Norfolk Sky's the limit

May 2012

Like most people in the UK, when I think of Norfolk I imagine the film “Deliverance” but with farmers accents. I think of illegitimate children of brothers and sisters who have six fingers, webbed feet and who drive a tractor.

On a topic completely unrelated to banjos and incest, I know a thing or two about the motor racing world. Generally speaking I know that if one wants to get anywhere in the sport they need to be born with a silver spoon up their arse or at least be chummy with someone who was. The route up the ladder usually begins in Karting, via Formula Ford or Formula Renault, up into Formula 3 and for the people who crash a lot the next logical step would be Touring Cars. For those who had a silver spoon covered in platinum and gold, the next step is something like GP2 or Formula 2 before reaching the heady heights of Formula 1 where you have to forget how to race, start whining like a 6 year old girl and learn politics and political correctness in equal measures.

There are lots of other forms of racing, most of which are at amateur level. One of these is stock car or banger racing. I’ve always frowned upon this form of racing because it is less about racing and more about vandalism; a game played by a bunch of hooligans who just like smashing cars to pieces. So it strikes me as odd that one of the most popular figures in British motor racing comes from Norfolk and started in banger racing.

Martin Brundle was always an underrated driver. He was very unlucky not to get a decent break in Formula 1. He gave Ayrton Senna a good run for his money in Formula 3 and made quite an impact in his first year in Formula 1. Unfortunately he also made quite an impact with a concrete wall which resulted in him smashing his feet to pieces. He then spent the next few seasons struggling with rubbish equipment before taking time out to win the World Sportscar Championship and the Le Mans 24 hour race. He was really the only driver who gave Michael Schumacher a real run for his money back in the days with he was good, despite being a clear number two. Had he been in a Williams for more than 1 race he would certainly have won races and possibly even challenged for the championship.

Since retiring from full time driving, he has become one of the best commentators in the business.Would it be fair to say he is a better commentator than he was a driver? That might be a bit harsh but I think it’s fair to say he is more famous for his commentating than he ever was for his driving.

I’m a huge fan of Martin Brundle. He won me over – and probably the rest of the country – at Monza in his first year commentating alongside Murray Walker when he made a jibe about Ralf Schumacher being allowed to talk cobblers after he drove Johnny Herbert off the road and had the audacity to blame Herbert for it. The entertainment factor of listening to him continually correct Murray Walker’s gaffs was also worth tuning in for.

Having said that, I remember being initially very sceptical when it was announced he would be joining Murray Walker in the commentary box from 1997 onwards. The first commentary I heard him do was when he narrated his own qualifying lap in the Brabham at Monaco in 1989 for the official season review video. He also shared the microphone with Murray a couple of times in 1995 when he was sharing the Ligier with the revolving Suzuki. Neither attempts made him stand out to be anything special – if anything he appeared to be almost as dull as Nigel Mansell.

This is understandable because, regardless of how eloquent one may be, if that person is not a professional broadcaster and consequently not had the necessary media training, they won’t necessarily come across well. Take Eddie Jordan for example. He was always very charismatic and came across really well when he was interviewed as a team boss but as a pundit he is bloody useless. He can’t get the words out, he mumbles, he talks over himself, he fumbles about for hours searching for the right words to use and then appears to completely forget what he was actually asking. He asks multiple questions at once that appear to be completely irrelevant to the subject and, when he is asked to give his opinion, he blurts out the most insane garbage ever to come out of a human mouth. It’s not even funny any more.

Damon Hill is the same. He always came across well as a driver and seemed to have inherited his father’s quick wit. In person he is very good at talking as well. I’ve witnessed him hold a conversation numerous times with people who he hasn’t met before but who act like they are his best friend. But on the couple of occasions I saw him as a pundit on Sky I thought he came across quite poorly.

I know how difficult it is because I interview drivers at Karting races. This involves walking up to them with a Dictaphone and asking them the first thing that pops into my simple mind. Keeping the questions fresh, original, entertaining whilst at the same time trying to ensure they can’t be answered with a yes or no answer is difficult. Sometimes I end up asking exactly the same questions to different drivers and sometimes can’t think of anything to say at all so I just shove the Dictaphone in their face and wait for them to say something. I can’t begin to imagine how much harder it would be when you know there are millions of people watching on TV.

This is what makes Martin Brundle so impressive. He is just a natural. He has the right voice for it. Like Murray Walker, his voice is very dynamic and very exciting. He’s a great speaker and doesn’t say umm or errr every other word. He is very knowledgeable which means he can entertain and educate at the same time. He is also brilliantly witty; something noticeable in his famous grid walks. He is very much the natural heir to Murray Walker. I’d go as far as to say he’s even better than the great man.

However, the problem when people are really good at something is they become sought after. This means that when a company comes along with bucket loads of money, offering a silver spoon covered in gold and platinum, it is going to be hard for them to say no. I can completely understand why Brundle chose to move to Sky because not only are they paying him considerably more, they also have a much better show. All the BBC has now is half a season of live races and Eddie Jordan.