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Hanging out with two world champions

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Jake Humphrey | 16:30 UK time, Wednesday, 10 March 2010

By the time you read this blog the 2010 season will be just a few more sleeps away (more exciting than Christmas, eh?) and I will be 3,000 miles from home in Bahrain, doing what I did in 2009 - sweating more than I need to!

After the winter we've had I hardly expect you to feel sorry for me as I grab some spring sunshine, but the issue is that my legs are just not suited to shorts. Even my wife Harriet's Dad reckons he's never seen ankles as big as mine, so even in the heat of the desert I tend to wear jeans in the paddock while David Coulthard swans about showing off his bulging, athletic calf muscles.

Mind you, not even 40C will get me sporting a pair of white strides like the ones Eddie Jordan wowed viewers with last year! On my last weekend at home, however, I had no such concerns about the heat.

Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button
Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button

A biting wind was whistling through the windows (our renovations STILL haven't started) and I irresponsibly had the gas fire up full pelt in an attempt to get some warmth into the room. I watched Superman Returns - for which a bald-headed and rather sinister Kevin Spacey had clearly enjoyed a tasty pay-day and gained sudden inspiration for this blog.

Last Friday, I was fortunate enough to freeze half to death in Corby. Fortunate, because tucked away in an industrial estate in an otherwise ordinary looking corner of Britain is the impressive Rockingham Motor Speedway.

Famous for being Europe's fastest racing circuit, on Friday it played host to a seven-time F1 world champion. So, Michael Schumacher. What is he in your eyes? The Clark Kent, or the Lex Luther of Formula 1?

In my mind there were clearly times when he operated at the very edge of the competitive limit and undoubtedly crossed the line into the realms of unsporting behaviour. But that merely adds to the anticipation surrounding his return, doesn't it?

In a nondescript garage in Rockingham's paddock I got 20 minutes to ask him about one of the greatest ever sporting comebacks. But before speaking to Schumacher, I was given a stark reminder of how quickly life in F1 can flash before a driver's eyes.

Waiting to conduct the interview
Preparing for the action

Twelve months ago I would have travelled to carry out just such an interview with former BMW driver Nick Heidfeld. This year, without an F1 drive and employed as Mercedes test driver (a pretty mundane job for someone with racing in their blood at a time when testing is banned), Heidfeld just came in, sat down and started chatting to us in a way he never had before.

The invisible barrier that exists between F1 driver and the media was gone, along with his relevance as a current racer. I have no doubt that his obvious talent, speed and consistency means Heidfeld will grace F1 again, but at that moment it was just a couple of F1 fans discussing the sport.

Anyway, back to Schumacher. As it was pretty Baltic outside, the Mercedes media team was fretting that it might be a little cold for him so just as he walked into the garage, they turned on the heater.

Unfortunately for them it was an old paraffin heater and threw a huge cloud of fumes into the tiny room and despite spending most of his career surrounded by exhaust fumes it was clearly too much for Michael's sensitive sporting lungs. He quickly lifted the big roller doors and had Matt our cameraman scrabbling around for the door at the opposite end of the room. Some way to start the interview!

After the fumes had subsided, we had just started to chat when interruption number two arrived. Schumacher's new team-mate Nico Rosberg had a flight to get so despite the fact we were mid-flow, he came bumbling into the room, picking up his belongings that he'd left strewn around the place... a man after my own heart!

Actually, as Nico was knocking on the window to get someone to let him in, I said to Michael, "It's Nico" and as quick as a flash the old master said "Ah, leave him out there!". OK, it was a flippant comment said in jest, but it was also, tellingly perhaps, his instant reaction. Having spent a few minutes chatting, it was crystal clear that the man who dominated all 10 of his F1 team-mates until now retains that steel core needed to remain the best. He was interesting and intense.

He said he wouldn't have returned if he wasn't fit enough, that the current crop of drivers aren't special it's the cars that are good, and, most ominously of all, that he is a better driver now than he was five years ago.

I get the impression this is a man who has weighed up all the options, assessed the risks, and decided that returning won't damage his reputation or his legacy because he's got what it takes to beat the lot. He not only retains the same belief he displayed in every one of his seven title winning seasons, but there was a glint in his eye that says to me "watch this space". And we will! Mind you, Schumacher wasn't the only World Champion I got the chance to hang out with last week.

Chatting with Jenson
In deep conversation with Jenson

While Michael was opening garage doors, Jenson Button was opening all the doors at his new home, the McLaren Technology Centre. On Monday he gave me a guided tour of his new surroundings that we'll screen soon. We took a walk down the "Boulevard" where various cars from McLaren's past are lined up.

