I felt sorry for Steve Rider after the recent Brazilian Grand Prix. It wasn’t just that sport’s blandest anchorman had the job of winding up 11 years of ITV’s Formula One coverage as they handed the sport back to Rider’s old employers, the BBC.
ITV’s swansong had turned out to be the most nail-biting drivers’ championship climax ever. (Lewis Hamilton had won it! No, wait, he’d blown it! No, he’d won it! On the last bend of the last race! Unbelievable!) As a result, they got a huge audience and went out on a high.
No, what made me feel sorry for Rider was that, as the nation absorbed the news of Hamilton’s triumph, and Rider got reaction from Mark Blundell in the pouring Sao Paolo rain, someone at ITV must have buzzed in his ear, “Do the trail, Steve.”
And our man with the helmet hair and glassy eyes did as he was told. Which meant that a moment of rare sporting history was jolted out of whack by Rider running through some upcoming Champions’ League fixtures and then, almost surreally, urging us to tune in to European championship darts on ITV4. Darts? We’ve got the youngest F1 world champion ever and Steve’s reminding us about the darts?
This wouldn’t have happened in the old days. Imagine: “Some people are on the pitch. They think it’s all over. It is now!… And can we remind you that coming up next Tuesday on BBC television, you can see the all-new What’s My Line?”
Once the F1 coverage was over, car-minded viewers were counting the minutes until Top Gear, starting a new series over on BBC2. There had been anxiety that this juggernaut of the BBC2 schedules might have peaked, but it proved otherwise, and with a piece about juggernauts, as it happened.
The presenters had one of their elaborate contests in three lorries, during which Jeremy Clarkson amusingly set light to the trailer of his enormous Renault Magnum, while James May failed to do a hill start in his Scania, thus knocking over a grand piano placed behind it. Then they all drove very fast through walls.
Childish, dangerous, wantonly destructive, and all the other things people who don’t like TG accuse it of. And very funny.