|An Occasional Column from the Antipodes||by Rory Gordon, Australia|
The "expert" commentator. The "colour" commentator.
It's one of those jobs that fall to former participants in the particular sport.
They're a funny lot. Some of them are a great mix of being informative, entertaining and interesting; others may be all of those, but are also totally unintelligible to me - a strange dialect of English that I cannot understand. Then there are others who seem to have a total inability to string two words of English together, injecting more umms, errs, yeahs, rights, and other fillers into their comments than you can poke the proverbial stick at.
They were players-in-the-game who happened to get lucky, for whatever reason, and are able to sit in a commentary booth, spout words ... and get paid for it. We shouldn't really expect that all former players necessarily make good expert commentators. After all, many of us can drive, but how many of us are good enough to be an F1 driver?
But the basic idea is that these people should provide the TV viewer some insight of what it is like to "out there, doing it"
Over the last few years, TV viewers who got the BBC coverage and commentary of Formula One had either James Hunt or Jonathon Palmer as the expert alongside Murray Walker. Each of these have had a totally different style.
At times, listening to Hunt, you got the distinct impression that the drivers on the circuit weren't real drivers, and that the art of driving died when Hunt retired. At other times, you got a real feel for what the driver may well have been thinking as they hurtled past. I suppose you could say that, even though he was alongside Murray, Hunt was providing the emotions.
Palmer, on the other hand, seemed much more analytical. His discourses on possible pit strategies could be fascinating or totally boring - rarely in-between. But let's not forget that the drivers were in much the same situation as he was, and never really knew what their opposition was going to do. It was just a case of waiting and seeing.
There's another, rare, sort of expert commentator - the arrogant one. They may well seem informed, intelligent and well-spoken, but every now and then they let slip - "if you haven't done it, you can't talk about it."
And yet, there they are, sitting up there in their commentary box, getting paid heaps of money to do their job. So, what is their job? I think it is to translate for the fans what is happening out there, what the participants are feeling - to provide "colour" to the picture on the screen, that's why they are "colour commentators".
But you have to ask yourself, what qualifications do these colour commentators really have for these commentating jobs? They've played the game, and then they've moved into commentating.
What time have they spent queuing up for tickets? How many dollars have they laid out to get those tickets? Have they been herded around like cattle ... and had to pay for the "privilege"? Have they had to buy over-priced, under-sized food, and to queue for ages to be allowed to use blocked, stinking toilets? Have they stood out in the freezing rain, or the boiling sun? Have they had to (almost literally) fight to get a spot where they can get just a glimpse of the event? Let's face it, what do they really know about what the average fan actually wants to see and hear?
And they have the nerve to say, "if you haven't done it, you can't talk about it." When was the last time one of them stood and watched the event from the bleachers, the outfield, the terraces, or general admission?
If you extend that line of thinking - well, okay, that tirade - a little further, you could start to ask a few more questions. But not of the commentators ... of the F1 authorities. To what extent do they know what the average fan wants?
And, let's face it, it's the average fan that makes F1. If they didn't turn on the TV, go to the races, buy the souvenirs, queue up for those disgusting toilets, and buy the products that are advertised on the cars, there wouldn't be the gravy-train for all those people to be onboard.
The Max Moselys and Bernie Ecclestones of the F1 world let us see a very tight view of the F1 world. The whole thing is packaged beautifully. Fast, sleek cars in locations all around the world, lots of money and technology, and danger.
But, to all intents and purposes, the Maxes and the Bernies would probably rather that the fans didn't show up at the track at all. After all, all the fans do is to get in the way, thinking that they might actually get to see one of their heroes, let alone actually meet him and get his autograph. The fans just mess the place up and get in the way of the TV show.
Maybe I'm jealous that I don't get to sit in a pit-top glass cage, relaxing with a glass in one hand and a woman in the other, gazing down on the common plebs at their play.
But could you imagine Monza without the tifosi? The screams of delight when a Ferrari makes a move or the palpable sigh of despair as one drops out. Or Hockenheim without the flag-waving, fire-cracking, trumpet-blowing crowd. Or Silverstone without the stiff-upper-lip blatant favouritism for the current Briton-of-the-season? (Monaco is a different matter altogether, with the whole place just being one huge pit-top glass cage.)
No, for me, it's not only the sight and sound of the cars that makes an F1 race, but the crowd as they jostle their way around the place, buying up every over-priced bit of stuff that they can find (I'm one of the worst) ... and getting ripped off for every one of those over-priced bits and pieces, and consuming every scrap of that ghastly food as though it was THE Last Supper.
Come to think of it, who needs the race? (Only joking!)
But that's just me.