While Lewis Hamilton has in the past extolled the virtues of Ayrton Senna's skills, this time, Jenson talked about his excitement watching Alain Prost guide his iconic 1988 McLaren to victory. I'm sure the irony's not lost on you. Having spent a fair bit of time at McLaren's impressive yet imposing facility recently I was amazed by how relaxed and positive Jenson was. I honestly expected him to be slightly in the shadow of a man who has been with the team since he was just 14, but not a bit of it.

Button knew his new colleagues' names, was able to navigate his way round a building that is almost as confusing and rabbit warren-like as Television Centre. Most impressively, he was just as at ease chatting to the guy who works with the autoclave in the basement, as he was when we gate-crashed team principal Martin Whitmarsh's office for a cheeky chat. Just as Jenson has achieved something he's strived for almost all his life he decides to join a new team.

That means he has no chance to rest on his laurels and no excuse for not being as motivated as ever. Will he still retain that drive at the age of 41? I'm not so sure. Perhaps it all depends how another driver on the grid fares in the next nine months...

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Great blog as per usual Jake, made my afternoon. Can't wait until the season starts for real...only 2 more sleeps! :D

  • Comment number 2.

    Brilliant blog Jake - I am really looking forward to this year's coverage. Will we see the BBC review of this year's teams? I'd be interested to see where you place the Force India this year!

  • Comment number 3.

    Great to have the blog back! Really looking forward to the new season, and what I'm sure will be great coverage again from you and your team. The video chats about the season on the website are great - EJ seems just as feisty as he was last season!!

    One problem- can you please have a chat with Bernie and ask him not to schedule the opening race on Mother's Day again?? I'm having to record the race and watch it in the evening, as race time clashes with family duty. I just need to avoid hearing the result until I watch it at about 5pm!!!

  • Comment number 4.

    Last year, you were the new kid at Christmas, with all-new toys to play with.

    How does the build-up feel this year. You know your way around a bit more, and feel a bit more at ease? Less nervous? More confident? Or more excited?

    I also see in all the build-up that you're the one left without expressing the preference, leaving it all to the other 4. So spill the beans... just who do *you* think are going to be the 2 champions this year?

  • Comment number 5.

    Welcome back, Jake! You have been sorely missed!
    You could always try wearing a kilt - the focus on your
    knees would divert attention from your ankles, and free
    you from needing to worry about remembering to take
    enough underwear overseas with you this season.
    As DC will tell you, nothing is worn under the kilt - all is
    in perfect working order.

  • Comment number 6.

    Hey Jake, please can we have less of the really cheesy links, i.e. "While Michael was opening garage doors, Jenson Button was opening all the doors at his new home, the McLaren Technology Centre." It's tenuous and reduces the credibility of what is otherwise and excellent production. I really like your down to earth style and rapport with your interviewees. Keep up the good work, easy on the cheese!

    And I'll just about let you get away with the Clark Kent/Lex Luthor reference! ;o)

  • Comment number 7.

    I work a couple of miles away from Rockingham, I'm surprised you haven't been rattled to death by the potholes Jake.

    I still can hardly believe Heidfeld was passed over for a race seat this year, after consistently outperforming his illustrious team mates for the past decade.

    How do you rate the confidence at Mercedes at the moment? They've been very cagey during testing. I get the feeling they're going to be one car that has good race pace but poor quali performance.

  • Comment number 8.

    Great blog, your writing style always makes them an interesting read. Shorts are totally overrated--and don't you feel cooler in your jeans every time you have to look at the drivers in their getups? Hope the start of the season goes well for you!

  • Comment number 9.

    I work just across the road from Rockingham and that Mercedes sounded amazing!!. Really good to just hear one car tearing round a circuit like that. Thanks for doing it !! When can we see it Jake ??

  • Comment number 10.

    Nice blog. Interesting as ever. Can not wail till saturday. Going to love the interviews you have done as well

    Amanda

  • Comment number 11.

    i'm sure my cuz beeb3 controller danny is pleased you were watching his channel last weekend!

  • Comment number 12.

    Great blog Jake! Interesting to hear about how Schumacher reacted to Rosberg...

    How much different is it doing a pre-season blog this year now that you have done a year? Only 1 day to go!

  • Comment number 13.

