work out what to say next because of the lack of news on the track. Of course they have to be quick to tell something not to decrease the audience, and also to say something interesting, because most of us watch a GP on the TV image and the timing screen at the same time, not counting what we do here, typing not speaking in the blog, and also speaking to someone nearby.

    To be honest, for a story-teller of sports, F1 is one of the easiest sports to transmit is you are enjoyable enough.

  8. Maybe JA should have a sex change if he finds multi-tasking difficult.
    Most experienced women are pretty good at it. They can also talk about multiple subjects simultaneously, which means you have to be telepathic to keep up – much like JA’s commentating.

  9. By the way, about the statistic stuff, people in the UK watch what hamilton does, in Spain the same for FA, in Poland, Germany, Brazil…. all over the world, people watch F1, in spite of the James Allens, Lobatos, etc who are there because of the TVs.

  10. ITV have always felt a little too in awe of their client and never seemed to take ownership of the F1 “show”. The production team, it seems, figured that the safest and best way of filling Murray Walker’s shoes was to wrap themselves in the flag and never stray from the obvious.

    The result has been that they covered the most globalised sport on earth as though it was some peculiarly British overseas shindig. And no matter the Bond-like visuals from exotic locations, if I had not seen Brundle walking the grid, I might have sworn he was phoning it in from his front room.

    How often has their presentation amounted to little more than parking their boys outside the McLaren paddock (or Button’s Honda) and calling it a day?

    Those who would put the blame on James Allen for this are out of line. Nobody was ever going to trump Murray Walker, just as no jingle was ever going to sound as good as Fleetwood Mac. But James did a good job of calling the races. And remember that unlike Walker, as a relative newcomer he never going to be the “voice” of the outfit. Not when at least two of his colleagues (Brundle and Blundell) were ex-McLaren employees and (to my knowledge) still active in F1 as driver agents.

    As for those who blame him for showing “too much” enthusiasm at the performance of the most successful British driver for a decade … Well that’s a crock. Do you remember Murray’s tears over Damon? The difference is Damon was a likeable sort while Hamilton is a prickly little so and so (all the genius of a champion and the arrogance of a youngster). But that’s hardly Allen’s fault. Like it or not, Hamilton is the story. Funny, I have always had Allen pegged as a closet Ferrari fan, actually.

    Like Hamilton now with Schumacher, at the time James felt a little young to be aiming at Murray’s mantle. But his heart & delivery turned out to be in the right place. If he had a fault, to my ears, it was that he fell in far too readily with his ITV team’s policy to play it commercially safe. With the result that the show began to feel even more predictable than the racing – and by the time they twigged it was too late. Have you noticed how much better the coverage has been since ITV learned they had lost the gig? I rest my case. And good luck, James

  11. He tries to sound as exciting as Murray was, but it seems that it is clearly not in his personality to be as exciting. It comes across as really bad acting.

  12. You’re right Neal, he just sounds so fake.

    I watched the MotoGP last weekend for the last time on EuroSport as they have lost the contract for next season.
    Most (not all) of the fans on their forum were thanking the commentary team & saying how much they’ll be missed.

    The main reason for this is because they are honest & natural in their style, sometimes they get excited, sometimes they’re bored & they make plenty of mistakes but they never try to be anything but themselves & it helps you relate to them.

    James Allen isn’t the worst commentator I’ve ever heard but he’s far from being the best and I doubt I’ll miss him.

  13. michael counsell (4) is right – James Allen is a journalist first, a commentator second. He writes better than he speaks. Which is the reverse of Murray Walker, whose autobiography was an inexplicably turgid read.

    Allen was always going to suffer following the inimitable Murray – everyone expected someone with the same delivery and enthusiasm, minus all the mistakes. But now I realise the mistakes were part of what made Murray special.

    I have no idea who the BBC are lining up for the main commentary job, but who knows, maybe this time next year SniffPetrol will have a ‘restart the cock’ campaign.

  14. Robert Edwards
    1st November 2008, 16:00

    I live in Spain and watch F1 in Telecinco. I have watched the occasioal race in ITV and simply don’t like the commentary. The last 5 years of T5 in Spain has been simply, very good. Comments by them re: Hamilton have been controversial at times but U would expect that. Their contract also ends tomorrow but fortunately, the channel that has got the TV rights for the next 5 years; la Sexta, has contracted the T5 team to cover F1, so things continue to look good!

