Sport on TV: Channel 4 pull out all the stops for F1 climax, as Manchester City and Chelsea prepare for crucial clash

Nick Metcalfe

Yahoo Sport’s Nick Metcalfe has the remote control in his hand as he looks back and forward to the best of sport on television.

This week, Channel 4′s coverage of a dramatic climax to the Formula One season is in the spotlight, along with another busy sporting weekend to come, that includes a heavyweight Premier League clash between title rivals Manchester City and Chelsea.

All Channel 4 could really ask for in their first year covering Formula One was a final day decider, and the motorsport gods delivered just that. Nico Rosberg just ahead in the title race, with Lewis Hamilton breathing down his neck. Perfect Sunday afternoon viewing for millions of viewers.

Cue that famous theme tune “The Chain” at high noon. Channel 4 weren’t going at this in a half-hearted way, quite the opposite. They had set aside nearly five hours of coverage for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Presenter Steve Jones greeted us: “Hello and welcome to the day that Nico Erik Rosberg has dreamed about since stepping into a cart 25 years ago.” That middle name must have caught a few people by surprise.

Modern TV panels seem to be getting bigger all the time, and this was no exception. Suzie Wolff, Eddie Jordan, Mark Webber and David Coulthard were on hand to offer their expert views.

“Eight safe hands… technically ten, as Suzie is pregnant,” joked Jones, a little unnecessarily. “Mate, the tension is building,” said Webber, sounding as Australian as any man I’ve ever heard.

One thing I’m always impressed by watching F1 coverage these days is the incredible access broadcasters have. We were outside the Mercedes garage at first. Mechanics were buzzing around in the background. This was no distant studio, but right at the very heart of the action.

Coulthard (sorry, “DC”) probably had it right when he declared: “Hamilton knows he’s a three-time champion, in his mind he’s better than Nico, if he wins this title or not it’s not going to change what he thinks about himself.”

We went to our first commercial break, but not before that shattering image of Nigel Mansell’s tyre blowing at Adelaide in 1986. Heavens, that’s still a haunting sporting moment thirty years on.

Jones was joined by Roger Federer, with the tennis great attending his first Grand Prix. “It’s going to be epic, I’m just excited for the fans,” said the Swiss superstar, in that totally unflustered way of his.

Amid the Rosberg and Hamilton show, it was easy to overlook that Jenson Button was bowing out of the sport. “I’m holding it together,” said Button, looking like man that was on the very verge of not holding it together.

Jordan backed his retirement decision, saying: “It’s the perfect time. His legacy is brilliant, he’s been an unbelievable ambassador, not just for the sport but for the British people.”

We saw Button walk to the garage for the final time, flanked by family, friends and members of his team. It struck me that this was the kind of thing we just wouldn’t have seen in decades gone by.

Webber and Coulthard wandered up and down the pit lane as the cars arrived. “Nico is looking very relaxed,” Webber told viewers. He then sneaked up on Fernando Alonso, who showed us a tattoo of a Union Jack on his arm as a tribute to McLaren team-mate Button. The British driver himself duly arrived on the scene. “Can I hug you?” asked Coulthard. So much for the bitter rivalries in F1, this was a positive love-in.

We were ready to race at last. Commentator Ben Edwards talked us through the changing of the lights from red to green.

“Two drivers who know each other inside out going head to head for the title in the last race of the season. Lights out and away we go. Hamilton makes a good start, but so does Rosberg. It’s going to be pretty even, but Rosberg is going to slot in behind Hamilton.”

Max Verstappen went for a spin, but otherwise it was an uneventful start, with Hamilton already looking assured at the front. However he knew all too well this wouldn’t on its own be enough for him, with Rosberg able to finish in third and still claim the title.

Button retired early on, and was given a standing ovation by fans. Edwards reminded Coulthard that Button had still fared better than he had in his final race. “Yes, I made two corners,” the jovial Scot confirmed. Button’s mother just looked thoroughly relieved his son wouldn’t be doing this any more. Heavens, this business must be hard on the parents.

As the sun came down at the Yas Marina Circuit, it was quite a spectacle. The only thing we were really lacking was something genuinely thrilling, along the lines of the three-way title duel between Mansell, Nelson Piquet and Alain Prost in 1986, or Hamilton clinching his first crown on the final lap in Brazil in 2008. 

Hamilton and Rosberg were first and second as we headed towards the climax. The German was slowly but surely closing in on his first title. Hamilton needed to do something out of the ordinary. And all of a sudden he did. The race leader slowed to a relative crawl, hoping to tempt the chasers to challenge the title favourite.

