So, here are the runners and riders in the 2012 British Television F1 Commentary Handicap Stakes. It seems reasonably obvious that the BBC hold an advantage in pre- and post-race, but during the race itself the calibre on Sky will be very hard to beat - and IIRC it's the Sky commentary that will be taken by most English-language channels who've historically taken UK commentary.
FOR THE BBC
For me the BBC's pre and post-race shows have been extraordinarily consistent and good since 2009. Jake Humphrey, Eddie Jordan and David Coulthard established a quick and easy chemistry that's very easy to watch and listen to, even when EJ goes on one of his patented minute-long questions that turn in circles about eight times and it's impossible to work out how he's expecting the interviewee to answer. To this established group (and they'd be crazy to break it up when they need stability, although perhaps DC will do less work on that front and focus on the commentary box) they're adding a mildly left-field choice in the ex-Jordan designer Gary Anderson. Although more casual fans might not know what to expect from him, he has written an Autosport column for some time and worked for Irish television, so he's not without experience as a pundit. Lee McKenzie remains and will now be the BBC's primary pit lane reporter - it will be interesting to see whether she can get useful information down there while Ted Kravitz is still on the scene working for a different channel.
So to the commentary box. Ben Edwards was the obvious choice with no experienced BBC man to promote. I very much like the work I've heard from him on touring cars and A1GP; just because you go loud and talk fast when exciting things happen, that doesn't mean you're a witless Murray Walker clone, as I've heard some people suggest. I didn't think Brundle was a huge success in the main seat last year - he actively killed exciting moments for me by being very quiet and reserved and ooohing and aaahing carefully when exciting things happened. Maybe I'm just unimaginative, but I like to hear commentators get excited by what they're seeing, as long as it doesn't cause them to start talking bollocks. Coulthard had a good start in the other seat; this is his chance to spread his wings a little and show us what he can do in the box without the training wheels of being able to fall back on matey banter with Martin if he runs out of things to say.
While the BBC only has 10 live races, they do also have all 20 on the radio. An apparent talent vacuum has led to the job apparently trickling downwards to James Allen by default, as the only remaining candidate with any significant experience. Anyone even remotely familiar with F1 prior to 2009 will remember James; and a significant percentage will not do so fondly. Let's get something clear about him - the guy knows what he's talking about, else he wouldn't have held down his job with the Financial Times, and the blog that he has run since 2009 has been extremely well-recieved. For me he was a good pit-lane reporter; but in the commentary box, he never quite learned the knack of being able to show that he knew what he was talking about. He presumably will also commentate on free practice. Of all the losses to Sky, perhaps Anthony Davidson hurts the most here - there's no announcement that I know of on who will replace him, or even if anyone will replace him. Jennie Gow joins that team as the radio pit reporter.
The other question mark for them is how they deal with the issue of gridwalks. The BBC did experiment with two-man gridwalks and Brundle-less gridwalks last year - will they just push DC and EJ alternately onto the grid and see how many times they can trip over Kai Ebel? Where Martin really excelled was spatial awareness; not just bouncing from car to car, but picking up interesting people to talk to along the way like Hamashima-san of Bridgestone then Paul Hembrey of Pirelli, being a face that Bernie was usually willing to talk to, and grabbing anyone else that happened to wander across his path.
FOR SKY SPORTS
Well, let's start with their strengths. They have Martin Brundle. They also have David Croft, the former BBC radio commentator who was frequently rated far better than Jonathan Legard and must have been annoyed when he was passed over for the BBC box in 2011. Rumours have hung around for the past few years that somehow the two don't like each other and that it's prevented them working together. However, this would appear to be the dream pairing (barring a new miraculous medical procedure that could re-age most of Murray Walker's brain to about 50 years old while leaving his memories intact); and at the risk of being hyperbolic, let's remember that Murray and James "Enjoying The Sponsor's Product Plentifully" Hunt didn't get on for quite a while at first after they were thrown together.
Brundle has a roving brief to "divide his time between paddock, pit lane and commentary box", whatever that means. Most practically it opens a space for Anthony Davidson to join Croft for free practice (the BBC are using James Allen and Ben Edwards), in a move that perhaps smacks a little of "because we can". Ted Kravitz returns in the pit lane and will get a chance at more airtime doing presenting work on shows to fill up the F1 channel - he's joined on raceday by Natalie Pinkham (me neither) who presumably will spend her time getting scowled at by retiring drivers while Ted flits between the prat perches finding out interesting things.
Rather like ITV, the further you get away from the race, the dodgier things look for Sky. The anchor is dull Sky man Simon Lazenby, who IIRC has done live studio work for rugby and other "minor major" Sky things. The only-slightly-less-dull Steve Rider is hanging around the place like a bad smell; the press release indicates only that he will be "conducting a series of interviews with big names". Sky appear to have thought that they could go with the cricketing approach of tapping up famous big-name British drivers to fill out time (I watched a very interesting programme where Damon Hill and Nigel Mansell and Murray Walker spent an hour reminiscing, and doubtless there will be 40,000 more opportunities to see it on the new F1 channel) - except that they're the only two who aren't ancient, dead, or still driving. Are Jackie Stewart and Stirling Moss going to start appearing? I doubt Eddie Irvine is interested (or coherent) and I doubt they'd pop for DI Mark Blundell. Will we see the lesser-spotted Jonathan Palmer again? What are they going to do for a pre-race show, anyway? Are they going to be in the paddock or a studio in Isleworth?
Oh, and apparently Georgie Thompson is coming over from Sky Sports News to work on the stuff they have to make up to fill time between races. Which is a thing that is happening.
A lot of unanswered questions there, clearly. Only way to find out how this all shakes down is in Melbourne.