VF1blog: Sky Sports F1 Ė The verdict so far
Before the start of the season I wrote an article
on the high hopes that I had for Sky SportsF1, and now that weíre eight races in to the season Iím going to offer up my verdict on how they are doing so far. This article wonít be a comparison of BBC versus Sky; firstly I donít see that as a constructive exercise, but mainly because I have hardly watched BBC coverage this season so it wouldnít be balanced.
The core presenting team of Simon Lazenby, Martin Brundle, David Croft, Ted Kravitz, Natalie Pinkham, Georgie Thompson and Anthony Davidson are all performing their respective roles as well as I anticipated, but my stand-out favourite has to be Ted. Iíve always liked his enthusiasm for the technical side of F1, but it has really notched up several gears now he is working for Sky. The graphics, the sky pad and the cars in the studio on the F1 show make him look as happy as a kid in a sweet shop and it is great to watch.
The pundits who join the team for some of the races really add to the dynamic on race weekends, and Johnny Herbert is definitely my favourite. His cheeky humour and the expertise he brings as one of the driver stewards are a great addition. I know a lot of others didnít like Jacques Villeneuve on the Canadian GP coverage but I enjoyed his input too as he is so honest. This is the weaker point of the other regular pundit, Damon Hill. He doesnít tell it as straight as Johnny, and his flip-flopping on the Bahrain political issues weakened his credibility. Karun Chandhok took to presenting on the Sky Pad with Georgie like a duck to water and I really hope that Sky bring him back in for more races (and not just while Ant recovers from his spinal fracture).
The strongest moment for me for the whole team was the Bahrain weekend. The tone of the programme changed perfectly, with a fair assessment of the troubles in the Gulf state and the effect it had on Force India personnel and others. The light-heartedness of a normal weekend e.g. the F1 Buzz Game just wouldnít have been appropriate there and it didnít happen.
My only small criticism would be the openness with which some of the presenters show their allegiances to certain drivers. The worst offender is probably Martin Brundle with regards to Lewis Hamilton. I am biased here because I am anything but a fan of Lewis, but I would prefer him to show more neutrality. Alan McNish wasnít exactly neutral either.
The presenter who has come in for most criticism from the press has been Simon Lazenby due to a couple of unfortunate incidents; the Grace Kelly reference in Monaco, and his reported conduct on the flight home from Valencia. This criticism for me has been too harsh. We all make inappropriate jokes and comments at times, myself included, and who hasnít acted inappropriately when theyíve got a few drinks inside them? I think Simon does a great job and I hope these incidents donít jeopardise his role on the team.
The coverage itself
Skyís coverage of race weekends is definitely comprehensive, and on the whole runs for the right amount of time. The pre-qualifying and pre-race build up runs for the right amount of time, and the post-qualifying and post-race coverage runs for a good amount of time although I think they could easily fill at least another half hour. With a dedicated channel at their disposal it would be good for them to stay on air as long as possible while there is still stuff to say and F1 folk to talk to. I might just be being greedy there though!
The number of advert breaks in the coverage was always going to be a high-profile feature of the coverage, and I like the timing of the advert breaks. Given the length of the coverage it is actually quite handy to have a few breaks for us viewers to do our own refuelling and pit-stops without having to pause it and miss anything (shudders at the thought). My only irk with the advert breaks is the regular opportunities they provide (after the break) for the presenting team to remind us yet again of the ways that we can access Skyís coverage and that it is broadcast in 5.1 digital. WE KNOW!!!
Another thing annoying me is some of the editing. Monaco was particularly bad. Within about half an hour we saw the same excerpt of Georgieís interview with Heikki Kovalainen three times. This was pretty poor, but thankfully isnít a regular occurrence. The other thing is that Sky donít always cut to the post-quali or post-race driversí press conference as soon as they could. I think it was Canada when they were interviewing Christian Horner in the pits and you could hear the press conference being broadcast around the track. I appreciate that live interviews can be difficult to secure, but the press conference is a key part of both quali and the race and Iíd like to see it take precedence over anything else. Iíve seen tweets from fans watching other broadcasters around the world who have been ahead on the press conference and it has spoilt it a bit.
The two reports on McLaren show-runs, just weeks apart, showed a slight lack of imagination but show-runs are a really important connection between F1 and its fans so I am willing to overlook this.
The F1 show is a really good addition to the schedule. With so much news on a race weekend it allows that extra degree of coverage, and the shows in non-race weeks are great for further post-race analysis and an F1 fix between races.
I also really like the Thursday and Friday press conferences being broadcast on the channel.
In my previous article about Sky I said that the amount of coverage they gave to teams in the mid-field and back of the grid was a crucial factor for me. I think so far I can say this is ďnot bad but could do betterĒ. There is still a tendency to focus on the big teams. It was always inevitable (sadly so for me) that McLaren would dominate this, but rather than just being a McLaren and Red Bull love-in as we saw in recent years on the BBC, thereís a pretty good balance beyond the McLaren priority, across Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus. Iíd still like to see more of the mid-field and back of the grid teams. Sauber and Williams are inevitably getting the best coverage in the mid-field because of their strong performances so far this season.
I can understand that McLaren is considered to be *the* British team, but I think it is important for the British broadcasters to consider that two-thirds of the teams are based in the UK. I am located equidistant between Red Bull in Milton Keynes and Caterham F1 while they are based in Hingham in Norfolk. The majority of their personnel are British, and their foreign ownership shouldnít affect the amount of coverage they get. You only need to watch BBC Look East to see how proud our region is of Red Bull and Caterham, both of whom get regular coverage on the local news. More coverage could also be given to Paul Di Resta Ė he is just as British as Jenson and Lewis and I am sure will be a force to be reckoned with in the next few years. When it comes to forming allegiances to drivers and teams I am swayed by skill and personality rather than a blind allegiance borne from shared nationality, and I am definitely not alone in that amongst F1 fans. Thankfully for me Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel and Heikki Kovalainen all get a reasonable amount of coverage from Sky, but those who support others like Vitaly Petrov or Daniel Ricciardo will be waiting rather impatiently for decent coverage of their heroes. Please, Sky, give fans the chance to warm to other drivers.
Taking on coverage of a global sport like F1 is no mean feat, and I think Sky are settling in to F1 really well. The niggles Iíve mentioned here are all pretty small and it is definitely a good sign that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the coverage. I am sure it will only get better as time goes on. Iíll give Sky a 7/10.
Fans who have access to Sky, but have opposed watching their coverage on principle, really ought to give it a try. From what Iíve seen so far I can safely say that they will like it.
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