Huge honour to lead MotoGP coverage
Hello everybody and welcome to my first blog as the new presenter of MotoGP!
It is a role I previously shared with Suzi Perry in 2008 and 2009, when I took over for the extra European rounds, so it is not entirely new to me but it is still a big step and a huge honour to be given the job on a full-time basis.
I have worked in the paddock since the start of the 2001 season and I'm proud (as well as a little ashamed!) to say I haven't missed a single race in all that time.
As a result, this is a sport I have developed a strong affinity for and the opportunity to share this with such a wide and varied audience as the one we enjoy on the BBC is an enticing prospect for me and a challenge I cannot wait to get started on.
This is the final year of 800cc motorcycles in the elite class before switching to a maximum capacity of 1000cc in 2012 so it is the end of an era. But it is also the start of a very exciting one, with Valentino Rossi forming an Italian "dream team" at Ducati, Casey Stoner emulating his hero Mick Doohan by joining Repsol Honda and Jorge Lorenzo defending the title as the new number one at Yamaha.
Lorenzo's new team-mate, Ben Spies, will be targeting the top step of the podium after an outstanding rookie year in 2010, while past race winners like Andrea Dovizioso, Nicky Hayden, Toni Elias and Loris Capirossi all have a point to prove.
The surprise package could be Marco Simoncelli, who was quickest in the first pre-season test at Sepang, Malaysia. And if you're after a dark horse for a surprise place on the podium, my tip is Hiroshi Aoyama, who beat Simoncelli to the 250cc title in 2009 but had an injury-hit rookie season last year.
Marco Simoncelli caught the eye in testing. Photo: Getty Images
Of course, this year also sees the arrival of Britain's former World Supersport champion Cal Crutchlow to the premier class. He is someone the British public can really get behind and will hopefully have you jumping off the sofas. Cal has huge talent and unbelievable drive but he will need your patience and support, too, as he makes the difficult transition from production bike to prototype racing, a move some illustrious names like Neil Hodgson, Shane Byrne and James Toseland have struggled to make in the past.
With 17 riders, the grid is quite small, a matter that should be corrected in 2012 with the new regulations, but 14 of them have won an FIM-recognised world title in one category or another so what the field lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality.
As well as Cal in MotoGP, we have seven other talented youngsters to keep a close eye on in the smaller classes - the highest number of full-time British riders across all three Grand Prix classes for 22 years!
In Moto2, Scott Redding will look to build on a brilliant end to the 2010 season, which saw him score four top-five finishes in the final five races, while our most successful Grand Prix racer in recent years, Bradley Smith, makes the step up from 125cc with a record of 20 podiums, including three wins, behind him. The pair will be joined in Moto2 by Scottish rookie Kev Coghlan, who impressed in a couple of wildcard rides last year.
Finally, three exciting teenage rookies - Harry Stafford, Danny Kent and Taylor Mackenzie (son of Niall, our most successful rider in the 1980s and 1990s) - make their full debuts in the 125cc, where they join the more experienced Danny Webb, a potential title contender.
With coverage of all of those Moto2 and 125cc races and qualifying live on the red button, there has never been a better time to get behind our boys and follow their progress through the ranks.
Helping us stay across everything that happens on track and behind closed garage doors will be Azi Farni, a new addition to the on-screen BBC team. Azi joins us as pit-lane reporter and I am really excited by her appointment. Already an established and highly respected reporter within the paddock, I have no doubt her knowledge, energy and enthusiasm will ensure she quickly becomes a very popular member of our team.
Starsky and Hutch - Steve Parrish and Charlie Cox - will be back in the commentary box, too, so we'll have experience to go with the youth! It also means that, as well as top-class commentary, we're guaranteed plenty of laughs. Hopefully Charlie has had time over the winter to think up some new gags about my clothes for the season ahead.
Can Cal Crutchlow make an impact in MotoGP? Photo: Getty Images
There are also a few changes to the team behind the cameras this year, with MotoGP being outsourced to an independent production company, Century TV.
In theory, this should not mean any changes to your viewing experience at home, although we are determined to build on the excellent work done by the BBC within the paddock in the past and make this the best year of MotoGP coverage yet.
Our new producer, Rohan Browning, has experience and enthusiasm in abundance, has put together a top-quality production team and we are chomping at the bit to get started.
The broadcast schedule for 2011 is very similar to last year, meaning we have a full 30-minute build-up before the majority of races, which are all on BBC Two and the BBC Sport website. It is amazing how quickly a programme fills up, though, so it is our aim to keep features dynamic and snappy, capturing as much of the pre-race atmosphere as we can, while covering the hot topics and hearing from as many riders as possible.
We have MotoGP Extra to come after each European race, which gives us the ideal opportunity to show you things and take you places you don't normally get to see. We'll also be giving the guys at the website plenty of extra video content so that you can get your MotoGP fix between races.
These are our basic ideas for building on last year's coverage and we'd love to hear yours, too. In the meantime, I'll be bringing you regular updates from behind the scenes of a season that roars into life under the floodlights in Qatar on 20 March.
Bring it on!