Uncharted Territory

July 13, 2009

Bring Back BBC Bias!

Filed under: BBC, Cricket, F1, Media, Sport — Tim Joslin @ 10:13 am

With so much sport to choose from, it takes something special to grab my attention – genuine rivalry, perhaps, like the Ashes. Or a special individual. I happen to think Lewis Hamilton is a driver of exceptional talent. My interest in F1, like that of millions of others, was rekindled when he burst on the scene.

I was therefore fuming when Hamilton’s McLaren suffered a puncture on the first corner of yesterday’s German GP, leaving him in last place for the rest of the race. Like millions of others I was interested to know exactly what had happened.

I was rather puzzled that Hamilton appeared to lose it at the first corner and not only ran wide but, at first sight, must have collided with another car (Raikonnen’s Ferrari was the candidate) on rejoining the race. OK, there’s a bit of “My boy can do no wrong”, about it, but such errors would be very uncharacteristic for Hamilton, who, as I said, is pure raw talent.

Sure enough, the plot soon began to thicken. It was announced that the Australian Red Bull driver Mark Webber, who ended up winning the race, was under investigation for an incident at the start. The BBC’s “expert pundit”, former under-achieving Scottish driver David Coulthard (if you’ve followed that Wikipedia link, then, like me, you’ll have been reminded that Coulthard’s last racing team was – you’ve guessed it – Red Bull) immediately announced that Webber had done nothing wrong. His comments suggested that his basis for this was that he “hadn’t seen a collision”.

At this stage we hadn’t seen any clear replays, so Coulthard clearly believes that he has the ability to monitor exactly what is happening over a few seconds to 20 cars speeding away from the start of a GP. No-one else can do this, especially whilst simultaneously commentating, so Coulthard is clearly superhuman and deserves every penny of the millions he earnt not winning many races.

Replays soon confirmed that Webber had in fact side-swiped Barrichello’s Brawn going into the first corner. Webber admitted in the post-race interview that he thought Barrichello was on the other side of him! Lucky he wasn’t on a public road, or he’d be facing a dangerous driving charge. Miraculously, the collision had little effect on Barrichello or Webber’s cars. On another day, though, Webber’s mistake would have taken out half the field.

David “Superman” Coulthard’s opinion was, of course, unchanged by the visual facts of what had happened.

Webber received a drive-through penalty, which was insufficiently severe to prevent him winning the race. What sort of sport is this becoming? When I used to watch, the penalty was a 10 second stop, as well as a drive-through.

What the stewards didn’t investigate, though, was what happened next. Webber bounced off Barrichello, and – no doubt shocked to have found a car already there as he headed to the apex of the first corner – also steered left where Hamilton happened to be going round his outside. It turns out Webber clipped the McLaren forcing him off the track and giving him the puncture that cost him the race.

But the Beeb’s narrative was what a “brilliant performance” by Webber. Sorry, I expect sports coverage to reflect at least some of what I feel about the event, not construct some dumbed-down narrative. Webber was lucky his car wasn’t wrecked after playing dodgems at the start; lucky F1’s punishment regime is a joke; lucky not to find himself behind Hamilton and Barrichello at the start (and vulnerable for a lap or two to Kers-powered overtaking moves by the Ferraris and Kovalainen’s McLaren); and lucky too, as it happened, that Brawn screwed up a Barrichello pit-stop, relegating the closest rival to the Red Bulls to 6th. Maybe there’s a reason the “brilliant” Webber had not won any of his previous 129 GPs.

Not only is the Beeb happy to give Webber more credit that he deserves, they are also apparently happy to do down the British talent:

“Hamilton had fancied his chances of scoring a podium finish after qualifying fifth – and a fuel-corrected third fastest.

But after benefiting from his Kers power-boost system to contest the lead with Webber and Barrichello going into the first corner, Hamilton missed his braking point and ran wide.

He got a puncture and rejoined last where for some reason the McLaren, which has a major aerodynamic upgrade this weekend, did not show the pace it had on Saturday.”

What’s this “fancied his chances”? Subtext: “but got egg on his face”, eh? And “benefiting from Kers”? – with the implication that he doesn’t deserve it. But he should benefit. The car has to carry the Kers gear around the track! And McLaren have made design compromises to put it in the car. And probably budget compromises too – working on Kers rather than other aspects of the car (only McLaren and Ferrari have effective Kers systems). I expect they thought F1 was serious about including this “green” technology, and that it wouldn’t be quietly dropped as is being done next season. And Hamilton was so far behind (he had to limp to the pits with his puncture) that there was no point flogging it. There may also have been other damage to his car.