  15. I think he’s much maligned. I have been critical of him – especially when Lewis first arrived – but someone playing that sort of role in the commentary is always going to frustrate the listener now and again. He’s been just as good as Murray.

  16. The poor bloke was always onto a loser following Murray Walker…

  17. James Allen is the single most annoying commentator in sport today, no question about it. Perhaps he is slow picking up on things and continuously mixing up drivers because he is too busy praising hamilton and showing us replays of hamilton and then going on to tell us what hamilton said in an interview yesterday before mentioning what he had for dinner and his plans for tonight!!

    He is so one sided it is almost sickening and then misses telling us about what action is going on on the track (i.e. overtakes and pitstops) because he is slavering on about a load of crap! I will be glad to see the back of him and hope he NEVER makes a return to commentating for motorsport, EVER!!

  18. Did anyone complain about Allen’s love affair with Schumacher before Hamilton was around? I think not. Ironic that he gets most of his hate from Ferrari fans and anti-Hamilton brigade.

  19. Internet, over exposure of ANY driver during a race gets annoying, especially if the driver in question is so controversial and hated as Hamilton. And on that matter, it is not just hamilton getting over exposed, Button seems to get a lot of air time on ITV considering his position and the face he has not won a championship and has took 1 race victory from over 100 races. I understand as a british channel they would be slightly biased towards the british drivers/teams but this really is too much.

  20. But did you complain when it was a Ferrari driver getting most of the exposure? Somehow I doubt it. As for you Button comment, he hardly gets any coverage.

  21. Yes I did complain at James’ adoration of schumi. But what I find most disturbing is that he called his sons Enzo and Emerson – there is hero worship and there is obsession. To be an effective commentator you need to be a knowledgeable enthusiast. I watch many forms of motorsport and attend races at many levels and the only commentator that has me throwing things at my TV is the inimitable JA

  22. Internet, considering his performance Button is over exposed, always interviewed on the grid when there are many other drivers, quite often shows an interview of JB on the qualy or race build up. It was like today for the qualifying build up, ‘and after the break we have an interview with formula1’s forgotten man, Jenson Button’. How is he formula 1’s forgotten man when he gets 10 times as much air time as the likes of Sutil, Bourdais, Heidfeld and Nakajima to name a few?

  23. James Allen gets about a 7 out of 10 from me. As Nicholas Nassim Taleb said, a review of your work by someone you don’t know says more about them than it does about your work.

    The hardcore fans on sites like these will be very different from the average F1 TV viewer in terms of knowledge and what they’re looking for in a commentator, and I’ve no doubt that ITV’s market and audience research will have shown that James Allen has had positive feedback.

    His pro-Hamilton stance seems to have annoyed everyone, but all the causal fans that I know (who are British) tend to support Hamilton or are happy to see him win, and ITV’s coverage reflects someone like that, no matter what us more ferverent supporters would like.

  24. I feel quite sorry for James Allen. Fair enough I’m not one of his biggest fans, but he’s an F1 fan through and through, and to replace arguably the greatest commentator that ever lived was always going to be hard act to follow. At least he’s tried the role, and through the criticism, has continued in the role. Although personally, I think he should stick to writing.

  25. Sadly, television people live in their own little worlds and haven’t the faintest idea what viewers want, which is why they always look surprised when something tanks/goes ballistic.

    Still, we could have done a lot, lot worse than James. A lot worse.

  26. This guy is the worst commentator ever no doubt about that. He is so very biased for Hamilton he’s better off finally being fired so that he can be president of his fan club.His anti-Ferrari attitude has gone way too far thank God he’s done.

  27. Martin Brundle’s ITV F1 memories don’t include James Allen:

  28. Here in Australia we get the ITV coverage of F1 and one thing I hate about James Allen is how bias he is. If his not talking about Hamilton his most likely talking about Button and for those rare times his not talking about either one his mentioning Coulthard.

    ITV Don’t just broadcast their coverage in the UK but all over the world which is why I don’t understand how he seems to only focus mainly on those two british drivers all the time.

    Many moments where Martin is talking about a certain driver and all of sudden JA interupts when ever Hamilton sets the fastest lap or how skilled hamilton is when he passes another driver in a slower car.

  29. Amy – Well said !!!!!
    I have watched ITV broadcast for 3 yrs 2005-08. And James Allen has indeed been single most irritating character on that team. I can very well understand a British broadcaster being partisan about British drivers and the team. but James Allen in his enthusiam over did the things.
    In their enthusiasm to support the British Drivers/Team,ITV indirectly triggered, Anti-British stance among the fans.

