Jake Humphrey's season review
I should have known what to expect from this season when we went on air for the first time in Australia back in March.
Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel went on to win the race in Melbourne without really breaking a sweat, while expert pundit David Coulthard ended up with cake on his face during the post-race F1 Forum thanks to a very over-excited world champion.
Dominance and madness in one go.
Since then, Vettel has won almost every race, while we've had masses of fun and games on camera as we traversed the globe. I have plenty of highlights from a season that has been, without question, the most rewarding of my three years. At the same time, it has been one of the most difficult and surreal. But more of that later...
First the fun! One of the things I've loved about the coverage we've provided since 2009 has been the genuine human emotion that only live sport can deliver. The F1 Forum, in particular, has given us a chance to see a side to the sport that was previously hidden, usually because all the TV crews had long since stopped work.
A stand-out moment for me occurred in the F1 Forum after the Monaco GP. We headed up to the Red Bull Barge - or the 'float-a-home' as it's nicknamed - where the team were celebrating their second successive win in the race.
First, Vettel went into the pool, followed by various Red Bull team members, making it inevitable that Eddie Jordan would join them. I must confess that, as I challenged Eddie to go and grab the race winner, I knew he was likely to end up in the drink... and that's precisely what happened. EJ losing his glasses and proceeding to do duck-dive after duck-dive to retrieve them will live with me forever. All on live TV, let me remind you.
We then got a glimpse of just how brave the strong, fearless, race-winning F1 star DC really is. As soon as it looked like he would be the next one to get a soaking, he suddenly grabbed both his mic and the nearest railing for dear life. Cries of "No, I'm wearing white jeans!" and "No, I'm holding a microphone!" fell on deaf ears.
We often see drivers wearing race suits, helmets on their heads, wrapped inside a shell of carbon fibre. We never really get to know the human being behind the mask. I hope that, as the year progressed, you have felt you've got to know the likes of Daniel Ricciardo and Mark Webber as never before.
After the careers they've had and the success and the riches that have come their way, it would be very easy for Eddie and DC to not bother going the extra-mile for the good of the coverage, too. Yet they have. Early starts, late finishes, being asked to do ludicrous things and always buying into it... they've done it all. In fact, EJ refusing to go on the Abu Dhabi rollercoaster was just about the only time he has said 'no' in three years!
I remember heading to a shopping centre in India to film a Bollywood opening to a show. When the nearby Metallica gig was cancelled, 40,000 very unhappy heavy metal fans suddenly surrounded the car. It was a little scary until EJ decided to engage them in conversation to find out what was going on. Moment defused!
That first trip to India was fascinating. I found it particularly difficult and struggled on a daily basis with the contrast between the glitz and glamour of F1 and a country with such obvious socio-economic issues. It was hard to see the poverty as we headed to the track every day, then watch million-pound cars going round in circles. I sincerely hope that F1 makes a concerted effort to give something back to India in the coming years.
It was good to chat that weekend to Rowan Atkinson. But after creating such genius TV as Blackadder, it's sad to think he's globally famous as Mr Bean! Great he could join us on the show, though. To have 'George McCartney' (copyright E Jordan) with us in Abu Dhabi was also special. The only reason McCartney and Atkinson came to chat to us was because of Eddie. It's amazing the power he actually wields!
At this point, let me congratulate Eddie on raising more than £100,000 for Children In Need with his signed Indian GP shirt. He forced all the drivers to sign it, as well as Bernie Ecclestone and Macca.
DC has also really come into his own this year. Whether he's taking on Lewis Hamilton or Jenson Button in a pit-stop challenge or on a jet-ski, he's become a credible, eloquent and respected pundit. Added to that, he knows how it feels to win races, fight for titles and drive contemporary F1 machinery.
Jake Humphrey and Eddie Jordan meet Beatles legend Sir Paul McCartney. Photo: Getty
He's also rather naughty, using his weekly track guides to educate Sergio Perez about the perks of being an F1 driver, to tell Vettel about the German-speaking films he watched as a kid, or to make Karun Chandhok, who was busy minding his own business by cycling the track, re-enact Hamilton's crash with Webber in Singapore.
I'd just like to say how much I've loved working with both EJ and DC over the past three years. It's rare to find three people who just seem to click, but we have and it's been an incredibly rewarding time.
Despite Vettel being so dominant, I've really enjoyed the racing in 2011.
The new DRS overtaking aid on the cars has been toyed with by the FIA during the year but I think they've generally got the balance right now after the slightly embarrassing overtaking-laden Turkish Grand Prix.
What has really got me excited this year, though, have been the Pirelli tyres. Yes, the teams have worked really hard to nullify the effects of marginal tyres, but they have still added to the spectacle. Next year, Pirelli will be even smarter and more aggressive with tyre choice, so I think the tyres will really ask questions of the strategies that teams employ. If they get it right, Pirelli could again be the difference between a good season and a great season in 2012.
And what about my classic moments of 2011? Well, Canada stands out. We had international pop star Rihanna trying out Hamilton's car, DC demonstrating his knowledge of ornithology and Star Wars creator George Lucas chatting to us in the garage... all while a race should have been taking place!
When the racing eventually started, it didn't disappoint, did it? Button was incredible that day and I'd like to extend my thanks to him and all the other drivers who have made themselves so accessible this season.
The F1 Forum has been a magnet for race winners, from Vettel in tears as he watched our 'back-to-back champions' tape, to EJ, DC, Martin Brundle and me leaning over flight cases and around photographers in an attempt to get to Hamilton after his race win in Abu Dhabi. All great times.
It's worth pointing out that the drivers are not obliged to join us live pre-race, before or after qualifying, or on the F1 Forum. They choose to do it, which I think speaks volumes for both our coverage and about the drivers themselves. Thanks, guys.
After all that fun over the last eight months, we get to take a breath, grab a winter holiday, then do it all over again come March 2012. So what can you expect from the BBC next year and how will we make a very different season just as interesting to watch?
Well, the first thing to say is that EVERY race will be on the BBC.
I know you guys want live F1 but you will still get plenty of racing to watch - and often at much better times. Australia, Japan and Malaysia, for example, are races that take place in the early hours in the United Kingdom but we will show almost the whole race at 2pm. As well as that, the programme will be two hours long, so there will be plenty of action and reaction. For non-live races that are run at lunchtime in the UK, you can now enjoy a Sunday out, get home for 5.30pm and have 90 minutes of F1 in a peak-time slot.
The highlights will not just be a few token laps edited together either. We're talking extended, comprehensive highlights to really tell the story of the grand prix.
I can also reveal that the BBC presentation team will be at all the races, so the guys and I will be interviewing drivers, bringing you the usual banter and hosting the show in the way you've come to expect since 2009. So expect F1 Forums and the usual 60-minute build-up for live races. Plus we will have in-depth analysis from DC and others, as well as stacks of driver interviews for the highlights races.
Yes, it's a shame we haven't got 100% live F1. As a fan, I would dearly love to host every race live and you can only imagine how hard and uncertain it has been for all of us since Hungary, when the new rights deal was announced.
The team works so hard to make F1 a success on the BBC and it hurts that, after all that effort we've put in, things have changed. But the BBC has backed us with great on-air times and, as I have said, will be sending us to every race, while the usual back-room talent will be making every show special.
Thanks so much for your support, loyalty and viewership over the last three years. I promise you that, if you stick with the BBC, we won't disappoint in 2012. I am personally driven to make next year's coverage even better than ever before.
Have a great winter and I look forward to you getting a lie-in before I welcome you to the Australian Grand Prix in less than four months.
All the best,