Yes, much of posterity will believe this latest poor result was purely Hamilton’s fault. Anyone using the Guardian’s archive will get the same impression as at the BBC:

“Lewis Hamilton had a bad day after being forced into the pits shortly after the start with a puncture. He made a strong start from fifth but ran wide after turn one. He returned to the track but was bumped from behind almost immediately.”

Independent readers will see Kimi Raikonnen slurred by name:

“As for Lewis Hamilton, on a day when he and McLaren felt their year of woe would potentially end with a podium, he could not have anticipated it would end so disastrously and in such swift fashion.

From fifth on the grid, and aided by a push of the KERS button, the world champion made a storming start.

As Webber and Barrichello played dodgems, Hamilton appeared poised to take full advantage, only to overcook it and run wide into the sharp first-corner hairpin.

Returning to the track in fifth place, Hamilton’s right-rear tyre was punctured by the front wing of Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari, which was not to be the only incident of the day involving the Finn.”

Raikonnen has been wrecking a lot of other drivers’ races lately, but not Hamilton’s on this occasion.

Whilst the Independent is happy to report what a BBC commentator guessed had happened, the Times actually bothers to get it right:

“Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton finished 18th and last after an attack on the opening lap saw him involved in a collision with Webber that cost him a puncture.

Webber bashed into Barrichello’s car on the run from the start to the first corner, a collision for which he was punished with his drive-through penalty, but he overcame that with a dazzling drive to victory.”

After this, I woke up this morning expecting to hear the BBC revelling on England’s remarkable escape in the First Ashes Test – listening to the last overs of this had rather raised my spirits. But no, Auntie had decided “the angle” was supposed England delaying tactics. It did seem England had overstepped the mark (though part of Strauss’s explanation – trying to ensure the players out there knew how long they had to last – is very plausible), but this had no effect on the match – the Aussies lost no overs. The rule was 15 overs or an hour’s play whichever is the longer. Can anyone imagine the Aussies (or any other Test side) allowing the bowlers to achieve more than 15 overs in the last hour in similar circumstances?

Look, BBC, I pay my licence fee because – oh, sorry, you’re a monopoly – anyway, I expect what British viewers and readers would consider balance. Winning a GP after playing dodgems at the start is not “brilliant”, and to deserve to win a Test you actually have to look like being able to take the last wicket. If I want the Aussie angle, I’ll find out how to get their coverage over the internet!



  1. Good spot on the Independent thing – amazed they made such a mistake when you can see Hamilton’s tyre is deflated as he heads to the first corner:


    Think you’re being a bit harsh on Webber though – there was nothing wrong with his move on Barrichello (I’ve seen drivers get away with far worse, particularly ones called Schumacher) and the contact with Hamilton didn’t look deliberate.

    Pity, though, it would have been great to see what Hamilton could have done had he led after the first corner. Not entirely unlike his last race at the Nürburgring…

    Comment by Keith Collantine — July 13, 2009 @ 11:42 am

  2. It was a racing incident. I don’t think he should have had a penalty at all. If you guys had it your way, drivers would be totally discourage from attempting an overtake unless they were absolutely sure they could get through.

    Comment by Hammad — July 14, 2009 @ 1:28 am

  3. Wow you really hate Australians hey?

    Stop being such a sore loser simply because your poster boy Hamilton didn’t win, and your precious English cricket team didn’t win. Wah! Wah!

    Based on your rant, I guess the stereotype of English being whingers is correct.

    Comment by PinballLes — July 14, 2009 @ 3:32 am

  4. Tim sounds like one of those guys who actually thinks Damon Hill was the best driver in the world 1995/1996. I prefer to hear/read about the facts and opinions of experts than this biased nonsense.

    Comment by Dave — July 14, 2009 @ 7:19 am

  5. I think you’ve said it all yourself:

    “OK, there’s a bit of “My boy can do no wrong”, about it”

    Yes, you’re quite right, there’s actually quite a lot of this in what you’ve written.

    “Sorry, I expect sports coverage to reflect at least some of what I feel about the event”

    That’s fine, as long as you can be at least slightly objective.

