Crashing the F1 party
A bleary-eyed good morning folks, I'm writing this while watching the new BBC Life series on the iPlayer... I thought the TV we produced at the weekend was pretty cracking, but seeing a frog escape the clutches of a spider by rolling up into a ball and tumbling downhill takes some beating...
Anyway, let me start this latest entry with an apology... You might be thinking I want to say sorry for my green v-neck fashion faux pas in Japan (blame my wife, she said it looked good!).
Or perhaps to Patrick Head who, by all accounts, Eddie Jordan got in a headlock and dragged onto BBC One during our Scolari (as in Big Phil - geddit?) in the rain on Saturday.
Well, I'm actually going to apologise that it's taken the best part of a week for this latest blog entry.
However, since landing home on Monday afternoon I've been a little ill, and I know just what to blame.
Here's a quick story, and to spare his blushes I'll use his nickname.
'Fisheye' (so called because he brought a Fisheye lens camera to Malaysia and proceeded to take about 10 rolls of film every five minutes) wasn't too well in Brazil. He was traveling to the track on Saturday morning when he felt a little queasy. However, a carrier bag was found for him to do the necessary and all was well. So we thought.
I arrived in the TV compound (always the least glamorous place and the worst toilets at any race track, cue the violins...) a few minutes after the guys, to see Fisheye walking towards a bin, a trail of drips behind him and some concerned looking colleagues.
It seems all was fine, until it became clear the 'sickbag' he was using using turned out to have quite a large hole... whoops!
Fisheye went home, we cracked on for the day and he returned on Sunday, producing his usual high-quality stuff.
Well, on Sunday evening as we came off air I realised it was about 7pm and all I'd eaten all day was a banana. I don't know about you but I thought the team did a great job so before I grabbed some grub I just went round the gallery, edit suites and office to shake hands and thank everyone... before devouring anything near me in our temporary office.
Now, I certainly don't blame anyone but perhaps I should have washed my hands first. We all assumed Fisheye had eaten something dodgy, but it now seems that maybe there was a sickness bug going round. Let's just say when I arrived home 12 hours later it wasn't the romantic reunion my wife had in mind...
I'm fully recovered now though, as has Fisheye I'm pleased to report!
Anyway, even if I'd been fully fit it may have taken a few days to recover from the incredible scenes that it was a real honour to witness at first-hand on Sunday.
Despite working on World Cup finals and Superbowls, I've never felt such electricity and genuine human emotion at any sporting event. At one point post-race I could hardly breathe, but perhaps that was more to do with having a hundred keen snappers desperate to shove me out of the way to get "the shot" of Jenson Button... more on that in a minute.
So, Brawn GP...
For many people the Brawn story really got going in Melbourne in March. I certainly hadn't felt such a highly charged atmosphere during a podium celebration at any race since then as Jenson and Rubens Barrichello shocked the world with that one-two finish. I remember even Sir Richard Branson was stuck for words... so decided to swear!
Anyway, our Brawn GP story began a few weeks prior to the first race. Just after I had, very unexpectedly, been offered the job as F1 presenter we accepted a kind invitation to visit the Honda factory in Brackley. There were five or six members of the BBC F1 team and we chatted to Nick Fry, met members of the team, saw the wind tunnel in operation and generally marveled at the slick, professional operation.
Everyone was at pains to point out how Honda DNA pumped through the place, and how the team existed solely for the pursuit of winning motor races. They were committed, hungry, motivated for the new season. Just days later they were no more.
Having met regular, hardworking, mortgage-paying members of staff, it was a real shame to see the confusion, sadness and fear when watching the news reports at home. People always think that the media know some kind of inside gossip but the only thing we were hearing at the time was that a rescue package wouldn't be easy.
The remarkable phoenix from the flames rescue act combined with getting to know a few of the guys who work on the cars and seeing that it's an operation with a real family feel, meant that the one-two finish in Oz, right up to the fairytale ending on the Interlagos tarmac last weekend was an amazing story for us fans, but even more incredible for the team. No wonder they decided not to fly back with us on the Sunday night - they had some partying to do!
Mind you, Mark Webber did his best to turn our plane into a party-venue at 38,000 feet and who can blame him - top guy, great driver.
So, back to last weekend. After the incredible Brawn soap opera, which was just one element of an amazing season, we arrived at a weekend that could seal the deal for all involved - and then qualifying happened!
While EJ's enthusiasm and respect in the paddock means he is able to manhandle various team principles and technical bosses so they willingly appear on the show, Saturday's qualifying session wasn't easy for anyone, particularly Jenson.
