Back in the hot seat
There are few things I dislike more than being unorganised and badly prepared. Perhaps it stems from the spell I spent watching and learning the master of in-depth groundwork John Motson at Euro 2008. But note-making and taking certainly provides me with something of a comfort blanket over a race weekend.
However, as Valencia and our Easyjet flight from Gatwick this evening looms large, I feel distinctly unprepared. Let me paint you the picture...
Last night, when I should have been packing my bags, doing my washing, writing this blog and preparing my stuff for the weekend, I was at Griffin Park watching my beloved Canaries lose their second game of a so far inglorious season, this time a 2-1 defeat to Brentford. Myself and the 1800 other gluttons for punishment made the best of a bad situation with remarks like "at least standing to watch a game is quite novel" and "at least we didn't concede seven".
A mate of mine stayed over at our new, and still psychedelically-decorated, house and by the time he'd left and Harriet had gone to work I only had an hour to pack and do some work.
Therefore, for the first time this season, I haven't had a chance to pack specifically what I need. Instead I've crammed half my wardrobe into a huge bag. In fact, some of my stuff hasn't even made the bag.
It's supposed to be 33C this weekend, so I was keen to wear my white/pink striped linen shirt (hope it looks better than it sounds). Then I discovered it was dirty. Never fear, I thought. I put it on a quick wash and it's now drying while draped over the passenger seat of the car I'm sharing with Jonathan Legard as we negotiate the M25 on the way to the airport.
The feeling of being ill-prepared is quite off putting. For example, I've neurotically checked I've packed my passport and F1 ID about four times since leaving home.
One thing that did make me feel better was Lee McKenzie's Skype message at midday that said simply "feel so disorganised". Perhaps after a month off we've got out of practice as far as travelling is concerned. Weird.
Actually, I can't wait to get back to the racing, and I'm not the only one. On Monday I was at the glass and steel cathedral that is the imposing McLaren Technology Centre.
It's a building that is straight out of a Bond book and certainly demands high standards. For example, Sunil (who once wore pink shorts to a race weekend) turned up in a suit. I felt distinctly underdressed, particularly as I entered the 'visitors cafe' to hear an HR lady tell some inductees that "jeans are banned"... guess what red-faced Jake was wearing?
Anyway, I was there to talk to Lewis Hamilton about the win in Hungary, how he's feeling a month on, and what the incredible development of the MP4-24 says about the team at Woking.
He was understandably upbeat, much more so than when I last interviewed him in Bahrain. He smiled broadly when we mentioned the impact of his Kers button, shook his head in disbelief when discussing the effort and drive of his 'guys' at the factory, and also revealed that keeping slim has been hard. He said he's been in LA where Nicole makes great pancakes for breakfast, lucky him. I start every day making the tea for Hat and I.
It was fantastic to see him in such good form, actually, I really like the guy. He clearly has very high hopes for this weekend after coming in second in 2008, and I think he will look back on 2009 not as a missed opportunity but perhaps as the year when he learned more about himself and how to be an F1 survivor and conqueror.
I learned something about myself too during the break... that the chances of me even winning a 'Morris Minor Invitational Meeting', where only Ledgy and I are invited to drive, is slim.
I was down at Silverstone where I took my ARDS test, which essentially means I can race cars as a National 'B' Licence holder... don't start sweating just yet Lewis!
It's all part of the Motor Sports Association's drive to get more of us involved in motor racing via a Jenson-Button endorsed initiative called Go Motorsport.
Well, I doubt I'll be going very far in my racing career, despite enjoying one of my best ever days out.
Step one was the written exam in a small white trackside room... which brought back very unnerving memories of school halls and physics exams. I was all alone in a room with the examiner as I answered questions on racing safety and what each flag stands for. I won't reveal the outcome, suffice to say the pressure and nerves just makes you answer very strangely indeed.
Then it was into the car park for every boy racer's dream. The chance to do donuts to your heart's content without the night security guard chasing you away. I was in a Caterham with great front tyres and rubbish rear ones. The back of the car stepped out at any given moment. I was supposed to keep control.
It was incredibly difficult, and especially frustrating when my brilliant instructor Mark showed me how easy it can look. However, I'm proud to say I slowly got the hang of it, even if it felt much faster at the time that when I watched it back (much like the curse of Top Gear's Star in a Reasonably Priced Car).
Finally, I was onto the South Circuit at Silverstone. This is where the danger factor was really high. Not just because I was behind the wheel of a powerful Lotus Exige, but because I was sharing the track with people enjoying a day out in one of Silverstone's supercars. I was trying to wrestle the Lotus around the track at rather nervy racing speeds, they were just loving the chance to drive a Ferrari.
My hairiest moment was gunning it down the Hangar Straight approaching 120mph, a Ferrari was quite a way ahead as I prepared to turn into Stowe, however, unused to the speed I was suddenly getting a VERY close up view of the exhaust pipes of a £200,000 car. I felt slightly sick.
Mind you, that was nothing compared to the moment I actually had to take my test.
Five laps of the track, at safe racing speeds, and consistent every time. By consistent Mark meant the same speed, same gear and same line at each corner lap after lap. I scratch my wheels just parking so this was some challenge.
The toughest part was actually my vision. As a road driver you look at the next corner you're driving , negotiate it and then on to the next... but not as a racing driver!
Looking two or three corners ahead was the aim here, making sure you don't pick a line through one corner that compromises the following three. Believe me it's not easy when you're driving at 95 mph, thinking are you in the right gear? How's the racing line looking? Is there anyone in your rear view mirror?
And the worst part. Just like in your road driving test, the instructor says nothing. Bar the odd 'hmmmmm' or intake of breath.
So, did I pass? Well tune in pre-race on Saturday to find out, hopefully the photo doesn't give anything away, and trust me, Lewis, whose interview will be beamed out on Sunday, has very little to be worried about.
Anyway, despite no Schumi we do have two new drivers on the grid this weekend, and what's shaping up to be a cracking final stint gets going this weekend... very, very excited!
Don't forget you can follow me at www.twitter.com/jakehumphreyf1 for updates all weekend.
Enjoy the race guys and if you're out in Spain, come and say hi!