Some people may have read the recent announcement of Ben Edwards replacing Martin Brundle as the BBC’s primary Formula One commentator and wondered who we he was. But most motorsport fans have been aware of Edwards for a while now – he has commentated on the British Touring Car Championship for a decade and has also commentated on pretty much every other British racing series as well as the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport from 2005 to 2009 for Sky. Of course, he has also been commentating on Formula One for a while on the annual end of year DVD season reviews, and prior to that commentated on Eurosport’s Formula One coverage.
Edwards’ style is clear and concise but he still retains the ability to get genuinely excited. Check out his screaming of “Rob Huff! The 24 year old! From Newmarket!” during live commentary of the final lap shootout in the third round of the British Touring Car Championship’s August 2004 visit to Brands Hatch.
He is perhaps most famous, though, for his commentary on the final laps of the 2000 Michigan 500 Champ Car race featuring a thrilling climax between Juan Pablo Montoya and Michael Andretti. You cannot criticise how he captures the excitement of the moment perfectly.
Many found Brundle’s bizarre attempt at catchphrases annoying, such as “look but never stare” that he inexplicably said at the start of several races last year as the lights went out. Unfortunately, Edwards has his own catchphrases which are less catchphrases really and more a case of repetition of commentary style. Mirroring two halves of his sentence such as “Michael was out of his car… and out of the race” is a particularly common one in the 2011 Formula One DVD review. As well as this, he puts unnecessary emphasis on words, such as in the recurring cases of “Sebastian NEEDN’T have worried”, “what a FASCINATING encounter we have in store” and “he CERTAINLY did that in style”. And if you watch the 2004 British Touring Car Championship season review DVD (or any other year, but that one in particular) and skip to the start of every race, you’ll hear Edwards announce the exact words verbatim “all set for the start here at [insert British motor racing circuit]” almost every single time. No, I’m not exaggerating. Let’s hope he comes up with something different for BBC Formula One 2012.
If you listen to Edwards’ interview at Autosport International 2012, the biggest motor racing show of its kind held in Birmingham every January, you will hear him sensibly explain that he always sees himself not as the expert, but as the commentator alongside the expert in the case of Tim Harvey for the BTCC coverage or David Coulthard for the BBC F1 coverage. This is something Edwards should be applauded for, even though he actually has racing experience of his own and began as a mechanic. He is certainly better than a lot of commentators out there (ahem, James Allen).
What I am less excited about is the prospect of Edwards being involved in supplemental F1 features the Beeb are so good at doing in the build up to race or qualifying coverage. Edwards always looks awkward when explaining to ITV viewers what a wet tyre is or interviewing Mat Jackson about chicken nuggets or whatever. Edwards is a commentator that works best behind the mic – he has never looked good when we have seen unnecessary shots of him “live from the commentary box” (I’ve never understood why broadcasters do that as it always looks so unglamorous it is laughable; it probably started with American sport). But unfortunately it is almost inevitable that he will be made by the BBC to make such features and perform on-camera. Love them or loathe them, the Jake Humphrey/David Coulthard/Eddie Jordan line up does work very well on camera. Interestingly enough, it is Martin Brundle who has always seemed to take things a bit too seriously and looked the most uncomfortable since DC got used to his role, so maybe Edwards doesn’t have much to live up to.
Edwards is perfect in that he brings a bit more excitement to the BTCC but perhaps F1 deserves a little more gravitas, without hiring a wally who shouts at the wrong moments, like James Allen. I mentioned this to my Dad and he wisely pointed out “with James Allen you haven’t got gravitas, that’s just ass”. Quite.
One thing that Edwards does do well is adapt his tone to different situations perfectly. I don’t just mean whether the race is frantic or dull either – he can do post-race or post-qualifying summaries in an informative yet entertaining way that is just as brilliant as when he goes on the journey with you live through the race. His monotone effort on the F1 DVD is detached and almost monotone yet does the job nicely, whereas the BTCC DVD is just a well-edited cut down of his original commentary (something DUKE DVDs have perfected over the last decade or so since the VHS to DVD switchover). On that note, isn’t it high time the F1 DVDs featured as-live commentary? The races are very much one off productions with staccato bumpers in between, whereas the BTCC DVD with its nicely produced transitions between race meetings and as-live commentary flows beautifully. Having said that, as the series has only one broadcaster and the DVD is just the edit from ITV4’s coverage, Tim Harvey does occasionally refer to something that did not make it onto the final DVD cut. Even the Le Mans DVD commentary has now become as-live and brilliantly features Radio Le Mans commentary (something DUKE should have been doing since they first tried it on their Le Mans review videos in the eighties).
Edwards’ rival will be David Croft from BBC Radio 5Live, who has done an excellent job at describing something the audience cannot see, yet it will be interesting to see how he does commentating on television. Having said that, his radio commentary accompanied the BBC F1 practice sessions and was a very enjoyable watch. At least the standard is higher than it’s ever been in general, which is good. God forbid we ever return to the days of ITV’s 2004 motorsport chat show “Speed Sunday” with its terrible banter and straw polls. Edwards vs Croft, let the battle begin…