Currently reading: How to commentate on motorsport: an expert guide
Former Channel 4 commentator Ben Edwards explains how the professionals get it right
Autocar
News
5 mins read
16 April 2021

Ever listened to an F1 commentator and thought you could do better? Well it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Until standing down at the end of last year, Ben Edwards had been the voice of F1 on UK terrestrial television since 2012, first for the BBC and since 2016 for Channel 4.

That was actually Edwards’s third stint commentating on F1: he voiced coverage for Eurosport in 1995 and ’96, and later for the Sky’s short-lived F1 Digital+ service in 2002. He has also put his voice to a host of other motorsport categories: he did international commentary for the US-based Champ Car series in the late 1990s, and was the long-time commentator for the British Touring Car Championship. He’s also commentated on A1 Grand Prix, British F3 and GT, rallying and even power boat racing.

Here's Ben's view on commentary, and his tips on how to get it right:

Commentating on motorsport has been my passion for 30 years and while I have stepped back from Channel 4’s F1 coverage, the microphone is still a part of me. That moment of going ‘live’ on-air and communicating with the viewer never fails to boost adrenalin levels and sharpen my mind.

Raceday build-up is intense; I avoid drinking too much coffee as my heart rate is already increasing and I steer away from a generous lunch as I don’t want to be heard burping on the formation lap. Walking through the paddock near race time helps me pick up the vibe of the event as drivers are suiting up and heading for their cars. 

Over the years, I have had several jet lag induced dreams of being caught in a crowd and failing to reach the commentary box before the the grid takes off; I make sure to be settled in my booth at least 20 minutes before ‘Lights Out’. My environment is normally a small rectangular room mounted high in a grandstand with TV screens and timing monitors blocking much of the view out of the window, but I learnt many years ago to focus on the screens alone because that is what the audience is watching.

I lay out a few sheets of paper on the desk; a circuit map, the grid formation and a handwritten A4 document that I created the night before, summarising key facts relevant to this race. Alongside, my plastic-sleeved folder contains extensive research; I spend a couple of days a week updating and honing the information, some of it coming from dedicated statistical experts in the world of F1. 

Before fitting the headphones, I’ll do some warm up exercises and voice preparation. I remember seeing Murray Walker do the same in 1995 when we were both commentating on F1 in separate but transparent booths. Murray was a true inspiration to me and his recent loss was a very sad moment. I copy his technique of standing when commentating to provide the breath and energy required at key moments. 

Like him, I prefer to use a handheld lip-microphone. Thankfully I have never had to share the specific item as Murray did with James Hunt, although a technical problem in Brazil one year had John Watson and me wrestling over a standard old fashioned cable telephone as we voiced the action. 

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Through the headset I can hear the producer of the show counting down to the titles. And then I’m off, absorbing information from pictures and sharing it with those watching. My peripheral vision picks up alerts on timing screens, I’m constantly aware of the need to stop talking when team radio bursts into life and every sense in my body is working to absorb and distribute information.

Motor races can be endlessly fascinating or sometimes rather dull and it is those which require me to dig deep and create an energy that is not being stimulated by track action. That doesn’t mean false excitement; my aim is to come up with stories and information that keep fans engaged. That’s when my extensive notes become useful. 

The last lap creates a high point with celebrations of race victory. Enveloped by the buzz, I rattle through the podium festivities, then suddenly it is all over and within minutes my adrenalin levels have dropped, I’m hungry and need to sit down, hopefully with a sense of fulfilment but not always.

In August 1998 I was commentating on Champ Cars at Mid Ohio from a booth mounted on the back of a truck with minimal views. Reigning champion Alex Zanardi was having a tough weekend and trying to work his way up through the field.

Suddenly our power supply failed and we lost all the screens yet my voice was still transmitting. At precisely that moment Zanardi went off at Turn One and I was just waffling. Back home my wife was shouting at the screen ‘But Zanardi is OFF! What are you looking at Ben?’ The answer was virtually nothing. I made a note in my diary that night; ‘Race didn’t go well for me - we lost electricity and thus pictures and timing. Didn’t feel on top of it…’ 

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Self criticism has always driven me; comments on social media are just like clouds passing in the sky. It’s what comes from within that counts.

Ben's Top Tips 

1. Spend time on research, connecting with key competitors and understanding the unique challenges of each event. 

2. Prepare a couple of opening lines to get into the flow and perhaps a line for the conclusion, but let the rest just flow, inspired by what you see. 

3. In your mind, aim your commentary to several key friends watching from home. One who is knowledgeable, another more casual viewer plus one of your relatives who knows nothing about the sport. 

4. Remember to inform, explain and where possible entertain but don’t patronise.

5. Deliver from the heart of your soul with energy, enthusiasm and emotion as Murray Walker taught us.

Ben Edwards

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Paul Dalgarno 16 April 2021

I haven't heard Ben, but maybe he could take over from the increasingly dire Sky team?

I used to love the Sky coverage, but now becoming increasingly turned off by the huge team. Why so many people, and o many hangers on.

The laddish theme of the broadcasts in increasing annoying. Like adolescent friends banter from grown men, the Top Gear period has passed, more people want informed commentary and insights now.

Brundle I like, switched on and relevant. Same with Hill. Ted Kravitz is good, and underused during the race. Davidson, Button, and Di Resta underused. but generally good.

David Croft, where do I start? He shouts most of it, the intro to each round is unbearable shouty, the "Lights off and away we go" is uninspiring and repetitve, "Ladies and Gentlemen" is repeated many times a day. Detest the constant "Hey Crofty" comments from the rest of the team.

Simon Lazenby - What's he for?

Chandhok. Adds nothing, and his mangled pronounciations grate.

Johnny Herbert. Childish, adds nothing, not respected by the drivers.

Nico Rosberg. Bland beyond belief.

Pinkham and Brookes. Give them a proper role and see how they do.

 

 

 

 

405line 16 April 2021

Ben Edwards and John Watson doing commentary for Eurosport was the best F1 commentary team I've heard, the youthful enthusiasm and knowlege of Bens voice tempered with the calmness and experience of John Watson was a joy. The current channel 4 team are very good too.

Please send Ben my best regards. 

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