As I expected, my previous post has generated a bit of controversy in the comments. So I have decided to break from the series of posts looking at the BBC’s F1 coverage this season, and the final part will be published tomorrow.
Instead, I am going to do something which will hopefully outline why I think Jonathan Legard is doing a good job as commentator. This is actually something I originally posted on the Digital Spy F1 coverage discussion thread, which is worth keeping an eye on if you have an interest in the way Formula 1 is broadcast.
I think just now is an apt moment to bring up something interesting that I noticed while watching a video of a classic F1 moment. In fact, it’s widely regarded as one of the most exciting pieces of racing of all time — Gilles Villeneuve vs Renè Arnoux at Dijon in 1979. In the commentary box is Murray Walker. But just as an experiment, imagine it’s Jonathan Legard.
I’ve transcribed some interesting bits (actually the majority of the commentary).
0:18 Renault LEADS Ferrari LEADS Renault – Lap 75.
0:55 It’s lap 75. Into the Parabolique. [Long silence.] Down to the double-left at la Bretelle. Villeneuve. Arnoux. Ferrari. Renault. [Long silence.] Round to la Combe.
1:20 …From la Combe, DOWN to the Courbe de Pouas.
1:36 Arnoux pops out and has a look. Arnoux has another look. And Villeneuve locks up his tyres. [“Say what you see”, anyone?]
1:48 Into the left hander and right hander at Sabeliers. Down to la Bretelle again. Down hill. Very fast. Lap 76. 83 lap race.
2:07 Who is going to be second? There’s Villeneuve. Parabolique. Behind him… Arnoux. Renault first, Renault third, Ferrari second.
2:20 …as they go round… Bretelle. Up to la Combe. Lap 76.
2:35 [after a long silence] Keeping [?] round the Courbe de Pouas then they burst up over the crest.
2:45 It’s Villeneuve. This is the start of lap 77. And Villeneuve locks up the tyres again. And the order is Jabouille – Renault. And then Villeneuve in second place. Behind him is Arnoux in third position. Alan Jones in the Saudia Williams fourth. Jean-Pierre Jarier in the Candy Tyrrell is fifth. And Clay Regazzoni in the second of the two Saudia Williams is in sixth position.
3:28 Villeneuve second. Arnoux third. And they’re on their way.
3:34 Only three full laps at the end of this one.
3:44 [After a very long silence] Fourth gear. Up into fifth when they go over the crest of the hill.
3:55 …as they come down to the right-hander at Villeroy.
4:10 …as they go into the right-hander and the left at Sabeliers.
4:38 On lap 78. Round Bretelle.
5:07 Now we’re into the start of the 79th lap and last lap but one with Renè Arnoux second…
5:20 … on the last lap but one.
5:25 DOWN to la Bretelle.
5:52 This is the 79th lap in this 80 lap historic Grand Prix.
6:30 They bang wheels. He’s off. He’s off. And he’s back again. Renè Arnoux of the circuit and then back again.
6:40 Villeneuve goes over the corrugations.
6:46 As they go up to Parabolique in the 80th and last lap. [I haven’t included them all, but he mentions that it’s the last lap at least five times during the lap.]
6:56 To la Bretelle. 80th. 80th lap in this 80 lap race.
7:09 On the la Combe / Courbe de Pouas section.
7:25 Into the Courbe de Pouas they come [long after they’ve exited it].
For this great piece of racing, it’s not the greatest piece of commentary. It is not as though there isn’t enough on-track action for him to be talking about and reflecting on. And I was struck by just how many of the traits Legard is so heavily criticised for Walker exhibits in this clip.
He constantly refers to what lap it is. He can’t help but remind us over and over what positions the drivers are in, including at one point a full classification of the top six. And it feels as though half the time he is just saying what corner they’re going through, complete with “down the hills” and “up the hills”. Then there are the “say what you see” moments.
Of course, there are a lot of things in Murray Walker’s defence. Most notably, unlike today’s commentators, Walker is completely on his own. There is no co-commentator to ever save him when he’s lost for words, or to give him a chance to gather his thoughts. There is of course no pit lane reporter feeding him more information. And – this is a guess – but I would assume there was no Mark Hughes-type figure in the commentary box either. The TV pictures aren’t great either. I would guess also that he is doing it from a studio in London?
This was also – correct me if I’m wrong – only the second season where the BBC were covering every grand prix. On the other hand, Murray Walker had been commentating on motor racing for decades, though not with the same sort of intensity that any of today’s big-name commentators would.
I don’t know this, but is it possible that Walker did a lot of radio commentary, hence the “say what you see” moments?
My point is that I think a lot of the criticisms that have been levelled at Legard are very harsh indeed. When you watch a video of Murray Walker in the 1970s, many of the same traits are there. I know Murray isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but he became a massively well-loved household name and is one of the most famous sports commentators in the world. But he wasn’t born a great. It took him time to develop his technique and become the commentator from, say, the late 80s or early 90s that most people remember.
So I say people should perhaps lay off Legard a little. If Murray Walker can bang on about “down the hill” and “round the corner” during a hugely exciting piece of racing, I think we can forgive Legard for a “down the hill” or two during boring moments.