South London resident Harry Benjamin revved up for Formula 1 lead commentator role


The Formula 1 season kicks off tomorrow when all 20 cars take to the grid at the Bahrain International Circuit – but there will be a different voice leading the commentary for Sky Sports F1 in three separate races this season for the first time in the broadcaster’s history.

South London resident Harry Benjamin will be the lead commentator for the races at Imola in May, Austria in June and Azerbaijan in September, replacing David Croft, who will miss his first outings since taking to the commentary box for Sky at the start of the 2012 season.

With 24 races across the 2024 calendar – which sees the sport jump from Melbourne to Las Vegas and everywhere in between across 40 weeks – this is set to be the busiest season in the history of the championship.

Speaking to the South London Press before jetting off to Bahrain for race week, Benjamin, 26, said: “When I first got the phone call back in November of last year, I was desperately trying to play it cool on the phone.

“It came completely out of the blue – I wasn’t expecting it whatsoever.

“It was almost an indescribable feeling. I hung the phone up and screamed a little bit in my house.

“It’s a massive honour to be the one to cover for Crofty. The season is so long this year – it’s the longest ever – so there is no wonder that he wants to take a couple of races off.

“To be the one to be called upon to cover him is a massive honour.

“I have no idea what’s going to happen. It’s going to be scary and that’s the pressure of live sport.

“I’m really looking forward to it.”

Benjamin currently leads BBC Radio 5Live’s coverage of F1 and has also held roles with F1TV, Formula 2, 3, F1 academy and fronted the coverage of the first-ever Sky F1 Kids programme in 2023.

But Croft’s opening line of “lights out and away we go” has become a staple for every F1 fan sitting down to watch the start of a grand prix.

“Saying it is massive shoes to fill would be a massive understatement,” said Greenwich resident Benjamin.

“He is the voice of Formula One for many. Even for me, he’s the voice of the sport. I grew up on Sky’s coverage and the latter part of the BBC with Jake Humphrey. I remember that very first Sky F1 broadcast in Australia in 2012.

“This is how much of a nerd I am. I would watch and listen to what Crofty and fellow commentator Simon Lazenby said in their opening links.

“I would write them down and then do my own version from my bedroom. It’s a nice full circle moment which I am quite proud of.”

Max Verstappen dominated last season, winning 19 of the 22 races, to claim his third world championship.

After last week’s testing period in the build-up to the new season, the Dutchman is expected to lead Red Bull to another driver’s title with their radical ‘no sidepod’ approach evolving last year’s car to the next level.

“I don’t think we can take anything from the outright times of testing,” said Benjamin.

“It’s looking ominous for Red Bull once again. It’s caused a bit of a stir with the new design they have gone for with their car.

“Consideirng they had such a pace advantage last year, to switch things up is quite an interesting move.

“They have over a half-a-second advantage over everybody else at the moment.

“The thing with Max Verstappen is that I haven’t seen a driver so linked up with his car in a long time – the last one was Lewis Hamilton and his championship-winning years at Mercedes.

“Everything Max says, they do – it’s Team Max Verstappen.

“I have met the guy a few times over the last year or so, and even when he’s absolutely dominating, he’s so laid back and very funny – he has a great sense of humour. He’s such a down-to-earth guy. Considering where all this F1 domination could take you as a person, it doesn’t seem to have affected him at this current rate of time. He’s on another level, and it’s fantastic to see.”

Red Bull Racing F1 driver Max Verstappen 

The two Ferrari drivers – Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz – recorded the fastest times across all the drivers in the three days of pre-season testing.

“The good news is that Ferrari are the second-best team right now,” said Benjamin. “The big questions will be how far away they actually are.

“They seem a lot more stable than last season, and their race pace is really good.

“It’s the one thing they will be really happy with. Last year, their one-lap qualifying pace was good, but when it came to the race, they struggled with tyre degradation and had a bit of an unstable car that neither driver liked.

“All the cars are looking good, and the overall gap between the front and the back has come dramatically down. All the teams are competitive – there aren’t any backmarkers anymore.”

The biggest talking point heading into the season came after Lewis Hamilton made the shock decision to leave Mercedes at the end of the 2024 season to join Ferrari as the 39-year-old looks to overtake Michael Schumacher and claim a record-breaking eighth driver’s title.

After winning six of his seven championships with the Brackley-based outfit – joining from McLaren in 2013 – Hamilton has gone two full seasons without a race win as Mercedes fell down the pecking order following the regulation change at the start of the 2022 season.

Hamilton will start his two-year contract with the Italian giants at the end of the calendar year.

Benjamin said: “He had a great run with Mercedes, but he’s also thinking: ‘We have fallen back and I’m not seeing as much as I want to see.’

“He’s running out of time. Let’s not forget he’s the second-oldest driver on the grid – these are the twilight years of his career.

“Every driver’s dream is to drive for the red team. Ask anyone to draw a picture of an F1 car, and they would colour it in red.

“To have that one last dance with Ferrari, because I’m pretty certain this will be his last career move, I’m pretty sure he’s seen something.

“There is a big regulation change in 2026, and that’s what Hamilton will be eyeing.”


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