Commentator Murray Walker passed away earlier this year at 97 years old. The titan in the Formula 1 community became a full-time presenter in the ’70s. He was an iconic voice synonymous with the sport even years after his retirement. One can’t overstate Walker’s influence. Even younger Formula 1 star, Lewis Hamilton, considers Walker a hero.
There are few comparable forces anywhere in sports. And what’s more, the voice of F1 had a dramatic and captivating life story even before facing the microphone.
Murray Walker’s incredible life in and out of Formula 1
Walker’s association with Formula 1 defines his story. But much of his life takes place away from the track, starting as a young man from Birmingham, England, details The Famous People. Walker joined a tank battalion in World War II. He participated in the Battle of Reichswald with the 4th Armoured Brigade, captaining a Sherman tank.
Walker’s father was a weekend warrior race driver, as many were in the days before big money came to F1. Walker shared this passion. After the war, he did some public broadcasting calls informally in 1948. This netted him an audition for a paid role in 1949.
Walker made recurring appearances on BBC racing broadcasts for years but didn’t take it on as a primary career. Instead, he worked in advertising, with several major accounts under his watchful eye including a famous Mars candy bar campaign.
In 1978, Walker decided to take his focus off his “real” job and work full-time for the BBC. He became so associated with the sport that, according to Race Fans, there was little question that he served as a crucial presence for ITV to legitimize their takeover of the F1 broadcasting license in 1996.
What began as a side project became the career that defined Walker’s life. Unlike many who follow a passion at the expense of their day job, it paid big. Net Worth Post reports that he retired in 2001 with an estimated net worth of $20 million.
Murray Walker’s death stunned the F1 world
Walker was a rare talent on the mic. He performed his commentary fully standing, matching his quick-witted energetic calls. Walker spoke quickly and eloquently. In a sport filled with drama, he could change his tone seamlessly. Formula 1 fans and drivers regularly quote Walker’s iconic calls, reports Motorsport.com.
Lines like “There’s nothing wrong with the car except it’s on fire,” or, “It would have been Senna’s third win in a row if he’d won the two before,” are go-to references. These lines, enduring years after Walker spoke them on the fly, make him an iconic figure even to those who came up watching F1 after Walker’s retirement in 2001.
This includes Hamilton, the seven-time world champion, who told the BBC what he’d say to Walker if they could meet again: “The iconic voice of our sport and a great man. Thank you for all you did, you will never be forgotten.”
Three-time F1 world champion Jackie Stewart was more than a fan. His father was a fellow veteran who developed a close friendship with Walker. “From my own point of view, Murray was always the best,” Stewart said of his old family friend.
The voice that carries on Walker’s commentary legacy
Martin Brundle, Walker’s final commentary partner, eulogized his former mentor with effusive praise. “Wonderful man in every respect,” he said. “National treasure, communication genius, Formula 1 legend.”
Walker is irreplaceable. Similar to a stateside figure like Vin Scully was for the LA Dodgers, his depth of knowledge and unique turns of phrase simply can’t be replicated. But the sport had no choice but to move on and has been in good hands since.
Brundle continued his commentary work, providing continuity after Walker retired. He’s been with Sky Sports since 2012, Beyond the Flag reports. His work is heavily inspired by Walker, and he has grown into capturing some of that intangible ability to perfectly match his tone to the proceedings on the track.