My job in F1: Sky F1 lead commentator David Croft
In the latest instalment of the My Job in F1 series, delving into the work of figures in the Formula 1 paddock, we meet Sky F1 lead commentator David Croft
Much like the drivers, when the five lights begin their countdown and the engine notes rise, the TV commentator really comes into their own. It is their job to guide the watching audience through the day's racing, treading the fine line between being informative enough to satisfy hardcore fans without alienating casual viewers, and showing their passion without overstepping the mark.
It's a role that David Croft has performed for Sky Sports F1 since the channel took over broadcasting of Formula 1 in 2012, and previously on BBC Radio 5 Live.
My job is...
I am a lead commentator for Sky Sports F1 - that's what it says on my job description. What does that mean? Well, it is my job to bring the excitement, passion and knowledge of what I've always considered to be the greatest sport in the world to as many people as possible, tuning in throughout the world every Sunday afternoon. But it's not just Sunday afternoons, it's Saturday afternoons and Fridays as well, because I'm privileged to work for an organisation that adores Formula 1 as much as I do and every time an F1 car is on-track, we will be there covering it.
Outside of that, it's my job as well to be part of the presentation team for Sky Sports F1 and take part in the huge amount of varied programming that we compile and produce each and every grand prix, and outside of races as well.
I'd like to think that I am the fan in the commentary box in terms of my interest and my passion for F1, but a fan with knowledge. I have access to some of the greatest racing drivers and experts in F1 throughout the years, and get to hang out in the F1 paddock to extend that knowledge.
I'm kind of the person that gathers the knowledge, finds out the stories, researches the narrative for each and every grand prix in order to help deliver that story with the people that I am on air with - Martin Brundle, Anthony Davidson, Paul di Resta, Karun Chandhok, Johnny Herbert, Damon Hill, all those guys - and link it all together.
It's my job to spot the stories within the race, qualifying, and practice as they're happening and deliver that to the audience. It's my job to basically help people enjoy F1. It's a great challenge and a wonderful privilege.
Every time I open my mouth, when I go on air, I have absolutely no idea what's coming next. But I have to be prepared to react to whatever is happening, spot the goings on and help the people that are watching understand what's happening as well. And that doesn't mean putting forward my viewpoint all the time. That means helping steer a conversation, and helping the experts that are with me deliver their viewpoints.
It's my job to ensure that we make great TV, great sports coverage, and hopefully give people the most interesting, exciting and passionate coverage of the sport that we all love. I suppose that's a very long-winded way of saying that it's my job to talk a lot!
My race weekend schedule...
Do I have a typical race weekend schedule? Yes and no, to be honest. There's no such thing as a typical race weekend. We have a schedule, we know what's coming and when it's coming, but we don't know what form or what context that's going to take.
Preparation is the most important thing. Failing to prepare, you prepare to fail. You can't wing it. You can't bluff it
What I know is that we get to the track on a Thursday morning, we have a production meeting and then we will go about our businesses. And my business on a Thursday is to go and listen to as many drivers speak, and talk to as many team principals and technical experts as I possibly can. Then we typically have a show on a Thursday that I take part in.
On Friday, we'll be at the track bright and early, because it's a very busy day. We have two practice sessions to commentate on. And then we have a show that I'm involved with after second practice. On a Saturday morning, we'll be commentating on practice. It's interesting: things just kick up a notch after practice on a Saturday, and we then go to qualifying. Then it starts to get serious, what happens on that track now really counts.
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On Sunday, we get to the track, we have a production meeting in the morning, we go through the show, and we go through the segments of the show. I find out what I'm going to be involved with outside the commentary, and then I'll disappear off into the paddock, and once again I'll talk to as many people as I can to try and understand the various strategies of the teams - not so I can tell people before what's going to happen, but to make sure I'm ready for it and to explain why it's happening.
I'll get to the commentary box about 10 minutes before we go on air. That's where I get to sit and listen to the show that we're putting out, and I'll get to finish off writing my notes. I handwrite my grid and all my notes, because it helps it to stick in my mind. It's an easier way of memorising and remembering things.
I'll jot down a few ideas for the segment that I'm involved with on the green lights, where we go from Simon [Lazenby] to Ted [Kravtiz], to me, down to Rachel [Brookes] and I try and come up with something interesting to say to set the scene and to start to get people excited about the race to come.
Martin will join me in the commentary box after the grid walk, and we go live and I'll commentate on the race. I'll stand there and I'll talk about F1 with my mate Martin, and we'll be a couple of guys just having fun for the next two hours.
After that it's a bit of 'Ask Crofty', answering the questions from the fans. And then, if there are any stories that we are the chasing, I'll help, and then finish up and head off to an airport to either come home or to fly on to the next grand prix.
Most important thing in my job...
Research. Preparation is the most important thing. Failing to prepare, you prepare to fail. You can't wing it. You can't bluff it. Preparing for as many eventualities as possible I think is the most important thing, otherwise you're going to get caught out - even after the 267 races I've commentated on from Bahrain in 2006 up until the present day.
