Blow for new Top Gear
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Top Gear has been dealt a fresh blow after David Coulthard snubbed a co-presenter role on the BBC's flagship show.
The 44-year-old former driver had been widely tipped to join Chris Evans in the new-look programme but has instead decided to front Channel 4's Formula One coverage.
It is the latest setback for the new Top Gear that has still not signed up any co-presenters for the relaunch on May 8.
It comes as popular former presenters Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond prepare to launch their rival motoring show on Amazon Prime, the retailer's video on-demand service.
Evans was chosen to front the show in place of controversial television personality Jeremy Clarkson after he was sacked following what was termed a 'fracas' with Top Gear producer Oisin Tymon.
New Top Gear presenter Chris Evans.
The row, which happened in a Yorkshire hotel, took place because no hot food was provided following a day's filming.
His dismissal prompted a mass walkout as Hammond, May and Andy Wilman, the executive producer and old school friend of Clarkson, resigned en masse.
To make matters worse, the BBC has lost other Top Gear staff in recent weeks.
Executive producer Lisa Clark, who Evans personally brought in to lead its revamp, quit the show before Christmas.
Script editor Tom Ford has also resigned from his role.
Last week Evans admitted Clarkson's sacking had created a 'sort of Armageddon' in the production offices, saying 'everybody had left'.
Referring to his hectic schedule, he went on to say: 'It's a baptism of fire to say the least'.
He added: 'I hope that [camaraderie] will develop but I’d be crazy to think it will happen right away.'
There were also suggestions the show was set to become 'a lot more PC' amid reports BBC2 controller Kim Shillinglaw was meddling in the development of the new series.
Reports claim Ms Shillinglaw has been reluctant to give Evans and his team the same free reign enjoyed by Clarkson.
An insider said the BBC chief had a 'reputation as a meddler', adding 'the show has had to become a lot more PC' following the Clarkson fallout.
Evans, who also presents the breakfast show on BBC Radio 2, has struggled to juggle his busy workload and had to stand down from his role on TFI Friday.
The BBC was also forced to deny claims Evans was struggling to master the art of speaking to a camera while at the wheel of the latest top-of-the-range sports car.
Amid rumours the show's new production team have limited knowledge of cars and are running behind schedule, a source told The Sun: 'Chris is really struggling to master the art of driving and talking to camera, which is crucial.
'He is in a massive sweat about it because he often ends up fluffing his lines.
Former Top Gear presenters Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May.
'The professional drivers are doing a lot more to cover for him and the camera crew are getting frustrated.'
A BBC spokesman was quick to dismiss the claims, however, saying: 'This "story" is complete nonsense and the truth is that Top Gear producers have been blown away by how quickly Chris has taken to talking to camera whilst driving at speed, a skill which has taken some presenters a long time to master.'
Coulthard, who retired from Formula One in 2008, will lead Channel Four's coverage of the sport that starts in March.
The Scot, who has been one of the main BBC pundits throughout their coverage which C4 are taking over, is co-founder of Whisper Films who have won the tender process to produce C4's output.
The other founders of Whisper Films are Sunil Patel, a former F1 BBC producer and BT football presenter Jake Humphrey.
He said: 'This is an exciting time for the sport and an exciting time for Whisper Films.
'I'm looking forward to being part of an exciting new era for Formula One, with Whisper Films and our proven level of creativity and innovation very much at the heart of that.'
Ed Havard, Channel 4's head of TV events and sport added: 'We are delighted that David Coulthard will be at the heart of Channel 4's coverage and look forward to announcing the full presenting team in the coming weeks.'
The BBC regained the exclusive broadcasting rights to Formula One in 2009 before agreeing a seven-year deal to share them with Sky Sports in 2012. But after announcing a £35million cut to its sport budget the corporation pulled out of its contract with three years still to run.
Channel Four will take over from the BBC with immediate effect and will show 10 races live - without commercial breaks - and screen extensive highlights of the remaining 11 races scheduled for this season.