Racing driver Ben Collins, who featured as The Stig on Top Gear for eight years, told Radio Times magazine that the show can survive without Jeremy Clarkson.
Clarkson, who hosts Top Gear alongside James May and Richard Hammond, was suspended on March 10 over allegations that he punched producer Oisin Tymon during a dispute over a meal. The rest of the season's episodes were cancelled.
Collins had a fallout with the BBC when he decided to reveal his identity and publish his autobiography, and says Clarkson was not supportive of him when he announced his decision.
The Stig is a recurring, anonymous character on Top Gear as he sets lap times, instructs celebrities who feature on the show’s “Star in a Reasonably Priced Car” segment, and is the butt of the running joke that no one really knows who (or what) he is because he never speaks and is always in a full-face helmet and racing gear.
"Top Gear has achieved huge status and Jeremy has certainly been part of that because he's got such a big personality ... he's an unstoppable force. But fans of the programme love it for lots of different reasons. Jeremy is certainly one of them, but not the only one," said Collins, who was The Stig until 2011. "The Bond franchise ... changes and moves forward. Top Gear will always continue ... It will carry on and continue to be successful because millions of people watch it."
He added: “I was there for eight years but it came to a natural conclusion. I handed in my notice and had discussions with the BBC and they decided to go to court, which was a real shame and not what I wanted. Was Jeremy supportive? No, he wasn’t. We haven’t spoken since.
“But I get on really well now with the guy that hired me [executive producer Andy Wilman, a close friend of Clarkson’s] and I’m really delighted about that.”
But former Stig Perry McCarthy, who was on the show in 2002 and 2003, said removing Clarkson would take “the fire out of” Top Gear and that it “won’t work” without him.
“I think you’re going to have a diluted product,” said McCarthy. “I don’t think it will have the value that it did, here and overseas.
“And God help any soul who takes his place, because that’s like signing up for your own firing squad. The only person who could take it on would be somebody who has nothing to lose.”
The BBC has initiated an investigation – headed by Ken McQuarrie, the director of BBC Scotland – into the Clarkson “fracas”. No official date has been fixed for the investigation to present its findings.