x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Walker is backing Yas Island

The legendary Formula One commentator tells William Johnson why next year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be a success.

The legendary commentator Murray Walker.
The legendary commentator Murray Walker.

The legendary commentator tells William Johnson why next year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be a success. Murray Walker, the voice of Formula One for more than half a century, is convinced the new Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will prove a magnificent and unique addition to the motor racing calendar and will turn into a massive sporting attraction for the Emirates. Walker, the grand old man of the sport at 84, believes the enormous funding available and the staunch support of the Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone makes the event, which will be launched on Yas Island next year, a guaranteed success in the making.

"It is hard to see where it can go wrong, considering the amount of money that is being ploughed into it and the fact that it has Bernie Ecclestone's approval," said Walker, a regular visitor to the UAE. "Bernie is the man who runs Formula One and makes everything work. He has been responsible for the incredible rise in standards since the early days. If Bernie says 'go' it goes and if Bernie says 'don't go' it does not go. Having him behind the plan is absolutely essential."

Walker draws a parallel between the recently launched Grand Prix in Bahrain and the Gulf addition to the calendar. "The facilities at Bahrain are superb for the same reasons as Abu Dhabi will be," he said. "They have turned a virgin site into an absolute ideal by the application of an enormous amount of money. "The thing that will make Abu Dhabi special is its location, and the scale and quality of the place. There is no doubt that when they have finished it will not only be unique but unprecedented in terms of its size, scope and quality.

"The whole facility is going to be incredible and unprecedented, even comparing it to the other new places like Malaysia, China and Japan." Facilities at the new circuit will include a Ferrari theme park, a test-drive track for spectators, marinas, hotels, and Walker added: "I have no doubts that they will put on a magnificent event that will be a gigantic draw for Abu Dhabi." In principle, Walker is in favour of Formula One moving with the times and finding new exciting venues like Abu Dhabi to provide a truly global package, but he laments the demise of certain traditional venues, which have helped give his beloved sport a rich history.

"A lot of places we used to go to are sadly no longer on the calendar," he said. "America is off the schedule, South Africa and Holland have gone. All sorts of good grand prix places in the past are no longer with us. "That is because new places in Asia have come along with more money and they have made a better job of it. You have got to be in favour of progress, even though at times it hurts because of the casualties it creates."

Walker, still active on the circuit several years after bringing his outstanding broadcasting career to an end, is hoping to sample the excitement of the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in his latest role as an ambassador to the Honda team "I go to the events in their team uniform," he said. "I help them on the publicity side with television and radio, but basically I work in the Paddock Club as part of their hospitality team and I expect that will be the case when Abu Dhabi comes round."

Not that he has given up totally on the idea of calling the race from the broadcasting box he made his own from his BBC debut back in 1949. He made a guest appearance on air at the European Grand Prix in Germany last year for BBC Radio Five Live, and covered the Australian Grand Prix for Australian television as well as describing the Race of Champions at London's new Wembley Stadium in December.

"I am not expecting to commentate on another Grand Prix," added Walker, the most sprightly of octogenarians. "But if somebody asked me and the circumstances were right I would not say no. I still get a real buzz from picking up the microphone, very much so." @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae