No one knows which is the fastest car until the Australian Grand Prix. The new Formula One season’s cars may have been tested in public but their true performance remains unknown, for a full fuel tank makes even the fastest car look sluggish. Melbourne is the first transparent test and all the expectations will be overtaken once the cars emerge from the season’s first corner.
“Aside from Silverstone, my favourite Formula One race is Melbourne,” says Martin Brundle, the man whose incisive analysis has made sense of motor racing for TV viewers on ITV and BBC and now on Sky. “It’s the first day back at school. The whole season is ahead of you. Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button must be sitting there thinking they have a chance to win the world championship. And this year we have 20 races, the longest ever season.”
Immediately after Melbourne, the F1 circus relocates to Kuala Lumpur for the Malaysian Grand Prix. There, on a more representative, purpose-built track (as opposed to the Melbourne road circuit), the pecking order could change again. So the sport’s aficionados will know the shape of the season ahead after watching the first two races live on Sky’s new channel.
How many viewers have signed up for Sky’s souped-up coverage and the thrill of live racing? How many will opt for a lie-in and make do with lengthy highlights later in the day on BBC1? They have the third race, the Chinese GP, to look forward to live on BBC and later Monaco and Silverstone - but not the scene of the most exciting races in recent years, in Canada.
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Sky also has live exclusivity to defending world champion Sebastian Vettel’s home race in Germany, Ferrari’s home race at Monza and to the new US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas in November.
One other factor that may influence your viewing is the broadcaster’s teams. Here are the line-ups:
Headed up by the godfather of F1 broadcasting, Martin Brundle. Famed for his pre-race grid-walk, making technical issues comprehensible and a neck chain that would look sexy on a man half his age.
He’s backed by an experienced F1 commentary team who have shown they work well together – on radio. Sky has poached the Radio 5 Live F1 team wholesale.
David Croft is the lead commentator but is used to turning to ex-driver Anthony Davidson for technical back-up in the rare moments when Crofty doesn’t have an opinion on what’s occurring.
How much room Brundle will leave for Davidson to comment is anyone’s guess.
But it is worth knowing that the former Super Aguri, Honda and Minardi F1 driver once struck a groundhog in his car while running third in the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix.
Pit lane expertise comes from Natalie Pinkham and Ted Kravitz, while long-time Sky regular Georgie Thompson anchors the coverage. Tabloid readers may also be familiar with Thompson because of her well-documented two year romance with Declan Donnelly which came to an end in 2011.
Ex-driver David Coulthard moves up to pole following Brundle’s departure, working in partnership with lead commentator Ben Edwards, a long-time motorsport specialist. Coulthard has four years' experience behind the microphone and continues to improve without fully throwing off his tendency to dourness.
Ex-team owner Eddie Jordan provides balance with his positive patter. He reckons the BBC viewing figures for F1 will continue to increase, despite covering only half the races live.
Listen out for technical contributions from Jordan’s fellow Northern Irishman, Gary Anderson, new to the team but a veteran F1 hand. He was Jordan’s first technical director and carried out the same role for the Stewart and Jaguar teams.
The line-up also features new pit-lane reporter Lee McKenzie and the affable Jake Humphrey holds it all together with irrepressible enthusiasm.
Watch out for:
While former ITV commentator James Allen is the new lead voice for Radio 5, they have an ace in the hole in Jaime Alguersuari (pictured above). Surprisingly let go by Toro Rosso at the end of last year, the 21-year-old Catalonian driver grabbed the radio berth to keep himself attached to F1. His BBC contract is such that he can run out from behind the mic and jump straight back behind the wheel at a moment’s notice.
If that doesn’t happen, expect to see Alguersuari’s piercing blue eyes on the BBC’s TV coverage pretty damn quick.