Why The BBC Does F1 Best – Part One

In the year that BBC relinquishes its exclusive Formula One TV rights deal, I thought I would look back at some of their greatest scene-setting videos from the last three years. It would be too much to include every hilarious clip of Eddie Jordan getting thrown in the Red Bull “float-a-home” at Monaco so I’ve stuck to just evocative and spine-tingling adrenaline-fuelled montages that the Beeb have carefully put together like no one else could to capture why we love the sport so much.

They are not in any particular order and there isn’t a Monaco sequence, because fabulous as recent ones have been, I still believe ITV did the Monaco introduction best with Lewis Hamilton in 2007. There are eleven videos that I have focussed on in total – I am sure I have missed some great ones but for now here are a collection of my personal favourites.

The Scream of Science – Australia 2009

When this video was released, everyone was anxious to see how the BBC would present the much loved “The Chain”, the Fleetwood Mac anthem which is synonymous with the sport but had been dormant since ITV took over after the 1996 season. They, as promised, left the song itself more or less untouched (bar the odd sound effect of screeching tyres) and the audience was left satisfied with the return of the much-loved “bom, bom bom bom, bom ba-bom bom bom bommm”. The animations of the opening sequence were innoucuous and perfectly adequate. It will be interesting to see if the BBC follow ITV’s strict rota and update the titles every three years.

But it was the piece that preceded the opening titles which set the scene of what was to come from the Beeb. “The Scream of Science” won them an award and set the standard higher than ever before in Formula One TV production. ITV and RTL were about to be shown how it is done. Listen to the audio alone and try to count how many pieces of noise production there are. Then watch the images and count how many times you see something different. Nothing stays still. Nothing is for certain. This is why these videos are in a league of their own: every second has been meticulously planned and a perfect video has been produced. And then on top of that there is the narration. Clearly this man was perfect for the job, switching from hard-faced coldness to somehow being able to express real passion for technology and back again as quickly as the car you can never quite see on the screen. The slow motion footage of a bullet, like much of the video, is something you simply would not see on sports television elsewhere. It feels so out of context and yet so right at the same time. The whole thing is practically monochrome yet again it feels like so much more – it is almost too shiny and polished a production to be black and white, yet of course the special thing about this video is how raw it is. Describing the driver as “flesh and blood, riding out of its carbon fibre monocoque” and slowing down footage of synapses and a droplet of liquid to demonstrate “picking out a face in the crowd at 200 miles per hour” has surely never been done before. The juxtaposition of science and the “raw instinct to race” is genius and the spotting the face in the crowd footage is excellent. Of course there is not really a conclusion to this video as it is designed to flow on perfectly into the opening sequence. And it does. If you have ever wondered why the current BBC Formula One titles begin with a clap of thunder, watch it combined with “The Scream of Science” and you will understand.

The excitement of a new season – Australia 2011

For 2011, the BBC chose the theme of an old cinema reel playing footage of the season and seasons past in an old warehouse-type place. Hence why each Grand Prix’s coverage last year ended with a drone and a deep voice saying “Next time: China” or whatever the next race was in the 2011 season. This was the first time such a theme was used. The production is more sublime than ever, flicking fast through the years using footage which appears to be projected on a wall but looks incredible thanks to some clever colouring. The newspapers on the wall also look impressive and as for the cars in the garage or museum or whatever, it just gets you so excited for the new season. The overalls of Schumacher’s Benetton days and others rotate in cabinets in what feels like a showroom from the future. Just when it seems all old school effects with ancient footage playing off dusty reels, we get to 2010 and Webber’s fateful crash in Korea. As his Red Bull hits the wall, his car actually explodes. It is gimmicky and feels like the production team were being paid on commission for using visual effects but in reality they do not use them all that often so in this case it is very effective.

Yet again it is the simple effects which work best. Even when the camera focuses on a statue of the Ferrari emblem of the prancing horse, the reflection of a bank of overhead factory lights turning on is seen on close inspection. No-one would have begrudged the production team not using such detail but it looks all the more carefully produced and lavish in quality as a result. The Ferrari “confidential” team orders drawer in the filing cabinet is zoomed in on in such a way to remind one of horror movies and the way the camera shakes as it focuses brings even desert sand to life, and still the whole thing is seen as if projected on a wall. It is a fantastic production which reminds the viewer why they love the sport and then gives them a whole new angle to love it from. In short, it is the perfect start of season piece.

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3 thoughts on “Why The BBC Does F1 Best – Part One

  1. SKY cashing in again!! I’m really annoyed as i’m a british tv licence payer who loves F1 but due to this poor decision by the bbc i’m going to be left watching only 50% of the F1 season live as i don’t want to pay £50 p/month for SKY!!

  2. i love the BBC’s commentary team. brundle/jordan/coulthard/humphries is a dream team and they work so well. What are SKY going to do to compete? Will the folks get poached?

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