So the search begins for who will replace the BBC F1 anchor Jake Humphrey. As I wrote last week and has been announced today, Jake is leaving the BBC for BT Vision who have a contract to air 38 live premier league football games from 2013. Jake has been BT’s target to fulfil the anchor role for some time, add to that his first passion is football and now he and his wife are expecting their first child.
The problem for the BBC is that many of the die hard F1 TV personnel want to work for Sky, as the BBC only have 50% the races live. This was evident when Ted Kravitz, Natalie Pinkham, Anthony Davidson and Martin Brundle left the Beeb for Sky at the end of last year. Brundle explained his decision, “Recorded and delayed sports television doesn’t give me the adrenalin fix I crave.”
Some have suggested Anthony Davidson may consider such a mainstream front man media opportunity because he and Georgie do not attend all the races with Sky – their ‘skypad’ analysis they deliver is broadcast only from the UK for a number of the flyaway races. Davidson has impressed this year with a relaxed style in front of the camera, a very personable character and knowledgeable; but he’s a remote possibility as he still racing and works for Mercedes – maybe still harbouring F1 driving ambitions.
In fact, it’s difficult to see any of the 2012 Sky defectors returning to the BBC for the very reason it’s more like a part time F1 TV job. If it’s hard for the BBC to poach from another channel, they’ll have to recruit internally – so who could it be?
Another concern for the BBC is they need a long term fix, the contract with F1 runs until 2018 and after 2 consecutive seasons now of change in their F1 presenter line up, a temporary solution is an unpalatable option.
They could elect to go for a newbie, as they did with Jake in 2009 when they took over the F1 TV rights from ITV, but this could prove a poisoned chalice as Sky discovered with their new host Simon Lazenby, who many thought would be replaced by Humphrey at the end of this year. F1 fans are generally pretty knowledgeable and don’t take well to being presented to by someone who knows less than them.
It’s more likely following some criticism of the decline in the quality of the BBC F1 coverage they will opt for someone already inside the sport, who is respected by the fans. The field is not enormous so let’s examine the options.
Lee McKenzie has deputised for Jake this year when he was reporting for the BBC at the European football championships. Yet these shows were highlights, not the full live event where anything and everything can happen. Lee is fantastic at what she does, but may be perceived a little dour in her presentation style and possibly lacking gravitas for the anchor role.
To be fair, there is nobody available within the BBC with significant F1 time in ‘front of camera’ experience, so if they do go “in house” this aspect will be a bit of a punt.
My guess is they will try to persuade James Allen to take on the role. He has 20 years of experience in F1 from team press officer then on to pit lane reporter for ESPN/ITV. He was the one ITV chose to replace the inimitable voice of British F1 commentary that had been around forever – Murray Walker.
James currently does the Radio 5 live commentary and this kind of broadcasting is the most difficult to do. In radio, your audience only has your words and vocal intonation to visual the whole event. Further, radio commentary on F1 demands you have the skill to keep talking for extended periods of time, something handy when we have lengthy race delays due to weather.
It is known that James enjoys greatly the breadth of his present role outside of commentary. He does F1 links for the BBC at breakfast time and throughout the day, he also works with Shell and does F1 links for Australian media company – Channel 10 – as well as a number of other ventures. Whilst he could combine his current F1 BBC work (except radio commentary) with the anchor role, it will be tough for the BBC to persuade him to give up the niche he has carved out for himself.
Yet if the BBC are to answer the accusations of declining standards in their F1 team, they have no one quite like James Allen to quell the doubters. He is a senior figure in the F1 media establishment serving with 4 others on the FIA press council. James’ knowledge and experience are second to none and would bring the necessary gravitas the anchor role requires. His ‘at ease’ style with all the great and good in the F1 circus would not make us feel we were watching a kid in a sweet shop who just landed the best job on earth – al la Sky.
So in the words of One Dimension …er… Wrong Direction …or whatever they’re called… James – It’s got to be you!
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