The BBC’s lead commentator Jonathan Legard has come in for a lot of stick on the internet. In my view, most of it is wholly unwarranted. Indeed, I am quite confused at the negative reaction he has been getting. I used to listen to him from time to time when he was on Radio 5 Live, and I was a fan of him then. In my view, it took years for the station’s Formula 1 coverage to recover from his departure. He has a good voice and is clearly passionate and highly knowledgable about F1. I like his tone and his sense of humour.
Most importantly of all for his job is that he almost never makes mistakes. The internet collapsed in a heap of laughter when he committed the heinous crime of mistaking a replay for live action during the Malaysian Grand Prix. Name me a commentator who has never done that? There was even a mitigating factor then, as FOM’s replay graphic was playing up during the race. Apart from that, I can’t think of any time when he has made a bad mistake, misidentified a driver (except for the odd mixed-up Red Bull for a Toro Rosso — we’ve all been there) or misread a situation. He has had a couple of bad race starts, but once the race settles in he is fine.
In contrast, Brundle has made a few errors this season, including a mega clanger when he spent half the race in Spain confusing the prime and option tyres, which actively ruined viewers’ understanding of the race. During qualifying at the British Grand Prix he spent an entire lap talking about Räikkönen even though we were watching Massa, a fact backed up by a FOM caption. He made a few mistakes during the German GP as well.
Some criticise Legard’s reliance on crutch phrases, which I would agree is one jarring thing about his commentary. But let us face it, at times Murray Walker may as well have had a drawstring coming out of his back, and everyone found that endearing. Why it should be different for Legard I don’t know.
It is true that the chemistry between him and Martin Brundle has not been very good, but that was inevitably going to take time to build up, no matter who Brundle was commentating with. Legard has a good conversational style which I like. It is a potentially great way to cover duller moments of the race without resorting to James Allen’s trick, "let’s listen to the engine [while I think of something to say]".
Unfortunately Brundle doesn’t seem to know how to deal with Legard’s conversational style. He seems not to know how to respond to Legard, often choosing not to respond at all.
A typical example of this happened during the German Grand Prix, when Brundle responded unneccessarily sarcastically towards Legard’s inquisitiveness over Brundle’s statement that it would be a shame to for refuelling to be banned. It was almost as though he felt threatened that his viewpoint was being questioned. Speaking personally, I disagree with Brundle’s point of view (strategy plays a role, but if you allow it to dominate is just replaces racing with mathematics), and the rude way he expressed it totally alienated me.
Sometimes listening to Brundle you think he deliberately sets out for a scrap. Maybe it is his way of spicing it up by playing devil’s advocate. But I get the feeling that being combative is the only way he knows how to operate. He did, after all, make his name by constantly correcting Murray Walker, and later James Allen. He never stops "correcting" people. You almost get the sense that, given the chance, he would "correct" Michael Schumacher on the subject of being a seven times World Champion.
It probably doesn’t help that he is now working with a commentator who doesn’t constantly need to be corrected, which means he now has to adapt his style to that of a colour commentator rather than encroaching on the main commentator’s role as he has always done before. This is new territory for Brundle, and I don’t think he is coping well.
Some people suggest that you could solve this problem by making Martin Brundle the main commentator. It might be worth experimenting with, but I can easily see Brundle’s ego soon dominating the entire show if he was to be given that role.
I have to admit that sometimes I wonder now if I would miss Martin Brundle. I spent most of last year listening to Radio 5 Live, sans-Brundle, and it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the races. Given that he is almost certainly the most expensive person on BBC F1 team, I wonder if it is not time for him to be given another role, because for me he is probably the least value for money.
He does have a good turn of phrase, and is an engaging talker on F1, so I wouldn’t like to see him go for good. Perhaps he could be given a smaller role such as that of post-race analyst. The colour commentator role can go to someone with more recent experience of an F1 car such as Anthony Davidson, because Brundle increasingly seems at a loss to explain some of the technical elements of team radio conversations.
And can someone explain to me why Brundle hasn’t been taken aside and politely asked to pronounce Sebastian Vettel’s name correctly? He must be the only person in the world who appears to mistake this ace F1 driver for some kind of telecommunications company, or a brand of bottle watter. Vett-tel? It’s ‘fettle’. Really, really annoying.