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Brundle: You can't force commentary box chemistry

17 February 2011

Martin Brundle has revealed that one of the key reasons he is so eagerly anticipating working alongside David Coulthard in the BBC F1 commentary box this season is that the pair have already struck up an excellent working relationship – something that, given how it is 'a chemistry you can't really force', he describes as 'gold dust'.

The erstwhile McLaren, Benetton, Ligier and Jordan star will replace Jonathan Legard as the Beeb's lead commentator this year – or the 'Voice of F1' – after the ex-Radio 5 Live man was edged out, many believe at Brundle's insistence after the pair notably failed to establish any kind of rapport.

Coulthard is stepping up from punditry duties to take over from his former sparring partner in the co-commentator's role – and Brundle admits that the new partnership could scarcely have got off to a better start.

“It's a chemistry that you can't really force,” he tellingly conceded, speaking during a special pre-season BBC F1 'Meet the Team' session at Television Centre. “I've worked in the commentary box with three different people and I have great respect for all three of them, but either you have a way where it knits together and you work off each other and it flows, or you don't – you can't force it at all.

“I think it does help that we have a mutual respect and we know each other very well. That doesn't mean to say we've always got to agree, it doesn't mean it will be seamless – we'll have to work at that – but I think from our early screen tests, we appear to be able to just follow on and flow from each other without tripping over each other too much. That for me is gold dust, because you can't make that happen really – it's in-place or it's not in-place.

“I'm looking forward to it enormously. Obviously we're good mates, and we know a bit about F1 – I think we've been to over 700 races between us, and driven in over 400. We haven't really scratched the surface, I don't think, of David's knowledge and understanding of F1. He's got a much bigger platform now to bring us up-to-date, and he's the most eloquent bloke that's recently stepped down from F1 that speaks English – or Scottish, anyway!

“I'm really, really looking forward to it. I think we can inform and entertain the audience – we speak to north of 50 million English-speakers around the world in the various countries that we go out to, but obviously our primary audience is the BBC back in the UK, and I'm confident we can get the job done.”

“I'm looking forward to sharing the experiences that we have,” echoed 13-time grand prix-winner Coulthard, whose F1 career overlapped with Brundle's by two-and-a-half seasons in the mid-1990s. “Some of them have actually been out on-track together. Obviously my grand prix career continued on when Martin retired from F1, and he's spent the last 14 years in the F1 commentary box.

“I'm just hoping I get a bit more time to get into the explanation side, because the role I've had before is part of a pre-scripted build-up and what happens after the event is a reaction to what's been going on out on-track, but there's limited time. Hopefully, we'll have a bit more time to get into why something has happened the way it has. Martin's got knowledge of driving the cars, I've got knowledge of driving the cars and hopefully we can put that across to the viewing public.”

The Scot acknowledged that whilst he and Brundle need to relay their technical expertise of the sport to inform die-hard motor racing fans and keep the coverage exciting, dynamic and cutting-edge, with such a broad audience, they also need to simplify matters and 'dumb down' on occasion to cater to the casual Sunday afternoon viewer as well and make F1 accessible and comprehensible to all. That is a viewpoint that is shared by BBC F1 anchorman Jake Humphrey, who reckons that the new challenge is just what 'DC' needs to really shine.

“I think what's interesting is that Martin had done Martin's job for 14 years, and naturally was probably thinking 'I need a change',” he mused. “I think it's good for the audience to hear a different voice as well, because it's easy to almost become staid without even knowing it.

“David has done a couple of years now of being with Eddie [Jordan] and I in the pit-lane, and the one thing he gets really frustrated about after we come off-air, he'll always say to me, 'God, I just had so much more that I wanted to say' – and now he's got two or two-and-a-half hours every [race] weekend to share his stories and his knowledge.

“Equally, I think Eddie has now got an opportunity as the primary analyst for us to say, 'right, this is it now, come out with some absolute gems', because a quarter-of-an-hour before the race when DC goes to the commentary box, or in-between the qualifying sessions or after the grand prix, that's Eddie's time, and he has to deliver.

“The pressure is on all three of those guys, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes. I think it's exciting; as an F1 fan, which is what I am more than an F1 presenter almost, I look at it and I think, bloody hell, we've got two guys with 700 races between them in terms of how many they've been to, sitting in the commentary box and talking us through the racing – spot-on.”

One criticism that has been levelled at the new Brundle/Coulthard line-up is that for the first time in Britain's coverage of F1, there will be no trained journalist in the commentary box in the mould of a Legard, a James Allen or a Murray Walker, who made the role his own. Not a problem, insists BBC Radio 5 Live's Anthony Davidson.

“I think Martin is experienced enough now to tackle this new challenge, and I think he's going to be really good at it,” opined the former Super Aguri ace. “DC obviously, still as a current driver himself in the DTM, can see it from the driver's point-of-view and with his contacts in F1, it gives him a lot more insight into what the drivers are going through out there.

“I think it should be a good duo between the two of them, and it will make for some interesting points-of-view when you have a situation on-circuit as well, because you'll have two drivers from perhaps two sides of the story arguing both cases very strongly. That should give the audience a good 50/50 split for the argument, obviously on a pally level as well – there won't be any conflict as such. I think it'll work really well.”

Davidson is quick to stress that he was never a serious candidate to join Brundle as co-commentator since he is not ready to curtail his racing sufficiently to devote himself full-time to it yet – and as he prepares himself for another season on the radio alongside David Croft, he hints at more big-name stand-ins for when he is unavailable, in the wake of Karun Chandhok's very well-received addition to the 5 Live team last year.

“As it is at the moment, I'm missing quite a few [F1] races this year already because of my racing commitments with Peugeot,” the sportscar star explained. “That's something we're a bit more flexible with on the radio side, and it was a similar situation last year as well. It's quite good in a way for the radio to spice things up a bit by getting other drivers into the commentary box, like Friday drivers who have driven on-track.

“For the races that I can't make, hopefully Karun will be there to step in along with the likes of Gary Paffett and hopefully people like Jackie Stewart as well, like we've had before – they're great to have their say, and it's just a different angle. It worked really well last year to get especially Karun and Gary and Paul di Resta as well – the drivers who have been out on-circuit – to let the audience know what it's really like. It's something that I enjoyed doing when I was a Friday driver, and that's really what got me started with the Radio 5 Live gang.

“I wouldn't have had the time to commit myself to the TV side at all [in 2011]. I still see commentating for me as a much longer-term thing; I just see it as fun at the moment – it's something that keeps me in contact with F1 and watching the young drivers coming up. I've got a great team of people to work with as well at 5 Live. I do it because I enjoy it.”

The F1 2011 World Championship campaign will rev into life in the desert kingdom of Bahrain on 13 March. The BBC will broadcast all of the action both on and off-track season-long via comprehensive coverage across TV, HD, radio, online, red button and mobile.


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