Le Grand Retour
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Communicating the sporting drama
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Posted By: James Allen  |  01 Apr 2013   |  10:57 am GMT  |  306 comments

This season I have been working with a new producer on BBC Radio 5 Live, who comes to the sport for the first time. She has worked extensively on athletics, football and other sports, but sees F1 through fresh eyes.

Likewise in my work with Australian TV Network 10, the 27 hour live spectacular they put on for their home race was staffed by people for whom Melbourne is a once a year touch point with F1.

The result is that I’ve come to see the sport anew, particularly the way that the key players communicate with the media. F1 is unique in that the narrative is, to a large extent, woven by the participants themselves. This is a special thing for a sport. Tennis players speak eloquently after a five set match, but never just before it, likewise athletes and golfers. Footballers seem the most remote, only one or two are put forward after a game and anything pre-match is always recorded during the week. Generally it is the managers who do the talking.

What other sport has the key participants speaking live to the media just before the start? Not just the managers, but the players themselves, moments before they go out there to risk their lives for 90 minutes. The grid walk has become an established favourite because it is so unique in sport.

The participants are also accessible during (if they retire) and immediately after the event. And not just for the main TV company – because there isn’t one – but for all the TV and radio broadcasters on hand.

A typical post race for the top three is a podium interview, then a 30 minute press conference in English, then they go downstairs to the “pen” where they speak in several languages for another 20 minutes or so to dozens of TV and radio crews.

A typical Thursday afternoon for Fernando Alonso, for example, will see him sit down in the Ferrari hospitality area with the international media, speaking in Engish, then after about 8-10 minutes he will switch to Italian then finally Spanish. Nico Rosberg can do that in five languages. Sadly all the British drivers can speak only in English, even the ones who live in Monaco.

The managers also speak frequently throughout the weekend. So the opportunity for key players to tell their own story across a race weekend is unparalleled. Commentators and correspondents like me interpret the action as it unfolds, but with so much of it narrated by the players themselves, the picture the viewer or listener gets is truly rounded. In any pre-race build up the viewer is introduced to a cast of dozens of characters, all of whom have a story to tell.

Also impressive is the way the key players present themselves when things go wrong.

The post race press conference in Sepang, which I moderated, was electric as the full drama of the Red Bull team orders ‘betrayal’ was laid out before a hungry media. It was right there with dramatic set pieces like the post qualifying conference in Monaco 2006 when Schumacher had deliberately spun, or Vettel’s Thursday press meeting in Montreal 2010 after the notorious collision with Webber in Istanbul.

Schumacher coped badly with the Monaco set piece; he would not accept he had done anything wrong and he resented being probed about it by the media. Webber, sitting next to him, observed that his hands were shaking as he spoke. He was later castigated by the stewards and sent to the back of the grid.

Webber contained his anger in Sepang, speaking with as much dignity as he could muster of his race and his feelings. Vettel knew that to pursue a Schumacher line of defence would not work so he came clean and apologised, inviting the ire and prurience of the media onto him. I watched him very carefully; he stayed calm, the lights were bright and they were all trained on him. But he said his piece, all improvised and in a second language and then exited, to have heart to heart with his team mate and managers. It was an entirely human drama but he managed to contain it.

It was a compelling piece of theatre, which enriches the narrative of a Grand Prix weekend.

Seeing the sport through fresh eyes thanks to working with people who come to it without background knowledge or prejudice, I see a sport that is brilliantly communicated by its participants.

No-one ever says this; it’s taken for granted. But it needs saying from time to time.

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1

I felt the total disdain in the tone of Vettel’s comments when he was behind Webber spoke volumes. Words to the effect of “Get him out of the way, he’s too slow”. It wasn’t just what he said, it was how he said it!

2

This is an open question to any Sebastian Vettel fans that care to respond.

Prior to Vettel was M.Schumacher your favourite driver?

Prior to M.Schumacher was Alain Prost?

just curious…..

3

Firstly, the difference between most sports and F1 (and other premier motorsports) is the accessibility. Most of us have access to a football pitch, a tennis court or a running track, so we immediately relate to them. We don’t have access to an F1 car, so we don’t know what driving one is like … hence the interest in and need for an insight from the drivers both before and after the race. Secondly, if Webber was noticably backing up, why didn’t the team tell him to increase his pace?

