From riding a two-tonne Maserati Quattroporte around a £1 million “Wall of Death” to a cross-Channel attempt in DIY amphibious vehicles, Top Gear has long been associated with adrenaline-fuelled misadventure.

But with a presenting line-up comprised of a former sportsman who’s scared of the dark, a comedian who suffers from severe motion sickness and an automotive journalist who’s beyond terrified of crustaceans, you’d be forgiven for thinking the car show’s premise reads like a recipe for disaster.

And you’d be right. Yet it’s precisely the kind of chaos that keeps audiences coming back for more.

Glasgow Times:

“The motor car is the perfect medium for television because it’s emotional,” says presenter Chris Harris, 46. “It sounds good, it looks good and I can’t think of a better thing to film. I would say that because I like cars – but outside of wildlife and natural history, the motor car is perfect.”

Describing early incarnations of the hit BBC show as “rather dry” and the equivalent of “Tomorrow’s World for cars”, Harris says that recent years have seen Top Gear evolve to “become a travel show”.

“Now we’ve had a correction – which I think we’re all quite grateful for, the show needed it,” says Harris. “You’ve got to be careful with the travel thing – constantly being on planes and things like that, attitudes have changed quite quickly and we need to be aware of that.”

Glasgow Times:

Now entering its 31st series, the show is once again set to return – but will it be a case of age over beauty?

With the presenting trio partaking in the ultimate Formula 1 track race, Top Gear finds itself gate-crashing the British Grand Prix and teaming up with McLaren driver Lando Norris, Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi and Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel as part of a track-focused sports car challenge.

“It was stunning and for us, what a coup to have been involved in an F1 weekend – it’s not easy to be a part of that, they don’t let that happen,” recalls Harris. “We shot it on the Thursday. We had one hour to film it, which we’ve never done because TV is a big old beast.”

Glasgow Times:

Describing the current championship battle between seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull’s brightest star Max Verstappen as “fantastic” and “the golden age of F1”, he says the episode is set to air as the title fight “crescendos to an end”.

“You’re seeing now this year emerging all the young guns coming through and then they’re gonna take over soon – Lewis knows it, they all know it’s coming, it’s a question of when not if.”

With the presenters bearing the brunt of more than a handful of “old man” digs from Vettel – considered by many to be a veteran of the F1 paddock – the comments see McGuinness recoil, with the 48-year-old comedian declaring “we’re not that bloody old!”

“We are to them,” counters Harris with a wry smile, “Lando was born around the time Phoenix Nights was airing.”

Glasgow Times:

Quick to downplay the age gap, Flintoff, 43, goes on to note that both he and former world champion Vettel were signed to Red Bull concurrently. Fondly recalling a particularly raucous meeting at one of Vettel’s many victory parties, Flintoff says reflecting on the glory days isn’t always such a bad thing.

“As an ex-sportsman, I always look back on previous years and I always think they were better,” he muses. “If I watch cricket, I like the 70s and the 80s; if I watch motor racing, it’s the same. It was more art than science I think back in the day.”

It’s a series that is also set to tug at the heartstrings, as McGuinness meets his hero – former stunt rider Eddie Kidd, who was paralysed following a 1996 accident.

“When you’re talking to him, you totally still see that glint in his eye,” says McGuinness with a smile. “I think it’s nice that we can do stuff like that on Top Gear. It takes you [away from] us being outlandish and doing silly stunts or what have you. I think I just didn’t want to kind of… piss him off or say anything wrong to him. In the film he trolls me quite a lot. He’s really sharp – and I didn’t care what he said to me or if he took the mickey out of me.”

Glasgow Times:

With Flintoff describing how today’s stuntmen and women cite Kidd as the “benchmark” for modern day stunt riding, the scale of the performer’s achievements suddenly hit home for the cricketer.

“The first person to do all that is the one who’s the bravest,” he says, “he’s doing something you’re not sure can possibly be done and he’s the one out there and he’s paved the way for everyone else afterwards.”

With the series also featuring Flintoff’s nail-biting journey to gaining his race licence, picturesque adventures in Iceland and celebrating the DeLorean’s 40th anniversary, no instalment of Top Gear would be complete without suitably ridiculous car-based chaos… Introducing: the chili pepper challenge. A task that saw all three presenters bundled into a car as they took turns devouring chilis while tackling an off-road course.

It’s a segment that saw Flintoff’s competitive streak come into its own.

“I had to do it. There’s no two ways about it,” he declares. “You’ve got him in the back nibbling on a jalapeno and then throwing it about town and Chris was right up there, so there was no way on earth I could not have done it. It was the first time I’ve drunk milk in eight years – that didn’t do me no good either.”

Proving the greatest challenge for McGuinness – who says that when it comes to spice he “struggles with brown sauce” – fellow presenter Harris says that although he “quite likes hot stuff” he was “a proper goner”.

“It was all-consuming,” says Harris. “When it goes from painful to this throb across your whole head, you’re thinking, ‘God, I’m going to have a haemorrhage or something!’”

As for challenges the trio deem truly nightmarish, this season saw McGuinness – who suffers from motion sickness – refrain from Zorbing, noting “even if I’m in the garden with the kids and I do that spinning around I’m like, ‘Right, that’s me, I’m gonna sit down for five minutes'”.

However, it’s fellow presenter Harris who takes longer to admit his true fear, pointing at producers while declaring, “I know that if I said something they would try and organise it and we’d have to do it.”

Eventually caving, the presenter announces “if you put crab anywhere near me, I will have a heart attack”.

“It has an exoskeleton with hair coming out of it. It’s the most appalling creature ever designed. It’s proof there’s not a God – God wouldn’t create such a creature.”

The new series of Top Gear airs on BBC One on Sunday, November 14, and will be available to stream on BBC iPlayer.