Note: the following comments are made in a purely personal capacity.
It has been an interesting week in Formula One. Nothing to do with the dull-as-ditchwater Malaysian Grand Prix, which like most of the supposedly “exciting” races of last year was a procession that hinged on pit stop strategy – interesting enough if you like that sort of thing, but nothing to get excited about. Rather, the surprise news that the BBC will be showing the sport again next year has proved one of the best F1 stories for months.
The BBC presented this as Bernie Ecclestone approaching them, asking for a better set of coverage across numerous platforms than ITV provides. In truth, it seems this approach was made only after ITV decided to terminate its contract: football is proving far more lucrative, with live England games, some Premiership matches and now also Champions League matches secured for the network. The F1 sponsorship deal with Sony was reportedly disappointing from ITV’s perspective given the increased audiences brought by Lewis Hamilton’s ascent last year. The froth about the BBC being able to “service F1 better” is just spin: in truth, ITV provide excellent coverage and a very good website – only the radio link is missing, really.
So Andrew MacKinlay’s comments in Parliament were largely misguided: it is not the case that F1 coverage, “could be provided, and should be provided, on commercial television.” The thing about commercial operations is that they operate commercially: in other words, they pursue the courses of action that will be most profitable. Surprising though it may seem, it is clear that F1 no longer fits that description: the commercial sector had access to it, and decided to drop it – indeed, having invested heavily in touring cars and GP2 coverage a few years ago, they seemed last year to be backing away from motorsport generally, shunting the lower-profile series onto the digital channels.
There’s no point saying the commercial sector “should” provide it: if you want it to do that, you’ll have to give it a reason to, like giving it public money – which is no different from the BBC option. Bless their hearts, but even the more intelligent Labour MPs seem not to be able to get their heads around basic concepts of commerciality. (I wish they could – that way, they might be able to criticise the worse aspects of commercial life in Britain more intelligently and actually make a difference) Though MacKinlay was probably right to say that the BBC’s news coverage of the development was insufficiently questioning – but this is BBC News we’re talking about, it’s hardly a shock.
Far more interesting to consider is what the BBC are likely to do with F1. I can see several pluses immediately: speculation in The Time suggested that James Allen and Louise Goodman are unlikely to move across, and I would have thought the same will go for Ted Kravitz. Now I’ve nothing against Louise Goodman, but I remain unconvinced by Kravitz’s mistake-strewn reporting. As for James Allen, I don’t feel as strongly as some on the subject, but I’m glad he has stopped saying things like “Rock and roll in Monte Carlo!!!” Or rather, shouting: a major weakness is that he cannot convey excitement without yelling. All told, it would probably be a good idea to seek another commentator. That said, I like both Allen and Kravitz as writers, and enjoy their columns on the ITV F1 website.
The key question, however, is: will they keep Martin Brundle? His loss would be a serious detriment to coverage of the sport, and if they only retain one element of ITV’s coverage, it must surely be Brundle. Marc Blundell, on the other hand, should never even have been hired: someone teach the man to speak English! He adds nothing other than to repeat Steve Ryder’s questions back to him. Awful.
But initial reports are not encouraging: the BBC’s big idea seems to be to tie it in with Top Gear and have it presented by Richard Hammond. Now, Charlie Brooker once said something like, “I can’t drive, I’m quite worried about the environment and I don’t particularly like Jeremy Clarkson, but even I enjoy Top Gear,” so maybe it’s not too bad. But from what little I’ve seen if it, it is boorish, irresponsible and mindless television: I fear we may find ourselves yearning for the halcyon days of Blundell, what, to be fair, would be criminal.