4

Hi james,how important is it for a team to keep its name in the regular online news feeds from a commercial point of view? (if at all…)

Would red bull see the last fortnight ass damaging to their brand or just any publicity is good publicity?

Reason i ask is that this week mclaren had a piece on how fantastic perez was and only a few days earlier the roles were reversed.

5

Great question! I’d say it was good publicity, it also added a very human drama to the story of the season, which is the kind of thing we recall from the past with Prost and Senna and other clashes of personalities

6

No doubt they do a good job with the media. That is their job..

Look back to Australian touring cars in the era of Dick Johnson, Peter Brock, Alan Grice, Alan Moffat etc of the late 70’s and 80’s. Race cam (in-car cameras) had been developed and drivers spoke live to the commentators.. It was riveting stuff..

7

An interesting development….

I just watched the race edit video of the f1.com website. At 2min 41 sec Vettel is cleary instructed by Rocky “Sebastian Multi Map 21”

Up until now I hadn’t heard or read a transcript of the radio communcation with Seb reagrding the instruction. Now we have it.

Assuming the video refelcts the events in real time both Seb’s physio annd Mark’s dad were both surprised by the move – everyone in the team understood the instruction execpt for Seb it seems….

As an aisde I thought the F1.com race edit was one of their best, capturing Mark’s chop on Seb straight after they passed the finihsing line as well as the interaction between Seb and Mark post race….

8

I dont understand why Seb would say “get mark out of the way, hes too slow” when at that stage mark was 4sec ahead and Seb had Nico on his rear..

9

The WEB-VET pandimonium helps to keep the void of a 3 week break. I hope there will be more this year amongst team mates. 3 teams will be involved and I’m sure you know who they are. Then there are 2 more teams too. But I think I will be watching Bianchi the highlight for me so far.

Besides racing and technical issues, without human drama F1 means nothing.

10

Interesting piece, also big thanks for stating that all the British drivers only speak English I have always been curious to know if they spoke any other language

11

I thought Jenson spoke Japanese, considering his fondness for Japan, and his half-Japanese girlfriend. Well, he did speak Japanese in the Tooned episode related to last year’s Japanese GP.

12

James do you know anything about this new dupont f1 team? is it for real?

http://www.dupontf1.com/site/

13

No it’s a spoof, a pr stunt to launch an F1 novel

14

I think this is a very interesting article. I can definitely see the point that the reaction of Vettel here was quite different to the reaction of Schumacher at Monaco 2006.

However, I think if you compare the after race reaction of Vettel in Malaysia 2013 with the after race reaction of Schumacher in Austria 2002 the two champions seem far more similar.

When Schumacher crossed the line in 2002 he celebrated his win as he did so. Similarly you can see after the race in Malaysia that Vettel seemed quite happy with his win as he crossed the line. When Schumacher witnessed the negative reaction of the crowd he was suddenly far less happy with his win. Similarly after a telling off from Red Bull team Vettel also suddenly seemed to regret his race win.

The similarity to me is that it was only after

it was clear that opinion was against them that they suddenly both changed their tune.

I would like to add however, that from my own point of view I dislike team orders and I like to see the close racing we saw.

Many people have pointed out that Webber also openly disobeyed team orders at Silverstone 2011. I think he got an easier time for it because he admitted it openly and didn’t try to claim he didn’t understand the order. I think the PR blunder for Vettel was the contradiction between his reaction as he crossed the line and his reaction when he realised his actions were disapproved of.

For myself Vettel would have far more credibility if he had just admitted like Webber in the past that he disobeyed the order because he didn’t agree with it.

15

Agree 100%

I would argue that if Vettel had just done that at the start then this whole thing wouldn’t have blown up half as much as it did.

16

There’s a rumor floating around facebook that Red Bull has demoted Vettel to Toro Rosso for the Chinese GP with Daniel Ricciardo coming up for the drive, to punish Vettel. But I can’t find any other stories on it. I’m guessing the story isn’t credible?

17

April 1 story maybe?

18

I don’t think we can praise F1 drivers too much. Granted they are better than footballers but they have a long way to go. Compare it to Indycar or Nascar and they are lightyears ahead of F1 in terms of driver accessability.

At one race last year Franchitti retired on the warm up laps and then joined the commentary team about 30 minutes later and provided a good chunk of commentary. Drivers that retired were only too happy to speak to the media immediately, team managers were accessible during the race on the pit wall, winners were interviewed as soon as they got out of the car etc.

