Because we mustn't forget: the Top Gear that we miss so much, the one with Jeremy Clarkson and company, stopped being a television product dedicated to car fans a long time ago. Instead, the most exclusive cars on the market have become accessories to accompany these three TV characters on their adventures, as if it were just another fictional series. But luckily for us, the images they provide allow us to enjoy our favourite cars in an unparalleled way.
That said, let's skip the introductions and jump right into the first two episodes.
DANGER! DO NOT CONTINUE IF YOU DON'T WANT SPOILERS!
Clarkson has never minced words; he didn't mince words during his time on Top Gear, and he won't mince words now, when virtually no one (save for Jeff Bezos, the Amazon CEO who pays everyone's paychecks) can fault him for anything he might say on his show. So it's not surprising that the series starts with Clarkson leaving (supposedly) the BBC headquarters, alone, on a grey day when the rain doesn't let up, and the only human being who sees him leave, after 22 years of service at the British network, is the janitor.
Accompanied by his umbrella, Clarkson takes a taxi to the airport, while we listen to radio segments telling the news of his "non-renewal" by the BBC. After landing at Los Angeles International Airport, Jeremy picks up a heavily modified Fisker-Galpin Ford Mustang, and as he drives alone on the freeway (impossible in reality), two other Mustangs, Richard Hammond's and James May's, join him, and together they continue on to a desert. In true Mad Max style, the trio drive through a caravan of over 150 vehicles - among which you'll see some real gems - before arriving at a stage in the middle of the desert. For those of you who know a bit of American culture, the scene will remind you of the Burning Man festival held in Nevada, and in fact, the name of the caravan, Burning Van, reflects this inspiration. And according to The Sun newspaper, this opening scene cost a whopping 3 million euros.
Once on stage, the three introduced each other on stage joking about themselves, but it's worth noting, of course, Richard Hammond's introduction of his mate Jeremy: "Technically, he's never been fired, by anyone," to which Clarkson himself adds:
"Thank you very much. And the good thing is, I'm unlikely to get sacked now, because we're on the internet. Which means I could pleasure a horse."
Rather than a joke celebrating the presenter and his career trajectory, as is the case with his colleagues, it seems more like a mask, hiding what appears to be a pressing need to state that he wasn't sacked by the BBC. At least, having seen the first two episodes, he seems to have put the issue behind him. But knowing him, I wouldn't be surprised if he occasionally makes a comment or two about his former employer.
Moving on with the show, after giving us a glimpse of what's ahead of us this season, we're introduced to the giant tent that will serve as the studio, which for each episode will move to a different location. The one for the first episode, of course, is the home of Hollywood, the country that finances this massive production.
Once in the tent, we accompany the trio as they present the format of the new show, including the classic news round, and a lesson on the differences between the English on each side of the pond, where I highlight the comment to the Americans reproaching them because they don't know how to pronounce the French word "coupé" (Thank you very much! I'm tired of hearing the Yanks say "coup").
And finally, the main course arrived, the one that was previewed during the last season of the trio on Top Gear, but that we didn't get to see for reasons we all know by now. Yes, it's true; the event comes late, when others (like Chris Harris) have already put the three cars together on a circuit. But to see the trio finally have the hypercars of the moment together, on a single circuit, is not a matter of saying "I can do it too", but of fulfilling what they promised us fans in their previous TV stint. And deliver they have. The segment starts with Jeremy and Richard in a McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder, driving around the Algarve circuit in Portugal, and it's a return to the fantastic views they've treated us to in previous years.
Personally, I was surprised that with such a large budget per episode (there is talk of almost 6 and a half million euros), the circuit scenes were not far from the quality that Chris Harris offered us with his camera Neil Carey on YouTube, and is that with drones is much more accessible to shoot such scenes in closed environments. If for whatever reason the images have left you a little cold, remember this: the whole series has been shot in 4K quality, and also in HDR, which unlike that invention of 3D, has a real purpose that we can all appreciate: to increase the range of colors that we can see through the screen. So in a few years' time, when we all have a new TV, it's worth reviewing this content with a smile.
After tiring of testing the two cars, we see them stop on the pit lane with the camera conveniently positioned to let us see the pit lane entrance in the background, making us expect to see the triumphal entry of the red hypercar. But instead of a Maranello car, what we see is a truck with the logo of its brand covered (is it because it's a MAN instead of Iveco?) entering in the background to, now yes, unload the beautiful Ferrari LaFerrari accompanied by James May. What a delightful scene.
