A chat with BBC F1 commentator Ben Edwards

Tuesday 12th March 2013, 21:21 by Daniel Chalmers 

Davenport/Sutton

The new BBC/Sky F1 deal certainly caused plenty of controversy when it was first announced. However for BBC F1 commentator Ben Edwards it turned out to be great news.

With two UK broadcasters in the sport it meant there was an extra place up for grabs in the commentary box, which as it turned out had Edwards’ name on it.

Daniel Chalmers caught up with Ben and chatted to him about his first year at the BBC amongst a variety of subjects.

DC: Last year was your first year at the BBC, how much did you enjoy it?

Ben Edwards: I loved it! I loved it! It was everything I hoped and wished it could be really. My dream job and they welcomed me so much. It’s so good being part of such an incredible team of people. Yeah, I felt absolutely at home straight away working with DC (David Coulthard). That seemed to work straight away and I felt I got better and better as the year went by. And that’s natural, any relationship like that takes team to really gel but I was so happy with the way it began.

Were there any nerves in Melbourne?

BE: Yes of course, once I got on air and Jake handed over to me, because remember although it was a highlights race, I am doing it live. So it doesn’t really make any difference to me. I am always commentating live and then it just gets cut down later on. So yeah once I got commentating and focussed on what I do then it was great.

Other countries take your commentary as well don’t they?

BE: Yes, that’s right, we go out to South Africa, New Zealand and Canada as well.

So you always have millions of viewers?

BE: Exactly, Exactly. So even if it’s not live and direct on BBC at that moment, it’s still going out so I still need to watch my Ps and Qs. I still can’t get too carried away.

Murray Walker is the benchmark in Motor Racing commentary, how hard is it not to imitate him?

BE: I don’t try and imitate him but I guess all motorsport commentators are to a certain extent are inspired by him, because we all know how good he was and what he gave to the sport and what he gave to the viewer. There were certain things that Murray did that I will take inspiration from. One of the things he did I always felt so well was inject excitement and enthusiasm, sometimes at a time when you weren’t expecting it, because nothing much had happened. 

He just had that natural excitement and enthusiasm and I feel that. I don’t try and copy it but I do feel inspired by that and I always want to try and get my own excitement and enthusiasm across to other people. I am not Murray Walker and I never will be. But if you can get across some of the enthusiasm that he showed then I love to do that.

What was your favourite commentary moment from last year?

BE: I think it’s actually the whole of the Brazilian GP. The Brazilian GP was just so amazingly crazy and the championship was at stake. Vettel was facing the wrong way, Alonso could then win the championship fighting his way, and then you had Hulkenberg leading the race. 

For me the Brazilian GP simply encapsulated the whole year. There were wonderful races to commentate on and I had a lovely time. But for me Brazil just brought it altogether, and you couldn’t have asked for a better finale really to such a fantastic year. So yeah for me it was the Brazilian GP.

Out of all the places you go to which is your favourite?

BE: Yeah, that’s a good question because there’s such variety out of the countries we go to. Australia is a wonderful place to go to at the beginning of the year. You always feel very welcome in Australia. It’s a lovely climate. You come from a British winter to an Australian summer/late summer so I do love going to Australia. There’s no doubt. 

It was lovely for me to go back to the States because I haven’t been to the States very much since I used to commentate on Champcars in the late 90s. So for me to go to Texas and go to Austin was a real pleasure. So that was great.

Which track has the best commentary box?

BE: (Laughs) Best commentary box? I tell you which one has the worse commentary box and that’s India.

I thought you might say that...

BE: Yeah, you’ve heard all about that one (the commentary boxes in India have no windows). Canada, although you can’t see much of the track there is a fantastic view right over the champion’s chicane, where they always used to crash into the wall. 

To actually see them at speed through a corner because most commentary boxes you don’t actually see a corner. If you’re lucky you see a bit of pit straight. That’s useful in terms of who is coming into the pits. But I love to be able to see a car go through a corner, so for me the Canada one is good.

This year the likes of Glock, Kovalainen and Senna have all left the sport. Will you miss them or is it more a case of ‘bring on the young guns’?

BE: Yeah, that’s always a difficult one. Yeah I will miss them. I think they all gave a lot to Formula 1. Timo Glock had a good chance and he has been a great driver and ambassador. He has done a very honourable thing by stepping away from Marussia, and now going to DTM. It’s a great move.

Senna I felt never quite got the chance to show what he could do. In qualifying it just didn’t come together. I think if he had been on the Bridgestone tyres from a couple of years ago I think he would have done a bit better. I think he always struggled on these Pirelli tyres, and I do think that’s a bit of a shame.

Heikki, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him back at some point. He is such a perfect stand in now. I know teams have their third drivers but actually if a top team ran into trouble right now Kovalainen is probably the guy I would whip out and say put him in the car. He’s solid, reliable, he will score you points. I wouldn’t be surprised if something did happen and he might end up in a car at some point.

You used to commentate for British Touring Cars, what could F1 learn from BTCC?

BE: Ok, I do think they are very different products. So actually asking what can F1 learn from Touring Cars. I’m not sure it should be looking for lessons from Touring cars, and vice versa. I am not sure if Touring Cars should be necessarily looking for answers from F1. Although they are a little bit this year because they are going to this different tyre choice thing in British Touring Cars, which is an interesting addition to the rules.

I think there should always be a crossover/blend between different racing championships and I think they can all learn from each other. But I do think they are very different products as well. 

Touring Cars is very much an entertainment package for me, which I loved being part of. I don’t mind having reverse grids for example in Touring Cars as long it’s not overdone and it does add an element of the unknown. And it’s great fun and Touring Car racing is fun. 

Formula 1 is different because it’s an awful lot of people spending an awful lot of money to be at the top and I think a reverse grid would not be right for Formula 1, as it would add too much randomness. I do think that actually the qualifying system we have got at the moment is fantastic. I love qualifying in Formula 1.

So I don’t think there is anything I would particularly take at the moment. I do think they should concentrate on their own specialism.

If you could change one rule in the F1 regulations what would it be?

BE: One thing I would love to see is actually an inspiration from another series I used to work on. I would love to see free practice one allocated only for third drivers. So every team’s third driver is there. They are the only ones allowed to do free practice one. In free practice two it goes back to the regular drivers for the weekend.

The problem is at the moment is lack of testing for new drivers coming in. That then completely gets rid of that problem as you only use your third driver for free practice one. It also helps teams at the lower end of the grid because drivers might be bringing a budget to help pay for their drive. I would like to see that.

And it’s fair as well.

BE: Exactly, as if everybody has to do it then it’s up to the teams to do it.

I think with Senna the fact that he had to sit out so many practice sessions (whilst Maldonado took part in each one) hampered him...

BE: It was tough on him, but if they all had to do that then it would at least be fair. You can see some new drivers coming through, and you think oh he’s good and teams would get the chance to see that.

It’s how Vettel made his name all those years ago.

BE: It is, exactly.

In terms of driver pairings who do you think has the strongest line-up?

BE: I think Mercedes is very strong. Hamilton and Rosberg. I think Hamilton will have the edge in qualifying. It’s my own belief. But I do think Rosberg is a very consistent finisher and points scorer and he’s not far off. He’s not going to be far off Hamilton. It’s not going to be a big chunk of time.

I think the Vettel/Webber pairing is a very strong combination. When you look at Webber in the first part of last year, ok he went away a bit in the latter part of last year but I do think they are a very good driver combination. I think sometimes we do forget how much a part of that success is the fact that they have been together for several years and that continuity. They understand each other.

One of the most interesting ones for me as well this year is the Maldonado/Bottas combination. 

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