They did all of that and it didn’t come across as stage managed or controlled as F1.

As for the grid walk. It is becoming pointless as it seems to be the same couple of drivers that want to talk (always seems to be Button or Webber), and all the big names seem to be doing exclusive interviews or don’t want to be approached.

19

In a way, Red Bull has the lingering tension between Vettel and Webber out of the way for now. Vettel has demonstrated once again why he is the Red Bull No1, taking matters into his own hands and opening a 14 point gap over Webber instead of following him home and being level on points as a result. Yeah Webber will act like he is the tragic heroine in a 1930s Bette Davis movie for a while yet, but so what thats hardly new. Vettel risked an early exit in qualifying to save a fresh set of the faster option in Q1/Q2 which he put to good use in the final stint of the race. He should be applauded and not villified, but thats the soap opera aspect of the F1 travel circus for you. Should Vettel beat Alonso by less than 7 points to the championship Red Bull staff can once again thank him on their knees for delivering the goods.

On the other side there are the unresolved situations at Mercedes and to a lesser extent Ferrari and Lotus, not to mention McLaren who might join the pack at the front later on. Rosberg is a China specialist and could still correct his wrong behavier (from his point of view but not the teams point of view)in Malaysia by winning the first race for Mercedes in 2013 in 2 weeks. He didnt play second fiddle for Schumi for 3 years so why now for Hamilton ? Its a convenient situation for Hamilton and Wolff/Brawn if Rosberg keeps playing the poodle, they could focus on the bigger name sooner than expected and make him undisputed No1 for the all important 2014 season. But Rosberg has nobody to blame than himself if he is now seen as a No2 driver in the Barrichello, Coulthard … tradition for the rest of his career. Its up to him to confront the issue and take the fight to Hamilton and if necessary to Brawn/Wolff/Lauda, but it should start in China or it will be too late. Hamilton will never repay him anyway but sees him as his No2 for now.

At Red Bull they should calm down now, they have the car and the drivers to deliver a 4. double title. Thats all that really matters. They could actually laugh at the desperate competition trying to profit from a blown up non event that didnt give any new answers that we didnt knew before. Its Mercedes pretending to be squeeky clean with their tree hugging driver line up that will run into trouble if Ham keeps beating Ros in Q3 but Ros is faster in the races. Sounds just like McLaren in 2011 !

20

Should Vettel beat Alonso by less than 7 points to the championship

Funny isnt it, if Vettel wins by less than 7, the team will applaud him.

Yet 3 years ago, if Alonso had won by less than 7, him and the team would have been crucified…

21
Jim St. George

Not that it’s my expertise, but commentary on the tragi-comedy of humanity can only be enhanced by a broad, multi-disciplinary background. So long as everyone respects what each party (specialists in F1 vs. non-specialists) brings to the table, the work done together will be great. I’m looking forward to listening to more.

22

Kimi joining Sebastian at RB next season? Is it true?

23

Ever since his come back I have told whoever would listen, that Kimi would replace the next driver to leave RB. He is a perfect fit, they wanted to bring fun to f1, and not be a stuffy typical team. Plus they sponsored him in rally. Just hope RB have ice cream in there catering area.

24

Me too, Ashboy. That would be my dream team, we can expect a lot of clean, exciting and fun racing.

25

I think I can guess where this came from, but I do have two questions:

First, why would Kimi leave Lotus? It’s a relatively simple setup with minimal politics, he’s the no.1 driver, he has a decent car capable of winning races and he’s is obviously very happy there. It’s generally agreed that performance in F1 is cyclical, so I would also argue that Lotus is on an upward curve, while RBR might just be starting their downward curve.

Second, what of Torro Rosso?

In eight years they have promoted a grand total of one driver to RBR. Fair enough that driver has done exceptionally well and set a very high standard, but if Webber does go at the end of 2013 and his seat is not filled by DR or JEV (or worse, if DR or JEV are given the flick altogether for two more young guns) then it seems to me that running a second ‘development’ team is massive waste of time and resources and kind of a joke…and at the risk of upsetting some people I would say that the joke has been on the TR drivers themselves who drove for the team with the reasonable expectation of being promoted to RBR at some point.

