Goodbye to ITV
- their reporters take a look back at their favourite bitsJames Allen:
"This is our 206th and last grand prix with ITV. It’s been a great run and I’ve loved pretty much every second of it.
I’m also the only member of the crew who has been at every single race during the 12 years.
The most vivid memories are of the really dramatic races like Jerez 1997, where Michael Schumacher rammed Jacques Villeneuve off the road, and Indianapolis 2005, where only six cars started.
Jerez was electric from the moment we arrived on Thursday.
Somehow Schumacher’s presence in a title showdown always gave the thing a real edge, much more than this year’s finale, for example.
It was an extraordinary weekend, with the first three cars in qualifying setting exactly the same time to thousandth of a second.
Then after qualifying we had a loaded press conference with Schumacher asked directly whether he would ram Villeneuve to win the title as he had done with Damon Hill in 1994.
Schumacher was angry at the suggestion and said that it was important to have ‘fair play’. Of course he didn’t play it that way the next day…
He was a huge character in the sport and the ITV years were pretty much dominated by him.
The first three seasons were the nearly years where he and Ferrari came up short each time, then of course he broke his leg at Silverstone in 1999.
He won the world title in 2000, launching a Ferrari era, which rather unhelpfully coincided with me being promoted to lead commentator after Murray’s retirement in September 2001.
Making F1 races seem exciting in Schumacher-dominated seasons like 2002 and 2004 was at times a bit like pushing water up a hill – but I have always been passionate about this sport, which I was born into, and I have always found something exciting and interesting to talk about in even the most tedious procession.
I liked Michael and got on well with him. I wrote his biography in 2006 and had many interesting chats with him.
We did quite a lot of interviews together in the days when I was a pit reporter.
I remember the one at a Mugello test in Feburary 1998, his first with us since the Jerez episode.
He was contrite but still refused to accept that he’d done anything really wrong.
He grew up in F1 in the Senna/Mansell/Prost era, where that kind of thing went on and where drivers regularly played high-speed games of chicken with each other.
But Max Mosley had changed the culture and Schuey failed to notice, so when he did the ram-raid attempt in Jerez, he got hammered for it and I think he was very resentful of that, given that Senna and Prost got away with it.
The best race was probably the Japanese Grand Prix of 2005, although Spa this year was quite high up the list as well.
The Suzuka race stands out because Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and Schumacher all started near the back of the grid after a rain-hit qualifying session and they all came through, with Kimi passing Giancarlo Fisichella on the final lap to win and Alonso passing Schumacher around the outside of the fearsome 130R corner.
I was not happy in Austria 2002, when Ferrari switched Rubens Barrichello and Schumacher at the end of the race. It was so early in the season and they clearly had a huge car advantage.
It seemed really unsporting to me and I said so, and I got into plenty of trouble with Ferrari and the powers-that-be in F1 for it. But there we are. Bridges were soon repaired on both sides.
I loved the weirdness of Indy 2005 when all the Michelin teams pulled out.
It seemed a huge own goal by the sport at the time, but it bounced back as it always does.
Commentating on the ‘race’ was completely different from any other race, as the story was as much about how the situation had arisen, how the crowd was taking it and where the sport would go next as it was about race action.
I loved the challenge of that.
My first commentary, standing in for Murray when he bust his hip, at Magny-Cours in 2000 was quite nerve-wracking, but it was good that I had an early chance to do the job and see what it was like and plenty of time to think about what I needed to improve on.
I was always pretty confident that when Murray decided to retire I would get the gig, but never anything less than utterly self-critical and seeking to improve with every race and every year, which I think I’ve done.
It’s a very difficult and high-pressure job, because with 20 cars there are 20 different points of focus.
You have to read the race, using a TV picture and the timing screens, while speaking at the same time and still leave spare brain capacity for talking to the producer and thinking about what comes next.
And as it’s live and it’s all happening very quickly it’s very easy to make a mistake, which is why you always need to allow yourself a margin.
Having a brilliant communicator like Martin Brundle as a partner helps a great deal too.
I take a journalistic approach to commentary, I’m a storyteller; it’s my job to tell the story, not to be the story.
Of course there are many people at home in their armchairs who think they could do it better and one of the challenges for me was that I replaced Murray just as the internet opened up to allow everyone to have their say in chat rooms and forums.
But I know from market research and viewer feedback that the pros massively outnumber the vocal minority of cons.
I’m very proud of the work that we have done with the North One production team over the years and we have 2 BAFTAs and 12 Royal Television Society awards to prove that the TV industry, like most viewers, rate our work very highly."
I vividly recall the first ever TV ‘link’ I did with Murray in a shopping centre in Melbourne back in ’97.
Bizarrely, this shopping centre had a statue of Marilyn Monroe in the doorway with a breeze blowing up her skirt in a classic Monroe stance – we had to walk past it into an amusement arcade to do some links. Quite what the F1 association was I can’t remember.
It was a very odd weekend all round, because I wanted to be a racing driver and I wasn’t: I was talking to this camera and trying to find my way in an alien environment.
