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Formula One-on-one with commentator David Croft

We spoke to British commentator David Croft about being a commentator
Thursday, July 3, 2014

 

3rd July, 2014 (F1 Plus / Rosie Baillie) - Earlier this year F1 Plus spoke to David Croft from the Sky Sports F1 commentary team to question him about all things commentary.

Croft, or Crofty as he’s affectionately known, was previously part of the BBC Radio 5 Live commentary team before moving to Sky Sports F1 in 2012.

You may also recognise him as the voice of Lofty Crofty in the UK release of the Disney movie Planes and as the paddock reporter in the Codemasters F1 games.

 

F1 Plus: How did you get into commentary and was it something you've always wanted to do?

David Croft: Ever since I was a kid to be honest. I loved sport and used to watch and listen to it a lot when I was young. How I became a commentator and broadcaster is a long story that started off when a friend of mine asked me to write match reports for Stevenage Borough, when they were a non-league side, for the local paper.

That was in 1992, by 1995 I'd secured a full time job with BBC Three Counties Radio and by 1998 I was working at BBC Radio 5-Live. In 2006 I became their Formula 1 Correspondent, joining Sky Sports F1 of course in 2012.  In between though, there were plenty of late nights and early mornings. Long weeks and even longer weekends. Unpaid shifts that I was grateful to get, just to learn my trade and a host of people who gave up their time to make sure I learnt properly.

I came through an unconventional route into broadcasting, never went to University, but I wouldn't do it any differently if I had to start all over again.

 

F1 Plus: What kind of preparation do you have to do in the run up to a race weekend and during the weekend?

David Croft: I sit and swot like I should have done but never did when I was at school. Maybe if I'd have studied for my exams like I do for a Grand Prix life would have turned out a little differently, but for now I'm glad it didn't! You have to try and prepare for every eventuality, it's live sport and anything can, and often does, happen.

So I read a lot and make sure that I'm up to speed with the latest news and developments in F1. I also make notes on every team and every driver. Handwritten notes that fit onto a double sided sheet of A4 because there really isn't that much room in our commentary boxes. And I prepare a map of each circuit with information as well. Plus there's the tables that I put up on the wall with current and historical F1 stats and data, as a reference point for which I can easily find the information.

Information is added over the course of the weekend of course and on a Sunday morning especially you'll find me scurrying round the Paddock gathering what I need to help fill in the blanks during the race for the viewers watching back home.

 

F1 Plus: The first part of FP1 can be quite quiet, how do you keep things interesting? Do you prepare a list of things to talk about in case it's quiet on track?

 

David Croft: We don't to be honest. We have a production meeting before the start of every race weekend where we talk through the issues that are likely to be creating the news. And Ted [Kravitz], Ant [Davidson], Martin [Brundle], and I will often have a chat before we go on air, but in terms of preparing a list of things to talk about, we don't.

Mentally we have a rough idea, but it's far more fun to keep it relaxed and fluid and react to what's happening in front of our eyes, even if nothing actually seems to be happening at the time.

 

F1 Plus: What's the most challenging thing about being a commentator?

David Croft: Blimey, I suppose the most challenging thing is that as the person responsible for keeping the viewer up to date with what's happening on the track, and sometimes off it too, in a fast moving sport like F1, it's how you interpret the information that you're getting and how you convey it as simply as possible, without ever appearing to be dumbing down the sport you're covering.

Interpret, without an agenda, convey the excitement and adrenaline that Formula 1 provides, tell the story simply and make it entertaining for those that have tuned in and want to know what's going on. That's the challenge, and it's bags of fun, trust me.


 

F1 Plus: When you think back on your career commentating on Formula One, which moment really stands out for you?

David Croft: In the 8 seasons that I've commentated on F1 the title decider has gone to the last race on 5 occasions, so there's are plenty of moments, most of which have come at Interlagos, a track that I love being at and one that I wish was the final race of every season, no need for double points, just enjoy the action!

So Sebastian Vettel's brilliant recovery to win his title in Brazil in 2012, Jenson Buttons title winning race there in 2009 as well, the day after I interviewed him and never before had I seen him look so down and miserable as he was on that Saturday after qualifying.

