Keith Huewen steps down as BT Sport’s MotoGP lead commentator

Note from David – Another big development on the commentary front, this time on two wheels.

Keith Huewen has announced that he will stand down from his role as BT Sport’s MotoGP lead commentator with immediate effect.

He is the second high-profile commentator to leave his role in recent weeks, following Ben Edwards’ decision to leave Channel 4’s F1 team. Huewen, 64, has been part of BT’s team covering the sport since the broadcaster took over coverage from the BBC in 2014.

Writing on Twitter, Huewen cites the “unexpected positive effect of the pandemic restrictions” as his main reason for stepping aside.

“At a highpoint in both MotoGP coverage and my commentary career, I have decided after much consideration, and with the agreement of BT Sport, to step away from their brilliant coverage,” he said.

“It is my intention to be trackside again soon, but there has been an unexpected positive effect of the pandemic restrictions – spending more time with my family.”

“This upside helped me to decide to spend more time in the UK in the future, but I’ll echo the words of Julian Ryder not that long ago: ‘I am not retiring'”

Huewen’s broadcasting career, like Edwards, has spanned four different decades, across a variety of different broadcasters. His MotoGP role in recent years has thrown Huewen back into the limelight, after spending most of the 2000s away from the motorcycling paddock in a commentating capacity.

Julian Ryder has partnered Huewen in the commentary box for most of his commentary career, before Ryder himself stepped aside following the 2017 season.

Since then, the likes of Gavin Emmett, Michael Laverty and Neil Hodgson have partnered Huewen to take viewers through the three classes during a race weekend.

“My sincere and heartfelt thanks go to BT, Dorna, IRTA [International Road-Racing Teams Association], North One, Tall Audio, and all my lovely colleagues for their company through the last seven years,” Huewen added.

“They are the best in the business and I’m sure they will continue to bring you outstanding coverage of MotoGP. I’ll now do what we all do – shout at the TV and tell anyone in the room the things the commentators have missed. It’s easy when you’re sat at home on the sofa!”

“Thank you for your support, I’ll see you trackside again soon.”

BT Sport will confirm Huewen’s replacement in due course for the 2021 season, the last year in their current arrangement with Dorna.

The parallels between Huewen and Edwards, and the COVID impact
The decisions by both Huewen and Edwards in recent weeks to leave their respective commentary positions have caught many by surprise, but underneath the surface, their careers have followed very similar paths.

Both started their broadcasting career around 25 to 30 years ago. Edwards quickly became a popular figure leading Eurosport’s Formula 1 offering alongside John Watson, whilst Huewen did likewise as part of Sky’s World Superbikes coverage alongside Ryder.

But both spent most of the 2000s outside of the spotlight comparatively speaking. Huewen fronted most of Sky’s motor sport offering on four wheels from Chiswick. Edwards remained in the commentary both, helping the profile of A1 Grand Prix towards the end of the decade.

It was only during the 2010s, however, when the two returned to their roots. Edwards was a beneficiary of the Sky and BBC split of Formula 1 rights, joining the BBC’s F1 team.

For Huewen, the move of MotoGP from BBC and Eurosport to BT Sport opened the doors for him to return to where he wanted to be: the motorcycling paddock, and the MotoGP commentary booth, reuniting with Ryder.

Fast-forward to 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in both Huewen and Edwards commentating on two and four-wheels respectively from off-site.

And both have reached the same decision after a period of reflection: to step down from their respective duties, spending more time at home with their families.

Whether we are likely to see more changes is unclear, but what is clear is that the pandemic has caused some in the industry to reflect on the current situation, and conclude that they do not want to be part of the travelling circus (at least in a permanent capacity moving forward).

F1’s record-breaking 23 race calendar for 2021 has been the main talking point in recent weekends, but MotoGP too has a record-breaking season scheduled, with 20 race weekends on the agenda.

Whilst broadcasters are adapting behind the camera because of the pandemic, they also need to adapt in front of their camera.