Of course, now it's James' turn to enjoy driving the LaFerrari around the Algarve circuit, and after doing it both alone and with his mates, the three of them plan to carry out a series of tests to decide "empirically" which is the best car. And what better way to do it, than with a sprint of 800 meters in electric mode, so that the LaFerrari of James May can not take part in the first test. After the Zuffenhausen man's silent victory, Jeremy and Richard decide to continue their test session by driving from the circuit to the hotel, and here James is once again left in the lurch, because the LaFerrari they have is not road legal. With James May puffing away from the cab of the truck, Clarkson and Hammond treat us to some spectacular scenes of the McLaren and Porsche driving around the beautiful roads of Portugal, with a splendid range of colours surrounding the tarmac. Here we can really appreciate the quality of the production with which the scenes have been shot.
Finished the first part of the segment dedicated to the three most desired vehicles of the moment, we are introduced to the new test track of the program. Named Eboladrome because of the similarity of its layout with the shape of the bacterium of the same name, it is located in the Swindon area in England (where Honda manufactures its Civic), and to introduce us to it, we see a Ferrari 488 GTB making the inaugural run. Without a doubt, the most interesting corner is the one called "Your Name Here", which in the absence of a sponsor, is designed explicitly for the cars to drift through. Although when we later see the test driver do a lap, he does so by sliding as little as possible. When the 488 GTB finishes, Clarkson does the first test on the new circuit, aboard a hypnotic Bayerische Motoren Werke M2. In fact, my fingers have frozen just looking at the images again to write these letters.
To finish off the M2, the trio hand over the keys to Mike Skinner, an American ex-NASCAR driver who regards any non-American V8-powered vehicle as communist, and who is the series' test driver. It seems strange that, given the little affection that these three have historically professed for their neighbors across the pond (I leave you an example), they have chosen an American, but Clarkson clarifies that it was an express request from Amazon.
His name is "the American", and unlike his neighbour Stig, we not only know his name, but we can also see his face.
As far as the ride with the M2 is concerned, the level of commentary in the cabin left a lot to be desired, and it doesn't look good for the rest of the episodes if all Mike is going to do is complain that the car is communist. Let's hope this changes. At least it doesn't look like Mike is going to die falling off an aircraft carrier.
After Richard's taunts that "the best M" is the slowest compared to its M3 and M5 cousins, we get to the stage of the episode where a special guest appears. And after copying many other aspects of Top Gear, such as the exotic car tests, the news section, the in-house circuit and the test driver, it looks like the guest interviews won't be coming, at least not without change because Jeremy Renner, aka Hawkeye/William Brandt/Aaron Cross, literally plunges out of a plane to his death. After his hard impact (forgive me, I had to), the reserve guest, Armie Hammer (he played the twins in The Social Network), dies in the desert walking to the tent bitten by a snake.
Finally, British journalist Carol Vorderman, the show's second booking guest, is shown dead inside the tent itself. I have to admit, the Jeremy Renner and Armie Hammer shots were pretty good, especially since just when they announce that they're going to move on to guest interviews, you wonder if they're really going to make any changes from when they were on Top Gear. And from the looks of things, it looks like the guests will be short-lived in each of their appearances.
Finally, the real showdown arrives
For the last part of the episode, we return to Portugal, where the McLaren P1, the Ferrari LaFerrari and the Porsche 918 Spyder will go head to head, stopwatch in hand. To open things up, the three face off in an 800-metre sprint, where the Ferrari wins, and Clarkson gets off to a bad start after making a mistake setting up the launch control system. The race is repeated, and this time it is the Porsche that emerges the winner, with James May making a mistake this time with his Ferrari's launch control. On the third time, the McLaren wins. On the fourth time, it's the Ferrari that wins. At the fifth, the Porsche, and at the sixth, the McLaren again. Finally, they decide to abandon their attempt to prove which is the fastest accelerating vehicle, and here logic dictates that for some reason beyond their control, they couldn't announce a winner. Would it be a requirement of the three manufacturers to let them have the cars? Most likely.
Since they couldn't trust their own abilities, they hand over the keys to Formula E driver Jerome D'Ambrosio, to acclimatize to the three cars, and then do a flying lap with each so that the stopwatch puts everyone in their place. As the P1 does its lap, Jeremy says that if the McLaren doesn't get the fastest lap, he will allow Richard and James to demolish his house. Either he was cheating, or he's planning to move to a new house, because given the images we'd seen around the circuit, it didn't seem logical that the P1 was going to be the fastest, and it wasn't.
Personally, I think the difference between the other two is so small that it could be described as driver error or that D'Ambrosio simply had a better lap with one than the other. The presenters assured that the tests were done with the same tyres and the same fuel loads for all the cars, so it would be logical to think that the final result they give us is not the result of a single lap, but the result of several laps with each car, but it is difficult to know. In the end, the better traction of the 918 Spyder gave him the victory.