* I don’t know much, but I do know a lot about teams and the ITV F1 team has always had a broad base of hard-working, creative people who gelled from day one.
You can’t blame them for the adverts, and I think they’ve taken Formula 1 coverage massively forwards.
Over the 12 years I was a grand prix driver I think I did two interviews on TV, because there was so little air time back then.
I thoroughly enjoyed making the driving and technical features over the years. I am very proud of those pieces of TV.
The creativity, dedication and team spirit of my colleagues has been a great experience, and I’ve learned an awful lot from them. Nothing is forever but I’m very sad that we are disbanding.
* I never watch or listen to my commentaries and I’ve hardly ever seen a Grid Walk other than a couple of snips I caught on YouTube.
I don’t have the time and I don’t find it comfortable watching myself. The fans, forums and blogs soon let you know how you are doing!
I’ve met some fascinating people on the grid: kings, prime ministers, movie stars, pop stars and even the occasional racing driver.
It’s like an alter ego for me, because I’m not the kind of person who interrupts people – I don’t really recognise the bloke who bounces around being cheeky and rude on the grid. And I truly hate bothering the drivers.
I do, though, love the adrenaline rush of what is five minutes of live, unscripted, unrehearsed, ‘car crash’ TV.
The Grid Walk has taken on a life of its own. It wasn’t my idea; it was thought up by Gerard Lane and Neil Duncanson from North One, who suggested I walk along the grid and talk about what I saw. I think we pioneered it at the 1997 British Grand Prix.
* The laughable commentary boxes at some Formula 1 tracks.
They really are shoeboxes: noisy, sweaty, tiny places that you share with a load of electronic boxes which do all sorts of weird and wonderful things that I’ve never understood.
* The race that stands out is Suzuka 2005, when Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso came scything through the field and Kimi took the lead on the last lap. It was just a thrill and a pleasure to commentate on
The best moments are when all the layers of PR, spin and concealment are blown apart by the raw event developing before you.
Three favourite stories centre on Michael Schumacher.
Jerez 1997 was a remarkable weekend to witness – from Michael’s instinctive and desperate attempt to take out Jacques Villeneuve to the extraordinary qualifying session when Jacques, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Schumacher all set the identical lap time.
I still remember it – 1m21.072s, which is pretty sad – and I still can’t believe it wasn’t fixed.
Then there was Michael’s deliberate ‘accident’ at Rascasse in Monaco 2006 qualifying.
There was so much unbridled anger towards him from the other teams in that pit lane, it bordered on a witch-hunt.
And at Monza, which is an emotionally charged weekend anyway, when we broke the news that Ferrari were announcing Michael’s retirement before he himself let everyone else know in the press conference.
But my favourite moment has to be the US Grand Prix of 2005.
From getting a sniff that the Michelin runners might be in trouble with tyre failures on Friday, through to Ralf Schumacher’s crash confirming it on Saturday, to F1’s collective failure to make the race happen on Sunday.
Open hostility amongst the teams, the drivers literally powerless, and us on ITV broadcasting a meaningless race with six cars and ripping into the product we were meant to be promoting: a business that had forgotten it should be a sport.
How do you sum up 12 years of ITV-F1 in a few sentences? It’s nigh on impossible.
I’ve worked with some fantastic people and visited loads of great places…and that’s before you even start to think about the 500-plus shows we’ve put together covering 205 races.
There have been so many memorable moments since we first went on air in Melbourne in 1997. Here’s just a few of them:
Most memorable race: It certainly wasn’t the best – in fact it wasn’t really a race at all, but the farce that was the 2005 US Grand Prix will always stick out in my mind.
We ripped up the running order as we went on air and ‘winged’ it for the next two and a half hours. It was a great piece of live TV; we covered the story as it unfolded and didn’t miss a thing. A real adrenaline rush!
Most memorable victory: That was probably Rubens Barrichello’s emotional first win at Hockenheim in 2000 (which he achieved from 18th on the grid, in the rain, and despite a track invasion).
Having worked with Rubens at Jordan I was so happy to see him finally get onto the top step of the podium.
Most memorable interview: Definitely DC in Montreal. The infamous live interview when he rendered me totally speechless by referring to my nipples – not what I was expecting when I’d been asking him about car control!
It was a good five minutes before the crew stopped laughing.
Most memorable feature: A piece we did with Jean Alesi at his house in Avignon. He’s a darling man and he proved to be a wonderful host.
Nothing was too much trouble; he gave us a whole day of his time to film (which is pretty unheard of for an F1 driver), introduced us to his family and opened up his home.
When we’d finished the shoot he invited us all back for dinner in his garden (which we rounded off with an 80-year-old bottle of Armagnac). He even flew us all to the race track in his private jet the next morning.
The footage that we got from the day was so good that it produced one of the longest features we’ve ever run on the show.
Most memorable circuit: Probably Imola. The Singapore night race experience was pretty special, but Imola in the spring sunshine, full to the brim with tifosi, was always a special treat.
The beautiful local architecture, fabulous food