Now’s the time when the yawn-inducing BBC Sports Personality of the Year programme hits our screens and frequent visits to the weather-forecast sites become the norm when planning business trips. Also, no one seems to be immune from “My Top Ten Awards” and that, I’m sorry to say, includes you as readers of the “Money, Egos & Speed” column. Before you tut and quickly head for next article, please bear with me! I promise I’ll resist the temptation to burden you with my list of the ten best race drivers in 2015.
I’m sure you’ll spend a lot of time on that particular topic in the weeks to come, together with your mates, businesses colleagues and family. My 2015 awards aren’t listed in any particular order of importance, but are based on my thoughts, memories and feelings during the past twelve months of TV motorsport action.
The Most Unimaginative Formula 1 Car Livery:
This was a tough one because, quite frankly, many teams were contenders, perhaps with the exception of Ferrari and Williams. Where has the imagination gone in Formula 1? Look back over the years in international motorsport and there have been some outstanding designs, cars that even on a TV screen stand out from their competitors. Remember the snake-like yellow Jordan’s or the blue Mild Seven branded Benettons, the Shell liveried Group C Porsches, the Penthouse Rizla F1 cars, BMW’s “art-design” Touring Cars and, of course, the unforgettable day-glow Marlboro McLarens. Turn on to IndyCar and NASCAR and you’ll see innovation, you’ll see fun and exciting liveries. Turn on to F1 and you’ll see “bland”. So which was the worst of a poor bunch? Despite some superb on-track performances, the award has to go to Force India.
The Christmas Pantomime Award:
It didn’t take much effort to work this one out. It has to go the FIA for their extraordinarily entertaining handing-out of grid penalties, which by the end of the 2015 F1 season, just like a good Christmas Panto, had everybody laughing, chuckling and looking on in disbelief. From Grand Prix fanatics to businessmen, from youngsters to grandparents, we were all wiping away the tears of mirth as yet another twenty-five place penalty was announced for Alonso, amongst others. “Oh no, they can’t do that”, everyone cried out. The response came back in traditional Panto style – “Oh yes we can!” – and they did. All that was missing was the Pantomime Dame in her finery… or was it missing? Answers please on a postcard! Sadly, for 2016 the engine penalty rule will be changed and we’ll have to find something else to amuse us.
The Best Motorsport TV Pundit Award:
There have been some really good performances over the season, but also some pretty mundane attempts by a number of celebrities to find that right balance between showing-off how just how tediously technical one can get whilst at the same time educating the viewers without either boring or talking down to them. There are several candidates for this Award, including David Coulthard, Eddie Jordan and Alan McNish. I have to say that none of them come close to my all-time favourite, James Hunt! Who could forget his gems of often biting wit? However, my award goes to a pundit who has really matured into the role after too many years of attending the Sir Jackie Stewart school of sponsor-speak. Take a bow David Coulthard, you’re the man!
“Oh no, they can’t do that”, everyone cried out. The response came back in traditional Panto style – “Oh yes we can!” – and they did.
The Worst TV Grid-Walker Award:
I’m going to switch categories of motorsport for this one. I personally find that many of the grid-walking presenters can be cringingly bad. I’m still not convinced that it’s a worthwhile exercise. I must admit, however, that now and again some real gems come up, such as Kimi’s far too explicit description of why he hadn’t got time to talk to the interviewer, as he rapidly disappeared into the pit garage! For me there was one clear winner of this award, a man whom I’ve always enjoyed listening to, but sadly not whilst he’s carrying a mike, diving between cameras and cables and displaying a burning desire to be a stand-up comedian at every opportunity. My award for creating the highest-level cringe factor goes to Neil Hodgson, who grid-walks the Moto GP Championship races. Sorry Neil.
The Best TV Motorsport Presenter Award:
This award goes to someone who has brought a breath of fresh air to the TV coverage of F1. All too often I find that in all sports, not just F1, many of the TV presenters become very obsequious, almost allowing their excitement at being in the presence of some big name sports performers, to prevent them from being objective in their coverage and interviews. As we know from our own TV screens, it happens in the music industry all the time. Its tiresome! However, certainly in the first two seasons within the sport, Suzi Perry has added a welcome foil for her two co-presenters, Eddie Jordan and David Coulthard. Unlike in some previous incarnations, this is no more the three stooges but rather a trio of opinions that appeal to all but the most anorak of F1 followers. In the process Suzi does a lot to attract new viewers to the sport, people who in the past have often found the coverage far too technical for their liking. When it gets technical she effectively knocks the “talking heads” together and brings some semblance of entertainment to the conversation. In the past, a ten-minute discussion about “Kers” would send half of the TV audience scuttling to the kitchen to make another cup of coffee to keep awake! That’s where, in my opinion, SKY’s coverage misses out. It caters for the pure F1 enthusiast and does a good job of that, but in the process drives away those who happened to find the F1 channel by mistake and hung in for a short while. On behalf of us non-tekkies, thank you Suzi Perry!
