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VARSHA: Why I Love Presenting Formula E

Renowned commentator and broadcaster Bob Varsha files his first column for e-racing365….

Photo: Bob Varsha

Welcome to my first column for e-racing365, coming at the midpoint of my first full season providing the world feed commentary with colleagues Jack Nicholls, Dario Franchitti and Nicki Shields.

I’ve spent the last 35 years or so covering virtually every form of motorsport (plus other sports, from archery to water skiing) for nearly every network in the U.S.

I have to say that the ABB FIA Formula E Championship is right up there with the most fun I’ve had in television.

This is in no small part because this ground-breaking series allows me to go where the races are, speak to the drivers and teams, and deal with people face to face.

The fact is that an increasing amount of racing coverage these days is done from a studio, and I much prefer the travel and human contact that comes with Formula E.

Spend just a brief amount of time around the paddock on an E-Prix weekend and you’ll see why.

In addition to the fascinating technology of all-electric racing, the drivers, engineers and team management are relaxed and approachable.

They sign autographs and pose for pictures, generally acting nothing like the reclusive stars of some other series that come to mind.

That’s not to say that the drivers and teams aren’t all-in when it comes time to compete.

If you’ve followed the season thus far, you’ve seen an inconsolable Eduardo Mortara after spinning away a certain victory for the Venturi team in Hong Kong and the bewilderment of Lucas di Grassi as issues with his Audi left him without a point through the first four races in defense of his championship.

There has been the joy of Felix Rosenqvist and his Mahindra team following back-to-back victories at Hong Kong and Marrakech, and stunned relief on the faces of Techeetah teammates Jean-Eric Vergne and Andre Lotterer after an intra-team slugfest over the final laps in Santiago turned into a historic one-two finish.

That kind of raw, honest emotion is manna from heaven for TV.

As a mentor of mine from many years ago, NASCAR Hall of Fame announcer Ken Squier, once told me, viewers aren’t going to sit and watch a race unless they care about what happens to the competitors.

And making viewers care, to me, drives everything we say and do in a broadcast.

That can be trickier than it might sound, because at every level of motorsport, from karting to Formula 1, the narrative must speak to the entire spectrum of audience sophistication, from the novice to the expert.

The challenge is to give every viewer what they need to be informed and entertained, without patronizing the experts or confusing the beginners.

We treat every audience as a totally new one or we risk leaving some viewers feeling left out, which makes it more likely that they will give up and switch off.

In our ABB Formula E team I think we have the variety of perspective and experience to accomplish that goal.

Jack is full of energy, with an uncanny ability to identify individual drivers, never missing a detail.

Dario is, of course, a massively successful former driver, including three Indy 500 wins and four Indycar titles, and he also has the ability to break down the challenges of each track and explain the split-second decision making needed to race on the limit.

He is able to do this in such an accessible way that he remains a key member of Chip Ganassi Racing, providing the team’s drivers, including fellow four-time series champion Scott Dixon, the benefit of his expertise.

And Nicki’s gentle, friendly way with the drivers amid the pressures of the pit lane produces responses that help flesh out the human being behind the helmet visor.

Me? I’m the setup man, looking for ways to do what Ken Squier advised years ago: give the viewer reason to care about what happens to the athletes, as this pioneering series goes from strength to strength.

Please let us know how we’re doing.

Bob Varsha is a veteran American broadcaster with more than 30 years of experience covering international motorsports, including Formula 1, the FIA World Endurance Championship and IMSA. Varsha is currently the host of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship broadcasts.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Old Trombone

    March 25, 2018 at 10:46 am

    Welcome back to the peak level of engineering sport in the world, Your Excellency. Before your arrival, the previous commentators were already great and wonderful, true. And now, your respectful voice and thoughts complete the lustre of the aural environment which surrounds the pictures with wonderful dreams and insightful details. Thanks and cheers!