I remember waiting outside the Brawn garage to interview the ever easy-going, eloquent and affable Rubens when JB wandered over for a chat. He clearly wasn't happy and was off for some dinner with his infamous crew ahead of the biggest day of his life.
We actually walked out of the paddock together, and as we went our separate ways I remember wondering if, after 21 years of dreaming, he'd go to bed for the final time as just regular old Jenson Button. A.N Other racing driver.
After the late finish and effort expended in keeping the show on the road on Saturday, I had one of those dreaded pre-race Sunday mornings that I've only experienced a couple of times this season.
The night before we all left the track about 8pm. By the time we'd battled the traffic, got back to the hotel, ironed my clothes for Sunday and packed for home, it was 10pm and I was absolutely exhausted.
Suddenly, it was 7am, time to head down to breakfast and I'd had no time to even start writing the script or thinking about what was potentially the biggest race of the season. The time I spent with John Motson in Vienna at Euro 2008 affirmed my belief that preparation is key to any successful sports coverage and I really, really dislike the feeling of being under prepared.
However, I had little choice on this occasion so I just cracked on with writing the script the moment we got into the office, and thought about what points we'd need to cover during the build up.
As is typical on a morning like that, the time just flew by, and before I'd really had time to learn the script (we don't use autocue) or contemplate what might happen that afternoon, Norma was counting down in my ear, and the penultimate race show of 2009 was on the air.
The show whizzed by as quickly as ever as EJ and David Coulthard built the tension; Jock Clear, Rubens Barrichello's race engineer, demonstrated a keen sense of humour despite the scale of the task ahead of him that afternoon; and Felipe Massa reminded us all that the world title isn't necessarily the most important thing in the world.
Build up over, grid walk despatched and more Sky Deutschland people riled by Martin Brundle, I watched the race with DC in the cramped Williams hospitality area. The paddock at Interlagos wasn't built with modern F1 in mind and isn't really up to the job, however the racing dominated our attention as David told me time and again that we were witnessing a champion's drive... and so it proved!
After the race as the top three guys, who all drove exceptionally, left the podium, we were crowning our first British world champion on the BBC since Damon Hill in 1996.
On that day I was watching in our living room in the Norfolk countryside with my dad. Thirteen years later, despite being somewhat closer to the action, I was just as emotional and delighted as I was as a spotty 17-year-old hearing Murray Walker call the action.
Sunday was my first experience of being close to the very heart of a global sporting success. We weren't stuck behind glass in a TV studio or watching on from thousands of miles away in Television Centre... we were right there in the eye of the storm, and we loved it, particularly EJ!
The moment it genuinely felt like a storm, however, was when the man of the moment joined us in the Brawn garage.
We all agreed that the most important thing after the race was to make sure that you guys at home were able to hear from the new champion as soon as possible, however, as we all saw in 2008, despite best efforts, that's not an easy task moments after the end of the race.
Brawn, and in particular Nicola who looks after all the media enquiries, were great however, and promised us they'd do their best. They duly delivered.
With no prior warning and with just a few seconds left on the VT that we were playing, he appeared. Distinctive in his bright white cap and stubble, a wide-eyed Jenson Button, clearly high on a mix of adrenaline, disbelief and sheer joy was ushered over to us, followed by the most incredible flood of people.
I thought at one point we were going to lose Eddie in the crush but the priority soon switched to being able to do an audible interview worthy of Jenson's achievement.
I thought Jenson (sweaty, scratchy kiss on the neck aside!) was fantastic. It was clear we were witnessing a guy still unable to quite deal with the emotion of finally realising a dream he's held dear for over two decades.
It was wonderful to see an unbridled, emotional interview. Keeping sponsors happy and fulfilling corporate requirements were at the very back of his mind.
Yes, the past few weeks had been tough for him, if we're all honest it had become crystal clear, but on the day that mattered, when it counted more than at any other time in his life, he did what was required.
I'll never forget the incredible privilege of sharing those few minutes with him. It's fantastic to see someone's dreams come true, particularly when it's so well-deserved. I'll also never forget the prods in the back, cameras in the face and microphones up my nose and I tried to keep my composure and remind myself that lashing out on live TV isn't the right way to deal with things... even the guy pulling me backwards by the belt just so he could get the photograph he was after escaped scot-free!
I think I may have said it on air that those few minutes with the world champion offered enough of a snapshot into the madness that that this does genuinely mean everything to a driver who has never had it easy in F1 and has learnt an awful lot along the way.
Anyway, that was the weekend from my perspective. I'm now going get back to Sir David and the rolling-frog.
It's quite apt to be watching a series called Life. Last weekend, Jenson's changed forever...