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Reviewed: Channel 4's Formula 1 TV debut at the Australian Grand Prix

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Reviewed: Channel 4's Formula 1 TV debut at the Australian Grand Prix
Mar 26, 2016, 12:31 PM

Formula 1 TV is the talk of the moment, with the news that Sky has secured exclusive rights in the UK from 2019, leaving Channel 4 in a difficult p...

Formula 1 TV is the talk of the moment, with the news that Sky has secured exclusive rights in the UK from 2019, leaving Channel 4 in a difficult position as its offering now has a fixed three year shelf life.

So how was the coverage of the first race in Melbourne on Channel 4? Our writer Alex Kalinauckas offers his take:

Formula 1's fanbase is notoriously reluctant to accept change, and few things cause more anguish than the championship’s ongoing flight from free-to-air TV coverage.

The online vitriol that greeted the BBC’s decision to share its broadcast deal with Sky back in 2011 was explosive. This weekend, thanks to the Beeb’s decision to back out of its contract with FOM three years early, Channel 4 found itself in the comment section’s crosshairs.

So how did things go during the Melbourne weekend? Well, the iconic bass from Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain suitably soothed incredulity at the trailer depicting Jenson Button climbing into a soon-to-be-airborne McLaren without a HANS device – you can forgive a bit of playful artistic licence.

Steve Jones

A new channel meant a new lead presenter, which in this instance is former T4 and X Factor USA host Steve Jones. The Welshman seemed to have been judged by the internet way before the cameras began rolling in 2016, but his style and humour were entertaining.

There are still some rough edges, but Jones’s approach felt energised and just nicely different – F1’s often po-faced paddock personalities contrast starkly with this kind of edgier presenting style.

On Sunday, just five minutes into an enjoyable chat between Jones, Mark Webber and David Coulthard, whose Whisper Films production company makes the show, a dreaded ad break appeared. But, as Jones pointed out, C4 will keep the 10 races it is showing live free from ads, so from that perspective regular interruptions throughout the highlights shows are an acceptable price to pay, and C4 deserves credit for that.

Mark Webber Steve Jones David Coulthard

Webber, a part of Channel 4’s much-hyped “wider presenting team”, brought his straight-talking style effortlessly into punditry throughout the weekend, although he needs to stop staring straight down the barrel of the camera lens as soon as possible.

The things that worked on the BBC were carried over – Ben Edwards’s smooth and knowledgeable lead commentary, Lee MacKenzie’s confident and calm interviews, and the well- practised grid interviews were cut together nicely. Coulthard’s silkily blue sense of humour regarding Sebastian Vettel’s nuts has probably found an even more natural home at Channel 4, given its history of edgy comedy.

Karun Chandhok

Karun Chandhok stepped up to the pitlane reporter role well and took good live direction from Coulthard to hunt down Pirelli’s Paul Hembery to confirm “the obvious” consequences of Ferrari’s strategy calamity.

The use of graphics was good, although the ‘Coming up: qualifying’ caption in a qualifying highlights show was rather superfluous. When it came to the weekend’s big topic, Jones and Coulthard dealt with the fallout of the elimination qualifying nicely, and they captured a great interview with Lewis Hamilton, who spoke with the frankness and gravitas of a champion.

Steve Jones David Coulthard

All things considered, Channel 4 should be proud of its first F1 shows, but considering it hired a number of the BBC’s production team that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. The next big test for Jones and the ever-expanding gang comes with the channel’s first live race in Bahrain, next weekend.

Just days after Channel 4's first race it was announced that Sky Sports had secured exclusive rights to broadcast all live F1 races UK from the 2019 season.

A full analysis of why F1 accepted the deal with Sky can be found here.

Sky F1

What did you make of Channel 4's coverage of its first Grand Prix? How do you feel about the new home of F1 highlights and ten live races in the UK? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.
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