    Comment by David — July 14, 2009 @ 7:37 am

  6. David,

    Yeah, objectivity is a tricky thing. I’m not claiming to be totally objective – nobody can – though I try to be. My problem is I’d like to see the BBC striving to be objective as well – not pointing out non-existent collisions (Hamilton on Raikonnen).

    Sure, I’m a bit of a Hamilton fan – I’d like to see how good he can be. It concerns me when he gets blame he doesn’t deserve.

    Maybe you don’t get the BBC’s coverage, but I’d prefer analysis aimed at an audience older than 12. Instead of saying Webber’s win was an unqualified “brilliant”, why not say he took advantage of several lucky breaks in the race (Vettel and the Brawns being conveniently held up as well as his erratic start and Barrichello’s pit-stop mishap)? And that it’ll be interesting to see if this win gives him the confidence to notch up a few more.

    I never understand this English whinging thing, especially as the boot seems to so often be on the other foot. When England fail to dismiss a number 11 in 35 deliveries, that’s what we focus on, not some irrelevant time-wasting (though I don’t like to see such tactics either). Maybe Ponting wants a few runs head start as well as an extra over or two at the death and, of course, runs that aren’t there to substitute fielders…

    Comment by Tim Joslin — July 14, 2009 @ 8:26 am

  7. Sorry Tim, but your facts don’t really support your rants. You agree that “at first sight”, the person who hit Hamilton appeared to be Raikkonen. That’s how Legard or Brundle called it at the time, until the second set of replays was shown during race coverage (about the time Webber was given his penalty). It was at that point that Brundle spotted Webber just nudging the back of the McLaren, enough to cause the puncture. From that point onwards, all of the BBC’s pundits and commentators agreed that there had been a tiny collision between Webber and Hamilton.

    Not only was David Coulthard not commentating, as you say he was, but he wasn’t asked for his opinion on the Barrichello incident until after the race, long after we had all seen many replays. That apart, as a pundit (not a commentator), he is not only able but expected to play devil’s advocate now and again – he positively plays up his Red Bull association, and has often been outspoken in his opinion that the stewards penalise drivers too much and that a certain degree of contact should be accepted as part of racing.

    It was fair enough for the commentators to jump to the conclusion that Hamilton had got a bit overexcited and outbraked himself into Turn 1. He has a lot of talent, but is impetuous on occasion and does make mistakes. The start at Fuji last year and the third corner at Brazil 2007 are the examples that spring to mind, but it’s happened more than that. Lewis’s move looked a lot like an attempt at replicating Massa’s start at Hungary last year (or his own at Spa 2007), and from the way he locked up and ran wide it appeared as if he’d overcooked it.

    The print media have a small excuse (submission deadlines) for reporting the incident incorrectly – NB the Guardian tends to look down its nose at F1 anyway – but I agree that online articles could make the correction. However, picking on the BBC’s precise semantics is going a bit far: “fancied his chances”? Nothing wrong with that; he did. Perhaps “believed he had a chance to”, or “was optimistic about”, but it’s a statement of fact. “Benefiting from KERS”… well, he did didn’t he? There’s no implication it was undeserved; the fact is that neither Webber nor Barrichello had the system, which is the only way Lewis got from fifth to (very briefly) first on entry to turn one. True statement. KERS can only be considered a disadvantage – when not well integrated – through corners and under braking.

    Webber has always been a very good driver, especially in the wet (which tends to reduce the influence of a good or bad car), but has had a reputation for years as one of the unluckiest men in F1, and has never before had a car with winning potential. To come back from a penalty (which cost him at least 20 seconds… I bet you weren’t complaining that a penalty no longer involves a disproportionate ten-second stop, when Hamilton got his drive-through in Fuji last year) to win, and to outclass his incredibly gifted team-mate all weekend, was a brilliant drive, no question about it. Look how quickly he closed on Barrichello when both were running in free air.

    I also saw the BBC’s Ashes coverage yesterday morning… yes they mentioned our slightly unsporting time-wasting, but only having hailed an exciting match, shown some happy Englishmen and frustrated Aussies (some of whom do live in Britain and also want to see balanced BBC coverage) and spoken about how lucky we were to be anywhere at all after being 70-5 with hours left to play.

