Murray Walker Tribute: F1’s Legendary Commentator

Murray Walker the F1 commentator
Murray Walker in action.

Bit of a change in routine for our schedule as we pay respects to Murray Walker, who passed away on 13th March 2021 at the age of 97.

He’s a legendary figure in Formula One, with his enthusiasm, energy, and personable nature endearing him to the world.

A Tribute to Murray Walker

In this tribute, we can only really repeat what thousands of other publications are reporting right now. Mixed with personal memories.

Walker is a legend of F1. His commentating career from the 1940s through to 2001! And his journalism even longer than that.

We don’t think Walker would want anyone treating his passing as a tragedy. He was a realistic individual, one well aware he was getting very old.

Instead, we want to document the man’s style, energy, compassion, and enthusiasm for the world around him.

Walker’s Early Years

Walker was born on October 10th 1923 in Birmingham. His father introduced him to motorsport in the form of motorcycle racing.

But his early years were pretty tumultuous. In 1939, WWII broke out and Walker was conscripted. He served in the tanks regiment.

But after the war, he tried his hand at motorcycle racing before settling into a long career in advertising.

This he did until he was 59, when he retired in 1982 to focus on his F1 commentating career.

He actually started commentating in 1949! After British driver James Hunt (1947-1993) became a hit in the UK—winning the 1976 F1 title—the BBC ramped up its coverage of the sport.

And Walker was hired to do the commentary full-time from 1978 onward. And he rapidly became the voice of F1.

Walker’s F1 Years

Unfortunately, it's difficult to get clips of his commentary onto our blog! As F1 blocks clips from playing on other sites.

So, if you'd like to listen and watch some of the below clips, you'll need to click on the link in the top of each video.

Walker’s commentating style is pretty much unlike anyone else. With his high-octane and sharp voice, plus incredible enthusiasm. And an almost childlike sense of joy.

He was always incredibly happy to see success in F1, such as with a driver’s first win. Rubens Barrichello at Hockenheim 2000 being a fine example.

Unfortunately, Walker’s job also required dealing with the dangerous side of the sport.

And he stated the worst experience he ever had was commentating live on Ayrton Senna‘s fatal crash at Imola in 1994.

This he did with the standard professionalism you’d expect of the man, honed from decades behind the microphone.

If you watched the sport in the 1980s and 1990s, Walker was a huge part of your life every other weekend.

As soon as the studio pundits handed over to Walker for the live race, you knew you were in for something special.

Walker’s brilliance as a communicator became clear early in his career, even if he did later become famous for his on-air gaffes. These are called Murrayisms. Our favourite?

“There’s nothing wrong with the car, except it’s on fire.”

He called these prophecies that immediately went wrong. A nod to his self-deprecating style there.

All this helped make him enormously popular. Arguably as the audience could connect with him on a personal level.

He wasn’t a holier-than-thou type talking down from the commentary box, he made mistakes, and could poke fun at himself.

From 1980 to 1993 Walker became a double-act as he teamed up with James Hunt (who’d quit driving at the end of 1979).

These two were very different personalities who clashed quite badly at times. Hunt was a playboy and often drunk or stoned live on air.

Those two did eventually get on very well, but Walker always remained critical of Hunt’s hedonism.

But as a duo, they complemented each other very well. In 2000, Walker said his favourite GP was at Monaco in 1982. You can hear the pair in action here.

At Monaco in 1980, Walker recalled in his 2002 autobiography Hunt had recently broken a leg skiing (whilst drunk).

Hunt was lugging a bottle of wine with him, plopped his cast onto Walker’s legs where they were sitting, and did the commentary in that fashion.

Hunt also didn’t think much of it to swear live on air. On the BBC. Which remains a big no-no, especially in 1989.

After Martin Brundle quit F1 at the end of 1996, he and Walker then formed a very popular commentating duo.

And it’s during that period we came across Formula One properly for the first time, at Spa 1998 in August.

His lightning-fast reactions and “trousers on fire” style was in perfect flow all weekend, capturing an iconic moment between David Coulthard and Michael Schumacher.

Walker retired from F1 at the end of 2001. In the three and a half years we listened to him, we got to see what all the fuss was all about.

Along with his intelligence and natural way with words, his expertise in adapting to sudden situations was remarkable.

Even more so that we was 75 when we, at 14, starting watching the sport in mid-1998.

And we remember a year later, during one of our favourite races at Nurburgring 1999, he was exemplary. That sharp insightfulness rang across the whole race.

Because his voice was beaming out of living room TV sets for decades on end, it was like you knew the guy. And we did once get to ask him something.

In 2001, we sent him a question to the channel ITV. And we got a lovely response on its site—first out of all the questions Walker answered. “Take a bow!” As he put it.

He was wildly popular in the F1 paddock as well, which he did revisit occasionally during his retirement years.

But he was true to his word. In late 2001, he wanted to quit while he was still at his peak. To leave the audience wanting more, rather than being shuffled off sympathetically.

And, again, we think that highlights his self-awareness. A personality trait that endeared him the world over.

Farewell, Mr. Murray Walker

Naturally, the F1 community continues to pay a huge amount of respect.

It’s a hectic and often brutal sport, with a lot of one-upmanship, controversies, political wrangling, and business dealings.

But there is a very real humanity behind F1, which always shows itself at times like this.

You’re not going to find anyone with a bad word to say about Walker, which we think is part of his legacy. There was no persona, he was just himself.

And that meant a great deal of natural humility. He was just a very humble man, as he was always happy to acknowledge.

Walker said the below in 2011, which sums him up rather perfectly.

“I always regarded it as my brief not just to inform but to entertain. I knew that 95% of my audience weren’t interested in the diameter of the gudgeon pin. What they wanted was to share the excitement that I was lucky enough to be witnessing. And lucky is the word: my work has taken me round the world umpteen times to countries I would never otherwise have visited, and I have rubbed shoulders with some outstanding people. I have been incredibly, gigantically lucky.”

2 comments

  1. Good bit and a good send-off for one of the key figures of Formula One (as seen from here on the settee). I loved hearing Murray, he was so obviously a fan as much as a commentator and I still maintain half his so-called gaffes came from him constantly giving up-to-date information. The car in front is unique except the one behind it which is identical, to paraphrase. Murray and Martin Brundle were a great pairing right down to F1 ’97 on the PS1 – “That’s right, Murray!”

    I’m sorry he’s gone. He was an excellent commentator and he also brought a strong sense of history to the sport which I don’t think we get nowadays. Brundle and Coulthard sometimes invoke Senna or Prost from racing against them, but Murray could fill dull laps talking about what Jim Clark or Fangio or whoever did on that same circuit or circumstance. He spanned the sport and made it his business because he loved it and wanted to convey that to the audience.

    RIP Murray

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s easy to mock his “gaffes”, but most of us would make many more than he did in that job. Murray made the commentary sound easy, but it’s fast-paced stuff I should think.

      He’s certainly been irreplaceable since 2001. Martin Brundle is very good, but James Allen and David Croft aren’t anywhere near that level.

      RIP indeed to a legend.

      Liked by 1 person

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