In my view, as discussed previously, broadcasters need to be willing to rotate their on-air talent, keeping not only their programming fresh, but also avoiding the potential of having more talent walk away in the future.

The candidates to replace Huewen
The person Huewen beat to the BT position, Toby Moody is likely to be a front runner to step back into the commentary booth, having led Eurosport’s MotoGP coverage for many years in the 2000s.

Current MotoGP World Feed commentator Steve Day could be another contender for the BT role. Alternatively, BT may decide to look in-house, promoting Gavin Emmett up to the lead commentary position.

If BT Sport and production company North One already know the answer to the question then we may well find out the answer very soon, and knowing my luck, we probably will…

Keep an eye out for an exclusive interview with Keith Huewen when Motorsport Broadcasting re-launches in 2021.

Alex Jacques to become Channel 4’s F1 lead commentator from 2021 season

Alex Jacques will become Channel 4’s Formula 1 lead commentator beginning with the 2021 season, the broadcaster and production company Whisper have confirmed.

As predicted by Motorsport Broadcasting last week, Jacques succeeds Ben Edwards in the commentary box, Edwards opting to step away from the commentary hot seat after a 25-year career.

David Coulthard will remain in the commentary booth for his eleventh season commentating on F1, and will partner Jacques throughout the new season, provisionally set to begin in Melbourne on March 21st.

Like many, Jacques began his sports broadcasting career in local radio, starting out with BBC Radio Suffolk.

His big breakthrough came in 2015 when, as an unknown figure to motor sport fans, Jacques succeeded Will Buxton as lead commentator for Formula Two and Formula Three.

After a shaky start, Jacques quickly became a fan favourite, forming a memorable partnership with Davide Valsecchi, and more recently this season with Alex Brundle.

Formula 1 has yet to confirm plans for Formula Two and Formula Three next season from a broadcasting perspective, whilst Jacques is also currently lead commentator for the W Series, also alongside Coulthard.

Jacques “our first choice” for the role
“I’m delighted to join the Channel 4/Whisper F1 team,” Jacques said.

“As an avid Formula 1 fan since the age of 9, I know how much the broadcast means for everyone’s weekend.”

“It will be hugely exciting to share races with so many fans and join a team which commands such respect in F1 and TV circles alike. I can’t wait to get started in 2021.”

Whisper say that Jacques was their “first choice” to succeed Edwards on commentary.

“Once we knew Ben was stepping down, Alex was our first choice,” explained John Curtis, who is Channel 4’s F1 Programme Editor.

“He is an outstanding talent and his knowledge is exceptional. Lead commentary is such an important role for the production and I have no doubt that Alex will deliver for both our current fans, as well as new ones.”

“His passion and enthusiasm for the sport shines through on air and will work well with David’s excellent analysis and opinion. It’s great to be able to confirm that he’s joining the C4F1 team for the potentially record-breaking 2021 season.”

Ben Edwards to step down as Channel 4’s F1 lead commentator

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…

F1 Broadcasting tackles Silverstone’s Single Seater Experience

Most of the motor racing world this past weekend was in Goodwood for the annual Festival of Speed. However, instead of watching the festival in person or via Sky Sports, this writer instead took a trip to Silverstone…

Despite having watched Formula 1 and other forms of motor sport for nearly two decades, I have never been near a live single-seater racing car to race in. The nearest I had ever come was through various go-karting outings for leisure, or sitting in the Jaguar R2 at the local factory many moons ago. So, Silverstone’s Single Seater Experience was a first for me, one day after my 25th birthday. I should note that this article is not a paid article, or an advertisement for that matter, but instead just somewhere for me to jot my musings.

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On-track at Silverstone.

Before the experience is a 30 minute debrief, which for the motor sport nut, is nothing of surprise, but instead it serves as a reminder about the inherent dangers that single-seater racing brings. The key terminology, such as understeer and oversteer, is described language that the layman can understand. It is fundamentally clear from the outset that any transgressions will be immediately dealt with: safety comes before enjoyment.

