Sky vs BBC: the battle of the broadcasters

British TV viewers will have more F1 coverage than ever before in 2012. But can the BBC do a Grand Prix justice with a highlights programme? And can Sky’s coverage be worthy of the extra cost?


Sky will have a dedicated channel to Formula 1 that will air content all week. It’s a mammoth undertaking as the content will need to keep flowing to avoid repeats.

If you don’t have Sky what will you need to do, or more importantly pay, to get all this content? Because the F1 channel doesn’t come with standard Sky you will need to add an extra package. If you don’t have a subscription now, the cheapest way to do this is to get the HD package for £10.25 (offer available at the time of writing). With the standard Sky this will mean paying £30.25 per month. The box, dish and installation is all free (at the time of writing!).

There’s good news for Virgin Media customers as the Sky F1 channel will also be available on its TV service.

Sky will produce the most comprehensive coverage of F1 ever. Whether it will be the best, remains to be seen.

Martin Brundle
As you may have read in Roebuck’s Reflections in the March issue, it was an easy decision for Brundle to move from the BBC to Sky in the end. With his F1 history and 15 years of experience as a commentator he’s a key voice and opinion to secure.

David Croft
‘Crofty’ took over from Maurice Hamilton as BBC Radio Five Live commentator at the beginning of 2006. He was well supported by Anthony Davidson on the radio, but it remains to be seen whether he and Martin Brundle will gel in the commentary box.

Anthony Davidson
The ex-Peugeot sports car driver will be in the commentary box alongside David Croft during the practice sessions and will also help with expert analysis at other times on the F1 channel.

Expert analysis
Damon Hill
The 1996 Formula 1 World Champion is a big signing for Sky. Hill will offer a driver’s perspective on all the action and will be involved at all the races, as well as at every practice and qualifying session.


Simon Lazenby
Lazenby has been a Sky Sports presenter for 12 years. He might never have presented a show about motor racing before, but neither had Jake Humphrey when he first covered F1 in 2009. A solid professional to steer the Sky ship.

Georgie Thompson
The name won’t mean much to many F1 aficionados, but Thompson isn’t new to racing. The presenter has not only covered A1 GP, but also Grand Prix Masters, Speedway World Cup and the Race of Champions.

Steve Rider
We all remember Rider from the days when he hosted the F1 coverage on ITV, and before that on the BBC, too. He’s now at Sky and will be presenting the Grand Prix Legends show, which will feature in-depth interviews with racing stars from the past and present.

Ted Kravitz
Alongside co-presenting the magazine show with Thompson, the ex-BBC F1 pitlane reporter will bring news, interviews and insight from the paddock, as he did for the Beeb and ITV before that.

Natalie Pinkham
Pinkham will partner Kravitz in the paddock to help bring news and insight. The ex-BBC Radio F1 pitlane reporter has spent the past seven years presenting and alongside covering the likes of the NFL for Channel Five, she also presented TT races for Men & Motors in 2005.

Interview with Simon Lazenby
Are you worried going into a new and very specialised sport?
It’s going to be a big change and a new challenge. I am not there to tell you about the minutiae of an F1 car; if you’re looking for experts, we have seasoned F1 broadcasters and experts in the field. I’ve been at Sky Sports presenting for over a decade now, and although F1 is a new area, I hope that the presenting skills, know-how and drive required to do any sport justice haven’t changed.

There have been plenty of people saying they won’t get Sky – does that worry you at all?
I think the proof will be in the pudding. Sky Sports has been an influence on and investor in sport for over 20 years, and the effect that a broadcast partnership with Sky can have on a sport is well documented. When people see and hear what the Sky Sports treatment has done for F1, then I hope that anyone who isn’t sure about subscribing will find themselves re-considering it.

Can Sky really provide enough content to run an F1 channel without too many repeats?
Definitely. What the ordinary viewer has seen of F1 so far barely scratches the surface of a true Grand Prix experience. Sky will be the first broadcaster to be permitted by FOM to go off-feed and broadcast our own feed from the pit lane, the garages and the team HQs.

How are you finding it so far?
We’ve been busy! I went to the Brazilian GP and spent the weekend in the Marussia garage, or Virgin as it was. They were a great bunch of lads and I learnt loads. I also got put through the wringer at McLaren where they made me take the driver fitness test. I am pleased to announce that I was 0.9 per cent away from being clinically obese! We’ve been trying to get round as many teams as possible and working on all programmes ready for the launch of the channel on March 9.

What can viewers expect when you go live at the first race in Melbourne?

We hope people will be blown away! Our coverage will be unique. The BBC and ITV have both done a great job in the past and of course it’s a high standard to follow, but F1 is in very safe hands. Our interactive (red button) coverage, alongside a companion app, and the fact that you can watch all this live on mobile and tablet devices using Sky Go will, I hope, evolve the way we watch F1.


