Formula E: Q&A with ITV4 commentator Jack Nicholls

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The first ever Formula E race takes place in Beijing this Saturday and ITV4 viewers will be listening to the commentary provided from trackside by Jack Nicholls, who has the honour of calling a significant new chapter in the colourful history motorsport.

A huge fan of motorsport all his life, Jack started his career in the industry at the age of 18 marshalling at various UK’s circuits, before deciding to try his hand at public address commentary.

He was then given a big break in 2011 when asked by Jonathan Palmer to provide TV commentary for the FIA Formula Two series, which then led him to work on the FIA GT1 World Championship and numerous other series broadcast across a variety of channels, including British Eurosport, ESPN and Motors TV.

2014 has been a busy year for Jack as he continues to lend his voice to a variety of championships, as well as deputising for James Allen on BBC Radio 5 live’s coverage of four Formula 1 races, in China, Hungary, Japan and Russia.

This is in addition to being announced as the world feed commentator for the brand new FIA Formula E Championship, where he will be working alongside co-commentator and three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti, and pit-lane reporters Nicki Shields and Marc Priestley.

Before heading out to cover the first ‘ePrix’ in Beijing on September 13, Jack gave Sport On The Box his insights into the new formula and a taste of what motorsport fans can expect from the world’s first electric racing series.

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Follow Jack on Twitter: @Jack_Nicholls

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SOTB: How excited are you to be involved with the new Formula E series as its lead commentator to its audiences in the UK on ITV4 and around the world?

Jack Nicholls: Naturally, very! I love street circuits, I love single seaters, and I love racing.

The level of drivers and teams means competition will be fierce, and ultimately that’s what we love most of all, the competition.

It’s also a new different chapter in motorsport, so I’m pretty proud to be part of that.

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You’ve covered a variety of motorsport championships in your young career to date. Does working on Formula E top the list so far?

Every job is different. For example, I’ve covered the Blancpain GT Series for a few years, and the fun we have on those jobs is just brilliant, I work with F1 race winner John Watson, and they’re just awesome weekends, with very good drivers and great racing.

Viewing figures, where it’s broadcast, who’s watching, doesn’t matter, you still have to do the best job you can.

Having said that, when I was 6 my dream was to commentate on Formula 1 for the BBC, so to get to do that this year has been unreal. I’m doing 4 races for BBC Radio 5 live, and it has literally been a dream come true.

Nevertheless the buzz and excitement around Formula E is very exciting, and I suppose this marks my live free to air TV debut, so from a career point of view that’s exciting, and I’m sure it’ll be great fun to work on too.

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Initial scepticism about electric racing has seemingly been replaced in recent weeks with excitement and intrigue into the series. What aspects of Formula E do you think will be a hit with existing motorsport fans and newcomers alike?

One of the biggest misconceptions about motorsport is that the main focus is the car, certainly from those on the outside.

It’s all about brave human beings risking their lives and competing against each other.

At the start of this Formula 1 season there was lots of engine noise complaints, ugly noses, financial troubles too, but now we have a hard fought battle between two top sportsmen and the world is transfixed.

That’s what I think formula e will provide to the established motorsport fans, the same as usual.

My big hope is that newcomers give Formula E a shot, and discover the excitement, intensity and complexities of motorsport.

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The championship has assembled a strong mix of well known faces from Formula 1 and young up-and-coming drivers. What is your assessment of the driver line-up and who do you think will adapt to new format best?

The line up really is excellent. From Fabio Leimer, a young racer who won last year’s GP2 championship, to Jarno Trulli, a Monaco Grand Prix winner, the depth is outstanding.

We’ve got Le Mans racers, Indycar drivers, even Stephane Sarrazin who has raced in F1, Le Mans, and the World Rally Championship!

It’s going to be a fascinating battle between the younger guys, who may well adapt to the cars and technology quicker, and the more experienced guys who can maybe manage a race better, or just don’t crash on a right street circuit. I can’t wait!

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In the commentary box, you’ll be working alongside three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti at all the races. How much of a coup was it for the series to secure his services and how much are you looking forward to working with him?

Honestly, the biggest joy of working with driver co-commentators is just hanging out with them!

As I mentioned earlier, I work with John Watson on the Blancpain GT events, and having dinner with him chatting about being an F1 driver in the ’70s is just awesome. So I’m looking forward to working with Dario!

When I first heard that Aurora, Formula E’s host broadcaster, wanted to get him on board, I thought it was just genius. It’s a big coup for the series. He knows most of the drivers and teams, and is a motorsport legend, so it’s superb to have him onbarod.

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Formula E aiming to appeal to a new audience, with perhaps a slightly younger skew in mind. In terms of the TV coverage, what can viewers expect in terms of innovations to help explain the racing they are watching?

Fundamentally, we are covering a motor race. The guys doing the coverage started in F1 back in the ’90s, and have since covered A1GP, the FIA GT Championship, Superleague Formula, Goodwood, Blancpain GT, the list goes on!

So ultimately they know how to film and broadcast a motor race, so from that point of view it’s not going to be particularly radical. We will be making films explaining how the cars work, meeting the drivers, looking at the circuits.

I suppose it’s going to be a lot more web based than perhaps F1 coverage is, as all of those videos will be uploaded to YouTube, so you’ll be able to find out more about the circuit or the drivers whilst you’re watching the coverage.

Second Screen Viewing is the big thing at the moment, so if you’re watching the race on TV, you can watch me and a driver walking round the track, explaining the different elements to it, for example.

As for commentary, it’s the same balance that I’m always trying to achieve. Informed enough to keep motor racing fans happy, but inclusive enough for newcomers to follow.

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Whilst Formula 1 has yet to fully embrace social media, it will certainly play its part in Formula E with the ‘Fanboost’ feature set to become a key feature in the championship battle. What are your thoughts on the idea and will this be incorporated strongly into the TV coverage?

It’s certainly an innovative idea, and that’s the great thing about Formula E, the blank canvas it has to try things.

Ultimately, the Fanboost can only influence the race, not decide the outcome. A 5 second boost will help a driver, but it’s not going to take someone from the back of the grid to winning the race.

I think it’s great for fans to get involved, and to encourage that interaction. Like I said earlier, motorsport is about the drivers, and anything that brings the drivers and the fans closer together is well worth a try, and it certainly adds an interesting element to the racing

I don’t believe it’s going to be a massive part of our TV coverage, obviously we will mention it and talk about it as it’s an element of the race, but voting finishes before the race starts, so during the race itself it’ll just be a case of who has it and when they use it!

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Finally, can you see Formula E becoming a mainstay in the motorsport calendar for many years to come?

I can. If you look at the world car market, electric vehicles are the way everyone is going.

I went to the Frankfurt Motorshow to film the launch of the Formula E car last year, and it was astonishing to see every major manufacturer showcasing their EVs.

It was even cooler because the cars could drive round inside the show itself, as they don’t release harmful emissions, so it really brought the show to life.

From that point of view, Formula E is extremely relevant, which will at least give it an economical reason to exist.

Equally, with street circuits and fast cars it should look spectacular, so hopefully fans both new and old will enjoy it and the popularity will grow.

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Hear Jack in action on ITV4 as part of the world feed commentary team on its live Formula E coverage – CLICK HERE for more details

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