Sky Sports F1 lead presenter Simon Lazenby is confident the subscription channel can up the ante on its rivals when the 2013 Formula One season kicks off this weekend.
A relative newcomer to motorsport, Lazenby debuted in Formula One along with Sky Sports F1 last year and believes the team – which includes former racer Martin Brundle and world champion Damon Hill – has melded well together.
“It was great – a learning experience for a lot of us,” commented Lazenby during a pre-season function in London. “We all came from different places – these guys who have had years and years in F1 driving or as reporters or commentators or world champions and there were those of us who came into it from day one, a new sport. So it was a real challenge trying to get everything together and gel as a team and I think we came a long way in the first year, because when we started we thought ‘how are we going to do this?’”
Unlike many other live-televised sports, Formula One utilises much in the way of pre and post-race analysis, ensuring the broadcasts can last for approximately fourteen hours per weekend.
Such demands over the course of a Grand Prix event came as an eye-opener for the former Sky Sports News anchor. “The motorsport public demands a lot – a lot of build up and a lot after [the race]. In the old days of rugby there was five minutes on, five off the back and then goodnight.”
Brundle agrees, but added that it can be something of a double-edged sword. “You end up making a huge amount of content, so you have a lot less time to be getting information, so the work rate compared to ITV sixteen years ago is at least five times greater than it was back then, because we have just got to keep coming up with fresh material for the weekend.”
It increased the workload for the 1990 Le Mans winner, who also played a larger role in the pit lane during Friday’s Free Practice sessions. “That means you’re busy creating […] and then you are on air for a long time and then somehow you have to go out and hoover up a lot of information and try and come up with some gem which we do occasionally.”
Since the inception of Sky Sports F1, pit reporter Natalie Pinkham has fronted a number of team and driver features – an element that is set to continue into this year. “We’ve just done a three-minute thing with Kimi [Raikkonen] that will be broadcast during Malaysia, but that required forty-five hours in Moscow, which is fun…”
Venturing further, Pinkham explained, “All the data in the world doesn’t reveal anything about driver personality, which is something all fans want to know about. You only get that by talking to them and perhaps taking them away from the track and doing interesting things with them.”
“On the teams front, we get an amazing amount of co-operation,” said lead commentator David Croft. “The more they understood what Sky was about and what Sky was wanting to do, the more they have opened their doors.” Croft continued, “One thing we will doing is inviting team principals on and have a chat with them at various points during a race and get views of what is going on, on the pitwall.”
“The vast majority of your audience want to be entertained and informed, they don’t want to make their own TV show,” noted Brundle. A sixteen-year veteran of Formula One broadcasting, he has developed a keen sense for what modern fans are looking for in Formula One. “We’ve got some incredible access this year. I think we are a bit like the F1 cars; we’re an evolution on what we did last year. We will have a mighty [feature] this year, to be filmed in June, driving a Red Bull RB7. My only concern is what on earth are we going to do after that?”
He added, “As soon as they saw the features we were doing, the teams have come knocking on our door. The teams are pushing us for access which is critical, because as Bernie keeps doing more and more deals where he is splitting the coverage in countries, there is so much [more] demand on the drivers and the fans want to know what the drivers are like.”
Amidst all this, the 53-year-old is well aware that not all fans are looking for the same things. “There are the hardcore fans who want to watch sector times and hoover up all the other stuff, but in my experience people want to be informed and entertained – it’s their pleasure, not their work.”
This season will also see a change in the presentation of the press conferences that open the weekend, according to Croft. It is hoped this new approach will allow drivers to draw out of their shells. “Myself, Bob Constanduros and James Allen occasionally are going to be doing some sessions together to make it a little bit more interesting and hopefully make it a bit better for you guys watching at home […] by asking proper supplementary questions.”
Alas, the Sky Sports F1 team appear to enjoy the white-knuckle ride that was their opening year and are confident they will not suffer from ‘second album blues’.
“I think we are just itching to get going again” says Pinkham, drawing a rare breath and as a lingering smile grows, Lazenby concludes this portion of the discussion. “It’s not exactly 28-hours-a-day down the pit, is it?”
Sky Sports F1 HD is the only place to watch every Grand Prix of the F1 season live. Watch every practice, qualifying session and race on TV, online, on the go via Sky Go, and using Sky F1 Race Control.
For the first F1 Show on the road in 2013 Natalie Pinkham and Ted Kravitz are live in the paddock at the Australian Grand Prix. It will feature Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo and triple world champion Sebastien Vettel, while Natalie also discovers there’s more to Albert Park than just motor racing. As well as all that, a brand new F1 Show game will be making its début. That’ll be at 9.30am (UK) on Friday.