From F1 to football: TV star Jake Humphrey talks technology in sport, on screen and off
Until this year, Jake Humphrey has been the BBC face of Formula One. But a combination of wanting to be in the UK more to see his baby daughter grow up and a lucrative contract to be the new host of BT's Premiership football coverage from next season, has seen him leave the show in the hands of friend to Pocket-lint Suzi Perry.
He hasn't left the world of motorsport entirely, however. Still a massive fan of F1, he's keeping his hand in here and there, on an extra curricular basis. He is, for example, the ambassador for Shell's new performance fuel range, V-Power Nitro+, and it is through this association that Pocket-lint met up with the TV presenter to talk about technology in sport, and its impact both on and off the track and football field. Of course, this started with the numero uno of all formulas.
What was the most important technological advancement in Formula One during your time presenting, that made things better as a spectacle?
"I think it’s a combination of KERs [Kenetic Energy Recovery System] and DRS [Drag Reduction System]. The thing with Formula One is, you can spend millions of pounds on developing an incredible gearbox. Or you can create the most incredible front wing or make sure the inlet valves are better than anyone else’s. But unless you’re doing something that make a tangible difference to the audience at home, you’re wasting your time in many ways.
"F1 is a spectator sport. It’s a form of entertainment. And I firmly believe that everything those teams do, every penny they spend, they should always ask themselves the question: what will this do for Formula One?
"So I think KERS and DRS did great things for the sport because suddenly you went from two or three overtakes per race, to 30 to 40 overtakes a race.
"However, the negative side of that is that people then think it’s artificial. Overtaking someone using your driving skill is very different from me coming up behind you, pressing a button and suddenly I’m past you. So in that respect the introduction of KERS and DRS has frustrated me in some ways, but at the same time Pirelli brought in the new tyres, which I am impressed by.
"Not only are they tyres that improve the racing and make it more exciting in its strategies, but I think it puts the onus on the drivers to deal with those tyres well.
"Sergio Perez has effectively got his drive a McLaren because he was able to conserve his tyres at Sauber and create some really good race finishes, even if there wasn’t the pace in the car. And although he wasn’t racing at 100 per cent lap after lap, conserving those tyres meant that he grabbed the eye of McLaren and got that drive.
"Do we want to see a Formula One where drivers are going 70 or 80 per cent of their ability? I’m not sure. But I think those three things – KERS, DRS and the tyres – have changed the sport immeasurably since I joined the sport in 2009."
How about changes in TV technology?
"The biggest is HD. It frustrated the hell out of me that in 2010 we were still transmitting in standard definition. People around the world were saying, ‘HD has been around for three or four years, why are you not using it?’
"Sport is the one area where I really see the benefit of HD. I can’t watch football now in SD, it has to be in HD. Sometimes Harriet [Jake’s wife] will annoy me by putting the telly on and she’ll put it on BBC One for the Grand Prix. And I’ll be like, ‘Come on, put it on BBC One HD, let’s watch it properly.’
"F1 is all about tiny, small margins and now you can see the front wings flexing, you can see the driver’s head being thrown around inside the car. You can see the little bit of the front of the end plate being flicked up in the air when they catch them all the time. It’s opened up the sport a little bit more to people."
Do you think 3D has improved anything?
"I like football in 3D. But I watched some of the pre-season [Formula One] testing in 3D and I wasn’t that impressed. There was one shot in Barcelona where the cars were coming down the main straight which they were shooting head-on and it was great, but apart from that there was too much happening.
"I think if you’ve got 22 cars barrelling into a corner, in 3D it would turn into a confusing mush for your brain. I’m not sure 3D is the right thing for Formula One. I’m not sure I’m a massive fan of 3D anyway, as a concept for TV.
"Certainly HD though. If I was a broadcaster or a manufacturer of cameras and technology I’d want to improve on HD rather than develop 3D."
Do you enjoy video games? F1 games?
"I do actually. My first job was hosting a show called Gamers, which was a computer games show back in the late Nineties, when I worked for Rapture TV. I went off to the E3 convention in LA and stuff like that.
"I still play computer games. I like the F1 games. Codemasters has done an amazing job with those Formula One games.
"They are tough. I remember interviewing Lewis Hamilton and I asked him what he thought of the new Codemasters F1 game and he said, ‘It’s nothing like the real thing.’ I said, ‘Of course, it’s nothing like the bloody real thing Lewis, but what you have to remember is that, for mere mortals like me, this is the closest we will ever get.’"
You’re going to BT to host its new Premiership live coverage from next season, and another big change next year is the introduction of goal-line technology. What do you think of GLT? Long overdue?
"Personally, I’d take it further. I would allow technology for decisions. I would allow there to be the style that they have in rugby, where one of the linesmen can say to the referee, ‘Hang on, there’s been an infringement and you can check what happened.’ And then they can ask a video ref to look at something.
"Or if the referee thinks there’s been a penalty, he sees a player fall in the box but is not sure, he can say, ‘Right, 10 seconds.’ And it is that quick. They do it in tennis, they do it in rugby. They should do it in football.
"People say, ‘That’s the referee’s job’, but my opinion is that it was the referee’s job until we now have HD super-slo-mo cameras where we now see more than the referee. How is it fair to say to a referee, ‘Yeah, the technology exists, you can review the decisions in 10 seconds, everybody wants it, but guess what? We’re not going to give it to you. We’re going to make the job extra hard.’
"I don’t think the referees want it. I think they see it as their job to make those decisions, that it’s all about human reactions and the instinct to make those decisions. But we’ve gone beyond that now, and every decision a referee makes is considered and debated and cogitated down to the nth degree every evening on the TV or live at that moment.
"I don’t think that’s fair on the referees, and I don’t think it’s fair on the supporters or the players. Football now is a big money business and you’ve got to make the right decisions. How is it fair to tell referees that they’re not allowed to have a technology that’s readily available, but we’re going to use it to assess their performance? How can that be right?"
Finally, the Formula One season started a few weeks back, do you miss it?
"Yeah, I really miss it. To do that job you have to give it your life.
"I came from a position where I had to convince people that although I was some guy from kids’ TV, I was going to give it my best shot. And then it started to go really well, and we got record audience figures and won BAFTAs and RTS awards.
"The biggest thing that I developed was a really nice relationship with David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan – a proper, friendly relationship. I went on holiday with Eddie on his boat last year. I stayed at DC’s house and stuff. So I miss them. I miss that rapport, that comradeship. You can’t create that, you can’t create a false relationship on the TV.
"It’s very very rare to get that gel and that blend on the TV. And I’m fully aware that I decided to end it because my circumstances changed. I got this great job offer from BT and Florence [Jake’s daughter] appeared, and it was the right time to stop. But for the four years I did it, it was the most remarkable and blessed job I’ve ever done."
Jake Humphrey has teamed up with Shell and Ferrari to launch new Shell V-Power Nitro+. Available from Shell forecourts, the new Unleaded and Diesel fuels are designed to instantly get to work inside your engine on deposits that can reduce the performance of your car.