For myself growing up as a Formula 1 fan, the first voice of the sport I knew was of Murray Walker. His enthusiasm for the sport was second to none, and he made you want to watch even the most boring of races.
The legend passed away late last week aged ninety-seven, leaving a sport in mourning. He was universally liked by everyone in the paddock, something that is extremely rare in a world full of wolves. He will be sorely missed by those who knew him and by others, like me, who grew up listening to him on TV.
I first watched Formula 1 back in 1988, the San Marino Grand Prix, and it was the combo of Walker and James Hunt that welcomed me into the sport. The McLaren F1 Team may have dominated the year, but Walker’s commentary was superb, even if I was only seven or eight years old myself.
I remember his commentary of the infamous clash between Ayrton Senna and Jean-Louis Schlesser at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza that denied McLaren a clean sweep of race wins that year, but it gave Scuderia Ferrari an emotional one-two finish just weeks after the death of Enzo Ferrari.
Later in the year, Senna took victory at the Suzuka International Racing Course with a stunning comeback drive after almost stalling on the grid, with the win giving him his first World Championship crown. And Walker’s commentary was fitting for the occasion.
A year later, Senna’s clash at Suzuka with team-mate Alain Prost was commentated expertly by Murray, as was their first lap accident at the same track one year later. Throughout those early years, Murray’s commentary ensured I was hooked onto the sport I now hold a dear place in my heart.
During the time I was watching Formula 1, he commentated on Senna Vs. Prost, Nigel Mansell’s World Championship, Michael Schumacher vs. Damon Hill, Schumacher vs. Mika Hakkinen. He truly covered greats of the sport and aided their legacies with that passion.
Yes, there were mistakes. The ‘Murrayisms’ as they were popularised, were just part of the occasion. He wasn’t criticised for them, it was part of what made Murray special. Here are just a sample of my favourite ‘Murrayisms’…
“Only a few more laps to go and then the action will begin. Unless this is the action, which it is!”
“This has been a great season for Nelson Piquet, as he is now known, and always has been.”
“Schumacher’s appeal for ignoring the chequered flag is next Tuesday.”
“Andrea de Cesaris…the man who has won more Grands Prix than anyone else without actually winning one of them.”
“And this will be Williams’ first win, since last time a Williams won!”
“Tambay’s hopes, which were nil before, are absolutely zero now.”
“Ukyo Katayama is undoubtedly the best Formula 1 driver that grand prix racing has ever produced.”
“And we have had 5 races so far this year, Brazil, Argentina, Imola, Schumacher and Monaco!”
“He’s obviously gone in for a wheel change. I say obviously because I can’t see it.”
“And an enormous gap building before Mika Hakkinen goes through in third position…when I say enormous it’s 1.5 seconds”
“Now the Frenchman Jacques Lafitte is as close to Surer as Surer is to Lafitte.”
“…and there’s no damage to the car…..except to the car itself.”
“The car in front is absolutely unique – except for the one behind it, which is identical.”
“This is an interesting circuit because it has inclines, and not just up, but down as well.”
“Do my eyes deceive me, or is Senna’s Lotus sounding rough?”
Murray continued to commentate right through until 2001, continuing to show his enthusiasm each and every race weekend, whether it be for the BBC or for ITV. When Damon Hill won the 1996 title Murray was overwhelmed with emotion.
He raised the bar when it came to commentating, and many of the current crop can only aspire to be as good as him. Yes, they are all good, no doubt about that, but they are not Murray Walker. And this is not just in Formula 1, commentators in other sports too all look up to him and his style.
There is no doubt that in my eyes that without Murray Walker, Formula 1 would not have been as popular in the United Kingdom, and I imagine elsewhere too, without that enthusiasm people would not have cared as much about a sport that I feel is the best sport in the world.
The fact he was seventy-eight when he stepped away from the commentary box showed just how much passion he held for the sport. He loved the sport, and the sport loved him.