Farewell to a brilliant season - and roll on 2010
Well, that was the 2009 Formula 1 season and I'd like to say it was a pleasure to share it with you all.
I actually felt pretty emotional at the end of the show on Sunday. After disappearing from BBC One we were joined by the great and good of F1 on our Forum, including Jenson Button, Mark Webber and Rubens Barrichello live. It was a fantastic way to sign off.
Eddie Jordan then grabbed David Coulthard and me for a quick hug and it was genuinely hard to believe we got through 34 shows and so many hours of live TV together. It was a special moment!
Despite all that's happened between the start of the year and our paddock 'man hug' it seems like only yesterday that I went out for dinner with my predecessor Steve Rider and we both wondered how the sport could ever match the heights it reached in 2008. And then 2009 happened...
A team that didn't exist in January blew the socks off the competition. The British world champion got his first taste of F1 in a struggling car while his fellow Englishman finally fulfilled his promise. All that against the backdrop of break-away threats, the diffuser row, Felipe Massa's accident, BMW's sad departure, Renault's crash-gate, Fernando Alonso finally jumping in bed with Ferrari, and changes at the very top of the sport. Phew!
All of that has conspired to make the past seven months the fastest, most exciting and most rewarding of my life. I vividly remember sitting around with the production team before the start of the year. We were in a big boardroom at Television Centre in west London with EJ, DC, Martin Brundle and various others in attendance. Which only added to the embarrassment when I arrived 20 minutes late having been stuck in traffic..!
Anyway, once I'd arrived to much ribbing, and the odd death-stare from the boss, the meeting turned to how we could put our own stamp on the coverage after ITV's fantastic efforts for the previous 12 years. We all took the responsibility of taking over the coverage very seriously and were keen to let no-one down.
I remember we had stacks of ideas, from the red button Forum to the online offerings such as this very blog - but all of it would have been futile had the sport not conspired to amaze, frustrate and enthrall in equal measure weekend after weekend.
So, with this in mind I've decided my final blog of the F1 season would be the Jake Humphrey Alternative Awards for 2009, a chance to re-live some of the moments from my perspective as we've criss-crossed the globe following this amazing sport.
MOST OVER-EXCITED PEOPLE AWARD
Goes to the people/person who has shown an unusual amount of passion and excitement throughout the season.
The guys involved in the podium celebrations in Melbourne where Brawn finished first and second at their debut race. The energy cascading down from the podium and actually infecting the entire pit lane at that first race of the season totally blew me away.
Incredibly, it seems everyone was so energised by the survival of Brawn that, when they won, the whole sport celebrated as opposed to just the boys in white. I hadn't realised before this year how much of a close-knit community the F1 travelling circus is and that moment - coupled with Rubens Barrichello being applauded by the entire pit lane after winning in Valencia - shows the camaraderie that exists.
Despite all the incredible moments we've witnessed, the most electric atmosphere I've felt all season during a podium celebration was in Melbourne. What a fantastic introduction to the sport, if a slightly overwhelming one.
However, even that moment is overshadowed by what we saw after the title-deciding race in Brazil. The moment that Jenson Button appeared in the garage after securing the drivers' championship was pretty surreal. Not just because he appeared with half the world's paparazzi in tow, but because he then proceeded to plant that stubbly, sweaty kiss on my neck. I'll never forget his wild eyes and 1000-yard stare; he had such adrenaline pumping through him.
For those of you who then pressed the red button at the end of the race you will have seen us chatting to the guys behind the scenes who helped make JB's dreams a reality. It was a pretty emotional moment for them - even with EJ leaping around shouting: "These reprobates are all ex-Jordan!"
They have had to endure concerns over their own futures and seeing a number of colleagues and friends made redundant after Honda's pull-out, I can't think of a team more deserving of success that the people who make up Brawn GP.
FAVOURITE 'EDDIE-ISM' AWARD
I've loved getting to know a group of new people this season, including the two I get to share the TV screen with.
I remember at the first meeting we had (the one where I was late!), feeling quite in awe of two guys who I'd watched for the past few years making headlines and winning races. It's been a real benefit to us being able to tap into DC's knowledge as a man who has just stepped out of an F1 car - and he's done a grand job.
Eddie Jordan, meanwhile, has really enjoyed his return to the paddock four years after Jordan left the sport and it's been great to have him alongside DC each race. Eddie has become famous among the team for his cracking fashion style - from pink suede shoes to his rocker-style T-shirts. It's a great reflection of his personality, one that has been in abundance during the live shows.
I call his funny moments 'Eddie-isms' and he's given us a few like when we were chatting to Red Bull design boss Adrian Newey on the red button F1 Forum and, despite sitting just two yards away, EJ started a question with "Adrian, it's Eddie here..."
How about when he suddenly disappeared to grab Williams co-owner Patrick Head in Brazil? Brilliant! I know many of you have enjoyed his regular verbal sparring with David, and I have a vivid memory of EJ being absent for the opening of the Sunday show in Hungary and then suddenly appearing out of puff holding a spring similar to the one that had injured Felipe Massa the previous day... He's certainly a one-off.
