A couple of weeks ago, shortly after Mark Webber won the Brazilian GP and Britain’s Sky TV announced plans for an HD channel dedicated solely to Formula One starting in 2012, I contacted TSN about their plans for next year.
TSN has been showing F1 races and qualifying rounds for years, most recently by picking up the feed from the BBC. But the Beeb will only televise 10 of next year’s 20 scheduled races live while Sky will have them all (plus all practice sessions, etc.) and, in fact, has hired Martin Brundle to head up its broadcasting crew.
Now, I haven’t heard back from TSN. I suspect there are any number of reasons for this, all of them legitimate. When they have something to say, I’m sure they’ll call. The season doesn’t start till mid-March, so there’s plenty of time.
But I was discussing the situation with a friend of mine yesterday afternoon and, at the end of the chat, he said this: "Maybe TSN won’t have any F1 next year. Maybe we’ll get to watch it on Speed TV."
I agreed with him (although I stressed that I thought it highly unlikely). But then I got an email later in the day that contained some unsettling news.
Hunter Nickell, president of Speed since 2005, has resigned and will leave at the end of the year.
Now, I don’t know Hunter Nickell from Adam, but I do know that in recent years the Speed weekend racing coverage during the season has gone from a one-hour Sunday night wrapup program to pretty much wall-to-wall coverage of the sport during the weekend, starting Friday.
Host Adam Alexander would pop up before the first race of the weekend, usually the Friday night NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, with an update on that weekend’s racing calendar (sports cars, motocross, Moto GP, Formula One and IndyCar races, as well as NASCAR) and then would update with other pre-race reports and results through Saturday and on into Sunday evening.
Kind of a mini-CNN on wheels.
As well as his work strengthening motorsport news coverage in general, Nickell also beefed up coverage of, and solidified relationships with, F1, Supercross and Grand Am in particular.
Now, on the surface, his resignation might not seem like that big a deal. But every time there’s a change at the top of just about anything, the new guy (or woman) moves to put his or her stamp on things.
For instance (and I bet you didn’t know this), the minute the president of a major film studio is replaced, every movie in production at that time goes straight to digital. They are not released in theatres. Why? Because the new head honcho doesn’t want to have to take the blame for any turkeys in the bunch and he/she sure doesn’t want to have to pass on any praise to the guy who was fired.
It’s the same with TV.
It’s highly unlikely that the new president of Speed is going to leave everything as it is. Maybe he/she won’t be that big a racing fan. So maybe the weekend racing coverage, or some of it, gets whacked.
Maybe the new person loves NASCAR and isn’t much of an F1 fan. Uh-oh, I can hear you say. But it’s possible this change could have an effect on Speed's F1 coverage.
Or maybe not. (It really doesn’t matter to us in Canada now, because Speed’s F1 race coverage has been blacked out in recent years. But if TSN or Sportsnet passes on F1 in 2012, and Speed’s coverage is altered, we could be in a fix . . .)
What I am saying is that Speed TV under the leadership of Hunter Nickell has been a good friend of all motorsports and fingers should be crossed that this across-the-board approach continues.
Now, speaking of Formula One, it’s really interesting to watch how Lotus-Renault CEO Dany Bahar is now speaking out of both sides of his mouth so far as the return of driver Kimi Raikkonen is concerned.
Bahar had some of the world’s motoring press over for lunch in London on Monday and said that he fully expects Raikkonen to have some difficulty adjusting to F1 after being away from the sport for two years (ya think?) but that the team is quite prepared to give him all the time he needs.
Said M. Bahar: "You cannot expect from a driver that was absent for two years to come back and adapt to the new tyres and new regulations from day one, so he needs his time. But whether this time is three days, six races or 20 races, we will see. What is important is to see how his tendency goes towards the performance. If it is always improving, then of course we will give him the time."
All very well and good. But then, he said this:
"He knows he has to deliver. . . He is not the same kid as he was at Sauber and at McLaren. These are different times, he has to deliver and he realises that."
Well, which is it? Is it, "We will give him the time?" or is it, "He knows he has to deliver?"
This guy Bahar won’t last long if Raikkonen doesn’t live up to what’s expected of him. And on top of that, he’s about to record an even bigger loss in the arena of public opinion.
The contract Renault has with Robert Kubica, the popular Polish driver who was nearly killed in a rally accident at the beginning of the year and was unable to return to F1 racing as hoped, is about to expire and Bahar seems content to let him go.
As a good friend of mine noted a few weeks ago, when that happens, Kubica will become a test driver with Ferrari and if he can recapture his old speed, will be a very good bet to replace Felipe Massa in 2013.
And if that happens, Dany Bahar’s career in F1 could come to screeching halt.