  2. Tony

    March 25, 2018 at 4:40 pm

    The work of you guys and the FE team is working. Big manufacturers won’t get involved if their potential audience switches off. Great Track action combined with your efforts is paying off…

  3. Paul.

    March 25, 2018 at 7:42 pm

    I have nothing against Formula E. I am not one of those people who says, “oh, they don’t make any noise so I just don’t care”. The only problem is the wretched circuits they run on. Sorry. Horrible for the most part. That kind of thing is not good. You gotta put those cars on circuits where they can really show their technology and the drivers can really show their prowess.

    • Old Trombone

      March 27, 2018 at 10:47 am

      Yup, Monaco, St Pete, Adelaide, Valencia, Singapore, all bad. I didn’t realize until you told me, cheers for teaching my stupid mind. You must be one of those ‘expert professors’.

    • Old Trombone

      March 27, 2018 at 11:04 am

      Driver prowess – only ever takes one form, right? How much g they can get out of the tires, that’s it.

      Efficiency, judgement, tactics, strategy, race craft, patience, drafting, blocking while off-throttle, knowing other drivers’ weaknesses, etc etc, all of that is utterly meaningless to you.

      • Michael Delaney

        March 29, 2018 at 6:00 am

        At Monaco they used only half of the circuit, as you know. You’ve also mentioned a load of circuits FE doesn’t visit, which obviously doesn’t answer Paul’s criticisms of the tracks in any way. I can reel off a load of names of other racetracks that FE doesn’t visit either, like Spa, Laguna Seca and Bathurst. Does that support your argument any further? You’re obviously very into FE and that’s absolutely fine – I’m sure there are many things I like that you don’t – but please don’t just badly attempt to belittle people who are making valid points. The tracks are crap and if you are using Singapore as a defence of street tracks you’re clutching at straws somewhat – I worked at the Singapore GP many times and we all thought the track was pretty rubbish.

  4. Michael Sørensen

    March 26, 2018 at 6:53 am

    The real for not going to real circuits is that then everyone can compare times and see how slow they really are!

    • Old Trombone

      March 27, 2018 at 10:55 am

      Formula E max speed season 5 = 180 mph
      WRC max speed = 100mph
      Formula 2 max = 200mph
      Darlington NASCAR average = 185 mph
      Bobsleds = 95 mph
      GT3 = 180 mph

      Michael, maybe it’s your computer’s search function that isn’t up to speed. By the way, Formula 1 top speeds didn’t exceed FE until the Cosworth, 17 years after its beginning. FE is only 4 years old now.

      S’funny when stupid people try insults, they only just bounce right back…

      • Michael Delaney

        March 29, 2018 at 6:14 am

        You’re quoting the top speed for next season’s FE cars, which do not race yet. How fast do the current ones go? 140mph or so? If we’re turning this into some sort of bizarrely pointless statistical analysis Grand Prix cars were exceeding that in the 1930s, which I’m sure you know already.

  5. db

    March 26, 2018 at 7:34 am

    I agree with Paul about the street circuits it appears as if they’re made too narrow and tight to encourage crashing and carnage. That is not pure racing, that is transparent pandering to the type of fans that like to see crashes. Regarding fan boost I can never take seriously a motorsport that allows fan input to affect any individual drivers performance, that is ludicrous. When the cars are allowed to run on real Road courses and fan boost is done away with then you’ll see me pay attention. I don’t care what manufacturers are involved as long as it looks and races like it is now on too tight narrow street circuits with ridiculous fan boost I will not take this series seriously.

    • Old Trombone

      March 27, 2018 at 10:57 am

      Pandering … now we wouldn’t want FE to do that, would we. Particularly they shouldn’t pander to internet commenters with random letters for a name, right? I mean, wouldn’t they be better off pandering to the OEMs who actually have billions of dollars for them? But no, they should pander to YOU.

  6. Buster

    March 28, 2018 at 9:33 am

    The cars are barely faster than a good formula ford/formula f. Dario Franchitti is probably a knowledgeable commentator but his mike volume is so low and his delivery so low key that his comments are inaudible.

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