But my favourite Eddie-ism was the moment he ran off and grabbed Michael Schumacher in Valencia. The world and his wife wanted a chat with the seven-time world champion and EJ delivered just that for you guys at home.
I remember that I was in the midst of a link and hadn't really clocked his dive under the Tensabarrier. What a moment...
I think that little episode sums up the passion, enthusiasm and total unpredictability that he brings to the table. He's been great to work with even though he has total disregard for the fact we're on live TV. Thoroughly undisciplined; thoroughly good fun.
MOST INTERESTING INTERVIEW AWARD
There are some very complex and interesting characters in F1 and I've relished the opportunity to pick the brains of many of them. A few interviews really stand out to me.
I wrote a blog post about my experience of interviewing Max Mosley at Silverstone . With the world's media camped outside the FIA motorhome, we were spirited inside the Race Control building to get a revealing insight into the man who was then at the very top of the FIA tree.
It felt very clandestine and secretive and I was glad we were the people able to speak to Mosley at the very time F1 was gripped with potentially sport-ending issues.
It was also magical to share 10 minutes of Barrichello's time after he secured pole position for his home grand prix. He was on a real high, smiling through all my questions, chatting and shaking hands with the crew and afterwards signing umpteen autographs for the fans gathered nearby.
In a sport where rent-a-quote, corporate speak can at times become a little tiresome, it's fantastic to chat to a driver who is eloquent, honest and speaks from the heart.
I also got a great insight into the pressures of driving for the world title when interviewing Button in Monza. At the point that the momentum was with his championship rivals, a guy who I've generally found approachable, accessible and affable seemed unusually defensive. For the first time he started answering in cliches and was clearly keen to escape as soon as possible to contemplate the following day's race.
My favourite interview of the year, however, was in Bahrain with Lewis Hamilton.
One of our big wishes for this year was to try to get to know Lewis Hamilton a little better. He has been brought up speaking to the media, being made aware of sponsors' requirements and saying the 'right thing'. We were keen to get to know the real Lewis Hamilton.
After the 'lie-gate' scandal in Australia where Hamilton misled the race stewards we were able get his side of the story. For the previous few days he had been vilified in the press, had his sporting integrity called into question and been under the most enormous, unpleasant pressure. Sure, it comes with the job but it doesn't make it any easier when you're a young guy.
We met in the hotel lobby and the stress was clear to see. While we took a golf buggy to the interview location, Lewis hardly said a word and I was genuinely worried for him - he looked to me like a guy being slowly crushed by what was happening to him.
To his and his family's enormous credit, Lewis gave an honest, revealing and totally open interview, explaining how close he came to packing it all in.
Since then it's been a positively upwards curve and he's learnt how this game isn't always podiums and champagne. He's grown up, driven brilliantly and been a very warm person, who I've enjoyed getting to know.
FAVOURITE F1 LOCATION
I've loved travelling to the historic races during the year. The likes of China, Bahrain and Malaysia have their merits but they have left me a little cold as venues for passionate, exciting motorsport events.
What was really special - and call me a geek if you wish - was getting the opportunity to stand on the very corners, the very Tarmac, where history was made.
I remember sitting on the tyre barriers on the outside of La Source on the Thursday before the Belgian GP. There was hardly anyone around and DC and I were waiting to go filming. We were doing usual things like calling home or discussing that week's news when the conversation turned to the almighty 12-car accident DC triggered there in 1998.
I got him to walk me through it along the track and to hear him describe a moment of history from his perspective was amazing. Standing on the old banking at Monza or the first corner in Suzuka left me with goosebumps. Those old circuits have stories to tell.
For a whole host of reasons the British GP at Silverstone was my favourite race weekend of the year. You can read my blog about the surreal start to the weekend as we went ballooning with EJ. We landed in a small village called Stony Stratford and Eddie ended up flagging down passing commuters at 7am, asking them where we could find breakfast!
The actual race weekend went by in a haze. There was so much going on with the break-away threat that we hardly had time to breathe. However, just before the race I went out on to the grid to record a piece to camera and the atmosphere took my breath away.
I'd never been lucky enough to make the British GP and that first hit of the kind of vibe British fans create was just sensational. After that we were joined by almost the whole paddock for our after-race show and then I went to see a little worse-for-wear EJ and his band at the post-race party.
That weekend will live with me forever. I remember driving home, getting caught in a jam on the M1 and for once not minding one bit!
I've also got one last award to hand out, and that's to you guys.
From rocking up to watch the action at places all over the world and the 350 motorsport-mad British marshals that worked for free here in the United Arab Emirates, to making Silverstone the most atmospheric race of the lot this past season. You absolutely deserve a grand prix on home soil and I desperately hope you get one.
Thanks for all your support, criticism, praise and companionship throughout the season. You've helped make this a year to remember for all of us involved in the coverage at the BBC. Now we need to raise the bar for you once again.
Roll on March 2010..!!