When it comes to signing a new presenter for Top Gear, BBC2 Controller Kim Shillinglaw says she’s “not really thinking about it in terms of gender” and that Jeremy Clarkson’s replacement could be a woman.
Well, of course. If Liz Bonnin and Alice Roberts can change the perception of science on TV, why can’t the same be done with men and motors?
Let’s consider some of the candidates who genuinely deserve a shot at presenting Top Gear, including latest rumour Sabine Schmitz, the woman who beat Clarkson round the track…
Currently: BBC’s lead Formula 1 presenter
Into her third season at the wheel of the Beeb’s F1 coverage, and Perry is looking supremely confident. Engaged and knowledgeable, she already has experience of keeping naughty boys in check. Just watch how she plays David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan off against each other.
She’s had dealings with Top Gear in the past, explaining in an interview with the Telegraph that she talked to producer Andy Wilman about joining the show when plans were afoot to bring it back. “I remember thinking, ‘I might be out of my depth and it might not be a good idea’, instead of grabbing the opportunity,” she said. “I don’t regret it – but it was probably a bad decision.”
But having established herself, perhaps it’s asking too much to extricate herself from the glamour of racing – especially for a show with an uncertain future.
Currently: equestrian presenter for CNN and co-presenter for Channel 5’s Classic Car Show
An early favourite to replace Clarkson, Jodie Kidd laughed off chef James Martin’s gentle prodding about the job when she appeared on Saturday Kitchen recently.
Kidd’s an avid car fan, friend of the show and even took part in Top Gear’s Ashes Special in 2010. She says she’s faster than Clarkson, a claim that’s easy to believe given that she’s competed in a race series for Maserati.
Last year she told RadioTimes.com that she “couldn’t join those boys”, but since one of them left she’s kept quiet.
Currently: presenter on Fifth Gear
Petrol runs in Butler-Henderson’s veins: she competed in karting when just 12 years old (alongside David Coulthard) and worked at What Car? magazine before buckling up for the original Top Gear.
She left the show along with Tiff Needell and Quentin Wilson to start up Fifth Gear, but remained friends with Clarkson. Butler-Henderson has the experience to slip straight in to the demands of keeping the biggest motoring show in the world rolling, but maybe returning to her old job would be interpreted as a backward step?
Currently: F1 development driver with Williams
Susie Wolff hit headlines last year when she became the first woman to take part in a F1 race weekend, driving in a practice session at the British Grand Prix.
She’s now Williams’s official test driver, and still harbours ambitions of a race seat in Formula 1, so making a career switch into presenting is unlikely.
However, given the respect that German race driver Sabine Schmitz earned when she raced round the Nurburgring for Top Gear in a transit van, perhaps a pro racing driver would take the show in a different direction? Speaking of which…
Currently: World Touring Car Championship driver
Who can forget Schmitz’s joy at beating Jeremy Clarkson round the Nurburgring – in a Ford transit van? The combination of race pace and presenting skills is hard to pull off, but Schmitz has proved she has both.
She also is possibly the one woman who would not be instantly vilified by the old school TG audience. AND she’s German – how hard can it be?
Currently: The Gadget Show presenter
As if tearing round an icy course on a tea tray (sorry, skeleton) wasn’t hair-raising enough, GB Winter Olympian Amy Williams took up rally driving in 2013, acting as Tony Jardine’s co-driver in the Wales Rally GB.
She also has Top Gear history, having appeared in an episode in 2011 in which she (on her skeleton sled) raced James May in a rally car in Norway.
Williams is building up her presenting experience too, appearing on BBC’s Ski Sunday and Winter Olympics coverage as well as replacing Rachel Riley on Channel 5’s Gadget Show.
Currently: BBC F1 co-presenter
If Suzi Perry isn’t willing to leave her job in F1, perhaps another BBC presenter might be. McKenzie has been an impressive driver interviewer around the F1 pit lane, and like Amy Williams is a qualified Rally co-driver. Her past covering motorcycle racing would also endear her to two-wheel fans Hammond and May.
Currently: Sky F1 reporter
Another F1 alumnus, Pinkham has returned to presenting duties after giving birth to her first child in January. Her past includes stints on Radio 5 Live, as well as presenting from the Isle Of Man TT motorcycle race and the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Currently: Sky Sports News and Golf presenter
A surprise name on the bookies’ list of favourites to replace Clarkson, the daughter of former Ryder Cup captain Bernard Gallacher is settled in her presenting duties on Sky Sports. She’s not been a regular F1 presenter for the broadcaster, but has never had a problem hopping between the worlds of sports and entertainment – and Top Gear is first and foremost an entertainment show.
Currently: Managing Director of Cars at Telegraph Motoring Group
Who says the next Top Gear presenter has to have a TV profile? Both Clarkson and May were motoring journalists before they were TV personalities. Baker probably has too senior a post to at the Telegraph to consider switching now, but perhaps it pays to think beyond the regular roster when planning Top Gear’s next move.
Baker’s regular newspaper columns fit the bill – knowledgeable, wry and often wincingly funny when it comes to the issue of women and motors. For example, car manufacturers, she says, “don’t want to be seen singling out women for special treatment, because that suggests they think there’s a difference between the sexes, an approach that has traditionally landed companies in hot water.”
You could easily say the same about the BBC and Top Gear.