The experience around Silverstone’s Stowe Circuit is 30 minutes long: 10 minutes behind the pace car and 20 minutes without, with eleven other drivers alongside you. Sometimes you hear Formula 1 drivers’ say that after 10 minutes of testing, you know whether you have a good car underneath you. The same can be said here. The first lap out of the pits is frankly nerve wracking. Where are the braking points? Am I in the right gear? Do I feel comfortable? Am I too close to the pace car? It sometimes can look so easy from the outside, but from the inside it is like juggling multiple balls.

As the laps progress, you start to get a better understanding of the car and those around you. You take that line here, this line there. It gets easier, but concentration must remain throughout. The instructors do a brilliant job beforehand to prepare you for the experience, but on the track, it is you making the split-second decisions.

I required a helmet change to a smaller size half way through, mainly because the wind and fast speeds down the back straight was ‘lifting’ the helmet up. I could have soldiered on for a few more laps, but (as the above video shows) I did the right thing by changing helmets to a smaller size.

As the instructor said: safety before enjoyment, and in this case the helmet issues was slightly detracting from the overall enjoyment. As the laps progresed, the lap times decreased, confidence growing, although at one point the car underneath me did come perilously close to the gravel trap at the North hairpin!

I had a huge amount of respect for motor racing drivers before I completed the Single Seater Experience. No matter how many times you watch motor racing on television, nothing can prepare you for the real machinery. The likes of Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo make it look easy, when in reality it is completely the opposite, even when going down the one kilometre straight in Baku.

If anything, my experience at Silverstone solidifies the admiration I have for the drivers that race to entertain the viewing audience at home and in the grandstands. I would strongly recommend this (or any other Single Seater Experience) to other fans of the sport, it is seriously worth the price tag. Overall, it was a pretty amazing experience.

A few words about Danny Watts, and why it matters

Before I get into the main subject, I want to make it clear that this piece strays away from motor sport broadcasting to a degree. Whilst this is a broadcasting site, if there are other elements that I wish to talk about, then I will do so.

If you have read the AUTOSPORT or Motorsport.com website in the past few days, you will have learnt that ex-Le Mans driver Danny Watts has announced that he is homosexual. Whilst the reaction was largely positive, a few wondered why motor sport outlets were covering this as news.

A bit of back-story as to why this matters to me: I can relate to Danny’s story, having come out as bisexual last year after debating whether to for a long time. It was a weight off my shoulders, as it probably is his. Coming out should never be trivialised in the media, behind every decision is a long battle that each individual has faced.

People accepted me for who I was, bisexuality is not a taboo subject in my circle of influence. Generally, in society, LGBT matters are becoming less of a taboo subject. Now let us look at the motor sport world. How many LGBT role models are there in the motor sport landscape? As far as I am aware, there is not one LGBT role model for LGBT fans to look-up to. That changed this week. For LGBT motor racing fans, this matters.

Watts’ comments suggest to me that LGBT matters are a taboo subject in motor sport. For a variety of reasons: the media attention, the sponsorship, the countries that motor sport visits that might not be so receptive, even down to the grid girls that gives off a badly out-dated impression and so on. I can understand the predicament that Watts faced during his motor racing career.

With no major LGBT representation in the paddock, it makes it difficult for people, such as Watts, to be themselves in the eye of the media and the paddock, which in turn could affect an individual’s performance. You have to make a stand, and that is exactly what Watts has done. I applaud him for being brave and coming out. The idea of stars not coming out for fear of a negative reaction, or worse still losing their job or drive is frightening.

Is it a news story? In general culture, I would be starting to argue, not really. However, in motor sport, when you consider the taboo nature of LGBT in motor sport and what Watts faced, it absolutely is news. Danny brings into the public spotlight issues that were previously not in the spotlight. With that in mind, the stance that AUTOSPORT and Motorsport.com took in covering Danny Watts’ announcement was spot on.

Congratulations Danny 🙂