You could almost hear the collective “D’oh!!!” waking up thousands of families across the UK very early last Sunday morning, as F1 fans shouted their despair from downstairs, once again missing out on a crucial piece of race action – and this time possibly the most important moment of this year’s championship as Schumi retired at Suzuka.

It’s not the first time of course that ITV have dropped the ball in their television coverage of F1 this season; far from it – just another numbing low point in their poorly scheduled, ad-intensive product.

Actually I didn’t totally miss Schumacher’s crucial retirement as I was smart enough to be listening to Radio 5 Live, which boasts two major advantages for the serious F1 fan: firstly it features Maurice Hamilton, and secondly it doesn’t feature James Allen.
In fact it frequently also features the excellent Anthony Davidson; as complete and comfortable (and expert) a pundit as he is a driver. (Whether or not Davidson gets a race seat next year is my acid test of whether there actually is a god or if the universe we live in is no more than a cruel and meaningless void).

It wasn’t just the Japanese GP coverage that disappointed. Being an ‘away’ race it also meant that things like the crucial qualifying sessions got the usual careful ITV scheduling treatment, finally appearing on screen at the crack of mid afternoon on the Saturday.
I tell you if I had four digital TV channels at my disposal and had forked out a nebulous amount of money for the F1 broadcasting rights, I’d certainly make sure it took priority over the likes of ‘The World’s Funniest Animals’ and re-runs of ‘Emmerdale’.

When it comes to broadcasting Formula One on TV, you have to conclude that it’s something that’s far too important to be left to TV people. You also can’t help but wonder whether the Beeb might even make a better job of this kind of thing nowadays: they certainly seem to take clever use of their portfolio of channels more seriously.
Match that with a lack of advertising breaks and you can imagine that it might be a seriously compelling proposition. Nonetheless, I still can’t see any reason why commercial interests should make ITV’s coverage such a pig’s ear.

There are plenty of conceivable options as far as advertising in the F1 programming goes; from simply locking out adverts for the duration of the race (with more elsewhere), to leaving rotating web-style ‘banners’ on screen the whole time, or even allowing people to pay to ‘opt-out’ of watching adverts.
You could also look to a more heavyweight and complete sponsorship package of the whole product – or split it section by section. But you really need to take it all more seriously that ITV seem willing to do at present.

We’ve been here before, I know, but surely somebody needs to take Bernie aside and start talking about a proper multi-screen, pay per view, stand-alone channel, backed and produced by F1 experts.

Still; on we go to Sao Paulo for what could be an exciting and emotional end to the season, and to the end of Michael Schumacher’s career. Anybody fancy a wager on whether they cut the post-race coverage short to show that repeat of the episode of ‘Airline’ where that bloke can’t find his cello at luggage reclaim?

(*This article appeared in an edited form on Teletext on ITV; 16/10/2006)