Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull are close to taking the 2012 Formula One title – at least that’s the opinion of Sky Sports F1 lead commentator, David Croft.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso lost the lead to Vettel last month after heading the points standings for much of the season; however the inferiority of the Ferrari F2012 allowed Vettel to assume the top spot last month.
With only two races remaining, Vettel enjoys a ten-point lead over his Spanish rival, with the Red Bull man starting today’s US Grand Prix from pole. Alonso, meanwhile, will have to be content with 8th on the grid after a tough qualifying.
The commentator, who at the start of the season predicted Alonso to his third world championship, now feels the title may be slipping from the Spaniard’s fingers.
“It pains me to actually go against [Alonso], but I just wonder was Abu Dhabi his best chance of salvaging that championship lead, retaking it and getting his season back on track. I think the momentum has swung Red Bull’s way – Vettel starts in the pitlane and you think Alonso’s going back in the lead and boom we’re on again, but that was a cracking drive from Vettel.“
The Sky Sports F1 man still believes Alonso has a chance to turn the tide against Vettel, even citing Ferrari’s last champion as a prime example of a great comeback.
“Who would have thought in 2007 that [Kimi] Raikkonen would have emerged as the world champion at the end of that year, so I’m not going to change my mind, I’m still going to say Alonso.”
“Bar Australia when he went off in qualifying, I can’t remember him putting a foot wrong. You could argue that he shouldn’t have hung in there with Raikkonen in Japan into the first corner and that might be the one blemish on a championship season, where you think if he had backed off a bit, he wouldn’t have had the contact and would have gone on to finish and score points. Other than that, I think he’s driven an amazing season.”
While Vettel could very take the Drivers’ Championship at Austin later today, Croft is hoping Alonso can at least take the title battle to the final race in Interlagos.
“As fans, if it does go down to the wire, it will be brilliant and Interlagos is an amazing place for a championship decider. It is one of the great tracks that are out there and one of the best sporting atmospheres in the world.”
The closeness of this season’s championship has also helped Sky Sports F1 a great deal. Fears of yet another Red Bull domination proved unfounded; a blessing for Sky who entered into Formula One broadcasting in the UK for the first time this year. “There have been a lot of outstanding moments and I think we’ve seen some pretty good wheel-to-wheel racing. Vettel and Alonso renewing their rivalry at Monza, when Alonso went off onto the grass; that was just a thrilling battle. We’ve seen Lewis Hamilton really go for it, Mark Webber get stuck in with Alonso at times as well.”
The 42-year-old moved to Sky Sports F1 from BBC 5Live at the end of last year and admitted that while it has been difficult, it has also been a rewarding fixture.
“I come from a radio scene where there were just four of us. Anthony [Davidson] and Natalie [Pinkham] have come over […] as well, but I didn’t know Georgie (Thompson) or Simon (Lazenby) and I didn’t know Martin Brundle that well.
“We’ve actually all become really good mates and we’ve all loved spending the time together – you spend more time with your work colleagues than you do your family when you’re in a Formula One season. The fact that we brought all this to people is so satisfying and the way that people are switching onto Sky and are enjoying what we’re doing makes it all worthwhile.”
Unwilling to stand still, the Sky Sports F1 team are already looking forward to the 2013 season.
“There is a lot of chat about next year and we could give more than we have done this year.” He continued, “given that there has been about 3000 hours of F1 coverage so far on Sky Sports F1 HD, it’s difficult to think where do we go from here, but we’ll sit down and say ‘this worked or that didn’t work’ and we will try to refine what we hope the viewers think has been a good package anyway.”
While Sky Sports F1 may look to up the broadcasting stakes in 2013, Croft is aware that improving the product is going to be a tough task.
“There’s lots of things we’re talking about and in time, we’ll bring you any news that we’ve got. We’ve got 5.1 surround sound, so you are getting the best sound quality we could possibly bring you.” Croft added, “there’s a lot of talk about 3D and maybe one day if Formula One goes 3D we’ll be showing that as well. The F1 Show – 41 episodes this year, we’ve given a great magazine programme, but what else can you do?”
Despite that, the commentator admitted that ideas are beginning to flow.
“One of the things we’re talking about is more of a group talk style and get journalists in to discuss Formula One and to debate the topics as well.
”We’ve run a couple of programmes – there was a special in the summer just before the British Grand Prix with Bob McKenzie (Daily Express) and Johnny Noble (Autosport) – but actually getting journalists to talk about the sport and debate matters in the sport. There is as much debate and shouting in Formula One as there is great action and I think people like to get stuck into a bit of debate.”
It is now sixteen months since it was announced that Sky would be broadcasting Formula One and Croft hopes the on screen product meets fans approval.
“We’ve all come together with the sole purpose of bringing F1 to the homes of people and when I put my feet up on Christmas Day and watch our Christmas Special, what I’ll remember most is that not at any stage have we wavered in our ambition and determination to bring this sport alive to the fans.
“They way we’ve all come together, despite having never worked together before, but actually looked as if we’ve known eachother for our whole lives and the chemistry that we’ve got will be one of the most satisfying things of the season.”
It would be difficult to argue with that.
Leigh O’Gorman is a friend of the Sett at Badger GP and the editor of the motor racing based website TheMotorsportArchive.com. When he’s not dribbling over a laptop at home or in an office somewhere, he is probably spending his time traveling all over Europe covering various Formula 3 championships, as well as GP2 and GP3, while also dabbling in things like Formula Ford. Throughout 2012, he was also the British Formula 3 correspondent for MotorsTV.com