Under new starters' orders: the BBC's coverage of F1 will use an ever-growing array of media
Television, blogs, texts... there will be so many ways to follow the new Formula One season that budding petrolheads will be spoilt for choice
Thursday 26 March 2009
Formula One will be back on the BBC from this season after 12 years on ITV. All 17 Grands Prix will be shown live on BBC1, starting with this weekend's action from Melbourne, Australia; coverage of the race will start at 7am on Sunday. In addition, further content, such as highlights, interviews and live qualifying sessions, will be shown across a number of mediums: on BBC2 and BBC3; via the red button; on the BBC Sport website; through iPlayer; on Radio 5 Live; and via your mobile.
So, sounds like there will be enough to keep even the most avid Formula One fan sated. But what about those who haven't watched the sport before? After all, isn't it just a load of cars going round a track? Would you want to spend your Sunday watching Lewis Hamilton et al in action?
We spoke to the BBC team who you will be seeing on your screens over the coming months to get their verdict on what will get the next generation of fans – that's you – tuning in. Everyone from former F1 driver David Coulthard to commentary legend Murray Walker had an opinion, so read on to find out why you should be with them on the starting grid...
Coulthard will be a pundit for the 2009 season. He retired from Formula One last season after 15 seasons racing for McLaren, Williams and, most recently, Red Bull Racing, for whom he continues to act as a consultant.
"I don't know what it's like to be a teenager today, but it would appear that they are used to having a lot of choice, and certainly that will be available on the BBC," says Coulthard.
"Most people see cars as the first stage of freedom: when you're 17 you get to take your driving test and head off. The logical extension of that is to drive at maximum speeds in an unregulated environment. So, I think the potential to hook into young guys and young girls is there, providing the actual show is exciting enough."
You may recognise Humphrey from CBBC, where he spent six years as a presenter. Since then he has presented Football Focus, Match Of The Day and Final Score, all on the BBC, and will now present the channel's Formula One programme.
"Whenever anyone asks me what there is to recommend about F1, I tell them about the fast cars, exotic locations, good-looking people, money, danger, thrills, spills and crashes; it has everything," says Humphrey. "I think one of the things that we can do to really help move that along is to give a voice to all the drivers. Lewis Hamilton is undoubtedly the star for us – and you'll see a lot of him on our coverage – but you need to know who he's racing against and what their stories are."
Davidson will be part of the Radio 5 Live commentary team. He raced for the Super Aguri F1 team last season, but they were forced to withdraw for financial reasons. He has continued to work on F1 testing and development projects.
"Because coverage will be more internet-based, it should really help the younger generation," says Davidson. "My younger brother is in his early twenties and he is transfixed by the internet. It's where you can do all your socialising and TV viewing – it's a big part of the modern world now. Hopefully it will allow people to become more involved in the background to the sport, rather than being a distant spectator."
Brundle was involved in Formula One racing between 1983 and 1996, which also included a stint as Michael Schumacher's team-mate. He has been commentating ever since and that's exactly the role he will be fulfilling this season.
"Formula One's biggest challenge going into the long-term future – right now it's sponsorship and the financial aspect – is how it is going to engage the next generation," says Brundle. "The offering has got to be immense. It needs a group of young, bright, edgy people in Formula One who are going to provide that, because I don't think they're engaged at the moment.
"In the UK you've got 1.5 million hardcore fans and then 100,000 who are absolute anoraks and probably know more about F1 than we do. Then you have this vast range of people who are ready to give up their personal time at the weekend, which can't be easy, so you've got to offer them something good."
Legard will be the lead Formula One commentator on your television this year. He was BBC Radio 5 Live's first motor racing correspondent, starting in 1997, and has been the BBC's football correspondent since 2004.
"There is a huge audience out there, but it's like peeling an onion: everyone understands what's going on at the first level, but then you can unpeel a bit more and that's where the red button and the net comes in," says Legard. "There will be 30-minute interviews, technical talk, blogs – we just have to do it in a way that doesn't come over as patronising."
The legendary Walker commentated on F1 for more than 50 years before retiring in 2001. For the 2009 season he will feature on the BBC Sport website, blogging and taking part in interactive sessions with fans.
"I think there's going to be more comprehensive, more interesting and more exciting coverage than there has ever been, and hopefully that will attract younger viewers," says Walker. "Then there's the Lewis Hamilton effect: far more people are going to be watching the races this year than in the past because of him. He's the only person people talk to me about. I've had people stop me in the street and say, 'Is this Lewis Hamilton as good as people say he is?' and I say, 'No, he's not, he's better!'"
For this F1 season McKenzie will be a pit-lane reporter, alongside Ted Kravitz. She has previously presented motorsport programmes on Sky Sports and ITV.
"The Lewis factor will bring an awful lot more people in: he got his gold Blue Peter badge recently, and he is bound to be in publications such as Mizz magazine. If you're a young guy, you're going to want to be like him because he's cool; if you're a young girl, you're probably going to want to be with him because he's cool – all that helps," says McKenzie. "I think the atmosphere at Silverstone this year, having a British champion and it being the last Silverstone race, will be immense – it will be like a carnival regardless of rain, hail or snow!"
Kravitz has been covering Formula One since 1997 and has been a pit-lane reporter since 2002. Another former member of the ITV commentary team, Kravitz switches to the BBC this year and will join McKenzie in the pits.
"They call Formula One a circus, not just because it moves from place to place but because of the drivers' personalities and the past rivalries involved – this driver dated that driver's girlfriend; one driver hates another because of an incident three years ago... We will have time to tell those stories. I got into the sport because the more I knew about the people I was watching and what their motivation was, the more I wanted to know. Just getting little snippets of information – the kind of thing we'll be doing from the pits – adds to your picture of the race."
Cross is head of Radio 5 Live's Formula One coverage.
"We've brought the age of our commentary team down, with David Croft who is 36 and Anthony Davidson who is 28. We're appealing to a broader audience, because our audience figures are ridiculous compared to what they were before Lewis. We've got to find a balance between keeping the hardcore and then not talking down to new fans but making sure they know what we're on about."
Gallop leads the online, interactive team at BBC Sport.
"We've been doing a lot of other sports recently online, so we can learn from what we have done with those," says Gallop. "Take the Olympics. That was easily the biggest thing we've done so far in terms of video – not just delivering video streams but also integrating it with the rest of the coverage. That increasingly is what younger people want: they don't want to just sit back and watch something, they want to get involved, which could be as simple as reading a text commentary as well as interacting with it in terms of texting in, sending emails or posting messages on the website. It's about how we can capture that and provide a real conversation around the sport.
"It will be a multi-stream experience, so as well as linear TV coverage there will be a highlights loop, an in-car camera feed that will go between different cars, and you'll be able to choose which commentary you want. You'll also be able to catch up using iPlayer, while for mobiles we'll offer video clips and text commentary."
The features in this supplement also appear in Career Driven magazine, produced by The Independent. To subscribe, call 020-7005 2109. For further details, visit www.independent. co.uk/student
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