Saturday, April 2, 2011

Ringing the changes for 2011

Well, here we go then, my first blog of a new year - and it will take me a while to type it. I've just returned from a skiing trip to France and used so many muscles that even my fingers ache. Mind you, I've promised my wife Harriet a six-pack as a New Year's resolution for the past few years so maybe it's actually the perfect start to 2011!

It may only be January but another F1 season will be upon us before we know it - and judging by the tweets I've been receiving it can't come soon enough for lots of you! There's a lot going on and you might have read about changes to the BBC team - I'll come onto those in a bit.

But there is no doubt that since taking this job it feels as though my life has has entered a warp-speed stage. I look at the calendar ahead of the season and feel rather daunted by the travel, the hours of live television, the garish Eddie Jordan outfits and the drama that awaits us... but before I know it, we'll be at the final race of the year with the champion crowned.

The winter break is the same. Knowing when the season starts meant that even before we signed off in Abu Dhabi we had already announced how many weeks it was until the 2011 season. So I've spent most of the winter (in between sore throats/colds/flu) ticking off the weeks until we're back in Bahrain.

I can't believe it's time to turn our attention towards Sebastian Vettel's defence of his crown already.

Eddie Jordan, Jake Humphrey and David Coulthard

Coulthard (right) will dove-tail his pundit's role with his new commentating duties. Photo: Getty

I vividly remember coming off air in November, having signed off from the final F1 Forum of 2010, and immediately feeling really down. I mentioned it to Martin Brundle, who told me that it's par for the course. After giving so much both mentally and physically to a gruelling nine-month schedule, it's natural that you experience a dip the moment the adrenalin leaves your body and the slog is over.

Mind you, my dip wasn't quite as big as Ferrari's, was it? I'm sure over the winter you've read the revelations that team principal Stefano Domenicali considered walking away after the Scuderia's strategy calls contributed to Red Bull's double success. Well, to understand what Domenicali must have been feeling, you need to realise how much emotion is involved in a sport more famed for its technical element.

Many of the Red Bull engineers and mechanics have worked for that team throughout all the name changes, back-of-the-field struggles and double retirements they have experienced in less successful years, so you can imagine the outpouring of joy that greeted Vettel's title in Abu Dhabi. And from men who spend their days in the macho world of racing there were plenty of tears as the best partiers in the paddock lived up to their reputation of working hard and playing hard, too.

As I left them to their celebrations, I walked into the pit lane and looked along the garages, where I was met with the clearest example of what suspect calls on the pit wall can lead to.

Right next door to the loud music and joy emanating from the Red Bull garage, there was just one lonely mechanic standing and talking on the phone in a still, silent Ferrari garage.

The money they'd spent, the car they'd devoted thousands of hours to, the flights they'd taken and the dreams they'd had eventually came to nothing. The car was now obsolete, the season over and all because of one split-second decision on the pit wall. That is what makes this such a fascinating sport.

I think we all felt a bit odd at the end of the season. Imagine how it was for our own former Red Bull driver David Coulthard, seeing the team you raced for achieving the ultimate success. He must have had all sorts of emotions.

You'll get the chance to hear for yourself next season just how emotional grand prix racing makes David because, as well as chasing around the paddock with Eddie and me, he is stepping up into the commentary box.

I'm really excited about a 13-time winner sharing his knowledge in the race with you. Remember, David has raced most of the guys on the grid, has first-hand experience of the inner workings of current champions Red Bull and, most importantly, has driven contemporary F1 machinery.

There is no doubt that it is a daunting prospect for him but I think he will fly once he settles in. I always tell him that the pre- and post-race "waffle", as I jokingly refer to it, is important and an interesting way of adding depth to a race weekend. However, we don't directly affect people's enjoyment of the actual racing.

In my mind, the commentary is a somewhat more responsible role for that reason and is also the trickiest job going. I wouldn't swap the pit lane for the commentary box for all the sand in Bahrain!

Although David is moving to the commentary box, the 'three-o' of myself, DC and EJ will remain. We love working together and, when you get an on-screen chemistry that people seem to enjoy, it would be foolish to break it up.

However, David will need to hustle his white jeans to the commentary box a little earlier so immediately pre- and post-race will be a chance for EJ to get on his soap box and share his views at a time when the audience is joining us in their droves for the racing.

The most fascinating part of any race weekend for me has always been settling down to watch the grand prix with Eddie and David as they discuss the race unfolding while regaling me with anecdotes of their first-hand experience. Well, I won't get that anymore but my loss is certainly your gain and I think we've a really strong team in place for 2011.

And who will be alongside David in the box? His long-time friend, one-time business partner and full-time expert on the sport - Martin Brundle.

Martin has had more races behind the microphone than behind the wheel - and what better qualifications can you have than to have taken part in the sport for so long, commentating on almost every race for the past 14 years? I thought in 2010 his instincts, ability to read the race and general enthusiasm for the sport he has dedicated his life to were as prevalent as ever.

I don't envy the work that lies ahead for Martin, though. It might seem like a small change on paper but, in reality, while DC will be sharing his views on drivers, strategy and taking us as close to the cockpit as possible, Martin will need to be aware of every little story, political development and technical development as he calls the action. Racing drivers only exist to be the best, so expect to see him giving it his all to make it a huge success.

Clearly, however, the changes I've talked about mean that Jonathan Legard will no longer be part of our team - I know I'm going to really miss him.

I first met 'Ledgy', as we affectionately call him, at Craven Cottage, where we were both covering football. It was November 2008 and we had both been lined up for the new F1 season. We got talking and were both brimming with excitement and anticipation about the adventure ahead.

I remember before the 2009 season started and we were both incredibly nervous about taking on something as important and prestigious as F1 and I told him how worried I was about the challenge ahead. His instant reply was: "We can both either have an easy life or an exciting life and I know which one I want!"

That is typical Jonathan - always encouraging, incredibly enthusiastic, a good friend to us all, and without doubt the hardest working member of the BBC's F1 team, doing an incredibly difficult job. I know I speak for every member of the production when I say we're all going to miss his entertaining company and his absolute dedication to the job. All the best for the future Jonathan!

One thing you may well also miss is standard-definition coverage. Finally, we are delighted to bring you F1 in high definition, which I think will make the sport even more dramatic and addictive than ever.

So why will you miss SD? Well, mainly because in HD I think Eddie's shirts might be un-viewable. I've warned him, but I'm still expecting something outrageous come March!

So, the clock is ticking for the new season and March will be here in a flash. We have a new Indian driver, a new Indian Grand Prix, the prospect of three British drivers battling it out if Scottish DTM champ Paul di Resta gets the nod at Force India, six world champions on the grid... and once again the whole season will be live and uninterrupted of the BBC.

I can't wait to share the 2011 season with you all. Feel free to leave comments below about the kind of stuff you would like to see in our coverage this year and remember that throughout the season I post plenty of exclusive pictures and other juicy stuff on my Twitter page.

Eight weeks and counting...


Henry Taylor John Taylor Mike Taylor

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