Note from David – I mentioned in my hiatus piece at the end of October that, if any major motorsport broadcasting news stories did break between now and the end of the year, I would report on it. Today, that has happened.
Channel 4 have announced that Ben Edwards will step down as their Formula 1 lead commentator at the end of the 2020 season.
The announcement indicates that Edwards is stepping away from regular commentary duties, in an F1 commentary career that has spanned 25 years and four different decades.
Edwards, 55, began his Formula 1 stint with Eurosport, alongside John Watson until the end of the 1996 season.
The two soon became a popular duo with fans, commentating on a variety of four-wheel motor sport spanning the next decade, including the premium F1 Digital+ service in 2002 and the country versus country A1 Grand Prix series.
Alongside those commitments, Edwards forged a long relationship with the British Touring Car Championship, working alongside the likes of Tim Harvey for ITV Sport’s coverage of the series.
Whilst Edwards may have disappeared from the F1 spotlight, his commentary remained ever popular, and the split of F1 television rights across Sky Sports and the BBC opened new doors.
Edwards re-joined the F1 fray in 2012, beginning a partnership with David Coulthard that would span nine seasons across two different broadcasters.
Today, Whisper, the company that produces Formula 1 for Channel 4, announced that this season will be Edwards’ last. Whisper say that his decision is “entirely personal and made after careful consideration.”
“Big shoes to fill”
Edwards said “Commentating on F1 for the last nine years has been a real privilege, but it’s time for me to step back from the front line of such an intense world and take a wider perspective on motorsport and life.”
“Working with DC, Steve [Jones] and the C4 crew has been incredibly rewarding and I wish them all the best. I’ll be tuning in!”
Whisper’s CEO Sunil Patel added “Ben’s style is understated excellence. He knows exactly when to inject enthusiasm, when to hold back and when to let the brilliance of F1 talk for itself.”
“Producing with his commentary was always a delight, there are so many great lines to choose from; he delivers exactly the right thing at the right time. Big shoes to fill no doubt, but we will choose well and maintain our excellent presentation line up for C4F1.”
Edwards’ voice has been synonymous with Formula 1 coverage in the UK for a long time, and for the biggest proportion of the audience watching the sport in this country.
Two weeks ago, when I wrote my hiatus article, I received many comments from readers inside and outside of the industry. One of the public-facing commenters said:
“You’ve done a great job with this, and I totally understand the need to step back and think about the future.”
Who made the comment? Ben Edwards. Clearly part of the comment he made then foreshadows the announcement we have heard today.
Plaudits towards Edwards have been coming from across social media, with the likes of former BBC F1 presenter Jake Humphrey, current reporter Lee McKenzie, and F1 Digital presenter Will Buxton commenting on the news.
Fans will miss Edwards, there is absolutely no question about that. In my opinion, he is one of the best, if not the best commentator we have around currently.
Arguably, there were opportunities that should have gone Edwards’ way in the distant past that never did, but few people also get to enjoy a 25-year career commentating on a variety of motor sport.
The candidates to replace Edwards
Whisper say that they will announce a new lead commentator for Channel 4’s F1 coverage “in due course,” indicating that they plan to keep their coverage distinctive, and do not intend to take Sky Sports’ commentary line-up, led by David Croft.
As always at moments like these, there is now an opportunity for others to step up, although the list of candidates is unlikely to be long.
The smart money is on Alex Jacques to replace Edwards. Remember that, prior to COVID-19, W Series announced Jacques as their lead commentator. Had COVID not have happened, Jacques would have been partnering Coulthard this season, in a Whisper led production.
Jacques currently commentates on Formula Two, Three and the F1 pit lane channel for F1 TV. It would not be extra duties for Jacques, merely switching one outlet for another.
The BBC’s 5 Live F1 lead and current Formula E commentator Jack Nicholls is also a candidate given his rise through the ranks over the past decade. 2020 is Nicholls’ fourth season as 5 Live commentator, working primarily in recent years alongside Jolyon Palmer and Jennie Gow.
Beyond the usual suspects, David Addison (ITV’s current BTCC lead commentator) and Toby Moody are potential outsiders if neither Nicholls or Jacques are available.
The list of candidates is not long, and the risk of getting it wrong by going with an unknown voice is high.
For here and now though, let us enjoy the last four races of Edwards commentating on F1, as the 2020 season heads towards its finale in Abu Dhabi.
Note from David – If there are further updates on the Channel 4 commentary situation, I will post an update on this site as and when. Until then, it is back into hiatus…