I am now more often than not at the race itself and rarely watch it on TV, but those one or two times when I sit out of the paddock and watch the Indian coverage of Formula 1, I wonder how much more can be done to enhance the experience.
Once upon a time, there use to be a Paula Malay Ali, an Alex Yoong, a Sanjeev Palar and a Karun Chandhok covering it for programs popularly known as ‘Chequered Flag’ and ‘Race-Day’. Before I became a paddock reporter, shows like these were the only F1 education, but they were informative enough and there were Asian faces presenting it along with the British commentary, and it was close to a complete package.
Today, there is a repeat of the qualifying session before the race, but no pre-show, no post-show, podium interviews only, no FIA press conference, and thats it for the billion audience. One might argue there is more live coverage because of the Free practice sessions, but the average fan watches only the race, and many need the analysis to get the total picture.
Formula 1 is a constantly evolving and ever-changing sport, and to keep the audience interested, the lights to podium coverage is not enough . In a country which already had an existing fan base for F1 before the circus arrived at its shores, the current coverage just does not do justice.
The present F1 coverage is through the UK based Channel 4 which has Ben Edwards and David Coulthard speaking from the commentary box, and Karun Chandhok reporting from the pit-lane. There is coverage of all the sessions (practice to race) but the in depth analysis of the pre-show and post-show is not available to the Indian viewer.
Today there is a variety of sports channels like DD sports, Star Sports and their HD versions, Ten HD, Ten 1,2,3, Ten Golf HD, Sony and its HD version, Sony ESPN and its HD version, Neo Sports, and Neo Prime. So many sports channels and only one with F1 coverage ?
Recently there has been a Star Sports Select HD ad doing the rounds featuring F1 in its coverage, but if it doesn’t have a pre-show or post-show it is still not going to do justice to improving the depth of knowledge of the Indian F1 fan. One can only hope its not another half hearted effort just enough to tick the F1 box.
One wouldn’t hesitate in reiterating that are there are two dedicated channels to the world’s slowest sports- Golf and Cricket. Lets not even go into the amount of automotive ad revenue, and luxury brand ad revenue most Indian TV networks get. Affordability is the least of concerns, there is enough commercial advertising revenue to not just send a team to cover F1, but enough to fund a dedicated motorsport channel.
Given the larger viewership for Formula 1 and Moto GP still to be exploited there is a strong case for a Motorsports channel in India. As a spinoff, Indian and Asian motorsport can also benefit from dedicated coverage instead of relying on 30 min slots where more time is dedicated to off track topics. Add to this the Formula E, World Endurance Championship, and other prominent 2 and 4 wheeler series, and there is enough on the menu to keep the channel going and also building a sizeable and knowledgeable fan base that can only help Indian Motorsport.
Coming back to Formula 1, the absence of an Indian Grand Prix is no excuse for the truncated coverage. There is still a Force India team on the grid performing exceptionally well, the only F1 team with a country’s name in it. The first female team boss in F1 is an Indian. The software support for Formula 1 is by an Indian company, Tata Communications. And, there are many Indians with careers in Engineering and other fields in Formula1 .
We are a country with the World’s largest English daily newspaper, maximum number of English entertainment news and sport channels , a robust automobile industry, but with minimal air time dedicated to Formula 1 and motorsports in general. Indian TV networks really need to give themselves a reality check and focus on correcting this imbalance.
Ben, David and Karun are a talented bunch out there doing their best, but once the podium ceremony is over, the Indian viewer is left to himself to figure out the intricacies of the previous 90 minutes of non stop action. Or, he gives up and switches channels where his prime choice is cricket, cricket, and more cricket.
However there are more than 50 international channel crews covering this sport and the country with the billion audience is still dependent on its UK counterparts for footage. For some of us who have been covering this sport in print and web mediums, we can only sympathise and empathise with the viewer.
When it comes to paddock and pitlane coverage, there are only two Indians in the press room for more than 12 races and five Indians in the whole F1 fraternity travelling race to race. Surely this can be improved upon. But first, we need the motorsport channel. Any suggestions for a colloquial name for the equivalent of SPEED channel ?