Lewis Hamilton's never say die last corner overtake to win his title there and the total joy on his, his Dads, his brothers and his girlfriends faces when I managed to interview them in the Mclaren garage shortly after.

That's three moments at one track and I could mention a few more so you'll understand that it's really tricky to point out one moment from 8 seasons as being the moment. Hamilton's win at Silverstone in 08, what a drive that was. Seb's first win on that stormy weekend in Monza where Mark Hughes and myself had to come off air early during FP1 as we were about to get electrocuted by the water pouring into the commentary box.

You see I could go on for ever here so I'll give you this moment as it's the highlight of my weekend, every weekend where I'm behind the mic at a Grand Prix. It's that moment when the cars are all lined up on the grid, Charlie Whiting decides we're ready and I get to say 'Lights Out and Away We Go' I have no idea what's coming next and neither do the audience, so that adrenaline rush I get is my moment that stands out, and I think it will do for a long time to come yet.

 

F1 Plus: As well as F1 you've also commentated on darts and free running, do you have to do anything differently depending on which sport you're commentating on and which is your favourite to commentate on?

David Croft: In terms of preparation there's nothing really different that you do. The idea being that you have the knowledge that the viewer needs to help enhance their enjoyment of the sport they're watching.

I've also commentated on Boxing quite a bit which I really enjoyed, not the least for the fact that you get to sit ringside when you're covering the fight. Best seat in the house, so close to the action you can pretty much feel every punch that lands. And getting to commentate at the Super Bowl in 2007 was also a personal highlight, shame that the Chicago Bears didn't win, but it didn't take the gloss of the occasion, and what an occasion the Super Bowl is.

 

F1 Plus: As well as live commentary you've done voice overs as a commentator for the Codemaster's F1 games and the Disney film Planes, how was that different to live commentary and did you do it off the cuff or follow scripts?

David Croft: The main difference is that you're trying to replicate a live commentary style in a studio environment. So you have to try and imagine that it's live and hope that helps. For Planes I had a brilliant voice director who was in LA at the time but was listening and watching me on Skype. He'd directed Robin Williams in Aladdin so I was in good hands and recording the part of Lofty Crofty for a Disney movie was an amazing experience, so it wasn't like I had to pretend to be excited. If anything I was struggling to keep calm.

Working with Codemasters is really enjoyable too. They write a script for the game but if I think the words are wrong and that I'd say something in a different way, they're more than happy for me to re-work the content and make it more realistic and off the cuff.

 

F1 Plus: Which sport would you like commentate on that you haven't had the opportunity to so far?

David Croft: Cricket. I love cricket, played Village cricket when I was younger, but for some reason I've never got behind the mic and commentated on it. Maybe for the best though, not sure my style is necessarily suited for the test match arena!

 

F1 Plus: What kind of skills and qualities do great commentators need and is there any advice you can give to any aspiring commentators?

David Croft: A great commentator needs to be part of the action but not the centre of attention. They should help bring the story to you and add to your enjoyment with their enthusiasm, knowledge and passion. I grew up listening to a host of great commentators, long before Sky revolutionised the way sport is broadcast. But two men stood out for me Peter Jones and Murray Walker. Enthusiasm, knowledge and passion, they had it by the bucket load and never did you ever want to switch off the radio or television when they were commentating. Jones in fact got me so worked up listening to an FA Cup semi final replay that West Ham won in extra time that I actually threw my radio against the wall in celebration. I was 9, got a rollocking from my Dad for still being awake and was then allowed to stay up and watch the highlights.

As for advice. I don't know if I'm the right person to be giving advice, but simply, get experience. Find a way to practice and record and listen back to what you do. Be prepared to work bloody hard to climb the ladder, expect constant knock backs along the way, but back yourself to succeed and when the chance comes your way, take it. I joined BBC 3 Counties Radio initially on a one month contract. I gave up a full time job to pursue a dream, and 18 years on I'm still dreaming , so don't pinch me just yet.


We’d like to thank David Croft for his brilliant answers and an insight into being an F1 commentator.

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