At Top Gear, we are F1 fans, no closer to the action than you. You watch F1 from your sofa, Sunday Afternoon Club watches F1 from our sofa. We don’t shape what the BBC does any more than we shape what Sky does. We consume. As you do.
And it’s been fairly obvious since we re-opened the Sunday Afternoon Club for business last week, that the BBC’s decision to scale-back its coverage of F1 hasn’t met with widespread approval from a lot of fans. Lots of strong comments on our forums, on our Top Gear Facebook page and across Twitter. Like we said, we’re fans too, not media analysts. We’ll leave it to them to decide whether viewing figures 75 per cent down on the BBC’s is a good performance for a paid-to-view service.
But what we can comment on is the content of the two shows; Sky’s new-to-the- sport dedicated channel and the first of ten highlights-only shows on the BBC.
First thing that was clear from Sky’s early shows: Anthony Davidson and David Croft (both ex-BBC Radio 5 Live), and Martin Brundle (ex BBC TV) are brilliant communicators. Take away all their technology and give them two cans and a length of string, and you’d still know more about F1 at the end of a race or practice or qualifying session than you did at the beginning. Croft and Brundle nailed it from the lights. Brundle is on record as saying he prefers to be the expert voice once again than the lead talker, and that’s a role ‘Crofty’ was seemingly born for. Likewise Davidson. Always tremendous on R5Live, he’s essential viewing now he has pictures to talk to. It’s also a bonus to have Brundle wondering around the pits during practice.
All good innovations from Sky; great hardcore racer stuff.
So it’s maybe no surprise that culturally, as a gang, they initially seem to jar with the rest of Sky’s approach. Not sure why we need Sky Sports News refugee Georgie Thompson around to hold Anthony Davidson’s hand, and anchor man Simon Lazenby has yet to find the easy bonhomie Jake Humphrey made with Brundle, David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan. Damon Hill likewise has yet to find his role. We know he can be smart and balanced, gracious and funny. Maybe it’s a just a reminder that it’s easier to write stuff like this than stand in front of a camera and talk.
And Sky did seem to struggle with pre-recorded material. A pre-race intro to Melbourne was just a tourist film with banal wikifacts (did you know Australia has more beaches than any other country?); ‘The Numbers Game’, a regular graphic, told us nothing we didn’t already know; and we’re now thinking we dreamt ‘sounds of the weekend’, a made-for-radio special from Sky TV.
But it was the artful, scripted packages that did make us miss the BBC a bit. Remember Vettel in tears after being shown the BBC’s back-to-pack champs film? Or Kasabian playing the season out? Sky had nothing to compare quite yet, almost as if they were afraid to wear their hearts on sleeves when it came to our beautiful, sexy, romantic, dangerous sport.
No surprise, then, that the BBC went heavy on pre-recorded packages in their highlights shows. Even before John McVie banged out the first view bars of ‘The Chain’ we had an artful black and white mash up of Swan Lake and AC/DC’s Back in Black to signal the passing of the winter. Then, pretty rapidly after that, Lana Del Rey singing ‘Off To the Races’ over a very — well — Lana del Ray-ish retro, over-saturated. grainy film. It got us in the mood and reminded us once again that even with all the HD in the world, F1 cars look better once they’ve been given the ‘Hipstamatic/Instagram/your-photo-app-of-choice-here’ treatment.
After that it was pretty much business as usual. Just like Sky, the Brundle/Coulthard divorce means a traditional commentator/summariser pairing for the race itself and though we like Ben Edwards, it did make us miss last year’s peerless Martin and DC show. Oddly enough Brundle was missed less once the race was over, Jake’s reduced gang-of-three functioning just fine without its straight man. Eddie somehow seems less silly and DC continues to flourish in front of the camera. It’s early days, but the BBC does not seem too diminished by losing Brundle and Ted Kravitz, although for some reason new boy Gary Anderson wasn’t allowed in front of camera.
Still, if Sky can work on its disconnect between its hardcore racers and the old-school Sky presenters, directors, editors and researchers, it shows promise… Yer pays yer money, and it’s only fair to repeat that Sky is showing all the practice sessions with Martin Brundle and will add GP2 and GP3 to that. We’ve never had that before.
So, some work still required on both sides then – certainly didn’t diminish the enjoyment of a cracking opener. Your thoughts, TopGear.commers?