A more televised, but less piston-like second episode
At the start of the second programme, we get a glimpse of the entire Grand Tour team travelling to Johannesburg, specifically to the location known as the Cradle of Humankind. After entering the tent, followed by Richard's expected joke about Jeremy's similarities to an ape, the team spend a few minutes discussing the political situation in South Africa. In my opinion, it's not as offensive as it might seem, but rather funny; lighthearted would be the correct word to describe it. But that's all over soon, because the first segment of the programme treats us to an explosion of wonderful sounds, produced by the 12-cylinder V-cylinder Aston Martin Vulcan.
It's a real spectacle to see the Vulcan cornering around the Eboladrome; certainly one of the best segments the team has ever done. It's also interesting to see how Clarkson complains not about the amount of noise inside the car, but about the squealing brakes (which reminded me of his complaints during the SLR ride), because it's something we didn't hear Chris Harris mention when he tested it for Top Gear a few months ago.
These are details that, in my opinion, give value to the series because they offer a different point of view, even though in both we've seen the same car. Naturally, Chris Harris is much more of a "driver" than Clarkson (in fact he is a driver), but it's these little things that make you feel that the person you're watching on TV is an ordinary person, and not a superhero whose skills are only available to a few. I include in these details, of course, the amusing difficulties Jeremy encountered getting into the car.
After finishing this first segment, series test driver Mike Skinner climbs into the Vulcan for a timed lap to see where it stands compared to the other cars that have been on the circuit. And the answer is obvious: first. And unlike what they used to do in their Top Gear days, the Vulcan stays on the list even though it's not a street-legal car. Speaking of Mike, his comments during the lap were much more restrained on this second occasion, even (almost) funny. Let's see if he keeps this line.
After the Vulcan segment, we have a few minutes with the usual news, before the highlight of the episode begins: a trip to Jordan in which the trio must complete an anti-terrorist rescue exercise by getting out of a helicopter, eliminating terrorists in a building, escaping the location in a vehicle to get to a plane, rescue a VIP (the Queen of England), and flee in the car to an embassy (the British one, of course). This is one of those segments where there is little, really, for those of us who watch this show just for the cars, which is all of us here. Fortunately, it doesn't get as heavy as other times. But unsurprisingly, just as Clarkson manages to get into an Audi S8, that's when the first part of the video ends.
The episode continues with a conversation about South African car culture: in the African country, the most pistonudos are used to make their own cars. We see some examples - the most curious being a kind of BMW whose bodywork is made from pieces of denim - before introducing Johan Ackerman, who in 18 months built his own replica of the 1989 Le Mans-winning Mercedes C9, using a 1:32 scale model of the prototype as a reference.
It's a nice tribute to those heroes around the world whose passion for cars knows no bounds, and it gives us hope that in its less piston-shaped episodes, The Grand Tour won't forget those of us who watch the series because of our passion for cars. If that wasn't enough, listening to "C9" teleported me to a vision of Michael Schumacher driving his successor, the C11.
Before moving on to the main story of the episode, Jeremy and Richard drop James off at a spinning event in the South African capital; the celebration consists of a street gathering where participants engage in doughnut-making with old rear-wheel-drive vehicles until their tyres burst. You can imagine how poor James didn't like it, but I found it interesting because it adds value to the fact that the caravan travels from country to country, allowing the public to be introduced to other ways of understanding the automobile in remote and less exploited countries in the rest of popular culture (read United States, France, Italy...).
Rumours are confirmed: actress Charlize Theron makes an appearance, but only occupies a few pixels on the screen before being attacked by a lion and killed
After the brief appearance of the show's special guest, we are left with the Audi S8 chase scenes, from the location where they land from the helicopter to the plane, and from the plane to the embassy. Again, one can see here where the money has been spent; I think there are films with less entertaining chases than this one. What I do hope is that no one believes that cars explode in the face of bullets because they appear on a TV show (supposedly) about cars, but if anyone does, we rely on Darwin's theory to settle the matter.
Of Jeremy's criticism of the S8 for not having a hole to leave his gun, we'd better not say anything.
And that's about it. There comes a point where watching Clarkson get shot to eternity stops being funny, but it's the artistic license they have to pretty much make the show what they want. It's been a very solid first two episodes, especially the first, but of the old Top Gear I've seen far worse episodes than the second. Let's see what the third one has to offer. Until then.
Oh, and, no mention throughout the entire second episode about the state of Jeremy's house.