Sad I have to rewind to past times to enjoy F1 these days
- Credit: EDP, Archant
Did you used to love watching a sport for free on TV? David Clayton feels sad that so much of it, including his beloved Formula One, is n longer attracting a growing national TV audience
The Formula One season has just started and usually I'd have been glued to the build-up, then set aside hours to absorb the race in its entirety, followed by the post-race analysis.
My dedication to the sport is evidenced by the fact that in a cupboard I have hundreds of VHS tapes of past Grands Prix which I can't bear to part with, although I haven't watched any of them in well over 15 years. The labels were dutifully written and catalogued by my, then, young son. The writing shows his age and they are equally nostalgic for that reason. He's well grown up now and so's the sport.
I could crank-up my old VHS player and enjoy the races again, watched and recorded as they were then, free to air and free from commercial breaks. Murray Walker was in full flow, his vocal chords the perfect match for the screaming turbo-charged engines.
We had some real local interest in the eighties and nineties, to cheer-on from the sofa. Martin Brundle duelled with his, then, Benneton team mate Michael Schumacher and sometimes got the better of him. Benneton replaced our Norfolk driver at the end of the '92 season with Riccardo Patrese, despite Martin's demonstrable race craft and talent. At the time I was incensed. This was unfair. I remember interviewing him for radio. If he was disappointed, he hid it well. His response was something like, 'Who said F1 had to be fair?' He then got on with driving brilliantly for the French Ligier team. Martin went on to McLaren, coming second in the Monaco Grand Prix of 1994. The team boss reportedly referred to his achievement as 'The first of the losers!' Later he took a seat at Jordan and remarkably walked away from a spectacular accident on the opening lap of the Australian Grand Prix in which his Jordan was completely trashed. Martin got in the spare car and started the race again! I may just have to get that video out of the cupboard.
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Then there was Team Lotus for whom we could wave an enthusiastic Norfolk flag. In the post-Colin Chapman years, it struggled on until the mid-nineties with less success, after which the Lotus name was attached to several teams, but I couldn't attach the same level of loyalty.
These days it's harder to enjoy F1, and particularly this season. The free to air option, held for the last few years by Channel 4, has been severely curtailed. They had been allowed to cover a number of the races live, on top of their excellent highlights show, but in the heady world of sports rights this has been restricted to just the British Grand Prix. Sky hold the live transmission rights to all the races for which, of course, you must pay a subscription.
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This is the first season that free to air, live F1 has just about disappeared from our main TV channels. I wouldn't presume to dissect the business decisions around all this, let alone dwell on the eye-watering sums that change hands for the TV rights, but given the cars are themselves mobile advertising boards, and everywhere you look on an F1 circuit large corporate names are reminding us they're associated with this cutting-edge sport, are they not missing a huge amount of exposure for their products from a terrestrial TV audience? Then, what about attracting the transient viewer to motor racing as they flick around on their remote controls. There might just be a chance to grow the F1 TV audience.
Back to my stash of VHS tapes. Such is my memory I won't necessarily recall who won what, all those years ago, so the tension of each race and its outcome will be as real as ever, and unless I'm very much mistaken Murray will be there at the start shouting 'Go, go go!'