The BBC has confirmed the much-suspected axing of lead commentator Jonathan Legard, while it has also announced a restructuring of its F1 commentary team.
Long-term ‘colour’ commentator and former F1 veteran Martin Brundle will be promoted to the lead commentator role vacated by Legard, while joining his manager and fellow-former McLaren driver will be David Coulthard, who will take over Brundle’s role.
So what do these changes mean for the Formula 1 broadcasting landscape? Read on for our thoughts…
Brundle is now something of a veteran in the commentary box, having first worked with the BBC in 1995 and joining ITV-F1’s commentary line-up in 1997 as co-commentator to the legendary Murray Walker.
Walker’s retirement at the end of 2001 saw James Allen promoted to the role of lead commentator full-time, and the pairing proved a successful (albeit Anglophilic) pairing until ITV lost its hosting rights at the end of 2008, which saw the BBC take over and Legard assume the role of lead commentator alongside Brundle.
It was widely believed that the pairing of Legard-Brundle was an acrimonious one, with suggestions that Brundle lobbied furiously behind the scenes to have the gaffe-prone and largely unpopular Legard removed when his contract expired.
Brundle is said to be “absolutely delighted and very motivated” in the wake of the new changes to the line-up, and the new pairing has been working extensively during the off-season on screen tests to build an effective chemistry in the commentary box.
“We have been friends, rivals and colleagues for 18 years and combined we have driven in more than 400 F1 Grands Prix and attended over 700. I’ve never felt more passionate about Formula 1 and I can’t wait to get started,” Brundle added.
Interestingly, Brundle will still continue to perform his ever-popular pre-race grid walks and juggle the role of lead commentator.
Coulthard has been a member of the BBC commentary team – in the role of a pundit – since his retirement from Formula 1 at the end of 2008, and his new role will still see him continue to provide analysis for pre-race build-up and post-race shows.
“I’m very excited to be joining forces with Martin in this new role of co-commentator,” Coulthard added.
“F1 is all about challenging yourself and this will be a big challenge for me, but one that I am looking forward to. There is a great team on the BBC F1 show and we’re looking forward to the year ahead and to bringing something new to our loyal viewers.”
The BBC’s decision to place two ex-F1 drivers in the commentary box is a departure from tradition in commentary circles – which typically pairs an experienced journalist with a former star of the sport – and may be viewed in some circles as a particularly contentious decision.
However, Ben Gallop, the BBC’s Head of F1 broadcasts, believes that this is a risk worth taking, and that their vast experience and excellent relationship will prove a winner.
“We’re always looking for ways to take our Formula 1 coverage to another level – and for 2011 we have an exciting new combination in the commentary box,” Gallop said. “We’re keen to make the most of Martin Brundle’s wealth of broadcasting experience and his popularity with the audience by giving him the role of lead commentator and putting him alongside David Coulthard, one of the biggest names in British motorsport and a skilled race analyst.
“We want to tap into their combined on-track expertise – together they will provide our viewers with more immediate discussion, analysis and debate as the action happens. The results of screen tests have been very impressive and we are convinced this combination will deliver a fantastic commentary for our audience for what promises to be a thrilling 2011 season.”
The change in the BBC’s structure has been welcomed in many circles, with Brundle’s former on-air partner James Allen writing in an article on his website (which you can read in full by clicking here): “The most important thing with a sport like F1 is that the commentator is passionate about his sport and is steeped in it and Martin ticks both of those boxes.
And as for Legard? Well, the BBC allowed him to announce his departure before their confirmed the restructure, and Legard used the new social media platform Twitter to confirm the bad news to his more than 23,000 followers.
“The change of direction we are taking unfortunately means there is no place for Jonathan Legard in our commentary set-up,” Gallop added.
“We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Jonathan for his great work over the last two seasons. He is a first-rate journalist and broadcaster who has been a core member of our team, helping to re-establish BBC Sport as the nation’s F1 broadcaster. We wish him all the very best for the future.”
As I’m sure the BBC is wishing Brundle and Coulthard every success for 2011 and beyond…