Martin Brundle on Murray Walker, gridwalks and legacy ahead of career landmark
Martin Brundle will step into the booth for the opening race of his 25th season as a commentator on Sunday.
But ahead of Brundle’s landmark campaign behind the microphone, he paused to reflect on the man alongside whom it all started, and the man he refers to as the Pele of broadcasting: Murray Walker.
“The last time I spoke to Murray was a few weeks ago and he said some things to me which were absolutely lovely,” Brundle told the PA news agency.
“He was being very magnanimous and I realised when I was cleaning my teeth the morning after he died – because it had been bugging me all night – that he knew he was off, he knew he was going to die.
“In that conversation, I said to him ‘how are you, Murray?’ And he replied by saying ‘not very well, Martin, but I am not going to bore you with that. What is going on in Formula One?’
“His passing was emotional for me. I had called him the week before he died but he didn’t pick up. I left him a message and he would normally ring back but he didn’t.
“I have wonderful memories but you think to yourself, why didn’t we have more? He retired at 77 and I wish our partnership had gone on for longer.
“But once I got over the initial sadness, I thought, he was 97, pin sharp to the very end, it was a life well-lived, and a life well-loved. We should celebrate Murray and not commiserate him.”
Just as Walker provided the Formula One soundtrack for generations, Brundle can claim to be the undisputed modern-day voice of the sport.
Brundle joined ITV after the broadcaster won the rights to showcase F1 in 1997, later moving to the BBC and then Sky in 2012.
But following a grand prix career which spanned a dozen years, 158 starts and nine podiums, Brundle was reluctant to switch codes.
“I can remember the dinner I had with dear Murray on the eve of my first season and I was quite miffed because I felt I had more to give as an F1 driver,” added Brundle.
“I said to him ‘what is the point of this commentary?’ I was unhappy. As I stood there for my first race as a broadcaster at the 1997 Australian Grand Prix, the drivers were pulling up on to the grid and they were all revving, I felt terrible. I felt like telling them to stop, that I wasn’t there, that I am not ready. But I got some nice comments after the weekend and I really enjoyed it.
“There is no doubt I am better known for my broadcasting career than my driving career which kind of irks me because I won and achieved a lot of things, but at the same time, I have been very lucky.”
Brundle’s gridwalks have become part of F1’s make-up. “It is my alter ego,” he said. “It is nine minutes of unscripted, unrehearsed, car-crash television. I turn into this person I don’t recognise, butting in and interrupting. In 24 years, I don’t think I have ever watched one back.”
But does he have a favourite? “Ozzy Osbourne in Montreal,” he replied, without a moment’s hesitation.
“He wasn’t fully with it, shall we say. I asked him a question and he gave me a very long, incomprehensible answer. I said to him, ‘I will try and think of a question to that, but in the meantime how are the dogs?’ And he said ‘they are at home s******* on the carpets’. It went out live to millions of people and I got in trouble because I was supposed to have known he would swear if I asked that question.”
Brundle heads into his 25th season amid an ever-changing television landscape. Sir Ian Botham, 65, and David Gower, 63, waved reluctant goodbyes to Sky Sports last year following two decades of service, while Matt Le Tissier, Phil Thompson and Charlie Nicholas were axed from the broadcaster’s flagship Soccer Saturday programme.
But Brundle, 62 this summer, said: “I don’t feel vulnerable at all. I feel lucky I have lasted this long. I have always expected a Jenson Button or a David Coulthard or a Mark Webber to come and blow me out of the water but I am not sure they are ready to commit to a full season and commit to it the way I do.
“I have just signed a new long-term contract with Sky and it never occurred to me that they will say no, but one day they will. I feel slightly shocked and slightly terrified that this is my 25th season but what would Lewis Hamilton say? I feel blessed.”
And on the topic of Hamilton, what is his relationship like with the British driver who will open his bid for an unprecedented eighth world title in Bahrain this weekend?
“He is not as approachable as he used to be but he is a global megastar and he is a little bit fatigued by all the demands we have to make on him,” Brundle said.
“I don’t always feel good when I sit down to interview him. I sometimes feel like saying ‘hey, Lewis, it is me, we have made a lot of TV together over the years and we have known each other for a long time’. I get confused by his initial demeanour. Then I find that he settles down and off we go.
“But who have I had the most enjoyment commentating on? Lewis. Watching him from the first corner of his first lap in Melbourne to winning seven world championships last year in Turkey has been extraordinary.”