F1 Spotlight - Martin Brundle

You know the voice, now get to know the man.

33w ago

Martin John Brundle was born on 1st June 1959 in King’s Lynn, United Kingdom. He had a somewhat unconventional route into to Formula One. Let's take a look.

Martin began his racing career at the age of twelve, competing in grass track racing in a self built Ford Anglia. In 1975, he moved to Hot Rod racing and received 'Star Grade' status. When he was eighteen, Brundle took over the running of his parent’s garage business, which he continued to fit around his racing until he turned professional at twenty-four. It’s not surprising that motor racing had become his life’s work and passion.

In 1979, he started single seater racing in Formula Ford. During this time, Martin also raced Tom Walkinshaw's BMW touring cars, during which he finished second against a field of international drivers at Snetterton. He won the BMW championship in 1980, and partnered Stirling Moss in the TWR-run BP/Audi team during the 1981 British Saloon Car Championship season. Then, in 1982, Martin moved up to Formula Three where he achieved five pole positions and two wins in his debut season. Following this, he won the Grovewood Award as the most promising Commonwealth driver. The next year, he competed with Ayrton Senna for the Formula Three championship, which, after close battling, Brundle eventually lost on the final laps of the last race. Even then, Brundle could go toe to toe with the best of his generation and give them a run for their money.

Both Senna and Brundle had gained the attention of Formula One teams for the 1984 Formula One Season. Brundle and Senna as well as another up and coming talent, Stefan Bellof, were invited by the McLaren team to test their F1 car at the end of the season at the Silverstone Circuit. All three driver's impressed and were offered drives for the following season. Both Brundle and Bellof would join the Tyrrell team, a relatively strong mid-field team whilst Senna would join Toleman, a similarly mid-field team.

The Brazilian Grand Prix marked the first race of the season. Brundle qualified in 15th position three places ahead of teammate Bellof. It was not a great start to the season with both Tyrrell's stuck at the back of the grid. However, Brundle's fortunes would notably improve during the race. Poor reliability marked the start of the season and saw 18 of the 26 cars retire, including Bellof. Brundle however managed to continue until the chequered flag, stealing fifth place on the last lap from Patrick Tambay's Renault which ran out of fuel. Brundle was thus able to score some unexpected points on his Formula One debut. However, as the season progressed, Brundle and Tyrrell’s troubles manifested, and they became less competitive. At the French Grand Prix for example, Brundle qualified in 23rd and finished the race three laps off the winner Niki Lauda.

A big accident during qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix saw Brundle roll his car after hitting the barriers at Tabac. He emerged out of the Tyrrell only semi-conscious and when he went back to the pits to enter the spare car, Brundle had forgotten what race track he was at. Never a good sign. Team Manager Ken Tyrrell pulled Brundle out of the session after he had asked over the radio whether he should turn left or right upon exiting the garage. Despite later being given the all clear by Dr Sid Watkins, the track race doctor, Brundle did not re-enter the session and therefore did not qualify for the race. Back on form, in Montreal at the Canadian Grand Prix, Martin qualified 21st though but finished in ninth after an exciting duel with Ayrton Senna and the ATS of Manfred Winkelhock.

Brundle racing in 1993.

Brundle racing in 1993.

"I’ve had the privilege of driving some of history’s greatest racing cars against people like Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet, Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher. On my day I’ve beaten them all but the true greats are strong every day."

Martin Brundle

The Detroit Grand Prix would be a significant moment for Brundle and the Tyrrell team during the 1984 season. In qualifying, it was evident the Tyrrell's were much more competitive than usual - Brundle putting in an excellent performance to qualify 11th – the team's highest grid position so far in the season. The first start was aborted after an accident at the first corner and at the restart, both Tyrrell cars were immediately competitive, getting the jump on all of their nearby rivals. By lap 17, Brundle and Bellof were running a highly competitive 5th and 6th in the race. The two Tyrrell cars continued to lap faster than their rivals, though after Bellof crashed the teams hopes lay with Brundle.