The Beeb has chosen 10 races to air live this year, which include the delights of Monaco, Britain, Belgium and Brazil. When coverage isn’t live it will be shown in an extended highlights package – of either 90 minutes or two hours depending on race location – later that day.

For the live races, like last year, qualifying will also be shown and the practice sessions will all be on the red button. As will the very popular post-race F1 forum, which will be on for an hour after the action has finished.

In terms of timings for the non-live events, if the race is in a Far East time zone – and on very early in the UK – highlights will be shown at 2pm. For the races that usually run in the early afternoon a 90 minutes highlight show will be aired at 5.30pm.

Got all that? Well, it gets a little more complicated. When the races are live on BBC One there will also be a one-hour highlights show on BBC Three and BBC HD later that evening. If the races start before 10am then they will be repeated in their entirety on terrestrial TV later that day.

Bottom line? The BBC will be doing some brilliant coverage this year and if you want know when it’s on, have a look at Radio Times or its equivalent. As long as you know which races are being shown live you’re halfway there.

Ben Edwards
He’s stepping into Brundle’s shoes as lead commentator and for some, his return to F1 couldn’t have happened soon enough. He commentated for Eurosport’s F1 coverage in the ‘90s and has most recently been commentating on the British Touring Car Championship.

David Coulthard
After 15 years of racing in F1 Coulthard joined the BBC in 2009 as an F1 pundit. He’s been a great success and has added a voice of reason alongside the excitable Eddie Jordan. Hopefully he will be as good in the commentary box with Ben Edwards as he was with Brundle.

Expert analysis
Eddie Jordan
Some people don’t have much time for Jordan, while others can’t wait him to give his – usually strong – opinion. Either way, he’s a key member of the BBC’s three musketeers (Humphrey/ Coulthard/Jordan) and while he may be more jokey Porthos than insightful Athos, he has a unique perspective having run Jordan GP from 1991 to ’05.

Gary Anderson
A new recruit, but he will certainly be speaking from experience having been an F1 technical director for 13 years. He’s not new to broadcasting either, having previously worked on Ireland’s RTE, Setanta and Asia’s Star Sports coverage.

Jake Humphrey
He’s the cornerstone of the BBC’s coverage and commands the anchor role with consummate ease. As an Olympics presenter for the Beeb, he’ll miss the Hungarian GP this year.

Lee McKenzie
She always gets the interviews you need, which is partly down to being in the right place at the right time, but perhaps more to do with every F1 driver and team knowing and trusting her. She will step in to the anchor role when Jake Humphrey is on Olympics duty.

BBC Five Live
James Allen
Allen divides opinion, but with 20 years experience as a writer and broadcaster he’ll be able to keep things in perspective when taking on the role of lead commentator on BBC Five Live.

Jennie Gow
Gow will step into Natalie Pinkham’s role of pitlane reporter. She was the presenter for the BBC’s MotoGP TV coverage in 2010 and will be a safe pair of hands. She has experience in this role as a stand-in for Pinkham last year.

Interview with Jake Humphrey

Can you really get everything into a highlights programme?
If you really love the sport then you want to see every single lap, but for most people, to miss out maybe 10 laps from a Grand Prix is not the worst thing in the world. Most GPs are about an hour and a half long and for our 2pm re-run programmes we have got a two hour window to put that programme into. There will not be a single iconic moment in 2012 that BBC viewers will miss out on.

How much pressure is there after the award-winning coverage over the past three years?

The awards pale into insignificance if on a Monday morning, when you get the viewing figures through for the weekend, you have only got a few thousand rather than a few million people watching. I’m hoping that after the first couple of races of the year we are inundated with messages from people saying ‘it’s not live, but the BBC has done a bloody good job and I’m more than happy with it’.

What sort of fan are you aiming for – the hardcore or the more casual?
We’re not shying away from the hardcore fan, but our job is to provide F1 coverage that appeals to the masses, not a niche. Stirling Moss is really excited by our coverage and if someone like that enjoyed it, and so does my granny, I think we’ve hit the nail on the head!

Are you exited about the new team at the BBC?
We now have three people who know what it takes to win a Grand Prix. I don’t think anybody is going to be able to rival a team designer [Anderson], a team owner [Jordan] and a driver [Coulthard]. I’m equally excited about Ben Edwards because I think he is the strongest motor sport commentator in the country. Of course, I loved working with Martin [Brundle] and Ted [Kravitz] and they are going to be a sad loss.

How much does the rivalry between Sky and the BBC concern you?
We can’t afford to miss a beat now because if we come off air and miss the story and Sky has got it, it reflects badly on us.

Is the choice actually a good thing for Formula 1 fans?
It’s not necessarily a bad thing. I know for people who can’t afford Sky it is. It’s also a bad thing that they’re losing live races on the BBC, but it’s our job to soften the blow by making the highlights programme as good as possible.

Ed Foster