Chris Evans has said there was an "apocalyptic" atmosphere at Top Gear as he arrived to take over. The presenter said it was like "Armageddon" in the office after the sacking of Jeremy Clarkson last March.
Clarkson's departure from the BBC TV motoring show, after he threw a punch at a producer, was followed by that of co-hosts Richard Hammond and James May, plus several senior staff.
When Evans arrived as the new host, only one "lone warrior" - producer Alex Renton, on the programme since 2004 - remained, he told the Television Critics' Association in Pasadena, California.
Rebuilding the show, and learning the skills needed to lead it, has been a "baptism of fire", the 49-year-old added. The BBC recently dismissed as "nonsense" a tabloid claim that Evans was struggling to master talking to a camera while driving at high speed.
The presenter conceded it would be hard to reproduce the chemistry that made the Clarkson-Hammond-May era of the programme so successful. "It was brilliant, there's no denying it," he said.
"If the old show had never been taken off I'd still be watching it."
Last year, the show aired in 214 countries and reportedly earned around 150 million ($332 million) for BBC Worldwide.
When the new series of Top Gear is broadcast in May, Evans will be joined by German racing driver Sabine Schmitz, known as the "Queen of the Nurburgring", and motoring journalist Chris Harris, noted for his biting commentary on the world of cars.
Lamborghini chiefs banned him from reviewing their supercars after taking offence at an article headlined: "Lamborghinis Are The Perfect Cars For People Who Can't Drive."
Evans knows the new presenters have a hard act to follow and emphasised that in his version of the show, "the car is definitely the star".
"If people came to the show for that [on-screen chemistry], I can't give them that right away," he said. "I can only give them the best show that I can produce about cars. I hope that [camaraderie] will develop but I'd be crazy to think it will happen right away."
Clarkson, Hammond and May, along with their former executive producer Andy Wilman, have signed for a new motoring show from Amazon Prime. Three series of the as-yet-unnamed programme have been commissioned, with a budget of 160 million.