Ricciardo isn’t far away but his hopes are soon dashed by unreliability. This is turning out to be an easy one for the commentators, we both acknowledge. That isn’t always the case, Walker asserts, and it was especially tough before electronic lap timing arrived.
“It was always risky,” he explains. “You’d do your best to interpret the pictures, without having any control over what was being shown. I’d time the gaps between cars with my stopwatch while keeping talking and watching movements through the field on an old-time lap chart. The risk was always that while I was looking away, the leader would go off, catch fire, jump out and punch a marshal – just as I was telling the world Derek Warwick had moved nicely to 12th. You could take a lot of stick over that.” Walker acknowledges that his spur-of-the-moment commentary sometimes contained ‘Murrayisms’ but it never played much on his mind, mainly because he was doing the job professionally and nobody ever wanted him to stop.
The Abu Dhabi race is, well, boring. “It looks like Hamilton isn’t trying to catch Bottas, and Vettel can’t catch Hamilton,” says Walker. “I think we’re seeing the finishing order – unless Hamilton’s ego makes him have a go towards the end.” We’re well over half distance, but there’s time to discuss one of F1’s greatest characters, Ron Dennis (“a difficult man, though I never had any trouble with him”). Dennis gave Walker his one decent driving stint in an F1 car, a Ford DFV-engined McLaren MP4/1C, at Silverstone in the early 1980s.
Ron Dennis's highs and lows at McLaren
“He handed me Niki Lauda’s overalls and a pair of racing boots. Everyone kept saying ‘We’re looking forward to lunch, Murray’, because they’d been told I’d be on the circuit during the lunch interval – on my own – with everyone looking on. I did 10 laps (they say they hung out the pit board after three) and I think it went pretty well. Someone asked me what revs I’d been seeing on the straight and I said 10,000. [McLaren race driver] John Watson reckoned that was over 150mph.”
On the screen, Bottas crosses the line just as I’m asking the hammiest of all hack’s questions: who’s the person among the F1 community you’ve liked best in all your years? Walker takes time to think about it. I suspect he’s doing it to be nice given that, in such a long career of talking, he’ll have been asked every question going – including this.
“Ross Brawn,” he says at last. “I admire him enormously. He looks rather like a sleepy old owl, but he’s a very nice, very normal bloke. And people love him. On our tour of Fiorano, I’ll never forget how people really seemed to worship him. Mind you, he’s got a helluva job to do now, sorting out the future of F1 [in his new role as sporting boss]. But if anyone can do it, he can.”