MU MUCH MIS­TAKEN…

F1 Racing - - CHEQUERED FLAG -

In 1978 the BBC de­cided to cover all the races and Bri­tain’s in­ter­est in F1 grew. TV fa­cil­i­ties and race cov­er­age im­proved: where, at Monaco, I used to sit on a fold­ing chair by the pit­lane exit, with a mon­i­tor on the pave­ment, I was now in a proper com­men­tary box. Ad­mit­tedly, it was the same one as the rest of the world’s broad­cast­ers, but it was a big im­prove­ment. My voice was stronger than those of my col­leagues, and the Ger­mans next to me used to com­plain that their view­ers were hear­ing me rather than them.

All this hap­pened on the BBC’s watch and as in­creased au­di­ence fig­ures jus­ti­fied in­creased bud­gets things got bet­ter, although they were still far from ideal. In the early days, James Hunt and I were never ac­tu­ally at long-haul races such as Brazil and Ja­pan – we were com­men­tat­ing from Tele­vi­sion Cen­tre in Lon­don. Talk­ing about pic­tures gen­er­ated at Suzuka while try­ing to im­ply you were there, with­out ac­tu­ally say­ing so, tested your in­ven­tive­ness. “I can’t see the pits from my com­men­tary po­si­tion,” I’d say. Per­fectly true, be­cause I was sev­eral thou­sand miles away, but it gave the im­pres­sion you were just down the track a bit.

Over the years, things im­proved. Colour pic­tures, bet­ter fa­cil­i­ties, more peo­ple to pro­duce bet­ter con­tent and an es­ca­la­tion in au­di­ence num­bers, which in­cluded mil­lions of view­ers from across the English-speak­ing world. So much so that ITV were los­ing vast chunks of their au­di­ence on Sun­day af­ter­noons and de­cided to bid for the rights. Which they did and, in 1996, they got them. To ITV’s eter­nal credit, they re­ally ex­ploited their ac­qui­si­tion with out­stand­ing on-site fa­cil­i­ties, more good peo­ple, and in-depth con­tent cov­er­ing not just the race but the full story of its back­ground.

When ITV gave up the rights to spend the money that it saved on football the BBC got the cov­er­age back and now we view­ers in the UK can choose be­tween two providers – the BBC and, if you can af­ford the sub­scrip­tion, Sky. Both of them do a su­perb job; it’s no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say that you know a lot more about what’s go­ing on by watch­ing it on tele­vi­sion than by be­ing there. As I ex­cit­edly watch it all hap­pen­ing on my widescreen colour tele­vi­sion set, I get a glow of pride from know­ing that I’ve been able to con­trib­ute to such a mas­sive im­prove­ment.

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