Team orders were for Hamilton to allow Rosberg through, before retaking the lead later on. But the Briton was having none of it: “I suggest you let us race,” he said very firmly. Webber was relishing it all: “This is absolutely fascinating, the team dynamic on the radio. That’s a clear order, but Lewis is saying ‘mind your own business’.”

The commentary team clearly had no problem with Hamilton’s tactics, indeed the only criticism they had was for Mercedes team bosses. “That’s a slightly awkward moment to be giving instructions, there’s a world title at stake here, not just the race win,” said Coulthard. “I agree, they should be left to do what they want to do,” Edwards responded.

We were down to the final few laps. “This is magic, absolute magic,” said Edwards, not a man that seems too scared of hyperbole. 

Rosberg was defiant, holding off third placed Sebastian Vettel. “I’m losing the world championship,” said Hamilton, a man with more than a hint of desperation in his voice. Rosberg would simply not be denied his moment of glory.

Edwards had one of those big moments that come around for all commentators: “Nico Rosberg has done it, 34 years after his father Keke Rosberg win the world championship in 1982, he has repeated that feat. The same thing as Damon Hill did in 1996, following in his father’s footsteps.” 

“Yes, world champion,” a jubilant Rosberg screamed. “Nico, you are world champion,” came another voice on the radio. Goodness, that man doesn’t miss much. We were treated to fireworks across the harbour. F1 was going out with a bang in more ways than one.

Now, the moment we were all waiting for. How would Rosberg greet Hamilton? The answer is he didn’t at first. Instead, the new champion threw Bernie Ecclestone into the air, possibly quite a risky manoeuvre bearing in mind the F1 guru is now 86.

Eventually, Rosberg and Hamilton did shake hands and embrace on the podium. Rosberg was clearly overwhelmed when he spoke to Coulthard. It’s sometimes easy to forget quite how big a deal all this is. The sport may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but make no mistake, being F1 world champion is still a hugely significant.

Credit to Channel 4 for staying on the air for another hour-and-a-half. Time for plenty of analysis from their pundits, alongside a considered chat with Button, an interview with Hamilton and a chinwag with other luminaries like Sir Jackie Stewart. 

And then the big one, with Lee McKenzie waiting her turn patiently before finally getting to chat with the new champion. The two embraced before the interview, which is always a good sign for a journalist.

“It was so extremely intense out there,” Rosberg said. “I could see in my mirror the place where the championship would be lost. The smallest mistake and it’s finished.” He covered his face with his hands. The realisation must have struck viewers - he wasn’t faking this. “The first big emotion was relief. It’s ridiculous, ridiculous. I can’t wait to celebrate.”

The great thing is you know we would have missed these moments in years gone by, with TV companies having long since gone off the air.

It was finally time to say farewell. This had been a monster live broadcast. But Coulthard reminded us this is one show that always goes on. “We have to remember, Formula One is a race without an end. The race has started again for 2017.”

He’s right too. We’ll be back in Melbourne before we know it.

City and Chelsea clash as England aim to stay unbeaten 

This season’s Premier League title race is shaping up to be a terrific one, and we have a classic six pointer to look forward to this weekend when Manchester City play Chelsea (Sky Sports 1, Saturday 11.30am).

The match has been dubbed “El Cashico” by the media, and if City win the battle of the big spenders they will go above the Blues to the top of the table.

Chelsea will certainly want to improve on their two meetings last season. both won 3-0 by City, with Sergio Aguero helping himself to a hat-trick at Stamford Bridge in February.

Three more fascinating TV matches follow for us to enjoy, with West Ham playing fourth placed Arsenal in a London derby (BT Sport 1, Saturday 5pm) and a Sunday double featuring Bournemouth against high flying Liverpool (Sky Sports 1, Sunday 12.30pm) and Everton taking on Manchester United (Sky Sports 1, Sunday 3.30pm), with both desperate for a win to try and get their league seasons up and running again.

It’s fair to say the best probably hasn’t been kept until last, but crucial points will be up for grabs for two strugglers when Middlesbrough play Hull (Sky Sports 1, Monday 7pm).

Twelve months can be an awfully long time in sport. A year ago, English rugby was in the doldrums, with wounds still being licked after an early exit from a home World Cup. But 2016 has been pretty much a dream year under Eddie Jones, and if England can beat old rivals Australia (Sky Sports 2, Saturday 1.30pm) they will end it with a perfect record, with 14 wins from 14 matches.

We’re getting even closer to a changing of the guard in televised racing, with Channel 4 handing over to ITV for 2017. And cameras will be in Surrey this weekend for the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown (Channel 4, Saturday 1.25pm).

And snooker’s prestigious UK Championship comes to its climax at York’s Barbican Centre. Live coverage of the semi-finals on Saturday, and the final on Sunday, will be on both the BBC and Eurosport.

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