I don’t remember when or how I got into Formula 1 racing, but I do know that the sound of the voices that welcomed me into this strange international subculture. For as long as I have been a fan, commentators David Hobbs and Steve Matchett (joined over the years by Bob Varsha, Leigh Diffey, and Will Buxton) were the voices of F1, and because of them F1 was a place of dry wit, unsparing judgment, and boundless enthusiasm. For the last twenty years, I spent my weekend mornings listening to that crew educate me on what became my favorite sport. This weekend, when the new F1 season began with the Australian GP, those voices were gone.
Nothing tragic happened, except in the sense that losing a connection your past often feels tragic, a foreboding taste of mortality and time that reminds you of how impermanent are the things that we think of as fixtures in our own lives. For most of my life, Sunday mornings in the spring and summer have been a time to gather with my friends on the television to watch a race together and share our pity for “poor auld Ralf Schumacher” and our growing disbelief at whatever asinine thing Pastor Maldonado just did. Now, I’m watching the race with strangers. I still love the sport, but it no longer feels like family.
The kind of connection I forged with this evolving crew of British, American, and Australian racing commentators is more commonplace in this era of podcasts and personality-led media ventures. But in the 1990s, the cozy familiarity in that commentary booth, and the no-bullshit style of critique they applied to every aspect of F1, made the entire venture feel both personal and illicit. It felt like this sports broadcast was happening just out of earshot of the kind of people who want to make sure “the brand” is properly represented and due deference given to “partners and stakeholders”. By Sunday afternoon you’d be back to hearing sportscasters shilling for the NFL, but in the early morning you’d get to hear some seasoned veterans just acknowledge what was staring everybody in the face. It felt revolutionary.
Now, with the rights to broadcast F1 in the United States passing to ESPN and away from NBC, the old broadcast crew has been put aside in favor of a rebroadcast of Sky’s racing coverage. It’s a good team and the Sky have some brilliant motorsports journalists and commentators, but it’s also another step away from those long-ago F1 breakfasts with my parents in our old house, before the flood, before the move, when two dogs I still sometimes dream about slept lazily on the floor between the couch and the TV.
Have there been any TV personalities or sportscasting teams that you’ve forged a relationship with? Has anyone going “off the air” left you feeling less engaged with a pastime you loved?
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/qvxbpp/a-change-in-sports-broadcasters-has-emotionally-wrecked-me