Commentators have a lot of responsibility. They must have, and also strive to develop, intimate relationships with both the sport and the audience with which they share their knowledge. That is a lot to ask considering this transfer of information is all done live and in real time.
The news of Murray Walker’s cancer diagnosis is truly heartbreaking. While I am in the relative infancy of my Formula One obsession, it is impossible to not know all about how much of an impact that vehement commentator had, and still has, on the sport. Murray deserves a lot of credit for his work, as all of you will know. I am no commentator, but I praise highly anyone who can manage to string together coherent sentences about Formula in real time. The infinite details that comprise a Formula One race result are far in excess of what anyone can cover in the time allotted, so to be able to convey to an F1 novice what the heck is going on is no small feat.
What Murray Walker championed, though, was emotion. Pure, unbridled emotion. Murray was a master at commentating calmly and factually under all conditions, yet able to exude his own passion for the sport in a way that made the viewer only more at one with what he or she was watching. It was, dare I say, an art form. Rhetoric is considered an art, so one could argue that the way Murray was able to not influence you, per se, but create a heightened sense of thrill and excitement that was able to alter your sense of the action was, in fact, art.
Murray’s diagnosis sent shockwaves through the F1 social bubble, and goes to show the high esteem in which we hold our heroes. I do not know the full extent of the severity of Murray’s cancer, though no diagnosis of this caliber can be overlooked, but I struggle to not think about who will take up the gauntlet for the future of Formula One commentary. Such a task comes with a lot of expectation, as the legends of the past will remain with us forever. When Murray is eventually no longer with us, he will continue to be the benchmark for outstanding commentary.
Who is capable of emulating Murray? Some will say no one whatsoever, and rightly so. There is the potential that we will never return to the golden era of Murray Walker commentary. But I don’t think that will happen. It is rather depressing on my part that I am already thinking of a world without Murray, but I believe that excellence in commentary is almost, if not just as, important as any technical or sporting regulation. Like I said before, the relationship between a commentator and their audience must be extremely close. The viewers have to, first, believe what you are saying, and they must also share the enthusiasm that you convey with every word you utter.
I’ll just come right out and say it: Will Buxton is possibly the best commentator of our day, and the fact that he is stuck in the pit lane for the entirety of the race is a crime. I’m sure he thoroughly enjoys the work he does in the pit lane, and relishes the opportunities he gets to break stories during the race before anyone else, but the enthusiasm he brings to NBC’s coverage of Formula One is breathtaking. I don’t want to criticize the rest of the crew at NBC at all, as I think the job they do is commendable. They have to cater to an audience that is not yet on the F1 bandwagon while also please the niche audience that is fanatical about the sport. The line which the commentators must walk is so thin and precariously perched above an abyss of failure, I don’t blame the sometimes frustrating commentary, no matter how I express it in the moment. That being said, Mr. Buxton is so brilliant at explaining every nuance of a race, that I can’t even detect any simplification he may attempt. That is a hard-to-come-by gift that every commentator should strive to perfect.
It is Will’s enthusiasm, though, that makes him so brilliant. Like Murray, Will is able to captivate the audience with his love of the sport. This makes the fact that he is not a lead anchor of NBC’s F1 coverage all the more unfortunate. I think that role will come in just a matter of time, and necessarily so, for the race coverage is in need of his ever-present avidity for the sport.
Perhaps no one will ever be able to replace Murray Walker. He had an indefinable quality about him that is impossible to replicate. Everyone does, though, and perhaps it is time for the next personality to flourish.