Channel 4’s announcement yesterday that it has recruited a horde of ex-racers to present its Formula 1 coverage adds kudos to a roster of broadcasters that includes the legendary Murray Walker.
The channel has had precious little time to prepare for the Australian Grand Prix, having only recently taken over the BBC’s contract to show 10 races live and the rest in a highlights package, yet has pushed the boat out in this its first year of a three-year deal.
News that multiple Grand Prix winners Alain Prost, Mark Webber and David Coulthard (73 victories between them) have joined the team is great for fans who feel strongly that F1 coverage must remain on a free-to-air platform – and be done properly.
I’m particularly looking forward to Webber’s wit and wisdom being unleashed out of my telly. Remember that the Australian left F1 at the end of 2013 pretty disillusioned with the sport, so it’ll be interesting to see what Porsche’s World Endurance Champion of 2015 makes of being back in the paddock full-time. Will he like what he finds? Whatever it is, he’ll tell us!
With all those racers-turned commentators to conjure with, we’ve debated which of the breed rank as our favourites. We think these five – and they’re not all from F1 – fit the bill perfectly thanks to that blend of experience, knowledge, passion and delivery. It’s a hugely subjective topic, we know. Often, the voice and the tone do it for some and not others. And we appreciate that there’ll be lots of you who’ve never heard Darrell Waltrip in action, and a similar number who’ll cry, ‘what about Alan Jones?’ but that’s what we want to hear. Who were/are your favourites? Let us know in the usual manner.
5 Tim Harvey
Former British Touring Champion Tim Harvey, who won 16 races for Rover, Ford, BMW, Renault and Volvo between 1987 and 1995, as well as lifting the 1992 drivers’ title, joined the commentary team for coverage of Britain’s biggest championship in 2003 and has brought an intimate knowledge of the door-banging antics of the series to the broadcasts, alongside various anchormen. He’s as enthusiastic behind the ITV4 mic as he was behind the wheel and manages to avoid offending people he’s criticising – and, let’s be honest, the BTCC has its fair share of moments when the commentators must find it hard not to lay it on thick. He understands the relationships between drivers and, relying on his vast experience of Group A and Supertouring weapons, can expertly convey what it’s like to be in the heat of battle at either end of the grid.
4 Darrell Waltrip (lead video)
NASCAR veteran Darrell Waltrip won 84 top-class races between 1975 and 1992, a tally that still puts him fifth on the all-time winners’ list. He also won the Daytona 500 in 1989 and took three drivers’ titles in the 1980s. That record makes him highly qualified to commentate on the frenetic action in US stockcar racing’s premier league. And he does it with an amusing and endearing streak of madness. He first commentated in the mid-80s on selected events for TNN and ABC but joined current employer Fox at the start of 2001 after retiring from the driving seat at the end of 2000 with 809 races on a 30-year CV. He adds a whole lot of extra colour to the already colourful broadcasts in a sport that made him a household name, and his trademark ‘boogity, boogity, boogity’ catchphrase at the beginning of a race is now the stuff of legend.
3 Neil Crompton
Now the voice of the Australian V8 Supercar Championship, racer Neil Crompton regularly swapped the cockpit for the commentary booth, juggling both roles for many years. As a driver, his big break in V8s came with Aussie folk hero Peter Brock’s Holden Dealer Team in 1987 and he went on to race for several big teams, including Wayne Gardner Racing and Glenn Seton Racing. His best result in the series was a number of second places, and he also twice finished third in the blue-riband Bathurst 1,000. His commentary work began with Channel 10 in the early ’80s and he made the move, with the series, to Channel 7 in 1985 – joining Bathurst veterans Mike Raymond and Garry Wilkinson. He returned to Channel 10 to cover other racing disciplines but settled back at the 7 Network in 2007, where his blend of technical acumen, passion for and knowledge of the series and its star drivers, as well as that classic Australian delivery – without the often-irritating inflection – make him one of the best.
2 James Hunt
Murray Walker’s stories of the early days in the BBC commentary box alongside former British World Champion and playboy James Hunt are legendary. Following his sudden retirement from racing, after the Monaco Grand Prix of 1979, Hunt was approached by the BBC to join Walker, the voice of motorsport, in the commentary box for BBC2’s Grand Prix programme. He guested in the role at Silverstone that year and soon found himself in a full-time role. Murray has since admitted many times that he didn’t care for Hunt in those early years, his unprofessional attitude, timekeeping and on-air rants not in any way appealing, but that he grew to appreciate his forthright views and the chemistry that existed in the broadcaster/expert dynamic between them. Just two days after calling the 1993 Canadian GP from the Shepherd’s Bush studio, Hunt died from a heart attack, aged just 45. It marked the end of 13 years of the ‘Murray and James’ show, one that fans of a certain age still cherish.
1 Martin Brundle
The superb dynamic of Murray Walker and an ex-driver bouncing off each other was reignited in 1997 when F1 veteran Martin Brundle joined an all-new ITV team alongside Mr Pants-on-Fire. Brundle had contested 158 GPs for Tyrrell, Zakspeed, Williams, Brabham, Benetton, Ligier, McLaren and Jordan between 1984 and 1996, as well as winning Le Mans and the World Sportscar Championship with Jaguar, so was race-fresh, with a measured and articulate way of explaining what was going on. And, 20 years later, he’s still doing it, having switched to the BBC in 2009 and then Sky in 2012. Brundle knows the F1 soap opera and its key characters inside out and brings his huge experience of life in a front-running super-team and a tail-end squad with authority and a healthy dose of sarcasm when required. His grid-walks and on-camera slots add to his on-screen presence, meaning fans get to see and hear Brundle in action. For all those reasons, he’s our favourite racer-turned commentator.