Jenson Button criticises Formula One TV commentators


As TJ13 has reported many times before, in days of yore the F1 world feed TV producer followed the lead an expert English language speaking commentator to highlight the relevant action which is imminent on track.

James Allen was the last person to function in this role before FOM TV decided they would decide the relevant pictures to broadcast that tell the story of a Formula One race.

Of course the lead commentator would have at least one analyst sat beside him, following the timing screens to anticipate the ‘next event’ worthy of commentary.

For example, it is clear from the sector times when a midfield driver is closing at a significant rate on another car – and so this would become the next story during the race, particularly if little was happening at the front of the race. The TV pictures would then focus on this chase and the viewers could see the battle unfold before their eyes.

FOM in its wisdom decided a number of years ago that they could perform this function equally as well and so ditched the ‘lead expert commentator’ model.

Of course FOM TV have a lot of other matters to consider too. They must ensure the virtual track side advertising is repeatedly shown, messages from Bernie together with making sure that teams who are persona non-grata fail to get the relevant airtime.

All of which devalues the experience of the viewer in terms of the race story being presented.

The tail may well now be now wagging the proverbial dog, as the new breed of F1 race commentators appear to deliver their commentary – based upon the pictures selected by FOM TV. The experts are repeatedly criticised for missing the nuances in the narrative of the race, by fans as they take to commenting on their favourite websites race review articles.

Jenson Button was forced to sit out the Bahrain GP as his ailing McHonda gave up the ghost before the red lights went out at the start. He tweeted amusing and at times facetious comments as he watched the fourth race of the season unfold in his garage.

However, the British World Champion has commented this weekend on other observations he was able to make because he wasn’t driving his car in the heat of battle.

“The thing that amazes me when you watch a race like that is how much you [TV commentators and the media] miss of what is going on,” Button observed.

“Obviously you’re fully in it and you’re looking at the leaders, but there is a lot going on that doesn’t get picked up. It’s very difficult to pick up on everything, but when I’ve got the timing screens I can see what’s going on”.

Button explains by way of example exactly what he means, and it is worthy of note the commentary he followed was from UK SKY F1

“You could see Kimi was possibly going to win the race from where he was, and he went one lap long in the pit stop, and if he hadn’t he probably would have challenged for the win”.

The SKY team were slow to pick up the implications behind the Iceman’s alternative strategy, even to the point where Kimi pitted for a second time.

Of course as Jenson says, at times there can be a lot going on during an F1 race – yet the 2015 Bahrain GP was fairly processional when compared to the Spanish GP of 2013 which Ferrari won. They did so by stopping four times which amusingly sent the TV commentators went into melt down – as they were unable to interpret properly the contenders for the win because cars were out of position on track and running different strategies.

This level of incompetence is the reason why many F1 fans watch the FOM feed but listen to radio commentary – which by the very nature of its medium tends to force those behind the microphone to better follow the tales within the tale of the race.

It’s time the F1 TV commentators raised their game even if just for personal pride, because fans now have access to the timing screens for just $26 a year – which makes the race commentary failings even more stark.

23 responses to “Jenson Button criticises Formula One TV commentators

  1. ” … “Obviously you’re fully in it and you’re looking at the leaders, but there is a lot going on that doesn’t get picked up. It’s very difficult to pick up on everything, but when I’ve got the timing screens I can see what’s going on”. … ”

    I now watch a race live mainly on the timing screen, supplemented by glances at the TV.

    The commentators really need a third or fourth person beside them watching the timing screen and alerting them of a strategic race for the lead developing out of camera shot somewhere behind the then current leading cars.

    • Yes, spot on!

      I’d say what each commentary team needs is a dedicated race strategy observer, such as what Paul Trusswell does for RadioLeMans.

      The strategy observer need not speak, but provide the appropriate pre-race, or pre-session debrief to the producer(s), director(s), and the commentary team of the key elements to watch for. Then during the race the strategy observer can highlight to the director / producer the various dramas as evolve during the race, but are sadly too often missed by FOM and commentating teams. Such info can be relayed to the commentators by existing systems, if the strategy observer isn’t to commentate on air.

      JB’s tweet were spot-on during the race, very helpful.

  2. So what need is a streaming audio commentary from TJ13 as they peruse various screens, make comment and wash down bar snacks with cleansing ales.

  3. Agree 100% with JB
    I follow live timing during the race and its frustrating being able o cleary see someone catching another driver but nothing is shown or mentioned on TV.

  4. The Sky UK commentary is very nationalistic… they focus on the British drivers and the strategies they need to win a race… everything else is fluff. 😉

  5. The BBC F1 coverage team are awful, but to the point of being funny, DC makes enough mistakes for an ex-pro, Suzi is useless and only Eddie occasionally says something relevant. I agree they need to raise their game

  6. JB looking for his next job? I’m sure it was easy for him to spot the different strategies being run at the last race, what with him being surrounded by McLarens strategy experts, with access to all the information. What do the race commentators have to work with?
    Is the F1 timing app finally working? Last I heard it had failed in every race this year – and last.
    I can’t watch a race through a timing screen/sector chart – whatever. The very idea turns me right off. I can imagine those who do spend that days in between races looking at this kind of stuff –
    It’s live by the way.

