Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Why Humphrey should dump(ty) BBC F1 // The presenter's good work needs a bigger stage

Published by Christine

When the BBC took over the broadcasting rights of F1 from ITV, we were all pretty excited. There were a few concerns about this relatively unknown kid's TV presenter taking the helm, but generally it looked like it could not fail. No mid-race advertising, better funding, access to all the right places, and a brand new website to go along with it.

Jordan and Coulthard flank Christian Horner at a Red Bull/Casio sponsorship tie-in event
Credit: Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Image

We're often told that we're very lucky, our coverage is better than in a lot of countries. That's probably very true, perhaps UK Formula 1 coverage is above average, but that still doesn't make it good enough. The BBC have been covering the sport for 18 months now, and I haven't seen a single inch of improvement, nor any real attempt at it either.

All Red Bull, all the time

In 2009, we were all a bit skeptical about how much time the BBC were spending focused on Brawn GP and their epic rise to championship winning glory. In the back of our minds, though, we could sort of understand why they were always being interviewed. It really was a great story, a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, and although they overdid it, we let that go.

Roll on 2010 and it's all been about Red Bull. I mean, it's really all about Red Bull. We're not talking bias, it's blanket coverage. Not a single show goes by without an interview with Christian Horner and the team can often be found hanging out in the Red Bull garage - particularly during the post-race forum. Clearly, this is due to David Coulthard and his connections. The BBC reckoned they were going to use DC to get closer to the team and get some inside views. Yes, it means that when they want to talk about a steering wheel, he can get his hands on one. It also means that they don't even have to think about it. Got a feature idea? Okay, send DC to his BFF's at Red Bull. Done.

We know that the new teams are amazing fun. We've seen it from so many different angles - Twitter, YouTube, the F1.com edits. They aren't taking themselves too seriously, there are some great personalities and some great stories to be told. When was the last time you saw any of the lower teams featured on the BBC? There was that single visit to Lucas di Grassi's house to look in his fridge, or you might catch a glimpse of Heikki on the gridwalk. Is there any more? No. Why should there be? Red Bull are just round the corner and DC can get us right inside the garage.

It's lazy, it's repetitive and it's dull.

The best of the rest

Jake Humphrey is the best thing to have come out of the coverage. He's great in front of the camera, doesn't pretend he knows it all, writes a fantastic and inclusive blog, and posts great behind the scenes videos as well. He's a good interviewer, fills unexpected time well, and is amusing on the forum (although I can't bear to watch that for more than a few minutes).

We're all pretty sure the BBC are grooming him for the Olympics, and for bigger and better things

Jake is abandoning F1 for one race, though, and whilst he still claims to be committed to the sport, this instantly rings alarm bells. I always thought Brundle was being a bit smug about taking Hungary off in his ITV days. The guy has what is conceivably one of the best jobs in the world, works 18 or so weekends a year and still needs to take one of those off. That habit appears to have gone, but now it's Jake's turn. Granted, he's not ditching F1 for a sunny beach somewhere, rather covering another sport. Should there be any other sport for him, though? We're all pretty sure the BBC are grooming him for the Olympics, and for bigger and better things. Bad news for us, indeed, but who can blame him?

The only good thing is that Lee McKenzie gets her chance in front of the camera. They must have remembered she exists, so are giving her the anchor role for one weekend only. I'm impressed by this news, and hoping she does a good job, because being stuck filming scenes with Hülkenberg shooting or Schumacher on a horse cannot be every girl's dream job, can it?

A few people have jokingly expressed concern whether she'll be able to control Coulthard and Eddie Jordan. I wonder if this is actually going to be a serious problem. DC will be wondering off to the Red Bull garage all the time, and Eddie will be laughing and joking and grabbing passers by. I can only think that this is why he is still in front of the camera - because he is not afraid to grab Stefano Domenicali and corner him on a topic. It's cringeworthy, but at least it's some kind of access. That can be the only reason, as he's not great in front of the camera. Hey, I'm not judging, I would fall to pieces if I was live to millions too. I would stumble my words and ramble on with questions and not have a point to actually get to. But I'm not being paid to take part in this professional coverage, am I?

Can you hear what I hear?

We get shot down every time we suggest that the team would be better off in a studio in London. Fair enough, people want the atmosphere. It's no good getting the feel of the pit lane, though, if you can't hear a blinking word they're saying. What's the point? If they must be on location, can they not be in the paddock or elsewhere?

It actually hurts to think about what could be achieved in a permanent location away from the track. Great things could come from the ability to green screen, to encompass graphics, to do a million other things you can't do out in the field. There's no reason there couldn't be a few people on the ground to provide the atmosphere that is so desperately required.

In a studio environment, presenters were able to use fantastic interactive tools to explain the action in detail

The World Cup coverage was presented by Gary Linekar and some people in a studio, sitting on plush sofas, and when they needed to, they would cut to the coverage from the pitch. They could have been anywhere and would you have known the difference? In a studio environment, presenters were able to use fantastic interactive tools to explain the action in detail. Would it have been better if they'd been pitchside, screaming to be heard over the vuvuzela? I think not, but it seems I'm in a minority.

Ultimately, for now, we skip 90% of the BBC pre/post-race coverage. The good features are available online, and when the action gets underway, we stick 5live radio commentary on as soon as humanly possible.

So far, the only thing that has been a bonus from the BBC is the online streaming and the iPlayer replays. Two technical things that ITV or whoever would probably have caught up on eventually anyway. That's not a ringing endorsement for licence fee payer's money, is it? Jake deserves a comfy chair more than anyone.