    Anyways good thing is this statement is indicator that James Allen Act is over :D . Would there be a Encore in form of BBC stint :-? I hope not

  30. Personally I found James’ approach to commentary way too obvious, in what he said, and often ‘behind’ interesting developments that one could see happening on track (so he came over as slow and inattentive, unfortunately).

    The key to good commentry is to say what you see. That’s all you really need to do. This works on all sports.
    A secondary expert or ex-sportsman can provide technical input. It’s simple really.
    This is why Murray Walker \ John Motson (Football) \ Jonathan Agnew (Cricket) were \ are so good. Just say what you see. Even if you see it wrong. Too much babble about what isn’t happening in front of you can seperate you from the audience too much.

    I think James Allen did a competent job. Nothing outstanding, but nothing horrendous either.
    One thing he could have done, but that could be ITV influence, was to tone down the British bias a bit.
    But I guess his main job was to commentate for a British audience.

  31. Interestingly, F1 Racing Magazine has James Allen up against their ‘Reader Panel’ where readers (subscribers?) can ask him questions..

    This month, as the 2008 season comes to a close, we’ve collared ITV F1 commentator James Allen for an F1 Racing-style grilling. He’s a love-hate figure for millions of F1 fans across the world; but in addition to being the ‘voice of Formula 1’, Allen is an accomplished F1 journalist and author. During almost 20 years in the sport, he’s written books with Michael Schumacher, observed the rise of Lewis Hamilton and much more.

    If you were wondering what it’s like to work with Martin Brundle, how it feels to be the object of incessant criticism from fans of the sport you love or what it’s like to fill Murray Walker’s shoes…

    It can’t be a nice experience to put your all into your job knowing that the criticism is just waiting for you once you put your microphone down at the end of the race. In fact it must take a serious amount of control and self-belief.

    Personally, I’m not a fan of James Allen and I’ve been heavily critical of him both on here and through ITV-F1’s Contact page when I’ve been really wound up, but credit to him for standing up to it now. I think a large part of it – for me at least – is that James Allen is the front-man to the ITV team so to a large extent I focus my irritation with ad breaks towards him.

  32. Oh and in his early days he always looked that little bit smug…

  33. At least we dont have to hear him say “…Dives into the pits” ever again. There are so many adjectives to describe a car entering the pit lane, why oh why does it always have to remain the same!

    I for one will be wearing my “Stop the ****” t-shirt proudly today, in the hope that in some small way i might have contributed to his commentary career downfall…

  34. I actually like James Allen. Perhaps it is because the motorsport commentary I am used to on SpeedTV is quite poor. I think the presentation on ITV has been good and I hope that the coverage on the BBC will at least be of equal quality. No commercials will be nice, but here we get commercials every 5 minutes so that is not a huge gain from my perspective. Anyway, should James Allen not do the coverage for the BBC I will always enjoy his call of Button’s win.

  35. I think that James was great in fact i think he was so good that i would like to suggest that he come to australia and replace “rusty” and “cam” the commentators/hosts on australian tv. They are the absolute biggest most frustrating incompetents to ever be employed and i would do almost anything to get them off and put someone of james’ experience and reputation on instead. Please please move to sunny australia James!

  36. I watched a lot of ITV race broadcasts (via the internet), and anyone who complains about James Allen should be cursed with the US Speed TV crew. Allen is no Murry Walker, but Brundle is no James Hunt, either.

  37. I think this sums up James Allen’s career:


  38. i can think of so many people i would like to commentate. allen doesn’t even figure. he’s about as useful a motoring journalist as jeremy clarkson. way out his depth springs to mind.

  39. one last time james, what do those white stripes mean?

  40. been watching F1 for couple of years, and never found a problem with james allen, infact i was hoping he would move over to bbc, not just him but the whole team.

    intresting reading tho, i must say there are so many haters out there, but then again i can understand how you people feel.

    i cant stand that man utd fan clive tildsley now he is a bias english fan..

  41. Yaaaaaaaaaaaaay! Result! The most annoying commentator in F1 TV history is not going to the BBC! Awww. Look on the bright side James, at least now you won’t have the worry of watching TV monitors and talking at the same time, a multitasking feat handled admirably well by Martin Brundle, Mark Blundell, Murray Walker, Damon Hill, Sir Jackie Stewart, James Hunt…….. errr, well, everyone apart from you, apparently….

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