F1: A tribute to Murray Walker – 10 of the best

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The motorsport world is paying tribute to The Voice of Formula One, Murray Walker.

Walker, who commentated on one of the most exciting sports around, passed away aged 97 on Saturday 13th March 2021.

Tributes have been flying in from current teams and drivers currently testing ahead of the first race of the new season in Bahrain.

Also, from colleagues and media personalities who shared their experiences with Murray.

Walker is the soundtrack to many of F1’s classic moments, as he dovetailed a career in broadcasting with a successful time in the advertising business until the early 1980s.

His passion for Grand Prix racing was unilateral and exhilarating. He could turn a turgid Grand Prix into a piece of passionate excitement

He also became well-known for the “Murrayisms,” a selection of gaffes which made him into the titan he was in British sports broadcasting.

In tribute to Murray, here are 10 of my own personal favourite moments from the legend of the commentary box.

Mansell’s tyre lets go

In 1986, Nigel Mansell was closing in on winning the world championship for the first time.

He only needed to stay out of trouble on the streets of Adelaide to become the first British champion in 10 years.

Cruising along in third position, disaster struck Mansell on lap 64.

His left-rear tyre exploded in sensational fashion on the main backstraight.

Incredibly, he wrestled control of his Williams Honda, bringing his car to a safe stop down one of Adelaide’s main escape roads.

Murray’s excitement was clear for everyone and his bewilderment at seeing such a dramatic moment change the destination of that year’s world championship.

Alain Prost won the race and ultimately, took his second successive world championship.

This clip remains one of the most iconic in the history of Formula One.

Prost vs. Senna

Between 1988 and 1990, the rivalry between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna became legendary.

Neither liked the other and in Suzuka, Japan, it came to blows to the astonishment of everyone in two successive seasons.

After Senna took a fairly amicable crown in 1988, Prost struck back to win his third title in 1989.

The squabbling McLaren teammates clashed at Suzuka’s tight chicane whilst disputing the lead on lap 47 of 53.

Prost undid his seatbelts and leapt out of his car. Senna continued and via a front wing change, went on to win the race.

He was later disqualified though for not taking the right route around the chicane.

Feeling he had been treated harshly and wrongly, Senna took revenge a year later when pole position wasn’t moved onto the cleaner side of the grid.

Sure enough, Prost (now at Ferrari), beat him off the grid but neither driver came out of the first corner with all wheels pointing in the right direction.

Walker’s commentary summed it up: “Well that is amazing but I fear…absolutely…predictable.”

Senna took the championship in 1990 but it was a dissatisfactory and distasteful way to conclude what had been a gripping season of action.

“He’s STOPPING”

Walker openly admitted that Mansell was the driver that gave him the most excitement throughout his commentary career.

Another masterpiece for the commentator came on the final lap of the 1991 Canadian Grand Prix.

After two years with Ferrari, Mansell had returned to his spiritual home of Williams for 1991.

Having suffered endless reliability problems in the early races, everything seemed to come together in Montreal.

He was leading his former rival Nelson Piquet in a Benetton by over 50 seconds as he started the last lap.

In his excitement, he started waving to the crowd but rounding the hairpin for the last time, the engine suddenly died.

There was anguish for the driver and astonishment for the commentator.

“He’s taking the hairpin very….he’s STOPPING! Nigel Mansell, just a few hundred yards away from the flag on the last lap is stopping, he’s banging the steering wheel in frustration, something has happened. It looks as though he is out of the race.”

A gleeful Piquet went through to take an extremely fortunate final victory in his own distinguished career.

The greatest lap ever?

In 1980, the BBC decided to pair the recently-retired world champion James Hunt with Murray in the commentary box.

They would begin a 13-year partnership and it was one of the best double-acts at the time.

They were chalk and cheese in personalities. Despite initial resentment from Murray; they actually got on very well.

Walker’s excitement and always ready to give the benefit of the doubt mixed in with Hunt’s desire to say it as it was.

Riccardo Patrese, Rene Arnoux, Philippe Alliot and Thierry Boutsen were often on the widely-criticised list of the 1976 world champion.

On Easter weekend 1993, Formula One came to Donington Park for the only time in its history, staging the European Grand Prix.

In damp conditions, Ayrton Senna demonstrated his true mastery, coming through from fifth place entering turn one to lead by the end of the first lap.

Sit back and watch the greatest lap ever in my opinion with guidance from Murray and James.

Tragically, it was one of the final races the pair would do together. Just two days after working on the 1993 Canadian Grand Prix, Hunt died aged 45 after suffering a heart attack.

“The car upside down is a Toyota”

Murray Walker’s passion for F1 was clear but bikes were actually his first love.

He followed his father into attempting to ride bikes. Realising he was good but not world championship standard, he decided to go down the broadcasting route.

He commentated on bikes and motocross throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Later in the latter decade, he became the voice of rallycross for the BBC.

Murray was also the voice of the British Touring Car Championship for a decade, often recording commentary from London days after the action actually took place.

In the days before live BTCC action became the norm, Walker would dub commentary for the following weekend’s popular Grandstand programme on the BBC.

Another staple of the championship in the early 1990s was the support race to the British Grand Prix.

In 1993, Toyota seemed to be heading for a 1-2 finish with 1991 champion Will Hoy leading ex-Grand Prix racer Julian Bailey.

At Priory though, Bailey got too ambitious in attempting an overtaking move, launching his teammate onto his roof.

