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A tantalising taste of F1 on Channel 4

F1 puts on quite a show

F1 offers a lot, it seems Channel 4 would have treated it well. (Infiniti)

The emergence of Channel 4’s proposal for their Grand Prix coverage is intriguing, if you haven’t seen it then take a look for yourself here. Sharing a title with a BBC documentary on the history of racing (The Power and The Glory) made me groan, but from there on in it looks stunning thanks to Darren Heath’s perfect photography and some understated design. More on F1’s history sounds great too, the Senna movie proves that tales from the past can attract new interest in the future. Channel 4 have done a cracking job with cricket and cycling in the past, I would love to have seen what they could have done with Grand Prix racing. TV brings value to a sport, not just the other way round, so let’s hope that the BBC and Sky delivered a better product to the doors of FOM rather than just the extra £5 million they are rumoured to have stumped up.

There has been a lot of doom and gloom surrounding the new TV deal for F1 in the UK. Looking at the viewing figures for other sports that have shifted to Sky Sports does not make reassuring reading – even the national obsession of Premiership football does not have the viewing figures you would imagine – it is only the BBC’s Match of the Day highlights show in the evening that gathers comparable viewers to a Grand Prix here in the UK, the live matches are often seen by thousands rather than millions despite the total saturation of soccer in the media. There is an argument that putting a bitesize F1 programme early in the evening on the BBC could actually get new casual viewers on board rather than lose them, though it will also put F1 in the firing line of the X Factor and soaps.

Before dismissing Sky we should remember that they cover some sports very well, although motorsport is not currently one of them. While they may not have dedicated much production budget to them, Sky brought live coverage of the Indy 500 and Nascar to the UK, promoted Speedway and they popularised World Superbikes making Carl Fogarty into a star. Since the 1990s their motorsport coverage has stagnated badly, but don’t underestimate them.

The cost will naturally deter many fans and the BBC have done a near-perfect job since 2009 so it will require some serious commitment from Sky to encourage fans to shell out. I’m hoping that this rubs off on their Indycar coverage and encourages them to pick up other motorsports, but we’ll see.

My ideal would be for all the support races to be shown too, creating a complete race day like bikes on Eurosport or touring cars on ITV. Somebody needs to rescue the WRC too, but now I’m just getting greedy. Or I’m simply hoping that they justify the sacrifices many will need to make if they want to see all 20 races live in 2012. As many have pointed out you could go to all three days of a Grand Prix for less than it costs to get Sky Sports in HD…

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The GOATs of commentary

What good commentary looks like. (pic Neil Spalding)

Martin Brundle and David Coulthard may be two of the best racing analysts in the business but I still found something missing in their first stab at race commentary together. We need a voice of the fans, somebody who hasn’t seen it all and done it all. Dear old Murray hasn’t had Ayrton Senna crash into him or given Schumacher the finger, MB and DC have. This makes for great insight, but it’s less conducive to an audio ride that is as thrilling as the pictures. We need people who are amazed by the skills and bravery our sport brings out of the chosen few who dare to partake in it, observers who are in thrall of the combatants rather than just the admittedly welcome but ultimately too knowing perspective of former racers.

The definitive commentary team in all of motorsports has to be Toby Moody and Julian Ryder who man the mic for Eurosport’s excellent Moto GP coverage. Their pal and sometimes co-commentator Neil Spalding tweeted the above picture which to me says it all. It’s only the 125s but already the pair are peaking. It’s not just Mr Moody’s mad eyes, look how he’s gripping Jules like a mother clutching onto a wayward child! This is what sports commentary should be all about. Mark Webber clearly thinks so, as he cheekily told the BBC F1 boys…

Have a look at this clip to hear (and see) just how good they are at what they do. Toby also has extensive knowledge of car racing that shames many who voice four-wheeled sports. He’s even worked for a few F1 teams back in the 1990s; wouldn’t it be great to have energy like his on the BBC? Brundle and Coulthard are brilliant at what they do, but let’s have some crazy characters with trainspotter tendencies back in the box with them. Ben Edwards, Martin Haven or the Beeb’s own Crofty would do the trick too and I believe it would do wonders for keeping folk awake and away from the remote if there was feeling like this coming through the speakers.

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Not watching racing? Then watch more racing.

Legendary drivers in iconic cars make for great telly. (pic caffeinated_zeitgeist)

If you didn’t catch the two Grand Prix documentaries on the BBC this week then I suggest you head to the iplayer forthwith and watch both Grand Prix The Killer Years and Mark Stewart’s superb Formula One 60th Anniversary: Plus Ca Change. The former is grim viewing that won’t be for everybody while the latter is a warm-hearted look at the champions through the ages.

Primarily filmed in the sterile and now shamed backdrop of Bahrain where 18 former champions gathered just over a year ago, Plus Ca Change is essential viewing. It brings home that while F1 never stands still the same elements of speed, danger and glamour continue to drive the sport’s high-revving heart.

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