THE Formula One season is underway, which for a petrolhead like me marks the start of the summer sporting calendar proper in Spain. But it also means that we are subjected to one of my pet hates. Spanish sports commentators.
Perhaps it is because I grew up during a golden age of commentators during the 70s, people like David Coleman, Peter Allis, David Vine, Harry Carpenter and of course the peerless Murray Walker. They had the gift of making you feel part of the action, giving you informed and impartial advice and most importantly, knowing that they didn’t have to fill every millisecond of the broadcast with chatter.
A lesson that is lost on Spanish commentators. Whatever sport they are covering, Spanish commentators feel that they have to get behind their team to an overwhelming extent. The worst example of this is Formula One. Sunday afternoon commentary on Formula One is not so much a sporting event, more of a cult to the Church of Fernando Alonso.
It doesn’t help that the commentator Antonio Lobato obviously has a huge man crush on Fernando. I’ve watched several interviews that Lobato has conducted with Alonso and they have been toe curlingly bad. In one interview Alonso pushed the bald Lobato into a swimming pool and he came out with such a coy grin that I thought he was going to ask Fernando to towel him down.
The actual commentary is even worse. I’m not for a second doubting that Alonso is a massively talented driver (I friend of mine once had a Formula One test drive against the young Alonso and when asked why he was a second behind him on the timesheet replied “Because he’s Fxxxxing quick!”) But no matter what is happening in the race, all focus is on the blessed Fernando. And heaven forfend that he’s into him.
This reaches its peak whenever Lewis Hamilton is mentioned. The Spanish demonise the British driver to the extent that a few years ago the Formula One coverage to every race had a ‘comic book’ style intro with Alonso as a Spanish hero, while Hamilton was an evil robot. I dropped my pre-race bowl of salted peanuts the first time I saw that, I can assure you. It may say a lot for Hamilton’s composure that he did not make a complaint to the Spanish broadcasters. James Hunt would probably have flattened Lobato with a single punch.
But it’s not just Formula One that suffers from this. Tennis is the same, and I remember being unable to find the Wimbledon Men’s Final on Spanish television because Rafa Nadal had been knocked out in the semis. This summer will see the World Cup in Brazil and you can guarantee that the commentators will be whipping themselves into a frenzy as the national team prepare to retain the title. Expect several days of national mourning if they get knocked out in the quarter finals…