News Voices

AGP THURSDAY – PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

THE THURSDAY of the Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix is the kind of day where a lot happens – but nothing really happens at all.

And in TV land, the term ‘hurry up and wait’ seems pretty apt – but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite: It’s like the view of the Melbourne CBD from the middle of the Albert Park lake – it looks peaceful and serene, but you know that it’s a hive of activity, bustle and energy.

Inside the Formula 1 International TV compound, the Network Ten area is abuzz with activity as the collected production team of more than 60 people work to assemble a mammoth 20-plus hour broadcast of this year’s event.

Along with the Big Bash League coverage over summer, the Grand Prix represents Ten’s largest Sporting coverage of the year. It’s important to the network from a corporate sense, but perhaps more so in visibility around one of the highest profile events on the local sporting calendar. And an enormous amount of work goes into it.

But Thursday is a strange day because as support categories practice, qualify and race on track, there’s no live TV until 10:30am local time on Friday.

So in the TV compound, Thursday is a day to get things right before going live on Friday. Like the racing teams practicing on track, Thursday represents the chance to get everything right before the pressure of live television starts.

In the large production office in the compound, an early morning staff meeting brings the crew together as Ten’s head of Sport, Dave Barham, and senior producer of the Formula 1 coverage Steve Hurson brief the whole crew on the weekend’s operations.

Barham speaks about the importance of being ‘live’ – grabbing a driver when the opportunity presents. The theme this year is being ‘out and about’ – getting in the paddock, in the driver arrivals area and in the drivers bullring to get the drivers as they become available. The goal is to get people into the event feeling as much as possible rather than being trapped in a studio.

Matt White, one of the sport’s most consummate professionals, also speaks about the opportunities around editorial content around the F1 circus and the array of potential story-lines within the sport this year.

The BBC’s Tom Clarkson, still tired from a Thursday arrival into Melbourne from the UK , also talks to the new cars and the stories from within the F1 bunker.

Mark Howard, fresh from a stint on Triple M Melbourne’s Rush Hour drive show for the last five weeks, brushes up on his F1 knowledge while at the same time prepping for the Richmond-versus-Carlton AFL opener he will call for the radio network at the nearby MGC tonight. The capacity for professional broadcasters to take in information never fails to impress – at the same time as working out the ins and out’s of Formula 1 politics, Howie brushes up on the number changes from the two, 22-man squads each team has named for the big opener.

It’s a surreal world, actually. Alan Jones is here, the 1980 World Champion remaining a presence wherever he walks amongst the Formula 1 faithful that crowd Albert Park, even on a Thursday. He’s pleased that his segment ‘AJ’s rant’ is back this weekend, after making it’s debut on RPM earlier this year. AJ is a man of opinions and in a sport where it’s often rare to get an honest-to-god opinion on the state of play in the game. It should be fun.

Meanwhile, Adam Gilchrist finally has a chance to ensconce himself in Formula 1 after a hectic week, that culminated last night in a swanky launch of a company for which he’s an ambassador, Quintis Sandlewood – that included an entertaining chat with Dan Riccardo. Gilchrist, as full of energy and enthusiasm off-air as his on-screen persona indicates, loves the F1 weekend and the chance to talk about something other than Cricket.

Though it must be said, between Howard, Gilchrist, Jack Perkins and yours truly, it doesn’t take long for the discussion to switch to the forthcoming fourth test in India.

Later on Thursday, the production switches from prep to.. more prep – but this time it’s in the form of a complete replica of tomorrow’s live broadcast.

All the crews will be in position in the truck, pit lane, commentary box and paddock and a full run-through of the production takes place. It might seem logical, but it’s a chance to make sure all the little things work. Is the microwave link from the paddock cameras to the broadcast truck clear at both ends of the lane.. and from Mark Larkham’s base in the Supercars paddock?

Does the talkback from the talent to the truck work?

Can the commentators hear the truck talking to them in their base on the far side of the circuit? And so on. Everything is tested and tested again to make sure it works for when we go live on Friday.

By the end of a long day, after Supercars qualifying is finished at about 6pm local time, everyone will decamp to the hotel feeling confident about the way the weekend will unfold.

Like a well-drilled racing outfit, the team will go into the race mode ready to go.

So, Thursday at the Grand Prix really is the day where not a lot happens – but actually, quite a lot happens after all.

Richard Craill is working for Network Ten covering the Supercars, Porsche Carrera Cup and Australian GT this weekend at Albert Park. Catch the coverage on ONE on Friday and Ten on Saturday and Sunday.

WORDS: Richard Craill