    Nice blog Jake

    Quick question mate - why on earth aren't the BBC showing this years F1 on their HD Channel??? i can't for the life of me understand this decision!!! HDTV is a joy to behold and i believe F1 is perfect for this.

    It's not just watcthing the cars in all their glory in HD but the locations of the races would look superb as a backdrop to the real action.

    I just feel that the technology is there so why not utilise it fully??

    I am extremly excited about this season but i do have a twinge of sadness because if it were to be shown in HD it would make the exoperience so much better!!! Hopefully next year eh???

  • Comment number 14.

    Great blog Jake, looking forward to the new season! Best of luck for the year ahead and keeping Eddie on message!

    @LABSAB9 - The decision to not show F1 in HD this year was taken by FOM i.e nothing to do with the beeb

  • Comment number 15.

    #14

    Really? i didnt know that, thanks for the information.

    I still can't see the logic behind the decision though it really is a travesty that a sport as beautiful as F1 isn't broadcast at it's full capacity!!

    As i said i am still looking forward to watching the races, but hope FOM make the correct decision next season and allow broadcasters to screen races in glorious High Definition.

  • Comment number 16.

    If you read this before Bahrain think you might to mention live on air that HD is nothing to do with the BBC but the FOM (or leave it on as a caption for the whole race). So people stop asking about HD and blaming the BBC.

  • Comment number 17.

    Nice to see your blogs back Jake, it has been a long winter, with so much speculation that I just started to watch for latest news on the sport rather than get tangled up in opinions used as FACTS.

    I so sympathize with your short issues, but what about some white trousers to reflect the rays, have them loose and light and this can actually be better than shorts most of the time, apart from if MB has his Choc Ice near you.

    General Zod would be my answer to your question based on Superman, he needed others to make him feel powerful, and though he had power and talent he to abused it, was sent into space to reflect (a slight pun, baring in mind movie image) and on returning was looking to control things once again. I would love to see a different side emerge this season, but to be honest as much as he dismisses current crops talent, I will not be focusing on what he does in the races, though with commentary I'm not going to be that lucky, I guess as they will no doubt give a wheel by wheel account of each minute turn he does. The season was already shaping up to be a classic before he announced his return.

    I had no doubts Jenson would fit in, his personality is one that if you were going to throw a party and had his name on your phone, I wouldn't even hesitate to call him, regardless of how many women swooned. He has a way of helping others to relax, because that's what he needs them to help him do when he feels the pressure, I think McLaren are the perfect team for him in that regard.

    Jake when you drove with both Jenson and Lewis which one now do you remember for the driving and which one do you remember for the way you was made to feel?

    Hope you and the crew have a wonderful Grand Prix, as if you do, myself and millions of others as viewers will also.

  • Comment number 18.

    Shouldn't the title be 'Hanging out with one world champion'? Lewis is the forgotten man at the BBC and already Legard has openly stated he would prefer Button to win this year (not very fair seeing as they are both British). So much for lack of bias. I hope Lewis wins substantially this year.

  • Comment number 19.

    Great blog Jake. All tingly about seeing the new cars in practise tomorrow. Kind of expected Shumi's reaction to Rosburg though. Mind you, I've joinjed a F1 fantasy eague where Shumi and rosburg cost the same - $12m - on 0.5m less than Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton. Weird, IMHO.

    Also, re the HD issue, isn't it getting filmed in HD, but FOM decided not to broadcast? Daftest decision since . . . well their previous decision I expect.

  • Comment number 20.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 21.

    Awesome blog Jake,

    I hate Michael Schumacher and hope Hamilton, Button, Alonso, Massa, Vettel, Webber and most importantly Rosberg destroy him this year!!

  • Comment number 22.

    Jenson definatly looks relaxed, and happy to allow the world to have thier view that many believe Lewis will be quicker. Just hope Jenson does well. Would love to see him win this year. Either way it will be interesting and give us a deserved champion. Im just a little worried about that new boy at Ferrari. Roll on the weekend.

    Dave

  • Comment number 23.

    Excellent blog Jake - and welcome back; we've missed you.

    The excitement is building and I have become a real bore at work, talking about the new season.

    Keep the updates and the tweets coming; it fantastic to have the insights available; makes us feel involved.

    Enjoy the season.

  • Comment number 24.

    Hey mods, if you're not going to allow my comment to appear then at least mention in the 'House Rules' that we are not allowed to critisize people who 'WE' (ie, licence payers) are keeping in the job. Or please direct me to the place where I can make a formal complaint. Thank you.

  • Comment number 25.

