When the BBC regained the rights to broadcast Formula 1 in 2009, it was the post-race coverage that really propelled it so far ahead of what ITV had been offering. Sky have not offered a similar jump in quality, which is disappointing given the cost of the subscription. But as with the BBC, it is in the post-race coverage where Sky are nudging ahead.
The BBC’s post-race F1 Forum revolutionised F1 coverage in the UK. Even though Sky have followed a similar format, the BBC’s offering now feels pedestrian in comparison.
What I have seen of the BBC F1 Forums so far this year has been very poor. Suzi Perry seemed like she didn’t know what to do or say. Perhaps there was a meltdown behind the scenes, leaving her with nothing to work with. But in four years, Jake Humphrey worked like the proverbial swan and almost never missed a beat.
I have found Suzi Perry’s presentations so far slightly nervy and uncertain. This is a surprise to me, as surely the reason the BBC chose her over Lee McKenzie was because of her vast experience in presenting live motorsport. But after the first five races, I find it difficult to believe that Lee McKenzie wouldn’t have done at least as good a job.
Suzi Perry does have big shoes to fill though. There is no doubt that Jake Humphrey is one of the best TV presenters in the business. His departure from the BBC means that their coverage has inevitably taken a step back in quality.
Where the BBC still have a clear lead over Sky is in the race commentary itself. This is interesting given that commentary was the area where the BBC struggled the most in its first few years after 2009. The commentary problem has now disappeared from the BBC along with Martin Brundle.
The BBC’s Ben Edwards is the best motorsport commentator in the business. He mixes sharp observations with pants-on-fire excitement. Co-commentator David Coulthard is not as much of a natural talker, but his more recent racing experience allows him to offer fresher insight than Martin Brundle.
Where the BBC’s race coverage is now let down is in the fact that Gary Anderson is no longer in the pitlane. While his role as BBC Radio 5 Live co-commentator is a real boon for radio listeners who had to endure Jaime Alguersuari’s inane mumblings last year, Gary Anderson’s change in role is a big loss for TV viewers.
BBC TV’s new pitlane reporter, Tom Clarkson, is yet to convince me. His contributions have largely been banal statements of the obvious.
If I was to play fantasy broadcaster and I was in the BBC’s position, I would get 5 Live to shell out (easier said than done, I know) for a decent full-time co-commentator to allow Gary Anderson to play his role in the pits for both TV and radio. Jennie Gow could also do her job for both TV and radio (as Holly Samos did once a few years back). That would then allow Lee McKenzie to step up to the big job.
Gary Anderson is one of the BBC’s main trump cards. His mixture of strategy analysis and technical insight offers something that no other British F1 broadcaster has ever brought.
I have seen some comments on the web castigating Gary Anderson for standing on the sidelines and critiquing other cars when his own days as a designer are in the past. I don’t understand this criticism. Gary Anderson’s job is not to design a better F1 car in his head. His job is to translate technical ideas and analysis into layman’s terms for the general viewer to understand.
People don’t tend to criticise the legions of ex-drivers that clog the airwaves with their punditry. Of course if a driver could do a better job, he would be driving and not talking about driving. But this hasn’t hindered Martin Brundle’s TV career. At least Gary Anderson has won a few grands prix, something that Martin Brundle can’t say.
Right now, Gary Anderson is the BBC’s main unique selling point. He is offering something that Sky are absolutely unable to at present.
The BBC’s punditry lineup does benefit from its diversity. It is a perfectly balanced mix with one former driver to provide the driver’s perspective, one former technical director to provide a technical insight, and a former team owner to shine a light on the political and business sides of the sport.
In comparison, Sky’s punditry is rather one dimensional. It is brimful of ex drivers, but not much else.
However, the Suzi Perry’s slightly lacklustre presentation of the BBC’s post-race coverage makes it too difficult to watch. For races that are live on the BBC, I am finding myself watching the BBC for the commentary, then switching to Sky for the post-race coverage.