“What strikes me about snooker and tennis is that you must be quiet at certain times,” he continues. “What Murray developed, and what we have all followed, is we talk the whole time – and it’s not always the same in other countries. I know that drives some people mad. In tennis I love the silence, but in motor sport I feel you need explanation of what we’re watching because it’s not as simple as hitting a ball or a ball going into a pocket. In some sports the real skill is knowing when to shut up, but I’m not sure in motor sport it fits.
“The only time I do feel it is good to shut up is if the race has settled, not a lot is happening and they show a good onboard. Then I do agree it’s good to shut up. That is one of the rare times. The trouble is with modern F1 coverage they are so good at following where the action is, it doesn’t happen often.”
Edwards has experienced F1 broadcasting from different extremes. At Eurosport, he and co-commentator John Watson travelled to all the races without a production team and pitched up at a commentary box usually pre-prepared for them. Then at the BBC and Channel 4 he was part of big teams delivering the three-part live coverage we’re all so familiar with, including the set-piece pre- and post-race shows. In recent times he’s been forced to adapt to Channel 4’s smaller scale highlights package, and this year the biggest change of all because of the restrictions F1 had to operate under. He admits the challenges of Covid have been an “influence” on his decision, even if the pandemic wasn’t the deciding factor.
“I have to say this year has been a big one for me,” he says of the memories he will carry into the next phase of his life. “Commentating on Lewis Hamilton equalling Michael Schumacher’s win record at the Nürburgring felt pretty special, as did commentating on him getting that seventh title in Turkey too, especially in those conditions. He drove a remarkable race that day.”
Others include the climax of his first season at the Beeb in 2012 when Sebastian Vettel beat Fernando Alonso to the title in Brazil after incurring damage on the first lap. Then there are other “key moments”: Ben was on the mic for IndyCar when Alex Zanardi lost his legs at the Lausitzring in 2001, and when Greg Moore lost his life at the California Speedway in 1999. You don’t forget “powerful and moving” times such as these.
So what is next? Other than a few more outings in his Van Diemen RF92 Formula Ford, Ben doesn’t have a grand plan. Naturally, it will be odd for him when Channel 4’s new ‘voice’, Alex Jacques, picks up the mic in Australia next March, but it’s highly unlikely we’ve heard the last of Ben. “I want to look around, see what opportunities are out there,” he says. “I’d like to do a bit more writing, which I enjoy. But I need to step back and see what works for me and my life.”
For someone who captures moments of drama so vividly, Ben has long been the quiet man of TV broadcasting in motor sport – which, combined with his unrivalled knowledge of the sport he loves so dearly, has earnt him towering respect and admiration, both in paddocks and UK sitting rooms. Channel 4 and F1 will miss him, and so will we.