    "So, Michael Schumacher. What is he in your eyes? The Clark Kent, or the Lex Luther of Formula 1?"

    I think you meant Lex Luthor, not Luther! :-)

  • Comment number 26.

    Sorry mods. Please disregard my comment no. 24. I thought that you weren't going to post my previous comment :). I was a fool to challenge your infinite wisdom ;).

  • Comment number 27.

    It'll be interesting to see how The Stig does, he certainly struggled around the Top Gear track in the Lassetti.

    Johnny Herbert

  • Comment number 28.

    really good to see the first blog of the new season Jake, it is going to be an amazing year. All of the behind-the-scenes stuff you filmed for the blog was class last year and the posts about you and the crew travelling for hours and having to prepare for race weekends were so good, hope there will be more of the same this year!!!

    I think as the main anchor for BBC's 1's F1 coverage you NEED to make a prediction as to who will finish in the top-5 this year, just so we can laugh at you when a Toro Rosso ends up winning the champs! You have such a great job we need a way of expressing our jealousy!!

    Have a great first weekend, ross.

  • Comment number 29.

    Hi Jake,

    Nice to see the blog make a welcome return. Always a highlight of the in between races part of life!

    And to BigLewisFan: I'm not sure if you are aware of this but Michael Schumacher is a 7 times world champion and Jake spent time with him and with Jenson. 1 + 1 = 2.

  • Comment number 30.

    18# Shouldn't the title be 'Hanging out with one world champion'? Lewis is the forgotten man at the BBC

    --------

    I think the second one was Schumacher!

  • Comment number 31.

    I want to have Michael Schumacher's babies.

  • Comment number 32.

    Thanks for the insight Jake, I have missed having a season preview show this year but the BBC Online service is great at building the suspence!
    I think Ross Brawn is looking very confident since the last of the test sessions. I wouln't mind betting that we will see lots more Brawn/Schumacher magic this year!!!!
    I am wondering what variations of strategy we are likely to see this year without re-fueling. Have the teams still got to use 2 different tyre compounds during the race??

  • Comment number 33.

    Great blog as ever! It'd be great to see Schumacher winning races again, although maybe not to the devastating extent he did in his Ferrari days!

    Look forward to the world class coverage from you and the others this season again!

  • Comment number 34.

    Fascinating Blog as usual Jake. Very curious as to why McLaren have an autoclave. I know the garages are always spotless but do they really need to sterilise the equipment as well?

  • Comment number 35.

    Hahaha, when it comes to shorts, Jake, its all in the styling. I have the opposite problem to you, I have chicken legs with skinny ankles!! :D

    Try some loose fitting, baggy bermuda style shorts.

    But enough of the fashion tips, I cant believe its that time of the year again. Man have I missed F1, and I've only just realised how badly. This weekend has crept up fast on me, probably because I havent been thinking about it at all, but thinking about it now, Sundays just have'nt been the same.

    The Sunday ritual begins!! God bless this sport.

  • Comment number 36.

    @ Charlieraey ... "... please can we have less of the really cheesy links .... It's tenuous and reduces the credibility of what is otherwise and excellent production. ... Keep up the good work, easy on the cheese! ... And I'll just about let you get away with the Clark Kent/Lex Luthor reference "

    Are you an English teacher by chance ? It's a blog, not Tolstoys' War and Peace LOL.

    Excited ? VERY .. watched the practice on t'internet this morning, cant wait for Qual and the Race .. F1 on the Beeb has been sorely missed in our house (cheesey or otherwise !)

  • Comment number 37.

    Hi guys
    Amazed no one else has realised this - but if ever there was an opportunity for a gag...why dont you use the famous song by the Who tomorrow to kick things off?

    - "Wont get 'fuelled' again "

    Youre welcome to use that tomorrow or Sunday lol ... dont forget to mention it came from "Steve in the Isle of Man" ;-)


  • Comment number 38.

    Hi Jake,

    I have to say of all the Rookies that graced F1 last year you have to take the crown. Really looking forward the the BBC coverage and you keeping EJ and DC in line again like two kids in a hot car.

    I really hope Hamilton is back in the groove this year and I am going to be willing Pedro de La Rosa on to do well.

  • Comment number 39.

    Whooop whoooop, just started...Love ya work Jake....get some shorts on. lol

  • Comment number 40.

    Great now that we've started the new season. Just one real annoyance for me regarding the TV coverage. The new style of occasionally displaying the positions during quali is not good, it was far better when they appeared constantly in top left of screen. Maybe this is a glitch for the first one of the season, if not - please revert back to a constant display of positions - thanks!