Having said all that, I might as well all the way and say that my hope is that someday TR is sold to a major Italian organisation, rebranded Minardi, and turned into a proper race team again – just hopefully with better resources and performance 🙂

26

It’s a story that puts the heat on Webber, so you can imagine what’s at work there

That said, it makes a lot of sense, so wait and see

27

What then would the chances be of a straight swap, with Webber going to Lotus (if he doesn’t retire)? He’ll still have a car that can win races, and a less threatening team mate, plus Boullier did say a couple of years ago (before Kimi) that he would welcome Webber with open arms.

28

Didn’t Red Bull sponsor Kimi’s rally activities back in 2010-11? Could well be true about Kimi to RBR in 2014.

29

It would be very interesting to watch whether Kimi and Seb could remain freinds.

30

I would say that access to to the drivers is excellent, but what normally leaves their mouth is boring coprorate drivel.

e.g. ‘Team did a good job’, ‘made a step forward’, ‘thanks to everyone back at the factory’ (Yawn)

I’ll miss Webber when he goes, as he’s one of the few that actually says what he is thinking. Look up Portugal 1992 for how a proper press conference should be!

31

Thanks for this article James. It doesn’t hurt to remind people from time to time just how awesome this sport that we all love is besides the action on the track!

32

”Footballers seem the most remote, only one or two are put forward after a game and anything pre-match is always recorded during the week. Generally it is the managers who do the talking.”

Gee James, I thought that would have been obvious why this happens !!! (esp. aimed at rugby players).

In general James, there are a lot of sports minded people out there ( both in TV and not in TV) who have great views on F1. Sometimes fresh thinking is best however it is hard for the ‘tried and tested’ brigade to change their thinking. F1 needs to change more, but get rid of some gimmicks. You highlighting the freshness is great hopefully more to come.

Think outside the square. I know you mentioned it before, but the GP Breakfast in Melbourne was great for example although that was only local organising, not F1 overall

Yet the driver appearances to the general public is absolutely minimal. 15 minute driver signing sessions. All this may be good for TV and media but not good for the fans.

33

Hey James you must be an expert on body language as sometimes this can be more descriptive than what the driver says.

Great article as always and loving the podcast.

34

Thank you

35

Sponsors these days do not essentially lien up when something is popular or is being discussed to death. They want to ensure that the image of the sport is in alignment to their brand.

36

Come on guy’s its all about theatre and drama. The the fact everyone is talking about this means sponsors will be lining up in the future.

I although I don’t see any on this sit.

37

No sponsors on this site?

TATA, UBS…

38

Been said before, but I really like the way the camera now follows the drivers into the cool down room. This more than compensates for the fact that so much of the drivers emotion is hidden behind a helmet for most of the event

39

I agree. It been the best improvement or addition to the telecast for many years. Simple and very effective. Must watch viewing.

40
Ted the Mechanic

This is why the off-track is often better than the on-track action.

James, we’ve been screwed in New Zealand by SKY TV for years. I rejoiced last year when it was announced that SKY would be lead broadcaster in Great Britain and that Martin Brundle was going to work for them. Yay! I thought, we’ll finally get to see Martin’s famous pre-race gridwalk! No such luck…

Obviously we can’t afford to pay the piper and now we not only don’t get the gridwalk, but we also lost Martin as well because SKY TV in New Zealand have stuck with the BBC coverage for Practice sessions and the Race. Not all bad though as we pick up you during Practice and keep DC for the race. Would still love to see the gridwalk though.

JAonF1 and Joe Saward are my first stops for F1 updates online – please keep up the good work!

41

Yeah good review James. With the amount of money going into sponsorship and media coverage into the sport it has become almost an aspect of the sport. In one way it’s terrific because we all get such good media access to the drivers and top team figures but I guess the downside is that the responses from teams and drivers are very carefully guarded and scripted pieces in most cases. Also unless your JA you cannot get close to the teams and drivers on race weekends like you do in other racing formulas.

For me the best events I ever attended was the Indy GP’s at Surfer Paradise- because it was a few notches down in terms of politics compared to F1 but had far more face to face accessibility to the teams and drivers on race weekends. Obviously not as much tv and stats analysis/coverage ( few years ago now ) So being there was a must and a real privilege that I still miss.

42

Agree about Surfers early days. I think it comes down to being an American run series. My cousin raced there for many years in the support race to the original CART series. Always speaks about the US organiser who, trying to understand a V8 issue, ended the discussion with the drivers by saying….well what do you think the fans want…….that’s what we’ll do..!

Access to drivers in US series has always been second to none unless you go back to F1 in the 60/70’s

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