BBC F1: a commentator’s verdict

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BBC won much praise for its Australian Grand Prix coverage
BBC won much praise for its Australian Grand Prix coverage

F1 Fanatic guest writer Ben Evans, who’s commentated on races at circuits and on television, gives his verdict on the BBC’s F1 coverage.

Last year I was lucky enough to get to work on TV side of motorsport making some highlights programmes and subsequently commentating live on-site for the World Series by Renault.

I’ve learned how hard it is to make a quality motorsport broadcast, which is why I was so impressed by the BBC?s coverage of the Australian Grand Prix.

Thanks to the Red Button service my Grand Prix weekend started over breakfast on Friday morning when I was able to tune into the looped coverage of the free practice sessions. This is a great service and I thoroughly enjoyed David Croft?s commentary which was more along the lines of facilitating a discussion between various F1 personalities. Great stuff and very interesting.

On Saturday morning it was the same again as after a bit of a lie-in I was able to tune into qualifying at a time to suit me.

Sunday?s race coverage was also of a very high quality, with Jake Humphrey having a great deal more presence than his rather timid showing at the Sports Personality of the Year would have suggested. I?m not a particularly huge fan of either David Coulthard or Eddie Jordan but both know what they?re talking about.

My complaints regarding the actual coverage of the race itself are more down to the local director rather than anything the BBC could have controlled. In particular not showing the Vettel/Kubica battle until the last moment was especially frustrating. On the plus side I felt that we saw more of the key action than over the past couple of seasons and it didn?t feel like FOM were holding any goodies back exclusively for pay-per-view customers.

In the commentary box I thought Jonathan Legard and Martin Brundle did a good job. Brundle is reliably excellent, but Sunday was refreshing as he seems to have lost much of the bitterness that was peppering some of last season?s commentaries.

Anybody who has heard Jonathan Legard on the radio before will know that he?s an extremely competent commentator/reporter. Having only ever heard Murray Walker and James Allen commentate on F1 before I enjoyed Legard?s less shouty approach (although anyone who?s ever heard me commentate will know this is hugely hypocritical) even if some of the drama was toned down.

I?ve read some comments that he was too much like a radio commentator, describing everything. To an extent I agree, except to say that it is very challenging to get the balance right on TV. As the viewers can see the pictures, sometimes to discuss everything on screen can be a little overbearing, but at the same time it is equally tempting, because viewers can see the pictures to go ??off-topic? with your co-commentator.

Crucially both Legard and Brundle did an excellent job of reading what could have been a confusing race on Sunday, particularly with the tyre compound performance discrepancies. Having been a commentator on pit-stop and safety car races last season, I can assure you that staying on top of all that?s happening whilst trying to explain what?s happening is not easy.

All told Melbourne was a great start to F1 2009, the racing was good, the TV coverage hit the spot and – best of all – there were no adverts.

More discussion on the BBC’s F1 broadcast here: BBC F1 coverage: your verdict

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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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23 comments on “BBC F1: a commentator’s verdict”

  1. Sush Meerkat
    2nd April 2009, 12:09

    I enjoyed it highly!, with Humphreys and no adverts it actually feels like a motorsports programme, qualifying was a breath of fresh air, instead of adverts they were actually talking about the drivers and the teams.

    Ted Kravitz wasn’t on the ball as he was at ITV though, not quite as “chirpy”.

    But I much prefer Legard to James Allen, MUCH PREFER.

    And now David Coulthard isn’t racing Louise Goodman just isn’t needed :p

  2. Everyone online seems to be discussing the commentators, as if swapping Legard for Allen and DC for Blundell would make much of a difference. The real problem with the BBC’s coverage (as with ITV’s) is it’s stuck in the 20th century. We’re all aware of problems with local directors and Bernie’s hold on things. But that’s where a major corporation like the BBC had to step in and negotiate with Bernie, to ensure we had some proper technology brought to bear that would transform F1 coverage in the same way it has other sports. That a hi-tec sport like F1 has nothing to equal Simon Hughes analysis on Channel 4s cricket coverage is shameful.

