Major and minor criticisms on Channel 4's opening F1 coverage
Last weekend will be one to remember for various reasons, most of them positive. It was Easter, certain people were off work, some may have gone to certain pre-planned events or sporting fixtures and eggs or more specifically chocolate were the flavour of the day. The only real negative of this one-off annual weekend was the absymal but British weather.
For Channel 4 on their opening slice of F1 coverage, the previous weekend however, there were probably as many negatives as there were positives, but I must stress, not all of them their own making. Having been handed the reigns by the BBC in December of last year, they are now the UK’s terrestrial rights holders until the end of season 2018. Bernie (Ecclestone) has since agreed an exclusive deal with Sky for 2019 onwards, so, rather like the new qualifying format (which I reported on last week), they know they have a tough job to maintain interest. A bad start will make it twice as troublesome.
The first big point, aside from their opening Grand Prix of the 2016 Formula One season was the Motor Racing presenting debut of Steve Jones, formely of T4 and the first series of The X Factor USA. He certainly has the looks to impress the female F1 fans out there and also the team to help him on his new venture, in the form of David Coulthard (DC) (moving across from the BBC), Mark Webber (MW), and for live races Eddie Jordan (also from the BBC), but does he have the skill and/or right personality to present not just a sport, but what is considered by many (although recently slipping somewhat) to be the pinnacle of motorsport? After his inaugural show last week, many would say not.
I must stress that Channel 4 have not actually presented anything live yet, and, when faced with such an instant and reactive scenario (ie this weekend), Jones may transpire to be a complete natural, but last weekend, particularly during the qualifying show, it is fair to say events did not flow naturally.
Now there is a danger that this could just become a rant about Steve Jones and all his failings so far. So just to make sure it is not, it is worth saying that to be fair, many aspects of the production were actually well constructed.
For starters, the once again new opening title sequence was stirring to say the least. This has been changed ever-frequently over the past decade, primarily due to the coverage switching between ITV, BBC and Channel 4, however the newest version is arguably, the best of the lot. ‘The Chain’ music has been retained, combined with a standout black and white canvas. This is mixed with the right amount of colour and imagery, as well as current personnel and recent millenium moments that are still fresh in people’s minds. The BBC’s, although good was a bit too dark for people’s liking and included clips that the modern day formula 1 fan will not necessarily always remember, or at least identify with.
Good too, was the opening VT of the new season, as two of the new team took us for a tour in the air, Jones and new analyst Mark Webber in a Helicopter, high over Melbourne and Albert Park. With the aim being to set the scene as the opening image of the first programme, they did well and summarised what we were to expect from the circuit, the setting itself and in a semi-conscious way the men themselves. This was then added to with another seperate VT which some would argue was not needed back to back. Fundamentally however, it summarised recent moments seen in the title sequence, described by adjectives, given by each member of the new Channel 4 team. It was a good end product, but possibly not so vital in that segment of the programme. Even so, it flowed well, and you did not stay ruffled by it, as the show went on.
Like with any broadcast nonetheless, there were areas with room for improvement, most notably the initial namecheck of the new presentation team itself. We heard of introductions concerning Alain Prost, Susie Wolff and Murray Walker, but Jones failed to also introduce Lee Mckenzie, Karun Chandhok and Bruno Senna. The former two both working on the broadcast that weekend. Maybe this was planned as the entire team had been announced online a week before but given this was Channel 4’s first weekend broadcast, as a producer I would have fundamentally made sure that their FULL team was introduced once more.
As it was, we were cued an interview with Fernando Alonso, conducted by Lee Mckenzie, with most probably many not having any idea who Lee Mckenzie was. The same could be said of a later interview with Pay Symonds of Williams, conducted by Karun Chandhok. Jones introduced him in even more relaxed fashion by way of , ‘Our Karun’s with Pat Symonds of Williams’. Considering Chandhok’s only previous involvement with Sky and his short stint in F1 itself, even some of the more hardcore viewers will have been struggling to aquaint themselves. The one other notable weakness during the inaugural Channel 4 broadcast had to be Daniel Ricciardo’s attempt at playing ‘The Chain’ in the lead to the final pre-qualifying break. It is obviously an unknown as to who authorised such a broadcast whether it be producer, director or Ricciardo himself, but what we do know is that it seemed like a slight misconception both literally and metaphorically.
Obviously once we hear Daniel himself saying, ‘This is my version of The Chain’ that is what we expect to hear. What came out seemed very very different. Clearly once this had been shot there was perhaps no room for manoeuvre in terms of content but was I the only one wondering if the final result was actually achieved, or were their some just not brave enough to question this? Allegedly Ricciardo is not a bad musician, but next time lets hear a full song or at least a verse, not one chord. Whether he messed up or the edit was wrong, we will never know, but what is clear, is that such a result cannot happen again.
Finally, presentation formation. Decide on a sequence Channel 4, and stick to it. The new team had begun with Steve Jones himself on the left of the screen, DC in the middle and MW on the right, straightforward and basic presentation, in order of presenter and the newest pundit first. For some reason however, after the first commercial break they had switched round. DC had taken up a position on the left-flank, MW running the central field and presenter Jones, setting the tempo from the right. Your guess is as good as mine folks! What I do know is that frequent visible movement of the presenting team will not only irritate your audience, but also leave them wondering whether you quite understand what you are presenting next. What matters is structure and content, not the order of your on-air contingent. Don’t draw attention to it yourself and the majority audience will not notice either.
