A solid start to the series – but the best is yet to come. What did you think of The Grand Tour's season two opener?
After so much anticipation, it was always going to be hard for Clarkson, Hammond and May’s comeback to live up to expectations. The first season of The Grand Tour had its high points, but even ardent fans will admit that the quality was inconsistent. You got the feeling that the presenters were simply trying too hard, which resulted in segments that were heavily scripted and running jokes that outstayed their welcome. Thankfully, the team has learned from their mistakes, because everything that didn’t work in season one has been axed in season two.
The contrived Celebrity Brain Crash has been axed, the studio tent now has a fixed location, and The American is nowhere to be seen. Expectations for season two are high, as the trailer showed a lot of potential, featuring a salivating selection of cars like the Bugatti Chiron, McLaren 720S and Lamborghini Aventador S. While the season two opener lacked the spectacle of season one's sublime premiere episode last year, which famously featured the most expensive intro ever filmed for television, it was refreshingly back to basics – and the show was all the better for it. Some of season one’s highlights were the extended road trips combining exotic cars with equally exotic scenery.
It made sense, then, to start with a comparison between the naturally-aspirated Lamborghini Aventador S, hybrid Honda NSX, and all-electric Rimac Concept One, each representing the past, present and future of supercars. It’s a great concept that gearheads will appreciate, but some scenes felt like filler, such as the unnecessary trips to local museums. A drag race effectively showed just how far electric car technology has come, as the Rimac left everyone for dust in complete silence. It also highlighted how unpractical supercars can be when Clarkson struggled to squeeze the Lamborghini Aventador through Switzerland's narrow cobbled streets.
Now filmed entirely in 4K, the cinematography was as stunning as ever, and while some of the comedy still felt forced at times, everyone seemed more relaxed and didn’t play up to their caricatures as much. We also can’t look at the Rimac Concept One the same way again after Clarkson hilariously kept calling it a “lady shaver.” Back to the studio, Conversation Street returned as The Grand Tour’s substite for Top Gear’s news segments. Mercifully, Celebrity Brain Crash didn’t feature because "you all hated it,” as Hammond bluntly put it. In its place was Celebrity Face Off, where two celebrities connected to each other in some way battle it out on the track in a Jaguar F-Type to set the fastest time.
Curiously, the Eboladrome circuit wasn’t used since the studio tent has been relocated. Instead, a new challenging circuit was used with unfinished off-road sections. The format was similar to Top Gear’s ‘Star in a Rallycross Car’ that Chris Evans coined, but watching Clarkson interview celebrities is far more entertaining. Having two guests could have backfired like it did in Top Gear, but it worked in The Grand Tour because there was a theme. In the first episode, America's Got Talent judge David 'The Hoff' Hasselhoff competed against Ricky Wilson from The Voice UK to find the fastest former talent show judge. We still don’t know which racing driver has replaced The American, though.
And then came the moment that many people will probably only be watching the episode for: Richard Hammond’s Rimac crash. Even though we all know the outcome, the build-up was agonizing to watch as Hammond nervously navigated the hill climb circuit. Without warning he suddenly loses control of the electric supercar - and we all know what happened next. We don’t get to see the crash because it happened just after the finish line, so no cameras were set up to film it, as Clarkson jested. In-car cameras were also destroyed since the car was incinerated. Instead, they had to resort to using YouTube footage of rescue services rushing to the scene and shots of the electric supercar burning to a crisp.
We do get to hear it however, and it’s hard not to wince as Hammond exclaims "oh crap!" before the harrowing sound of crunching carbon fiber as the car tumbles 300-feet down the hillside. Hammond suffered a fractured knee, but is lucky to be alive as the car burst into flames soon after he climbed out. With no narration or music in these scenes, the tone was appropriately somber. But considering the severity of the accident that hit news headlines, it all felt a bit rushed. Cutting back to the studio, Clarkson and May predictably ridiculed his accident with the banter we’ve come to expect, but Hammond didn’t even get a chance to explain what happened.
It lacked the poignancy of Hammond’s Vampire dragster crash 11 years ago in Top Gear where the presenters seemed genuinely emotional. Perhaps there's still some animosity between the show and Rimac over what caused the accident which may explain their reluctance to talk about it. Nevertheless, the first episode was a solid start to the season, but with Hammond’s crash now out of the way the best looks like it’s yet to come - we still have 10 weeks worth of automotive adventures to look forward to.