Three tools I can't do my job without...
Well, first is my Jacques Deschenaux Grand Prix Guide. I am a bit old school there, and sometimes the computer says 'no'. So I have a reference book at my fingertips that I do refer to a lot, because you want to put out the right information. There's every record of every single grand prix from Silverstone 1950 right up to the present day in that book, and all the stats you need on drivers, teams and engines, so the Jacques Deschenaux book is always there as a little comfort blanket, if I need it.
Then it's my headset and my microphone. I couldn't do without those, obviously, because there's no good talking if no-one can hear you. When we started at Sky, actually Martin and I both said, "Can we not have lip mics? Can we have headset mics?" It's just so much easier to move around, to stand and talk, to have hands free, when you're not holding a lip mic all the time. And also if you're pressing a lip mic up against your face for two hours it gets a bit uncomfortable. They give us state of the art microphones, so that you can get the best sound quality.
Then there's my monitors. I have various monitors to allow me to see as much as possible to help with the commentary. The GPS tracker, for instance, is a brilliant tool for us commentators, because it shows every car going around the track for every single lap of the race. There were times when the picture will show that you're on board with someone and you're thinking about who is that car up in front, because you can't recognise a rear wing. But I know I'm onboard, let's say, with Romain Grosjean and then I can go to the GPS tracker and say "oh, yes, the car in front of Grosjean is Nicholas Latifi".
We have the pitlane channel, we have our transmission channel, which is sometimes different than what's going out in the world feed. I've got the various FIA timing screens, I have a laptop in the commentary box as well, and I also have two monitors that are completely independent from the rest. That way, if something did go wrong in terms of the power, for example, I can switch to those monitors and we're not going to go off air.
Things happen behind the scenes that the audience don't know about and hopefully will never realise. And because we're prepared, we make sure that people don't realise that something went wrong.
We have a hugely talented team of people in front of and behind the camera, and life would continue without me if I wasn't there. I would prefer if I was there, though, because I really like my job
I couldn't cope without my notes as well. They're all handwritten, that cover every driver and every team.
I'd also like to say that I couldn't do my job without my portable speaker, because I do like to play a bit of music before I go on air, just to get myself in the mood. And that often tends to be a lot heavier than what Paul di Resta, Anthony Davidson or Karun Chandhok ever want to hear! They're not fans of death metal. I don't know why...
People I'm always in contact with...
My friends and colleagues at Sky. I'm really lucky that I get to work with a group of people I call friends as much as colleagues. I'm in contact with Martin Brundle a lot because we're a commentary team - we're not two individuals out there - and also Karun, Paul, Johnny, Damon, Lasers [Simon Lazenby]. We're in contact with each other an awful lot.
I talk to people from the teams an awful lot as well. I try and talk to as many people as I possibly can over a race weekend because you want to keep your preparation right.
When not at the track...
If it's a normal race week and I've been at home for the weekend before, on Monday morning I start my work for the race to come. When I was at school - I hate to say this - I was not very good at revising for exams or doing homework, as anyone who's ever had the misfortune to teach me would probably testify. But I spend more of my life now on research and revision than I ever did when I was in school.
I start on a Monday and just read a lot. I read various websites including Motorsport Network, Sky Sports F1. I never stop working when you're away from the grand prix, because reading and researching is very much part of the job as well.
Without me Sky F1 would have to get someone else to talk a lot during the course of the weekend! I'm pretty certain I am the only member of the Sky F1 team who has been present at every single day of every single race we've covered from the beginning of 2012 when we came back into the sport. So it would be unusual for Sky F1 if I wasn't in the commentary box when the lights went out for a race.
They would find somebody else, for sure. We have a hugely talented team of people in front of and behind the camera, and life would continue without me if I wasn't there. I would prefer if I was there, though, because I really like my job.
But none of us should ever feel we're totally irreplaceable. If we ever felt that, we'd stop doing our job as well as we did, and we'd take it for granted. We should never take anything for granted. There have been F1 commentators before we me, and there will be F1 commentators after me.
From time to time people say very, very lovely things about how I'm the voice of F1, how I am the modern day Murray Walker. That is a beautiful compliment to pay to somebody. I don't think of myself as a modern day Murray Walker. Murray is unique. And I wouldn't want to be compared to him because that's not fair to do that to anyone.
We are all unique. We all do things in a different way. But if someone feels that if I bring that passion that Murray used to bring, then that's a gorgeous compliment and I will always take it, because you just want people to enjoy what they're watching and what they're hearing. And if I'm helping somebody enjoy that, that's just absolutely fabulous, because that's why I am there.
Formula 1 is...
My life. And has been my life since Bahrain 2006 professionally, and was a part of my life before that as a fan. F1 is also the pinnacle of fast, sexy motor car racing. F1 is a joy.
F1 can be frustrating. And it doesn't always get it right. It tries hard, but it doesn't always get it right. But F1 is wonderful. It is something that will never ever change the world, but is something for which the world would be a much quieter and poorer place for it not to exist.
Watch every race live on Sky Sports F1 and NOWTV from 5 July.
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