This gave Murray the perfect opportunity to utilise his advertising slogan backgrounds with this classic line:

“The car upside down is a Toyota, with Will Hoy crawling out of it!”

Walker continued to commentate on the touring cars until the end of 1997 when he stepped down to pursue his F1 commitments.

The hardest broadcast

For many, one of Murray’s most enduring commentaries and definitely his hardest was the tragic 1994 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola.

On the seventh lap of the ill-fated event, race leader Ayrton Senna speared off the track at the high-speed Tamburello corner.

The three-time world champion crashed head-on into a concrete wall, with his crumpled Williams FW16 ending on the edge of the track.

From very early on, it became clear that this was a serious incident on a weekend of carnage and devastation.

Now paired with Jonathan Palmer following Hunt’s death, it was Murray’s job to keep the stunned viewers updated.

Fortunately, the BBC had a pitlane camera at the event which meant they didn’t need to show the graphic content from the host broadcaster as medics battled to save Senna’s life.

Tragically, the 34-year-old succumbed to his injuries later that evening; the second fatality in two days. Austrian rookie Roland Ratzenberger had been killed in an accident during final qualifying 24 hours’ earlier.

The BBC scrapped their usual Sunday evening highlights programme, instead getting reaction from their team out at Imola.

Walker said: “Well, I can still hardly comprehend that it’s happened, Steve (Rider). I remember Ayrton Senna—and it seems terrible to have to use those words—as a tremendously intense man who was determined to achieve his goals.”

It was a weekend of huge loss for motorsport and showcased Walker’s ability at finding the right words at the trickiest of moments.

Pizza fun

Broadcasting and commentating on motorsport were the weekend job for Walker for several decades. The 9-5 weekday job saw him involved in the advertising business.

Working often in the accounts department, he came up with the slogan “Trill makes budgies bounce with health” and “Opal Fruits, made to make your mouth water.”

He was still working in advertising until the age of 59 and in 1996, starred in an advert for Pizza Hut.

Alongside close friend and British racing driver Damon Hill, Murray showed his humour and need to commentate on almost anything.

Even when Hill takes a big slice out of his pizza, he commentates: “Hill’s going for it and he’s spun, he’s spun his pizza through 180 degrees!

It was classic Murray and also highlighted the strong chemistry and connections he had with Hill, which led him to his most iconic moment.

“And I’ve got to stop, because I’ve got a lump in my throat”

In 1996, Damon Hill became the Formula One World Champion, following in the footsteps of his late father, Graham.

Murray and Damon’s closeness were well-known. He couldn’t hide his excitement when he saw title rival Jacques Villeneuve retire from the Japanese Grand Prix.

This meant Hill would become world champion and he was also heading for his eighth victory of the season.

Then the emotion really took over for Murray on the final lap. This remains one of the most memorable phrases ever in sports commentary.

“And Damon Hill exits the chicane. And wins the Japanese Grand Prix and I’ve got to stop because I’ve got a lump in my throat.”

It was the perfect finale for Hill who had been told a month earlier he was being dropped by Williams for 1997.

It was also the perfect ending for the BBC, who after 18 years, were losing the Grand Prix rights. For Murray though, it wasn’t the end of the story.

“Häkkinen fights back, this is magnificent”

In 1997, the jewel in the crown that is Formula One was switching channels from the BBC to ITV.

ITV’s 12-year association with the sport had its frustrations including annoying commercial breaks during races!

However, it’s decision to take Murray as lead commentator was a no-brainer. He’d have a new sidekick though.

Ex-McLaren, Benetton and Ligier racer Martin Brundle would be his new co-commentator. The pair hit it off right away and ITV were soon making the most of it.

Murray and Martin would often present a Saturday teatime show at every Grand Prix and often put together the Christmas Season Review. In 1998, that was filmed in snowy Finland where the new champion was based.

Mika Häkkinen and Michael Schumacher had a titanic tussle for the championship in 1998. At Monza for the Italian Grand Prix, we saw one of the most underrated classic races.

The title contenders were duelling for second place on lap 17 when race leader David Coulthard retired. His engine had blown up spectacularly approaching the second chicane.

Häkkinen hesitated through the smoke, allowing Schumacher the chance to pounce and Murray to show his sheer excitement once again.

“Schumacher’s going for the lead at the Roggia and he’s right up alongside and he’s going through, fantastic! Häkkinen fights back, this is magnificent. The lead changes twice in about 400 yards and Michael Schumacher leads the Italian Grand Prix.”

Schumacher went on to win the race and join Häkkinen as joint-leader in the championship. The Finn though showed tremendous composure at the Nürburgring and Suzuka to become McLaren’s first champion since 1991.

“That’s the last from me”

In December 2000, Murray decided the time was right to step away from the commentary box. He wanted to go out still on-top.

2001 would be his last season behind the microphone. He did 12 of the 17 races, allowing his successor, James Allen to do five events and attempt to form a useful partnership with Brundle.

Murray’s final innings came at the 2001 United States Grand Prix; the first major sporting event to take place in the country since 9/11.

Häkkinen fittingly won a thrilling race – his 20th and last win in the sport before retirement with chief rival Schumacher second and Coulthard third.

The emotion was clear to see with Murray’s final words in the box.

“That’s the last from me. All I can say is it always has been a pleasure and I hope you will enjoy Grand Prix racing from now on. Goodbye.”

Goodbye Murray and rest in peace.

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