NBC out – ESPN in…
It happens to everyone, actually a more accurate way to state that is, it happens to everything. Things change, they evolve, nothing stays the same. NBC’s catch-line for the pinnacle of motorsport is, “happens at the speed of F1”, well, as fast as NBC became the USA’s go to network for F1, just as fast (and out of nowhere) it is not. A week ago the news broke that NBC would not continue with F1 coverage.
NBC, despite what I feel was/is very, very good coverage for F1 in the U.S. has been replaced by ABC’s flagship sports network, ESPN. This transition will take place at the end of this season and as of 2018, ESPN will be the sole provider of F1 content in the United States for the foreseeable future.
I think NBC did a stand up job in its coverage. I like the three amigos in Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett. By the way yours truly has even interviewed Mr. Hobbs for this site and here is the link to that post: David Hobbs Gives His Take. Their man on the ground, Will Buxton, was in a league of his own. Buxton in particular was a joy for me to listen to – partly because he really knows his stuff when it comes to racing and F1 in particular, but mostly because he was never afraid to ask the sport’s biggest names: Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg, Eric Boullier, Christian Horner some of the most point-blank, pull-no-punches, right-to-the-heart of the issue questions.
That being said, as an avid, extremely passionate (those are the operative words here) fan, F1 coverage in the States is still greatly lacking for someone such as me and if you’re reading this, probably for you as well. NBC does not even show the complete race weekend. WTF!
If you live in the States then here is what you get on race weekend: FP2, Qualifying with a wrap-up, as of recently a 1-hour pre-race show (prior to that it was just 30 minutes), the race (of course) and a wrap-up again in the form of F1 Extra with is also an hour or so. There were a few ancillary content pieces in the form of Sam Posey’s musings which I wish there were more of and every once in a while David Hobbs would have content pieces on a driver i.e. Jochen Rindt, or some other historical event. I should also mention that there was a fluff piece called “Off The Grid” with Will Buxton and his producer but in regards to F1 it was useless. There was also GP2 coverage. But that is it. Anemic, if you ask me and if you’re reading this then by default you are.
Now I know there are many considerations that go into the programming of any network’s schedule: budget, what takes priority, what does not, viewership numbers for a certain sport/show, and how the all important advertising dollars fit into the formula (no pun intended), but it’s just plain wrong to not even cover the all important sixty-minute practice FP3 when teams are dialing in their one-lap pace right before qualifying.
Additionally, although I thought the commentators were really good at their jobs, it would have been nice to have a more current driver, in addition to David Hobbs. Hobbs is great to give the historical context of the sport and how much it has changed for a driver, or to remind us how far it has come, but has he driven a modern day (and by modern I mean something in the last 5-7 years) F1 car in anger???? Not to the best of my knowledge.
In Steve Matchett you have a seasoned, incredibly knowledgeable engineer, but again there is no substitute for the knowledge and the speak of the current generation of F1 engineers. I am not saying to fire Hobbs and Matchett, on the contrary they provide the foundation on which to build. I’m talking about having a panel with a more current crop of experts and pundits that at the very least are on par with what I have seen in Europe and in particular the home of F1, England.
What’s next is anyone’s guess. A week or so ago the tweets came out from all the NBC commentators thanking everyone for the great work and it was fun while it lasted and that was it. Nothing more to report in regards to what ESPN’s F1 coverage will look like aside from what has been revealed in the few articles floating around the web.
It will be interesting to see if ESPN retain Diffey, Hobbs, and, Matchett but my guess is they will not. I am going to bet that ESPN has their own team and are eager to start fresh without any of NBC’s leftovers. I confess that I do hope if anyone survives, it is Will Buxton. He adds so much to the commentary just by enthusiasm alone and I would really miss his entertaining grid walks – he goes balls out to interview as many people as possible no matter who they are, no matter what the situation is i.e. if the drivers or the team are dealing with crisis, he’ll just dive right in. Sometimes they look like they want to murder him! But they just about always answer his questions. And he performs all these maneuvers without tripping or running into anything on a grid that is jam packed with team personnel, guests, batteries of gear and equipment and of course 20 shiny cars in their Sunday best. So, #SaveWillBuxton, I say.
Liberty Media has been very slowly changing how F1 goes about its business; there have so far only been a few tweaks here and there. The top three drivers from qualifying come down to the circuit and in front of the fans are interviewed by the aforementioned Buxton (that is new as of mid-season). During the race there is a live back and forth between a team principal and the three commentators in NBC’s studio (Diffey, Hobbs and Matchett), asking real-time questions of the team principal or in the case of Japan, McLaren’s COO Jonathan Neale.
Speaking of McLaren, one huge tweak was allowing Fernando Alonso to contest the Indy 500. It would seem to me this was an effort to keep the Spaniard at McLaren, in addition to exposing a larger US audience to F1 and one of its most colorful drivers. This would have never happened under the Bernie Ecclestone regime.
Behind closed doors, I suspect there is much more going on than just little tweaks, and the dropping NBC for ESPN is just the first largely visible change. Was it money? Was it a fresh start? Was it politics? Was it some strategy that has not been fully divulged yet? Maybe it was a little bit of everything. Whatever the reason, the deal is done and F1 will have new look here in the U.S. come 2018.
One of the F1 sites I visit everyday is that of ESPN.com. It is the UK version and they have an F1 section. The coverage is excellent. Up-to-date news, written very well with a high level of F1 racing knowledge by its staff writers and editors and contributors such as Maurice Hamilton – an extremely well-versed journalist in all things Formula 1.
Because of this I have high expectations for next year in regards to how F1 is presented here in the States. But let me just say for the record, if I feel for one carbon fiber second that we are getting gypped on race weekends I will be the first to let ESPN and ABC know. Do you hear that ESPN and ABC?? This is serious business. America is still an untapped market and I have been waiting for someone to come in and do F1 right. I’ve got my eyes on you, and I’m going to be watching you very closely because for us fans: racing is life; anything that happens before or after is just waiting.
-j (thank you for that one SM) p-