After the retirements of Derek Warwick's Renault and Keke Rosberg's Williams, Brundle found himself in third place. Only the Brabham of Nelson Piquet and the Lotus of Elio de Angelis remained ahead of him. De Angelis began suffering gearbox issues, and on lap 56, Brundle overtook the Lotus driver. Spurred on by his success Brundle began to chase down race leader Piquet and by the last lap was right on the Brabham driver's tail but sadly ran out of time to overtake Piquet for the win. Nonetheless, it was an amazing performance by the young British driver, who nearly won the race in underperforming machinery. However, only shortly after the podium ceremony, the stewards began investigating the Tyrrell's for a technical infringement. There was found to be impurities in the water injection in the Tyrrell cars, with evidence to suggest these water levels were topped up in a pit-stop and thus being classified as refuelling which had been banned for the 1984 season. The Tyrrell team were disqualified from the championship and Brundle’s results were erased from the score board. Tyrrell decided to continue in the championship despite being aware they would not gain any points for the remainder of the season.

At qualifying for the Dallas Grand Prix, Brundle had another huge accident, slamming into a concrete barrier before bouncing off and slamming into the barrier once again. Brundle broke both his ankles and both feet in the crash and was forced to miss the rest of the season while he recuperated; the severity of the damage to Brundle's left ankle in particular initially led doctors to consider amputating his left foot. While Brundle did recover, the damage would leave him with permanent injuries, preventing him from running and left-foot braking, the accident in Dallas continues to plague Brundle with pain to the current day.

Despite the lows of 1984, both Brundle and Bellof were recognised and respected in the paddock as stars of the future. Pushing the limits of their uncompetitive machinery, they were both recognised as a formidable force within Formula One. For the next two seasons Brundle remained with Tyrrell, and despite the team's switch from the Cosworth DFV to the turbocharged Renault engines in mid-1985, the team struggled against the works teams. He scored only eight points in his time with Tyrrell, all in the 1986 season. In 1987 he left Tyrrell and moved to the struggling West German team Zakspeed, but scored only two points during the year; both were scored for finishing fifth at the 1987 San Marino Grand Prix, they would be the only points the team would score during their five-year (1985–89) run in Formula One.

Four years of Formula One racing for underfunded teams led Brundle to seek a new challenge, and so in 1988 he took the unusual step of taking a year out. He had been associated with Jaguar since 1983 and went on to prepare to race Jaguar XJS touring cars in the European Touring Car Championship. From his two starts with the Jaguar team Brundle took two victories, the second in partnership with team owner Tom Walkinshaw.

Jaguar returned to the World Sportscar Championship and the American IMSA championship in partnership with TWR and Walkinshaw chose Brundle as his lead driver. The team performed well in the 1988 World Sportscar Championship season, and Brundle won the world sportscar title with a record points haul. He also won the Daytona 24 Hours the same year. He became the test driver for Williams and stood in for Nigel Mansell at the 1988 Belgian Grand Prix, after Mansell contracted chickenpox. Brundle was to have driven Mansell's Williams-Judd again at the next race at Monza in Italy but prior IMSA commitments with TWR saw the drive go to fellow World Sportscar Championship contender Jean-Louis Schlesser instead.

In 1989 he returned to Formula One full-time with the returning Brabham team who would be running the Judd V8 engine. But while the former champions were initially competitive, with Brundle running third at Monaco until a flat battery forced him to pit for a replacement, Brabham were unable to recapture their early past success and Brundle, who had failed to pre-qualify for both the Canadian and French races during the season opted to move back into the sports car arena for 1990.

In 1991 he rejoined Brabham, but the team had fallen even further down the grid and good results were few and far between, though some noted his drives into the points in the uncompetitive Brabham Yamaha, which was the last points finish for the Brabham team. This helped Brundle get a 1992 switch to Benetton, with whom he would finally claim a recognised podium finish and consistent points finishes.

In 1992, Brundle had a productive season. He came close to a win in Canada, where having overtaken Schumacher and closing on leader Gerhard Berger, the transmission in his car failed. He never out qualified teammate Michael Schumacher, but made up places with excellent starts (sixth to third at Silverstone for example), outraced the German at Imola, Montreal, Magny-Cours and Silverstone, and scored a notable second place at Monza. At Spa, Brundle went by when Schumacher went off the track. Schumacher noticed blisters on his teammate's tyres on his return to the circuit and came in for slicks, a move that won him the race. Had Brundle not been distracted he would have pitted as planned at the end of that lap, with victory the most likely result.

To the shock of the F1 paddock, Brundle found himself dropped from Benetton for 1993, replaced by Italian Riccardo Patrese. He came very close to a seat with World Champions Williams but in the end, Damon Hill got the drive instead. Still in demand within F1, Brundle raced for Ligier in 1993. More points finishes and a fine third at Imola were achieved in a car without active suspension. By finishing 7th in the World Drivers' Championship, Brundle was the most successful driver who did not have an active suspension system in his car.