    We should have ghost car projections demonstrating different lines through corners, flip up graphics showing entry and exit speeds, computer analysis of crashes like Vettel v Kubica showing precisely where the cars were placed in relation to one another at the point of impact, radar traps on sections where KERS are likely to be used showing differeneces in acceleration etc. etc. etc.

    Instead we get tedious men in bad shirts stating the obvious, or missing the obvious. They might as well have Donald Duck commentate alongside Brundle and Mickey Mouse back in the studio for all the difference it makes. Here’s a question – what other sport coverage routinely misses at least two significant moments of the action each and every time it’s on? Bad enough to miss it in real time, but to often have no coverage at all of major incidents after the event is beyond belief. It might be acceptable on a long track like Spa, but on a little Tilke track it’s unforgivable.

  3. i like the speed channel coverage in america but still would love to get to see the bbc coverage from Across the pond

    1. where in the states are you bob?

    2. I also like SPEED a good deal- unf. we can’t get rid of their ad breaks.

  4. To all the Legard haters give a chance he’s only done one race he will improve but you’re slating him already, James Allen did a lot of races and never got it right and never will get it right.

  5. Robert McKay
    2nd April 2009, 13:02

    Croft and Davidson have a great rapport and there’s a good banter between them that doesn’t exist between Brundle and Legard (although hopefully that will come with time). Having said that, I feel the R5L guys better suited to the more discussion-oriented practice sessions than the more action-focussed qual/race sessions. I didn’t really rate Croft in the races last year on ITV’s GP2 coverage.

    But another excellent red button feature after Oz was the choice of commentary on the rerun, so I could listen to Brundle/Legard live and see what Croft/Davidson were like on the rerun for comparison (and, also had a sneak listen to hear the CBBC commentary, because I didn’t seriously beleive they were going to do it!).

    Legard was ok. He was a bit rough in quali, seemed very nervous and talked far too much about one specific thing, which often forced Brundle to try to interrupt him about one of the many other things that were going on. Raceday was a bit better but it’s going to take time I think before they really bounce off each other well. And I’m not sure if Legard has the ability to “read” the race that Allen has, but againg that might take time.

    Allen wasn’t a great commentator, so I’m not advocating his return – just maybe that his replacement isn’t automatically hugely better and I would have much preferred Ben Edwards to get the job. But over time Legard I think will get much better.

    1. Agree about the radio guys – entertaining discussions of F1 news and background. It was good to have (yet) another different angle, from Ian Phillips and Maurice Hamilton, in 2nd practice.

      What was the CBBC commentary like? When I was growing up I has happy with Murray Walker and James Hunt, are today’s kids missing out? :)

  6. Hugo Bourgeois
    2nd April 2009, 13:12

    Nice bit of writing. Couldn’t agree more.

  7. I thought the commentary was a bit flat. Didn’t care for the guy who was bantering with Coulthard and Jordan. David Croft and Anthony Davidson did a great job in free practice, though. I never understood the criticism of James Allen. I liked him better than Legard.

  8. Robert McKay
    2nd April 2009, 15:47

    What was the CBBC commentary like? When I was growing up I has happy with Murray Walker and James Hunt, are today’s kids missing out? :)

    I think the only word to describe it would be “bizarre”.

  9. One thing the bbc need to do is increase the length of the after show, the F1 Forum.

    I think around 5 days in length should cover the appeals, punishments and penalties that follow each F1 race.

  10. Amazing how much discussion there is over the commentary crew- I like the SPEED guys alot here in America, but these discussions make me examine commentators in other sports I watch as well. Good job everyone!

  11. I like the SPEED guys a lot also, but I’ve never really been exposed to any other coverage of F1. Too bad there isn’t a way to see the BBC coverage from America to be able to compare it.

  12. croft and davidson were great on the friday though i agree with some others that croft might not be up to scratch for the main events.

    as with all (most?) sports coverage, the beeb do a damn fine job. (compare the itv and bbc rugby coverage for example – auntie wins at a canter)

  13. Having moved to the USA a few years back, and getting accustomed to Speed TVs commentators, I remember The Chain, Murray Walker & James Hunt with great fondness. Murray’s enthusiasm, & James’ laid back comments were so much better than Speed. With apologies to David Hobbs, Steve Matchett & the other Speed guys who are doing their best.