  7. The Commentary have to be slightly nationalistic, otherwise no one would watch it, the public don’t care about F1, they just want to see a British person win

  8. Reading this, I’m starting to realize that Will Buxton, on NBCSports on the other side of the pond, is actually doing valuable work, which I took for granted. Most of the time, he is able to anticipate the strategic moves and changes and their implications for the rest of the race, a la Kimi as explained by JB.

    • Too bad he’s on NBC Sports, which has the worst 3-man commentary team in the history of F1 commentary. Will is the only good thing about that channel, but even then he’s not enough to cancel out the utter atrociousness of two sputtering old men and LG.

      • Change channel to Univision -I remember you once said you spoke some spanish- if you are in the USA. That’s the worst team of commentators ever -with Milka Duno as their “specialist”-. You are lucky if you get a “new” that was circulating one or two months before in the paddock. And when they don’t know what else to say they start talking about soccer!!! Priceless.

    • Will does a really good job in that respect – also Martin Brundle should be replaced by Anthony Davidson when he quits racing WEC – He is substantially more informative from an ex-F1 driver’s and more interesting in general.

  9. Funny…our commentators here in America on NBC Sports…Steve Matchett, David Hobbs, Will Buxton and Lee Diffy…were keenly aware that Kimi might have a shot at a race win pretty early on from what they were surmising from the strategies employed.

  10. Good thing I typically watch races off the DVR here in California. Waking up at 3am to watch live isn’t going to happen. So for us over here won’t get to enjoy the timing screens.

  11. Poor old BBC commentators getting all this flack. Looking at the setup of their commentary position a few races ago. They only have the world feed and timing info on relatively small screens. They have to commentate on what we all see on the screen. It’s not much use to the average viewer to start talking about something that is not on screen. It would be useful for them to see the preview of the next shot chosen by the director, but it seems they don’t have this facility. Broadcast control is now remote at Biggin Hill. I agree with the idea of having a separate analyst, but that costs money, and it might be considered technical, and Ben Gallop(Head of BBC F1) doesn’t want any of that, because we are all simpletons and we would get bored. and and and……

  12. He didn’t actually criticize the commentators at all .. I bet the headline got plenty of hits though 😉

  13. This is likely just a symptom of a greater problem, which includes basically all other sports and (with variations) many other fields:

    Ignoring the aficionados and knowledgable fans in favour of the ignorant or only casually interested masses.

    Commentators tend to lack in knowledge and other skills than merely being able to talk—even when they have nothing to say.

    The screen images are often tailored to look cool or interesting, while leaving important information out. (Consider e.g. close-ups of a single car, player, whatnot, where the crucial positioning and movement of other cars and players are left out.)

    The Olympics are shown with less and less sport and more and more human interests stories for every four years.


    Instead of giving the true fans of the individual sport what they want and thereby getting a large slice of a small pie, all sports senders and central organisations (FIFA, IAAF, …) appear to fight over the larger pie consisting of the broad masses—each getting a small slice and, as a side-effect, ruining the reporting. In a worst case scenario, the sport is ruined through rule-changes that are supposed to make things more exciting, increase the action, whatnot, but leaves the actual athletes hanging.

  14. I too watch with one eye on my T&S screen. I rec’d last year to that James Allen Formula 1 app thing that they include a pitstop column, showing where a driver would exit if he pitted then, so as the commentators would better understand the true position of drivers on alternate strategies. They’re always getting it wrong. And, the producer of the world feed is always missing the action. He missed that Kimi was on a charge and lapping 2 secs faster than Nico, by following the action further down the field. The suspense builds when a driver is stalking and driving that much faster and they need to point it out as early as possible and follow it.

    As far as Matchett/Hobbs/Diffey and Buxton do on the US broadcast, they’re adequate. Will is always stating the obvious, presumably because he’s just a little late in pointing it out. What annoys is that they are always getting the time gaps wrong.

  15., INDYCAR and NASCAR have set the standard for radio commentary. The companies that produce radio broadcasts set up a two-man booth (one lead and one driver analysis) at the finish line, and set an individual commentator set to patrol sections of the track. For example, at Road America, MRN used 13 commentators for a second-division NASCAR race, nine assigned to sections of the circuit, and three pit reporters for a field of 40. Only the lead commentary box has access to a timing screen and a video replay screen. Every sectional commentator relies on a spotter’s guide, a radio producer, and binoculars to call the action. If the Station Five commentator sees an enticing battle to cover, he sends a signal to the producer, and the producer will inform the main booth to cover that action, where commentators call the action “station-to-station”. The commentator in Station Five goes to the one up the hill on the Corvette Bridge, then shifts to one at Hurry Downs, before shifting to the one assigned to the Carousel.
    Pit reporters in INDYCAR and NASCAR carry a full pad of notes, an assistant, and they take notes all race long. The pit producer and reporters must take notes all through the race on pit stops and investigate the strategy. For example, if one car is pitting on Lap 15 for a two-stop strategy and the other is pitting on Lap 24 for a one-stop strategy, the reporter takes that into his notepad with the car he is assigned. The pit producer shares the note with the producer, who sends it to the booth. During one 2016 NASCAR race, when fuel conservation became an issue, a cameraman noted the lead car’s strategy with letting off against the other cars, and he notified a producer, who sent it to the commentator, who made the report and gave credit to his cameraman.
    If booth commentators had a better broadcast position where they could see the action more, they would call the action based on their view than a screen. The commentator and director should be synchronised where any commentator or spotter can note the action. F1 can learn from INDYCAR and NASCAR Radio.

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