Last week Badger was lucky enough to be invited to an exclusive Q & A session with the Sky Sports F1 HD team so, donning our best clothes, our very own Adam Mills and Craig Norman headed to the Grosvenor Hotel to see what the channel will have to offer, as well as get thoughts on 2012 from Brundle, Croft, Hill and the rest of the gang!

Sky’s foray into covering Grand Prix racing has produced quite the panel of talent. Leading the line, and the keystone to the corporation’s coverage, is Martin Brundle as co-commentator, who is joined in the booth by fellow former BBC man David Croft. Expert analysis will, for half the races at least, be coming from World Champion Damon Hill, Ted Kravitz and Natalie Pinkham in their home away from home in the pitlane, with Georgie Thompson and Anthony Davidson providing analysis in the studio. Fronting the shows will be Simon Lazenby, who summed up the team’s passion to succeed:

Simon Lazenby

“We’re chomping at the bit and ready to go. We’ve not only got the best presenters and experts, we have the best people from around Sky behind the scenes working to make sure the coverage is the best it can be”, said the former Rugby frontman. “Going up against the BBC is a challenge. We can cover every aspect, nearly 24 hours a day, and having a channel like this means is when a news story breaks, we’re there.”

Georgie Thompson, who emerges from behind a desk after a decade on Sky Sports News, and Natalie Pinkham both shared Lazenby’s keenness. “The exciting part is to be involved with something from the very inception”, said Thompson. “We’re all raring to go, and it’s very much a team effort. There’s a real feeling of camaraderie, a real feeling of ‘let’s do a good job.'”

“And the blank canvas makes it more exciting” added Pinkham, “The coverage, like the sport, is constantly evolving.  We can make heroes of drivers that are further down the grid. These are the world’s 24 premier drivers, and some of them aren’t as well known as they should be.”

Martin Brundle

Martin Brundle was the key acquisition from the BBC and is now looking to take broadcasting to another level. “Sky have thrown hundreds – literally hundreds – of millions of pounds at this succeeding. Our budget is triple what we had at the BBC.”

Brundle will also be in a different role in comparison to 12 months ago with the Beeb.

“I realised halfway through last year when I was lead commentator that I just prefer being the co-commentator,” he said. “I enjoyed leading but I felt I had to force it a little. After the rehearsal with Crofty those thoughts were just reaffirmed.”

“I will be returning to the pit walk,” continued Brundle. “It’ll be as and when I fancy it really but being co-commentator gives me the chance to get down there.”

Croft, cheeky as ever, piped up with his thoughts on Martin’s pit lane exploits. “Now Martin’s training for Le Mans, he should be able to do the pit walk and then sprint up to the commentary box with time to spare!”

Badger was lucky enough to sample some of the rehearsal Martin mentioned. Both he and Croft are a perfect fit in our eyes and, with a few laps of last year’s Australian Grand Prix flying by, they hit it off instantly. A duel between Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber was summed up perfectly by Croft – “it’s like feeding the Christians to the lions, but handing them a spoon” – showing that the partnership holds promise of humour as well as insight.

David Croft

“We just want to have fun” said Croft. “We want to be informative, educating and entertaining but most of all we want to have a good time. It’s about the chance to do what we’ve always wanted to do, which is talk about a sport that we’ve always loved.”

And the audience was treated to a sneak preview of the channel’s other offerings with archive full race re-runs (a back-catalogue dating from 1988), the legends series, GP2 and GP3, technical and behind-the-scenes insights and a weekly magazine show with Georgie and Ted that will run throughout the year, even during the August break. Plus, the rehearsal was the first time we could experience the ear deafening brilliance of Dolby Digital 5.1 in all its glory, something that impressed both Martin and David.

“When we were rehearsing we kept on looking at each other because we could hear some music in the background of the audio,” gushed Martin. “When we finished we asked the guys where it was coming from and it was then we realised we were hearing the band that were playing down at turn nine on the day, the quality was that good and that clear!”

Damon Hill

Joining the team for a select few races this year will be 1996 World Champion Damon Hill, who is settling back into being involved in the sport after spending some time away working as BRDC chairman, and also helping his son Josh rise up the single-seater ranks.

“To be honest, I couldn’t bring myself to watch it after I retired,” he explained, “It was like watching an ex-girlfriend from afar. But I feel ready now. There was also a time when F1 was being dominated by a particular driver, and I didn’t fancy watching that!”

Naturally, talk of Hill’s rivalry with one Michael Schumacher led to an amusing anecdote. Asked by Brundle if he would be stewarding again, Hill said;

“I can’t do everything! I stopped stewarding after having Michael Schumacher in my office (in Monaco, 2010).”

Croft interjected: “You can’t get off this easily! So, Michael walks in, and you think…”

“Got you, you b*****d!” snapped Martin, sharp as ever.

Damon, laughing it off, continued. “All I’ll say is I wanted the ground to open up. That night I had death threats from Germany. It is an interesting subject, people still hark back to that rivalry. There’s not much of it about these days, bar Massa and Hamilton last season. But, I’ve moved on now”.

Looking to his new role as a pundit, Damon was optimistic. “I want to just provide an insight from a driver’s point of view. I won’t be modelling myself on any pundit, as the new boy it’s up to me to find my own voice and presence, but I expect to get a real buzz the first time we go live.”

Damon was also quizzed on whether he would be joining social networks, like most of his comrades. “I’ve tried Twitter, and my son has shown me, but I’ve resorted to texting again!”

Talk quickly moved to the panel’s thoughts on 2012, with many of them picking Mercedes as one to watch. It was the case of the usual suspects for others though.

Crofty, who recently had some betting success with the greyhound he owns, declined to pick a favourite. “Until I see a couple more tests, I’m not nailing my colours to the mast. If there was a shortlist, it would have Sebastian (Vettel) and Lewis (Hamilton), as he gives you that chance if the car isn’t very good, and he’s in a better place this year”, although he still went on to pick favourites. “I’d say Vettel, Lewis, Jenson for the odd race win and maybe see Michael Schumacher winning a race this year”. Brundle added that it was “way to early to say, but the blown exhaust removal will even things up this year”

Hill sees the new Pirelli compounds being key to success as well. “They’ll be the randomising factor this year. There may be races where that’s more of an issue, instead of everyone choosing the same way to go like last year.”

And on the returning Kimi Raikkonen, Anthony Davidson thinks the odds are against the Finn at Lotus. “I’m fully expecting Kimi to struggle, at least a bit” said the former Super Aguri driver. “I’m sure he’ll be fast, but to top it all off he’s got (Romain) Grosjean there, who no-one expects too much of. If he’s snapping on Kimi’s heels, it’ll make him look worse.”

One thing is for sure: Sky Sports F1 HD is going to be big, expensive and ready to satisfy all of our F1 cravings, starting March 9th. And we at Badger simply cannot wait.

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