The Most Entertaining F1 Driver Award:
This category is a difficult one and on many occasions during the season could best be described as an oxymoron. Having spent a lot of time in America watching and being involved in American motorsport, where drivers are not shorn of their personalities by sponsor-speak demands, I find the general level of entertainment value produced by the current batch of F1 drivers as being somewhat lacking. There are a few who provide some value, but too many are simply clones when out of their car. I know a lot of people admire Kimi for his resistance to smiling, but it’s a little too predictable now. Last year Daniel Ricciardo was a joy to behold, but this year when things aren’t going so well, even he has quietened down considerably.
I suppose I’m being a bit harsh and perhaps this is the way all sport is going. We’ve become so excruciatingly politically correct these days that many sports personalities are scared of accidentally committing a faux pas on screen by making a comment that can be misinterpreted by the PC police. In the process, they stick to the script! Of all the current F1 drivers, I suppose that Jenson tells it more or less as it is and for that reason, the award goes to him. Hopefully it may go some way to brightening up a disastrous season on track.
When the team was winning everything in sight, I don’t seem to recall too much shouting about how it was the engines that brought this about, so you can’t have it both ways. It’s a team performance.
The Shock of the Year Award:
Sadly, there is little doubt about this winner. It has to go to McLaren F1 for providing the shock of seeing a team with such a stunning F1 pedigree, with two World Champions behind the wheel, deliver such a miserable performance in 2015, one that you literally couldn’t make up. It’s on a par with Manchester United being relegated from the Premier League. Yes, I know many of you will be saying that it is not McLaren’s fault and that it’s all about engines. That may well be the case, but when the team was winning everything in sight, I don’t seem to recall too much shouting about how it was the engines that brought this about, so you can’t have it both ways. It’s a team performance.
The F1 Father’s Day Award:
It seems that if you want to make it to the heady heights of F1 today, not only do you now need to bring a lot of money with you, but the connection of having a well-known motorsport dad won’t harm your cause. OK, so it happens elsewhere. If David Beckham’s son wants to be a professional footballer, do you think daddy will say that he’s not going to help? If the CEO of a bank wants his son or daughter to follow in his footsteps, we all know that it will most likely happen. That’s life, I’m afraid.
I worry, however, that we seem to be getting more than our fair share in motorsport of late, with another to arrive in F1 next year. I think the media must carry some of the blame for this, by giving in to pressure to carry features on the link, but I guess they’re just doing what the public want. So who gets the father’s award and why? I think it must go to former F1 World Champion Keke Rosberg, who has managed, certainly from our perspective in the UK, to keep a very low profile and allow Nico just to get on with his racing. Even when his son was obviously going through a difficult time, culminating in the loss of the 2015 title to his teammate, Keke was conspicuous by his absence. Good for him. It must have been tempting for him to dive into the media bun fight. That he didn’t can only be good for Nico.
The Motorsport Personality of the Year
My final award goes to Mark Webber, who’s shown us that there is life outside F1. He’s gone on to become a World Champion, but in the process still finds time to enjoy life away from race driving, attending many other motorsport and sports events, not just as big superstar strutting his stuff, but as a down-to-earth individual who is passionate about sport. To his credit, Mark also finds the time to take interest in helping youngsters in motorsport where possible. His concern for fellow countryman Darcy Ward, a 23-year-old Speedway GP rider, paralysed as a result of a crash in the last race of the season is typical of Aussie Grit. F1’s loss is WEC’s gain. What you see is what you get with Mark and I take my hat off to him.
Finally, I’d like to be a little self-indulgent and grant myself one Christmas wish. It’s to see a huge dose of enthusiasm, innovation and lateral thinking injected into the marketing departments of many F1 teams. The level of sponsorship acquisition within F1 is at a worrying level and yet there’s never been a better time to find a new breed of corporate sponsors. The world is changing at a dramatic pace with some outstanding new opportunities for creative sponsorship programmes. Too many F1 marketing departments live in a great big bubble or maybe an ivory tower. My wish is for a different approach to F1 sponsorship acquisition.