’I unreservedly and grovellingly apologise.’ With that humble
phrase, we knew we were in safe hands. Sure, they had modified the
design, changed the livery, signed up new sponsors, recruited a
brand-new back-up crew and tinkered with the aerodynamics. But, at the
heart of it all, the driver was still the best in the business.
ITV has snatched an institution from the BBC, but dear old Murray Walker
was there at the wheel to give a top performance.
The executive producer, Neil Duncanson, had promised ’more interviews,
analysis, expert opinion and humour’. And, of course, more of that
Wrested from the middle-of-the-road conservatism of Auntie, the build-up
to this Australian Grand Prix was presented with pace, panache and
personalities. Jim Rosenthal encouraged just the right type of informed
but upbeat analysis from the experts, Tony Jardine and Simon Taylor.
As for the race coverage, Walker was ably assisted by Martin Brundle -
an effective debut by the ex-racer.
Any motorsports fan troubled by the intrusion of ads need not worry.
Five two-minute splash-and-dash breaks provided an oasis of commercial
calm in the multi-logoed mayhem of the race itself.
The ads slotted seamlessly into the schedule. Unsurprisingly, each break
opened with a car brand - mostly ones with no presence on the track -
with the advertisers attracted by an audience of ABC1 men, which, at
867,000, was double the normal ITV Sunday afternoon upmarket male
figure. The Australian is the only Grand Prix to go out in the small
hours: from here on in, each of the 16 races will be broadcast in the
mid-afternoon to more than three million men.
Texaco’s top-and-tailers caught the mood although, strangely, the
chequered flag was followed by a pit-stop creative. A minor mishap in an
otherwise impressive opener.
Sean Jefferson is the head of sponsorship at Western International