In between other not so polished areas of the show, positive moments were again seen though, such as the plugging of the upcoming British Grand Prix by Jones when reading through this years world championship schedule. ‘Get your tickets while you can’ did not just promote the event but also hinted that it IS going to sell out if you don’t, without any questions. Anything else that was new for this season was also well linked into and professionally executed, including a once-over of new American Team HAAS and Renault’s English rookie Jolyon Palmer.
Going back to Steve Jones, the new Welsh presenting supremo himself, we should remember that this was his first ever gig presenting a live sports event so there were always bound to be a few nerves. What was worrying though were the amount of apparent faults in his presentation. If he was like this for a pre-record, what will he be like when Channel 4 are live this weekend in Bahrain? I accept that he improved considerably for the main race broadcast, but, like I am sure many are thinking, he cannot afford for (what are most likely) old habits to creep back, throughout the rest of this season.
Some of these habits, may just be plain enthusiasm, in which case they can be toned down. For example, his opening words were, “Hello and welcome to a brand new season of F1 on Channel 4″. Good and getting the main message across, but then, why add to that with, “It feels pretty good to be saying that guys!” Ok I see he is happy about the the great chance he’s been given and the fact Channel 4 has been chosen to cover it but….there are other ways of expressing yourself to the nation on such a stage. Especially when you have only literally broadcast your first line covering a sport that you have never covered before, nor even seemed related to by the audience.
Other moments however, seemed slightly more affixed to him personally, like making pointless statements. In what was DC’s first contribution of the broadcast, and indeed this season, as he commented on the surprise arrival of falling rain, Jones decided to butt in with, “yea it is a little bit.” A similar cluster of excuses could be made as before but ultimately, a pointless comment. Additionally, as DC broke full flow about the weather experienced already that day, in came Jones again with, ‘four seasons in one day’ combined with an equally daft facial expression. As DC could only pause in surprise, our resident countryman Mark Webber confirmed, “That’s right.” Revising it again now I can see the funny side, but on first viewing I was at odds. This set a worrying trend for the rest of the show with more prudent interruptions apparent as the broadcast went on.
I am all for energy and interest, but there will always comes a time when this has to be curbed. The subsequent effects of his actions could be detrimental, if not, with his tendency to make comments for no real reason, in an vain attempt to liven up the show. Let the zest come naturally, and don’t force it.
Sadly though, there was still time for Jones to impose himself farther on proceedings, slightly more than most viewers would wish.
After a frank discussion regarding Fernando Alonso and his equally impressive interview with Lee Mckenzie, Steve’s back announcement could only be described as a jittery jiggle on top of the now ordinary over excitable remark. An initial, “Soooo chilled out” was followed by a nervous walk, a pointless comment, “the question is” and the actually very well measured question, ‘Do you think he’s given up on ever winning another championship?” Yes, this proves Jones has potential, but then he let himself down by trying to answer the question himself, “It sounded a bit that way.” Even as DC and MW were giving their frank and forthright response, Steve felt the need to give us his own answer in between. “It makes me sad!” was honest, but unneeded and untimed. As if we didn’t have enough good responses already in the shape of 2 ex-drivers themselves!
Still not content Jones also had to give his opinion on a certain member of his own presenting team as DC summed up what we had just seen. Impressed to the extent in which Alonso had opened up to the Channel 4 viewers, DC stated “That, I think is an exclusive” before Jones levelled with, “It is an exclusive, cause Lee’s that good.” One, we already knew Lee was a good interviewer, two DC had stated he was of similar opinion and three, why did Jones feel the need to confirm it, along with trying to sound completely big-headed. The viewers have semi-consciously trusted C4 to pick an interesting and capable presenting team. He does not need to confirm his own colleagues are good at their job. Needless to say, MW’s deadpan expression confirmed he felt like most of the watching public while DC had to muster a simple ‘yea’ in reply to seem like he’d acknowledged what he’d already acknowledged himself.
The final and most berserk move of them all however was the one made towards the end of the pre-show. After discussing the current mental state of both World Champion Lewis Hamilton and team-mate Nico Rosberg in conjunction with Nico’s 2nd practice mishap, Jones seemingly decided to start his own class of superstition. His words were, “In the same session that Lewis gets fastest lap, Nico Rosberg crashes. Dare we read into that (with an eccentric expression)?”
Furthermore, upon realising that his question was not going to register with his well-informed colleagues, perhaps aware that a “yes” would irk more than most, a somewhat embarrassed Jones muttered, ‘We dare not.’ perhaps telling himself to not “dare” propose such a thing ever again. I get many events in Formula 1 can often seem too good to be true, plus, I’m sure there are many events which, contrary to many, are actually planned, but this suggestion no doubt went slightly overboard on the element of surprise.
Other specific examples included, questioning DC’s judgment on Rio Haryanto’s pit lane practice 3 crash with Romain Grosjean, laughing immaturely over the top of a team radio VT, asking DC the same question he had already posed while he was trying to give an answer, stating “if drivers are struggling that’s good news for us” (to which DC could only respond “yep”), asking MW during his analysis whether more tyres would mean “more pit stops?” stating the obvious to DC that a 90 second rolling knockout quali “sounds exciting”, declaring “wahooooo, that’s pretty cool in childish fashion as Australian fighter jets flew overhead in the pre-qualifying activities, and last but not least, youthfully referring to the commentary box as “the comm box” as he cued up his colleagues Ben Edwards and DC for the days main event. Stay calm buddy and tone it down.
Lastly, I should clarify that all of the above criticisms have been taken from solely the main qualifying show and that actually during the main race broadcast, Jones and the team overall were much improved. Keep it up Channel 4!