For 1994 Brundle was in the frame for the vacant McLaren seat alongside Mika Häkkinen. McLaren were hopeful of re-signing Alain Prost, who had retired at the end of 1993 but decided not to renege on his retirement in March, and Brundle got the drive, beating out McLaren test driver Philippe Alliot. He was confirmed less than two weeks before the season-opening 1994 Brazilian Grand Prix. Better late than never though.

Driving for McLaren in 1994.

Driving for McLaren in 1994.

Joining the team was a case of bad timing in many ways. McLaren were on a downturn and throughout 1994, they were unable to win a Grand Prix for the first time since 1980. The team's new V10 Peugeot engines were unreliable. In the first race Brundle narrowly escaped serious injury or worse in a spectacular accident involving Jos Verstappen; his helmet took a heavy blow as Jos’s Benetton cartwheeled overhead. Amongst other bad races that season, Martin was also robbed of a third-place finish in Hungary - on the last lap. When the car was working, Martin put in a number of strong performances across the season, including Monaco where he finished second to Michael Schumacher.

“I thought the last two rolls were unnecessary – I’d got the message by then,”

Martin Brundle

Having had poor luck and with Mansell signed to McLaren for 1995, Brundle returned to Ligier, though not for the full season, in order to keep engine supplier Mugen-Honda – a deal had been agreed whereby he would share the second seat with Aguri Suzuki, a move not wholly popular with fans and commentators. Across his part of the season he secured fourth at Magny-Cours before taking what would be his last F1 podium, at Spa.

In 1996 he teamed up with Rubens Barrichello at Jordan and enjoyed a good season, despite a slow start and a spectacular crash at Melbourne's inaugural GP. The fact that he was able to get out of the car unharmed and get racing again in the spare car showed the immense improvements that Formula 1 had made with regards to safety since Senna's and Ratzenberger's deaths two years earlier. Brundle finished regularly in the points with fourth as his best result. He finished fifth in the 1996 Japanese Grand Prix, which was his last Grand Prix in Formula One.

Brundle had hoped to stay in F1 beyond 1996, but could not find a seat. He was offered a seat at Sauber in 1997 following the dropping of Nicola Larini, but decided against it and instead returned to Le Mans. Drives for Nissan, Toyota and Bentley impressed, but a second victory eluded him. He last raced in 2001, going on to spend much of his time focusing on his role with the BRDC (British Racing Drivers' Club) although he did make a return to Le Mans in 2012, teaming up with his son Alex. It was his first appearance at the French classic in over a decade. Their car finished 15th out of the 56 runners, completing 340 laps.

“There’s two rules in Formula One: Rule One is ‘Don’t go against Bernie too often’ and Rule Two is ‘See Rule One.'"

Martin Brundle

Having mostly retired from motor racing, Brundle moved onto his second career – becoming a highly regarded commentator on British television from 1997 alongside Murray Walker – a perfect combination if ever there was one. When the TV coverage moved to the BBC in 2009, Brundle went too and, before the start of the 2011 season, the BBC announced that Brundle was being promoted to lead commentator and would be joined by fellow former F1 driver David Coulthard. When the BBC later decided to give up their rights to show Formula One races live, Martin signed for Sky Sports' coverage at the end of 2011.

For his television work Brundle has won the RTS Television Sports Award for best Sports Pundit in 1998, 1999, 2005 and 2006. The production company responsible for ITV's F1 coverage, North One Television, also won the Sports Innovation Award for its Insight features, presented by Brundle. His pre-race grid walks are now customary and began all the way back at the 1997 British Grand Prix. Discussing the return of Formula One to the BBC in 2009, The Times described Brundle "as the greatest TV analyst in this or any other sport."

Brundle took the wheel of a Jaguar F1 car for the Formula One demonstration in London prior to the 2004 British Grand Prix and drove a BMW Sauber during a demonstration in 2006. Also in 2006, Brundle drove a 2005 Red Bull Racing car around Silverstone as part of ITV's 'F1 Insight' feature. This was followed up in 2007 with Brundle and colleague Blundell both driving Williams F1 cars as part of a feature on overtaking.

In 2008 he came out of retirement to drive in the Formula Palmer Audi Championship alongside his son Alex, who was a series regular. He scored three top-eight finishes from the three races in which he took part. Brundle came out of retirement again to race for United Autosports in the 2011 Daytona 24 Hours, sharing a Ford-powered Riley with Zak Brown (CEO McLaren), Mark Patterson and former Ligier and Brabham teammate Blundell; the team finished fourth overall.

