Sky Sports F1 recently announced their plans for F1 in 2017, including a new recruit – ex Williams technical chief, Pat Symonds.
Badger’s Rob Watts spoke to Pat and fellow Sky Sports commentator, Martin Brundle, to get the lowdown on Pat’s new role and find out their thoughts on the upcoming season.
“I’m right out of my comfort zone. Forty years of doing the same sort of thing and then joining you guys, reporting on it all,” says Pat.
“I’m really looking forward to it. My passion is not just racing; it’s engineering as well. I enjoy trying to get that across to people as well. I’m going to have a damn good go at trying to improve [Sky’s] communication of the sport to the punters, and I hope it works.”
Until recently, Pat had been chief technical offer at Williams, and with his exit only announced in December, I asked Pat if the move towards broadcasting had already been in his thoughts.
“I had been thinking about it for a while. I was contracted with Williams to the end of 2016; they asked me to extend, but for various reasons, things didn’t work out. I had been thinking about what my next move might be, but I guess in the end it did all kind of happen quite quickly.”
The Pat and Martin Reunion
Pat’s move to Sky will see him reunited with Martin Brundle, 25 years on from their time together at Benetton. About to start his 21st year as an F1 commentator, Martin thinks Pat will bring something new to their coverage this year.
“I’m really excited Pat’s joining us – especially this year, as there’s such a massive reset with the cars. We’re going to see upgrades, and we’re going to need to understand the meaning of those and the impact,” Martin explains.
“Whenever Pat writes something, I try to make sure I read it because he has a nice way of putting across hugely complex things in a nice bite-size format, and I like to think I can do that in the commentary box as well.”
Managing the audience
With twenty years of broadcasting under his belt, Martin points out that the challenge often comes in appealing to different sub-sections of their audience.
“You have to remember that our commentary goes all over the world to a lot of other English speaking countries. You’ve got the real petrol heads who understand it more than we do, and you’ve also got the person who was going to cut the grass, but it started to rain, so they came in and realised that the Grand Prix is on. You need to give something to everybody.”
Martin adds, “One thing I learned very early on, is to never under-estimate a sports fan’s knowledge and appetite for more knowledge. The great Murray Walker said to me, before our first race in 1997, ‘We are here, Martin, to inform and to entertain’ and I’ve remembered that ever since because he’s absolutely right.”
“You have to have the style and the information right, but I think we’ve got all those ingredients this year.
2017 – Entertainment Guaranteed?
With Formula 1 moving in a new direction this year, both Martin and Pat were cautious when I asked if Formula 1 was in a position to ‘entertain’ fans this year, as many will be hoping.
“I don’t know yet – I like to wait until Christmas Day to open my presents,” jokes Martin, “I will wait until we get to the first few races to see what we’ve got. Formula 1 is hugely complex, and there are often big surprises, but in my heart of hearts, I think we’ve gone the wrong way on a number of fronts — and I hope I’m wrong.”
Pat echoed Martin’s concerns but offered some hope to fans looking for some close racing this year.
“I think what we will see is some great midfield racing, but I am worried about the front. I am worried about Mercedes dominating again, but I really think there are some people closing up and there’ll be some tough racing.
“If we are to entertain and inform, we have to take the story all the way down because those guys fighting for tenth – it’s their living, it means so much to them.”
Brawn’s Non-Championship Races?
With several major changes on track, Formula 1 is going through a major transitional period off-track at the moment. With Ross Brawn now at the helm, both Martin and Pat are keen to see some of Ross’s ideas pushed through – including suggestions of a non-championship race in future.
“I saw Ross’s comment on that, but I don’t know where the money would come from – I suppose you could sponsor it,” Martin suggests.
Pat offered a slightly different point of view, adding that any non-championship events in future could be compulsory.
“In order to enter [the championship], you might have to do it. I think the teams would probably do it anyway, it’s not compulsory to go testing, but all the teams do it. I think it’s a good opportunity to trial a few things.”
Sky Sports F1® will show all 20 races this season, live in UHD for the first time with Sky Q, starting with the Australian GP, 26 March.
Many thanks to Martin and Pat for their time.