When it was announced at the Malaysian Grand Prix last year that the BBC would be taking over the UK broadcasting rights for Formula 1 in 2009, there was an overwhelmingly positive response from both the public and paddock insiders. After 12 years of hard work, that reaction must have hurt the ITV team deeply, but the general belief was that not only would it mean an end to those pesky ad breaks, the BBC would also do a better job – and this week the Beeb revealed exactly why that perception looks certain to become reality.
In a press conference in White City this week, the broadcaster welcomed the media to meet its F1 team and explained how it plans to offer a new level of service that will revolutionise the way most of us watch Grands Prix.
Senior producer Mark Wilkin, who has editorial control of GP coverage across all BBC media, revealed that 200 hours of F1 will be broadcast this year. Qualifying and the races will be live on BBC1 (repeated later in the day for those with an early start), plus there will be a one-hour highlights package shown on BBC3 at 7pm on the evening of all races except for Brazil. So far, so ITV.
But it is the BBC’s ‘Red Button’ option that has really opened up the opportunities to give a greater depth of coverage.
All practice sessions, including those on Friday, will be shown live via the Red Button service, with commentary coming from Radio 5 Live. On race day you will be able to choose from the TV commentary or the radio equivalent, while split-screen options including on-car footage and a leaderboard will also be available.
An hour of analysis will be shown via the Red Button after the main network coverage of the race ends, all of which will be backed up by a wide-ranging service on the BBC’s hugely popular website.
Online, we can look forward to live video streaming of all on-track action, leaderboards, live text commentary and various interactive options. Extra coverage will include an ‘F1 mole’ diary-type blog and features with commentary legend Murray Walker, who is returning to his spiritual home this year to bolster the BBC’s line-up.
And if you miss a weekend’s action, the BBC’s popular iPlayer option will allow you to catch up for seven days after the race.
Wilkin explained that the BBC must “de-mystify F1” for its mass audience, but with so much coverage on offer the die-hard fans who read magazines such as Motor Sport should also be satisfied.
The broadcasting team, who all attended the press conference, has been known for months now. But here’s a rundown once again: the main commentators will be Jonathan Legard and Martin Brundle, news from the pit and paddock will come from Lee McKenzie and Ted Kravitz, and anchorman Jake Humphrey will have the job of marshalling outspoken pundits David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan. Additionally, out-of-work driver Anthony Davidson will join David Croft in the 5 Live commentary box.
Oh yes, and they will be using Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain as the theme tune – and it won’t be re-mixed or ruined in any way!
But some of the biggest questions remain unanswered. For example, how will we be informed when the drivers are using their KERS power boost and trimming their wings each lap, new innovations in 2009 to improve the racing spectacle? Legard and Brundle admitted they’re asking themselves exactly the same questions.
Perhaps they’ll get their answer from the Formula One Teams Association, which has been discussing ways to make the sport more accessible. Expect details of how F1 could finally do itself a favour this year and open up to the fans in a FOTA press conference scheduled for March 5 in Geneva. It should be great news for all of us.