The BBC announced yesterday that former Red Bull driver, David Coulthard is to join Martin Brundle in the commentary box for their Formula 1 broadcasts.
Brundle, who will be replacing Jonathan Legard in the main seat, has been a full-time co-commentator since 1997, having acted as an aside to the great Murray Walker and later James Allen. The Englishman also acted as a third commentator alongside Walker and Dr Jonathan Palmer in 1995 when his Ligier seat was split with Aguri Suzuki. Palmer, of course, replaced the BBC’s original co-commentator, 1976 World champion James Hunt in 1993, when Hunt passed away due to a heart attack.
It is a job that requires both incredible enthusiasm and knowledge and there is no doubt that Brundle and Coulthard have both those qualities in spades. Whether the pair have the ability to bring those elements to the fore remains to be seen and to be frankly honest, we may not see them fully gel until well into this season or even next year.
During the past two years, there were signs that all was not right during some races, with both Legard and Brundle interrupting each other on regular occasions; often making for some rather jagged performances in the box.
Sadly, it did not work out for Legard and while I understand on occasion why many viewers disliked his style of delivery, some of the bile aimed at him has been frankly ridiculous. We live in a world where nearly every single solitary piece of useful information is at the fans’ fingertips and without doubt that makes us more informed than ever before. It also opened the television team to some of the most absurd – and occasionally obscene – criticism imaginable.
When contemplating critiques, one should attempt to commentate on a race at home as it happens in front of them, while gleaming information from various screens around them. Try it – I guarantee you it is very, very hard. It is very easy to criticise from the comfort of our living room chairs and couches all the way across the world; however I doubt for a single second many armchair commentators would succeed in such an environment.
Unfortunately in Legard’s case, the problem has more or less been the delivery of the content. For all the criticism that races get on occasion (regardless of formulae), a good commentator is often the person who can really make a race come alive, while a poor one may only accentuate the negative. A good narrator is just as important as the story he or she is attempting to read.
As for Coulthard, this will not be his first foray into the commentary box. In 1994, the (then) rather green Williams driver often took up third commentator duties alongside Allard Kalff and John Watson for Eurosport’s Formula 1 broadcasts, whenever Nigel Mansell had a weekend off from CART. He was not bad back then, albeit somewhat untrained.
Being a presenter on a broadcast is very, very different to being an actual commentator, so we may yet see a quite different Coulthard in the box than at the beginning of the show.
Yet it is quite glaring that there will be no journalistic presence in the box and thus it will be interesting to see if Brundle can genuinely act as a lead for viewers. Walker, Allen and Legard knew that in a sense they were the people who were to ask the expert the questions that the viewers wanted answered. Considering his expertise, Brundle may not be able to replicate that element without sounding false.
And so the pointless search for perfection continues apace and with it, those who pine for the new “Murray and James” or “Murray and Martin” will most like be tapping their fingers with impatience.