Top Gear has its Magnificent Seven; has Channel 4’s F1 coverage found its Dream Dozen?
The new, supersized line-up certainly attempts to cover all the bases. It’s fronted by Steve Jones, the shiny floor entertainment man going into his first live sporting gig with wide-eyed enthusiasm.
“It’s almost like Hollyoaks on wheels!” he said at Channel 4 headquarters today. “There’s so much going on behind the scenes, it’s just fascinating.”
And just in case the idea of F1 as a talent show scares committed petrolheads, Channel 4 cleverly counterbalance Jones with the racing pedigree of Murray Walker. He’s seen every Formula 1 season since its inception in 1950, and survived any number of broadcasting changings of the guard.
True, at the age of 92 he won’t be flying all round the world, but even the occasional interview session with the Voice of F1 will add instant heritage to Channel 4’s marketing hype.
Then there are the experts, and once again Channel 4 has been canny in building up its F1 contacts book. Nic Hamilton, Lewis Hamilton’s brother and a racer in his own right, and Susie Wolff, former F1 test driver and the wife of Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, both theoretically bring racing expertise and insider knowledge. It will be interesting to see how Channel 4 takes advantage of those family connections.
From Alain Prost to Bruno Senna and Mark Webber, there’s no shortage of seasoned drivers to keep the new channel on track.
The concern that such a large team throws up is exactly the same one the new Top Gear is struggling with: how do you build up a rapport among such an big group, with presenters juggling different commitments, coming and going throughout the season?
Eddie Jordan’s a case in point – Top Gear filming commitments mean his role on C4’s F1 definitely won’t be the same as he had with the BBC. Channel 4 say he will feature at “a number of Grands Prix across the season”, but don’t count on him being a full-time member of the team.
Ditto with Lee McKenzie, the excellent former BBC pit lane reporter and driver interviewer who followed Coulthard to Channel 4. She’s still contracted to the BBC, and is already scheduled to cover both Wimbledon and Rio 2016, events that will keep her occupied for most of the summer.
How do you keep such a diverse, Pick ‘n Mix line-up together? By banking on a strong central partnership. Coulthard says he sees a lot of Jake Humphrey in Steve Jones, and that bodes well: Humphrey’s time as F1 presenter was the most assured of the BBC years, before TV politicking and arguments over broadcasting rights cast a shadow.
If Jones and DC work, then it’s full speed ahead for the new era. They’ve got just under two weeks to tune their relationship before the first race of the season on Sunday 20th March. Better get some miles under their belts.
Channel 4 has live coverage of 10 Grands Prix this season as well as highlights of every race weekend.