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The ITV - any good at F1?

Howls of despair rang through the homes of motorsport fans throughout Britain last year. Why? ITV had won the rights to broadcast F1 racing and that meant one thing: advertisements.

ITV promised an innovative approach to F1 coverage. Sure, everyone thought, but is ITV's approach going to be fair compensation for breaking up the action with six two minute breaks during every race?

Well the evidence after ITV's coverage of the qualifying session is that yes - things actually look rather good.

First we had a program mid-week with Clive James following Damon Hill around for a week or so. Sycophantic, but entertaining in a gentle way. Then things went quiet until qualifying night.

And when I checked the TV schedules I have to admit to drooling a little. First off over the weekend was a late night 'behind the scenes' story on Stewart GP. Then a two hour show on qualifying - something the dear old BBC never did. Great! Then look at what's to come...

On Saturday night you can get your F1 fill for what seems like a solid 12 hours! First is another Clive James vehicle with loads of drivers looking awkward. Then we can throw in a race preview or two followed by a re-run of the classic 1996 film - Grand Prix. Excellent! But it gets better...

The Grand Prix is, of course, run live. The program is long in order to cover the build-up and then the post-mortem. The format is perhaps a little bit on the football coverage style, but it's not bad. Jim Rosenthal is certainly trying. He'll get better. I hope.

When the GP is over, don't go to bed! Stay up and watch some classic Formula One action.

If ITV can keep this up then the season will be full of interest. If they can't then it could turn out to be a bit of an anti-climax.

Time will tell, but so far it's 9/10 for ITV.

Dave Coveney.


Race Day : March 9th 1997

The Problem With Arrows...

Damon Hill suffered a dreadful start to his season in barely qualifying for Melbourne. At the other end of the grid his former team-mate was absolutely electric. Dave Coveney reports.

Aaargh! This was one of those frustrating qualifying sessions where you never really got a feel for what was going on until the very end. Even then it was confused by a red flag that resulted in a frenetic burst of activity from all the teams and drivers.

Initially the topic of conversation revolved around what tyres the drivers had chosen. New for this season is a regulation which makes the drivers choose a tyre compound prior to qualifying. They then have to stick with this compound right through to the end of the next day's race. The idea is to stop the tyre companies producing qualifying specials - a trick which leads to spiralling lap times.

It seemed that the majority of runners were going for soft compounds and praying for a reasonably cool Sunday. The Ferrari pair of Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine bucking the trend and settling for a harder compound.

But less of the anorak stuff. On the circuit Jaques Villeneuve started out in absolutely stunning fashion. Setting times that had the rest of the pitlane questioning the wisdom of even trying to compete, Villeneuve looked like a man possessed.

After just a few short laps Jaques had set a time a whole two seconds clear of the rest of the grid. A marker was set - one that Heinz Harald Frentzen would need to aim for. You could see that it was going to be a mammoth task for the German to even try to take pole position.

Meanwhile, Eddie Irvine seemed to be struggling to get some heat into his hard compound tyres. Instead of making smooth progress it was all smoke and fury.

And what about Damon Hill in his Arrows? Well he must have been regretting his move to the supposedly rising team. Problems throughout the weekend have left him running few laps and getting bugger all time to set the car up for the session. Then, to compound things, everything started to go wrong with the machine. Everything, that is, except the supposedly fragile Yamaha-Judd engine. The one consistent theme has been of errors being made by a team which is making the Ferrari organisation of 1996 look slick by comparison.

Eventually Damon managed to get some running but the car looked frighteningly nervous under braking and going through the corners. In fact, the car had suddenly become so bad that Hill looked as if he might not make the 107% qualification rule....

Moving further up the grid for a moment, the McLaren's looked great, but by the half way mark they seemed distinctly average. The Sauber of Johnny Herbert which eventually qualified in 7th looked better as it nestled in on the third row of the grid in 5th.

Fortunately for the McLaren team, they got their act together and started to improve - more than could be said for Jordan. They were floundering badly and showing none of the hoped for improvement that will be needed if they're to start competing with teams like Williams and Ferrari. Ralf Schumacher was making things difficult for the car as he revealed his inexperience by over driving the machine. If he wasn't careful he was in line for a trip into the gravel.

As the qualifying session entered the last 15 minutes Hill still hadn't qualified! For the current World Champion this was a sorry display by Arrows. Hill himself seemed to be wrestling with a car that was badly set up for qualifying and you just had to feel sorry for him. There's a lot of promise in the car. It's potentially very fast, the engine is advanced and the driver is one of the very best. Sadly it all comes to nothing if the team can't produce something a bit more reliable than a twelve year old Skoda.

Hill then came out and set a time that pulled him just within the limits. All that he had to hope for was that Jaques Villeneuve didn't pull out an even faster lap and 'bump' him off the back.

Suddenly, red flags everywhere! With just two minutes of the session remaining and the times seemingly set in stone the camera's panned across to the stranded Sauber of Nicola Larini. Although not a bad shunt there was debris everywhere and the only safe option was a brief halt to the session.

Two minutes. Just enough time for an out lap and then a final, crazy and desperate last attempt at improving your position. Most drivers, at least the ones with laps remaining, decided to go for it. As the deceased Sauber car was winched away it seemed like every F1 car in the world was being lined up in the pit lane.

The lights went green, and just then a spot of gamesmanship emerged from the Williams pit. The car of Villeneuve's suddenly being wheeled out in front of Frentzen's - there was every chance that this could prevent a trump on pole by the German. First onto the track was Schumacher. His car lowered down it screamed round the circuit with a shower of sparks trailing behind, but it was for nothing - Frentzen finally did what he needed to and put himself into second position on the grid. 1.7 seconds behind his team mate, but faster than everyone else. Villeneuve meanwhile just took the opportunity to wear his car out a little more by storming around but achieving little.

"I'm a touch disappointed with qualifying..." Damon Hill on his miserable weekend.

Hill managed to qualify 20th. That's not where a champion should find himself. Tom Walkinshaw will be kicking some butt when the team returns to Leafield next week. Let's hope it works - without half decent reliability Damon Hill doesn't stand a chance. Damon was amazingly diplomatic about it when he said he was "A touch disappointed..."

Hero of the day had to be Villeneuve. A stunning performance like that underlined both his own and his car's superiority over the rest of the pack. All he has to do now is win the race tomorrow....

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