    Comment by SiY — July 14, 2009 @ 10:30 am

  8. SiY,

    Huh? No mate. On the BBC coverage I watched, Coulthard was – OK, not commentating as such – but definitely punditing a lot. He pronounced on the Webber vs Barrichello incident at the start before he had seen what happened (he “didn’t see them make contact”) and refused to change his mind when he had.

    The Beeb seemed a bit slow on the uptake and too ready to blame Hamilton on this occasion.

    I agree Coulthard has views about how racing should be conducted. But when I watch football the pundits call the penalties, cards and so on according to the rules of the game as they actually are, not how they would like them to be. Coulthard does the opposite. The BBC’s product would be much improved for the average viewer who may be unaware of Coulthard’s views, if he had the sophistication to say: “That’ll be a drive-through, but I think the rules should be relaxed.”

    Personally I suspect the sport is likely to continue to insist drivers stay aware of each other and avoid collisions. It seemed to me less of a “move” by Webber on Barrichello than tunnel vision – putting his foot down and heading for his line at the first corner regardless of what anyone else did.

    I was referring to the BBC coverage of the cricket I caught on Radio 4 on Monday morning which dwelt on the time-wasting rather more than I felt was necessary.

    Comment by Tim Joslin — July 14, 2009 @ 11:17 am

  9. The Webber/Hamilton rub was a perfectly innocent racing incident, which in no way reduces the brilliance of Webber’s win. He dominated the race.

    Sure, have a go at inaccurate commentary, but give credit where it’s due.

    First time I’ve seen someone calling for MORE bias from UK F1 coverage. 🙂

    Comment by Ace — July 14, 2009 @ 2:21 pm

  10. I think the reason that the BBC jumped to thinking that Hamilton had made a mistake was because when you saw the incident for the first time and at full speed the Webber – hamilton Collision was so small you could hardly see it hapening until we’d had in car replays and slowed down replays and such, i’ll admit when i first saw it it looked like he’d outbraked himself and when your cmmentating you don’t get alot of time to process what your going to say especially when its the start of a race and theres so much going on, you simply report what you think your seeing which did look very much that Hamilton had overcooked it. I dont think this is the BBC putting down hamilton because when they’d seen the replays they agreed yes Webber hit Lewis. On the Barichello incident I can see Coulthards point of view, i did think he was kind of nuts when he was siding with Webber at first, it looked as if he’d obviously swerved in front of Rubens but when you saw the in car replay Webber didnt even move his steering wheel, he was just taking the normal line to the first corner and when he realised rubens was there the only choice he had was to avoid him and to do that he had to nudge Hamilton because there was no space, Webber should have been more aware but its kinda harsh to imply he was intenionally playing dodgems.

    Also I agree that Webber’s drive was exceptional, you can argue that he took advantage of some lucky breaks but thats a mark of a good driver, they make the most of everything theyve got and he truly did. Even after Vettel and co. werent being held up he was alot faster than them, i was watching the live timing and the only phase i remember when he dropped off was near the end of the race but when he did he was only doing the same lap times as everyone else on the field, any other time he was 5 tenths faster, thats why they’re saying he had an exeptional drive.

    Comment by Hazel — July 14, 2009 @ 4:43 pm

  11. you are joking aren’t you? you have to admit hamilton is not perfect.it’s not the first time his tried to win the race in the first corner. same as fuji last year. too unnesesarily aggressive. such errors are characteristic for him.
    you’re also wrong about coulthard. he said that webber was too aggressive but the incident was minor, given both cars were undamaged and barrichello entered the first corner in the lead. i recorded the race and just watched the start again. hamilton weaved in front of webber well after barra and mark had settled down. all hamilton’s wrong doing there. and webber did not steer left into hamilton. he was driving straight to the corner. i think it’s more like webber should be lucky not to have been taken out by hamilton. in fact webber responds to hamiltons presence and quickly steers to the right, a tad too late though. and the media makes mistakes all the time, often the reporters aren’t f1 fans. an article i read says webber joined red bull brawn in 2007. the aussies only get the british feed of the cricket. they didn’t make a big deal about it really, just got on with it and accepted that the game wasn’t lost in the last hour.

    Comment by Tom — July 15, 2009 @ 12:17 am

  12. […] qualifying for today’s Spanish GP. I’d hardly call myself an expert on the sport, but a previous foray into F1 commentary attracted a good deal of […]

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