Channel 4 boss puts foot down to drive for Formula 1 success

“I had a whites of the eyes meeting with Jay Hunt," says new F1 frontman Steve Jones. "She made sure I understood the commitment"

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Channel 4 boss Jay Hunt is a woman who knows what she wants and doesn’t waste much time.

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In fact if you ever hear her speak, she talks so quickly her speeches can sometimes be over in seconds and it’s hard to keep up.

But to her credit it is precisely this drive and speed of thought that makes her one of the most talented and fearless figures in TV.

And quick decision-making is one of the reasons Channel 4 have been able to land a Formula 1 deal and get the coverage off the ground from scratch without, er, stalling, in just a few months.

Chief creative officer Jay says it is a “young, cutting-edge sport that couldn’t be a better fit for Channel 4” and it has potential to attract big audiences and big advertisers.

The BBC’s coverage of races last year averaged over three million and some grands prix managed over five million, numbers Channel 4 would love to get on a Sunday afternoon, when traditionally it can struggle against its rivals.

To make the sport more watchable I expect more gossip from around the pits, more celebrities and a fun factor rather than it being too technical, in a bid to attract new fans.

But on top of gambling on buying the coverage itself, Jay has also gone for a main presenting duo of Steve Jones and former racer David Coulthard.

Steve hasn’t done live sports presenting before, but is tipped to follow in the footsteps of Jake Humphrey, who made a successful move from kids’ TV to sport.

And he definitely has Jay’s personal backing to succeed.

At the F1 launch she called him “one of the most accomplished live broadcasters I have ever had the good fortune of working with”.

And then Steve admitted Jay fronted him up last month to make doubly sure he was the right man for the job.

Steve told me: “I had a whites of the eyes meeting with Jay, that’s what they call them. She made sure my heart was in it and I understood the commitment. But I sold my commitment to her. Then I met up with DC and it has gone from there. It’s been a whirlwind.”

No doubt Steve’s meeting would have been a rapid one. But if Formula One on Channel 4 is a ratings success it might be the most important five minutes of his career.

Mark Jefferies is Showbiz Editor at the Daily Mirror 

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Channel 4 coverage of Formula One begins on 18th March with build up and then highlights of the Australian Grand Prix