Former F1 driver and today’s lead BBC F1 commentator Martin Brundle is celebrating his 52nd birthday today!
One of the most intelligent racing drivers on and off the track, it still remains a mystery to me how a man who pushed Ayrton Senna so hard for the 1983 British F3 crown could not win a Formula 1 Grand Prix for love nor money, let alone lead a single lap in a career spanning 17 years. If ever this was an example of wrong time and/or place, then Martin would be your number-one candidate.
Making his F1 debut with Tyrrell in 1984, Martin finished fifth on debut and soon peaked with a brilliant run to second at Detroit, a race he maintains he would have won.
Forced to rebuild in 1985, he failed to finish in the points as Tyrrell found itself well off-the-pace without the now universal turbo engine, and its Renault powerplants duly arrived later in the year. He took four points’ finishes in 1986.
Then came a disastrous switch to Zakspeed for 1987, and – a plucky fifth at San Marino aside – the season brought nothing by frustration and a litany of mechanical failures. It was from this that he took the brave decision to switch to sports car racing with Jaguar, and he won the World Sporstcar Championship and the Dayton 24 Hours in 1988.
With a one-off drive for Williams at Spa-Francorchamps keeping him on everyone’s radar, he joined Brabham for 1989 as a more confident and determined driver, netting three points’ finishes in the little Judd-powered car.
With uncertainty reigning over the team’s long-term prospects, Brundle moves back to Jaguar and sports cars in 1990 – this time winning the 1990 Le Mans 24 Hours – before returning to Brabham in 1991, tempted back by the prospect of Yamaha engines. A fifth-placed finish late in the season was scant reward for his efforts, as a promising car was largely left undeveloped.
His work at Jaguar had attracted the attention of TWR and Benetton boss Tom Walkinsaw, who lured Brundle to the team as Michael Schumacher’s team-mate for the 1992 season. After a rocky start, Brundle knuckled down and scored points at every race between Imola and the end of the season, bar one. That race was the Canadian Grand Prix, a race he would have won but for a mechanically-induced retirement.
And despite continuing to prove his skills as a great wheel-to-wheel racer, Brundle made life hard for himself by a seeming inability to string together a good lap in qualifying, which often saw him starting too far down the order to really challenge the frontrunners.
Brundle’s efforts should have seen him retained at Benetton for 1993, but he wasn’t, and so moved to Ligier, where he breathed fresh life into a stagnating and ill-disciplined team.
Again, he was only kept for a single season, and held out for a last-minute drive at McLaren in 1994. Second place at the Monaco Grand Prix was the high spot in a season blighted by the unreliability of new engine partner Peugeot, in a marriage that would last just 16 races…
Having not been retained at McLaren, Brundle reunited with Walkinsaw (now at Ligier) and shared the second race seat with Aguri Suzuki as part of a deal struck to keep engine supplier Mugen Honda happy. He proved quicker, but it was still not enough to stay on-board, and he joined Jordan for the 1996 season.
With the Jordan team – and Brundle – still winless after many years, Brundle was not able to deliver the results Eddie Jordan wanted, and so Brundle was fired at the end of the year, bringing down the curtain on a hugely promising, but unfulfilled, career.
Brundle’s mastery of communicating saw him as a logical choice to team up with Murray Walker when ITV took on the F1 broadcast rights from the BBC, and he proved a hit in the commentary box with his delicate turn of phrase, sense of irony and incredible insight into the workings of the sport.
Now the BBC’s lead commentator alongside David Coulthard, I, like millions of other F1 fans, thoroughly enjoy his commentary – the man is an institution in Formula 1 and the sport is all the better for his presence.