Brundle has been involved in driver management, including managing the career of David Coulthard and also co-owned a management company, 2MB Sports Management, alongside Mark Blundell, with clients including; the McLaren test driver Gary Paffett and British Formula 3 champion Mike Conway. In January 2009, he announced his intention to step down from this role in order to focus on his television responsibilities and his son's career.

In September 2007 he suggested that the treatment of McLaren "had the feel of a witch hunt" in his Sunday Times column. As a result of these comments Brundle and the Sunday Times received a French writ from Max Mosley and the FIA for libel. In the same column on 9 December 2007 he accused the FIA of double standards and of issuing the writ at the same time as clearing Renault of spying as a warning to other journalists.

Martin Brundle -

"The timing of the writ is significant, in my view, given the FIA's decision to find Renault guilty of having significant McLaren designs and information within their systems, but not administering any penalty. It is a warning sign to other journalists and publications to choose their words carefully over that decision. I'm tired of what I perceive as the "spin" and tactics of the FIA press office, as are many other journalists. I expect my accreditation pass for next year will be hindered in some way to make my coverage of F1 more difficult and to punish me. Or they will write to ITV again to say that my commentary is not up to standard despite my unprecedented six Royal Television Society Awards for sports broadcasting. So be it. "

Brundle also asserted his right to voice his opinion about Formula One:

"As a former Formula One driver, I have earned the right to have an opinion about the sport, and probably know as much about it as anybody else. I have attended approaching 400 Grands prix, 158 as a driver. I have spilt blood, broken bones, shed tears, generated tanker loads of sweat, tasted the champagne glories and plumbed the depths of misery. I have never been more passionate about F1 and will always share my opinions in an honest and open way, knowing readers will make up their own minds."

Brundle is currently a presenter and commentator on Sky Sports F1.

Brundle is currently a presenter and commentator on Sky Sports F1.

Across his Formula One driving career Brundle holds the dubious distinction of having the longest Formula One career (158 Grand Prix starts) without a race victory, a pole position or a fastest lap. He does however, have a total of nine podiums to his name.

In 2016, in an academic paper that reported a mathematical modelling study that assessed the relative influence of driver and machine, Brundle was ranked the 30th best Formula One driver of all time. When not at races he also likes to ride his motorbike or drive his classic Jaguar E Type, (a 1965 Series 1 coupe, sourced and specially upgraded to his specification by Eagle) – of which he says; “I’m happy to take it out in the rain, it’ll clean! If you’re just going to babysit it there’s no point having a car like this,”

Brundle sat on the board of the BRDC, owners of Silverstone, for nine years, the last three of these as Chairman. He still presents for Sky Sports F1 and over both careers as a racing driver and presenter/commentator, he has driven 58 different Grand Prix cars. The lucky sod.

With a bit more luck on his side, there's no doubt Brundle would have had a number of race wins to his name - but that's the way it goes in Formula 1. His time in the sport was clearly not wasted though as he is highly regarded for his commentary and analysis of races, cars, teams and drivers by fans all around the world.

What do you think of Mr Brundle? Let me know in the comments below.

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Comments (10)

  • Such a shame he had that accident in Dallas that f*cked his left foot... (Sid Watkins saved him) before that he was putting the car in places it shouldn’t have been, simply extraordinary...

    After that he was only really good in touring cars and commentary!

    Some of the lines he comes up with are G O L D

      7 months ago
    • The risks of the sport sadly, it could have been a lot worse too. Just makes all the F1 cars he's driven since then for pieces on the BBC and Sky all the more impressive really.

      For me, I don't think Formula 1 would be the same without him, the two...

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        7 months ago
  • A proper driver who accepted the knock backs that a racing career sometimes hands out and rather than giving up just decided to come at it from a different angle. His knowledge and experience means he talks sense about cars/drivers rather than just pointless soundbites - I think Sky would do well to trim the fat at race weekends and just have him and JB, get rid of that Craig prat and one or two others...

      7 months ago
    • It wouldn't be Formula 1 without him. You can tell that other former drivers have tried doing what he did after he stopped racing but none have managed to do what he's done.

        7 months ago
  • What a legend. I read somewhere that Senna described him as the best British driver since Hill, in their F3 days. And a commentary gem. "Ambition well over adhesion" and such phrases...

    And who can forget, "IS THAT GLOCK?"

      7 months ago
  • Always enjoyed his commentary!

      7 months ago