I watched a fair few hours of Sky’s new Formula 1 channel over the weekend. Like many self-respecting motorsport fans who grew up during the 1970s and 1980s, I’ve grown used to F1 being broadcast on terrestrial television. Therefore something in my DNA made me predisposed to be fiercely resistant to any kind of pay-per-view F1 concept.
But then I recalled the number of grands prix I’d had to follow on Ceefax in the 1980s when Auntie Beeb had decided, for example, to broadcast the Tiddlywinks World Championship from Weston-super-Mare instead of the Brazilian GP from Rio de Janeiro. So I tried to keep an open mind about Sky’s footage, and came away highly impressed.
Initially I couldn’t get over the fact this was wall-to-wall motor racing. Granted, not much has happened in the 2012 season thus far, but during my hours of sofa surfing I watched: a preview to the year ahead with Martin Brundle and Damon Hill; a ‘round table’ discussion with Nigel Mansell and Hill; a review of 2011; an informative report from winter testing; interviews with Jenson Button and Mark Webber and (best of all) some superb retro footage, including a review of the 1991 season that made me feel quite old.
The fact that the highlight of my viewing was a short archive film of James Hunt winning the British GP at Brands Hatch and then cadging a fag off a reporter as he climbed onto the podium was not the fault of Sky, but more a sad indictment of how today’s competitors are so cosseted by rampant PR machines that they can’t display the rogue-ish charisma of their predecessors.
Sky has assembled a top-notch team of pundits. With his BBC contract at an end last year, the excellent Martin Brundle didn’t need much persuading to move across so he could commentate on every race.
Getting the likes of Damon Hill and Anthony Davidson on board smacks of a company that knows what it needs to do to ensure Britain’s passionate, knowledgeable fans get the level of in-depth analysis they demand.
Sky is throwing huge resources at making its F1 channel work, and I have a pang of sympathy for the BBC, which is effectively fighting for viewers with one hand tied behind its back by only showing half the races.
In these financially straightened times, signing up to Sky Sports purely for the F1 channel probably isn’t going to be viable for a lot of enthusiasts, but if you have a subscription already, at least it looks as if there will be plenty of quality shows.