  • Comment number 41.

    Great start to the season! Really enjoyed the pre-qualifying coverage. Agree with Clive above though. Should really get on to Formula 1 TV guys or whoever controls the graphics because its really annoying not being able to see the positions, especially in Q3!

  • Comment number 42.

    Jake, have been meaning to write on your blog since way back last year (i'm so slow at getting round to things) to thank you and the bbc for coverage which is just a cut above, and very well presented by yourself! It was great today, things like the interviews with the new team guys before Q3 are just great, the whole grid gets covered! These blogs are pretty damn good as well! Any chance of footage of the world champions parade tomorrow- sound pretty amazing!,

    Ben

  • Comment number 43.

    I was so looking forward to qually, but it was completly spoilt by the lack of driver standings on screen. I had no idea who was where. With a few sparse showings from time to time. I know the BBC only buy this off Bernie, but I think they should put in a complaint for next time. Also it has taken me over an hour to find some way of contacting the studio. I thought there was an email address last year, is that now gone?!!!!

  • Comment number 44.

    Hi Jake,

    Here is my Question,

    With all teams having buddget cuts what happends to all used parts, like tyres & engine's

    Mark

  • Comment number 45.

    Hey, just watched the qual' on iPlayer, what's happened to the graphics?? Very difficult to work out what was happening. Also, the sector timing graphic is very confusing, I kept mistaking the single digit to the left of the time as being the drivers overall position.... I know the BBC doesn't control those aspects of the video stream but surely they can overlay something on the top... like a live leader board at least?

  • Comment number 46.

    Great blog Jake.

    I love your honesty and perceptiveness when dealing with these characters!

  • Comment number 47.

    Hey Jake
    You are doin a GREAT job
    Any chance you can push for full HD TV coverage for F1... try watching the Isle of Man TT races in ultra slo mo HD..its AWESOME...you can see the mechanics of the car in amazing detail

    Thanks mate..maybe see you in Shanghai... almost got to say hi in Suzuka last year..
    Steve

  • Comment number 48.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 49.

    Who enjoyed hearing a Gary Glitter song on the F1 coverage? Words may have been appropriate but who wants BBC Sport to be associated with that guy?

  • Comment number 50.

    Have to say i dont think the non re-fueling is going to help, 1st F1 race i went off in the middle of it, as you just knew nothing was going to happen

  • Comment number 51.

    Hello Jake,

    Good coverage from you and the team today. Pity is was so processional but let's hope it improves. On a tech note, can you have a look at the volume of back ground sound when Martin/Jonathan are commentating. It's getting harder to hear them as the engine noise is a bit intrusive.

    Keep up the good work

  • Comment number 52.

    glasgowgal- where was the Gary Glitter song? I heard "Don't Stop Believin'", by Journey, but I didn't hear anything by Gary Glitter.

    Incidentally, that song was the last song on the epic TV series "The Sopranos", and Tony Soprano was listening to it on a jukebox when he was shot in a diner.

    Quite appropriate really, given that F1 seems to have shot itself in the foot with the new regs this year!!

  • Comment number 53.

    Mr Phoebus,
    " Incidentally, that song was the last song on the epic TV series "The Sopranos", and Tony Soprano was listening to it on a jukebox when he was shot in a diner.
    Quite appropriate really, given that F1 seems to have shot itself in the foot with the new regs this year!!

    So far we have no certainty Tony Soprano was shot, similarly, it is too soon to say F1 is shot.
    Lets wait and see.

  • Comment number 54.

    Comment 52 - The song "Hello, hello, it's good to be back" was briefly played in the intro. stages. Still say Gary Glitter should be banned.

  • Comment number 55.

    Hi Joe Tanto- Google "Master of Sopranos" for a brilliant analysis of why Tony Soprano was shot in the final episode!! I'm convinced!! (Great series wasn't it?)

    Aaaanywway, back to F1:- You're probably right, it's too early to say for sure that the whole season will be as dull as Bahrain, and I really hope it comes to life. But what a shame that the first GP of what should be an epic season was a terrible anti-climax. Don't get me wrong, I love F1, and personally I still enjoyed the race, but I'm more worried about the potential new fans who may have tuned in for the first time as a result of all the hype around the new season, and then probably dozed off- or switched off- before the end.

    On the plus side, the BBC coverage was excellent as always, and the post -race forum on the red button was fascinating.

  • Comment number 56.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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