  14. Absolutely spot on Ben, Legard is a grower. Lets face it most of us have only heard 2 people commentate on f1 in our whole lives, and we weren’t too sure about the 2nd !

  15. What is it with martin Brundle, he seems to take pleasure every time Malaren or Lewis are penalised. I thought as a British commentator, his comments about Lewis “obviously telling fibs” when he him self stated that he did not know the full facts of the decision were outrageous. You heard nothing but full backing from the Spanish press when Alonso found himself in trouble at McLaren.
    While I would not expect Martin to be biased towards McLaren he should be reminded that he now works for the BBC which is funded by British taxpayer’s money.
    Personally I would like to see coultard play a much greater role as he seems to have a greater feel the sport in its modern form. Martin on the other hand often comes across as a Jealous failed has-been.
    More support for the British drivers, what would be better than Lewis and Jenson battling it out for the championship

  16. I’m in the USA and have always liked the SPEED TV coverage. I watched the BBC coverage through bittorrent download and it was so much better. No adverts and no Bob Varsha making terrible jokes. Anyone that can’t see the BBC coverage is truly missing out. We don’t even get a live shot of a pitlane reporter after a driver falls out of the race on SPEED TV. And Coulthard was good in his new role. Thank you BBC.

  17. We haven’t yet had the second race of the 2009 season and already the FIA’s influence is all too obvious.

    First there was the decision to change the scoring system from earning points to winning bronze, silver and gold positions. This was followed by its almost immediate withdrawal. The lack of research into such important decisions and the following prompt but humiliating climb-down by the FIA does not engender confidence in their management of the rule book. Quite the opposite, it demonstrates significant immaturity for what should be a respected body.

    Next comes the Trulli/Button/Ryan affair. The BBC’s roving herd of reporters seem only able to scratch the surface of this incident, discussing only the teams and drivers involved. Clearly this problem goes much deeper. In a sport where every tenth of a second is crucial, why does a driver have to confirm the legality of an overtaking maneuver? The time taken to radio his team, for them to consult race control, for race control to respond and the team to communicate that response back to the driver, even with some haste, is likely to take minutes. Overtaking rules should be crystal clear so that a driver can be fully aware instantly of the legality of his position and hence can spend his time on the track racing, rather than communicating and interpreting the rules. It would also mean that races are decided on the track and not in some pokey office some hours after the race has ended and the fans have gone home. This was a problem last season and through the FIA’s lack of action, obviously is going to remain a problem this season.

    Finally, we have the ongoing issue of diffuser rules. Once again, ambiguity in the rules means that there are two interpretations relating to the size, shape and position of the rear diffusers. The result? Confusion all round, with some teams running at a clear advantage over others. However, even worse, the results of last week’s Australian GP (despite amendment and re-amendment due to the Trulli/Hamilton events) are not yet finalized and the results of tomorrow’s Malaysian GP although not yet decided, will be equally meaningless. This is because everyone is awaiting the FIA’s decision on the legality of some of the rear diffusers and the potential disqualifications that may come with that decision.

    So, after only one race the FIA, the body responsible for the government and promotion of F1 has, through their ineptitude, already reduced this season to a farce. Is there any hope for F1 whilst their performance is so inadequate?

  18. Legard is probably a very nice guy, but the “stating the obvious ” that comes out of his mouth and drivel he spouts on the last lap, ruins my favorite sport. PLEASE BBC listen to us.

  19. What an opportunity missed! Jake whats-his-name is just the wrong choice for F1. He has developed no rapport, there’s no humour, his questions are long statements delivered in a monotone and he is just gauche!
    Compare him to the urbane Rosenthall – I rest my point.

  20. Well ladies & gents, it seems we are stuck with Legard for this season.. The BBC have confirmed that they are sticking with last years line up.

    I just hope my red button still works for when I have to change the commentary

    Anyone out there know where you can access any good online live race commentary?

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