Flop gear? No. It’s good to have unknown presenters

Give the new Top Gear hosts a chance. At least they’re fresh.

Top Gear presenters Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond
Prime movers Top Gear’s old presenting team before it all got a bit fighty. Image Picture BBC

There’s been much hilarity at the new line-up of Top Gear presenters, because nobody has heard of half of them.

Joining Chris Evans when Top Gear returns to BBC2 next May are motoring journalist Chris Harris and German motor racing driver Sabine Schmitz.

Who? No idea. But that may actually work in the show’s favour. Stop sniggering at the idea of two unknowns trying to replace Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond for a moment and think – before they joined Top Gear, who had heard of Clarkson, May or Hammond?

Indeed, away from Top Gear, only the steak-addicted punchy one has had any kind of career to speak of and that’s mostly for being a gobshite about town.

“Who had heard of Clarkson, May or Hammond before they presented Top Gear?”

The briefest of reads of car hack Harris’ CV suggests the BBC have managed to hire someone just as arrogant as a young Clarkson. This seems spot on to appeal to Top Gear viewers. Where Clarkson regularly fired off easy jibes at car manufacturers every week, so too has the shaven-headed Harris got form for winding up the motoring industry.

He’s been banned from reviewing Ferrari for calling their cars “profoundly irritating” and  by Lamborghini for writing an article called “Lamborghinis are the perfect cars for people who can’t drive.” Hilarious, eh? That’s the kind of rapier-like wit that has kept Clarkson in hot dinners for decades. Harris already sounds like a massive blowhard. On Top Gear, he’ll fit in just fine.

Diesel engine New Top Gear host Chris Harris has the whiff of Vin Diesel about him.

As for Schmitz, she’s a first for Top Gear hosts by virtue of being – gasp! – a woman. (Clarkson’s moobs don’t count.) She seems like she could be inspired casting – she thrashed Clarkson in a race on her previous Top Gear appearance in 2004 and YouTube footage shows her to be an amped-up adrenaline junkie. Think of her as a taller, blonder Richard Hammond with a better safety record.

The only black mark in the new presenting quartet comes with the addition of David Coulthard. As both F1 driver and commentator, Coulthard has been a textbook safe pair of hands: reliable, capable, pleasant… all the words you don’t want from a TV presenter. But then, see also James May. Coulthard couldn’t really be any blander than the Top Gear host who looked like he’d be happier playing old Yes albums while complaining about the price of Chablis.

Supposedly, Top Gear missed out on hiring Zoe Ball, Suzi Perry and Jodie Kidd. So what? Like Coulthard, all of them are already known for being perfectly efficient but utterly disposable presenters.

Doubtless the original trio’s new Amazon Prime show will win the early publicity battles, not least because Sun columnist Clarkson can rely on his BBC-hating employers to give the new Top Gear the boot whenever required.

But, in hiring two unknowns, the BBC has sent out the right message: we’re hiring them for their skill, not their fame. If that means recruiting a Vin Diesel-wannabe irritant, so be it.

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Loaded’s deputy editor John Earls has covered entertainment and sport across a range of national newspapers, plus several football and music magazines, since 1990. Follow him on Twitter at @EarlsJohn