Gearing up for new F1 season
Since that sweltering Sunday sunset in Abu Dhabi almost three months ago where we saw a man who looked about 12 years old being crowned the composed, confident, champion of the world, it's been a case of counting down the days until I can dust off the passport and embark on season three as the BBC's F1 presenter.
And this time, as we take the first steps of the few thousand miles we will be travelling to bring the 2011 F1 season to you, I need your help.
Read on to find out how.
The last three months have been a mix of highs and lows for me. Hosting Sports Personality, but being struck down by a vicious flu bug the following day. Going for a New Year's Day walk with my wife Harriet but inadvertently pulling her into the River Thames up to our waists (don't ask!), and just spending time at home, despite locking myself out of the house on three separate occasions!
And now, the wait for us all is almost over. I'm currently penning this blog in bed, Sunday Love Songs is on the radio, (what an old romantic eh ;-) and it's 13 February...one month to the day and I will be swapping Radio 2 for team radios, my home for hotel rooms, the middle of Richmond for the Middle East.
Vettel won the 2010 title in the final race of the season at Abu Dhabi. Picture: Getty images
I remember when I first met Martin Brundle, it was winter 2008 and we were at our first meeting ahead of the 2009 season and I asked him what he was doing with the winter. His reply was 'seeing the dentist, going to the doctor, cutting that grass...all the things I can't do during the season' and now I know how he feels.
Mind you, and I mustn't say this too loudly for fear of offending my lovely wife and all the friends I've enjoyed catching up with, I can hardly wait for that first flight to Bahrain.
Flights to grand prix races are usually 80% full of F1 faces from Bernie and team principals at the front with the drivers, to press officers, engineers, and a few fans too who can hardly believe their luck that they've also booked on to the same flight we've all chosen.
The two flights that seem to create the best atmosphere are the last flight home as we all breathe a collective sigh of relief that we've survived another season, and the first, as everyone quietly hopes that this is their season.
And this year, there is a palpable air of excitement. And I place a huge amount of credit for that at the door of 'social media'.
In seasons gone by there would be very little news from testing unless you looked at specialist websites. There was no way for drivers to converse directly with their fans. 'Trending topics' were the kinds of thing you read about in Smash Hits magazine.
These days we have drivers tweeting how their car feels the moment they hop out of the cockpit, teams uploading snaps of their speed directly to the internet, thousands of fans using hashtags to discuss the latest news from Valencia or Jerez, and far from giving us F1 overkill, it merely seems to heighten expectations as Formula 1 unsurprisingly grasps a technological development and makes the most of it.
In the past week alone #robertkubica, #bbcf1, #jerez and #formulaone have been among the most talked about topics on Twitter, most team launches were simulcast online this year, and you may have already topped up Bernie's wallet with the 2011 F1 timing app.
When the BBC got the F1 contract one thing I was really keen to do was bring the F1 fans closer to the sport that ever before. Yes, walking into a garage, touching the cars, unscripted chats with the team members and having a certain effervescent Irishman grabbing anyone he likes in a headlock is the kind of revolutionary approach you all seem to enjoy, but I think blogs, websites, apps and tweets have done just as much.
So, one month to go before we see the 24 new cars roll out into the blazing Bahrain sun. A month until Schumi looks to prove 2010 was just an anomaly, one month until we have three British drivers on the grid with Paul di Resta joining the elite.
So Paul will line up in the Middle East, sadly though, Kubica won't. I heard about Robert's accident while in Wales waiting to host live football and at first it didn't seem too serious. However, as news started to emerge it became clear it had been a very unfortunate, freak accident and his racing future would be in some doubt.
However, almost immediately social media was on the scene as people updated us from the hospital and from within the team. I was really moved by how quickly messages of support started to appear online and I know that Renault will have passed on all your good wishes.
Well this year, for the Bahrain GP in particular I want to use social media to help get the whole of the country watching the first race of the season...and that is where you come in.
The BBC's F1 following is incredible and the viewing figures since the sport returned to what I consider its natural home have been record breaking.
However, F1 is the kind of sport where the more you know the more you want to know. I still get tweets, emails or people stopping me in the frozen food aisle saying 'isn't it just cars going round in circles?'
Well of course it is, but there is the unseen drama of the tactics, the split-second decision making, the mind-boggling physics that keeps the car on the track...and then there is the actual racing.
I honestly can't believe that with the stunning locations, incredible driving talent, danger, bravery and political manouverings on and off the track that the whole country isn't sitting down at 1210 to watch the racing.
So, here's what I'd love you to do. I want you to bring a friend to BBC F1.
Essentially all this means is that you pick a mate or even better a bunch of mates who you know don't normally watch F1. Maybe offer to make Sunday lunch, or host an F1 party. Get them in front of the TV and let us do the rest.
With a Kers boost button and new rear wings to aid overtaking, a brand new tyre manufacturer coming onboard that could result in multiple-pitstops in the first few races, 12 teams and five world champions on the grid, is there a better time to bring a friend to BBC F1?
I'll be tweeting about my campaign too, so feel free to add the #bringafriendtobbcf1 hashtag to your tweets, tweet me and let me know what you are organising for 13 March and let's see what we can achieve together.
Time to induct a whole new legion of potential F1 fans. We know the sport we love is amazing. Are you ready to spread the word?