Why the BBC have made the right choice with Suzi Perry

“I’ve missed it. Haven’t you?”

Those were the words with which Jake Humphrey opened his first show as BBC F1 presenter, off the back of the opening credits to the soundtrack of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ – the iconic theme tune of the BBC’s Grand Prix programme from the 1980s and 90s – making its return after a 12 year hiatus while ITV held the television rights.

And here we are, nearly four years on from Humphrey’s BBC F1 debut in Melbourne 2009 and Suzi Perry – the former MotoGP presenter – is talking about how much she has “really missed” being away from the grid, having been revealed as Humphrey’s successor; the Norfolk-born 34 year-old is moving on to present BT Vision’s new Premier League coverage.

How things change.

Humphrey: If I had my way I'd be in F1 for the long haul

Humphrey: If I had my way I’d be in F1 for the long haul

Only in May this year, Humphrey tweeted: “If I had my way I’d be in F1 for the long haul.”

Less than four months later, it was announced he would be leaving the sport to “fulfil a lifelong dream of presenting the Barclays Premier League.”

Not that it was any great surprise. Only a week earlier, Humphrey announced to his thousands of twitter followers that his wife, Harriet, was expecting their first child in the New Year.

Jake Humphrey announces he is to become a Father

Jake Humphrey announces on twitter that he is to become a Father in the New Year

And as he explained in his last blog post as BBC F1 presenter, he “wants to be there for them both.”

But as Humphrey contemplates being in “Manchester rather than Melbourne and Chelsea rather than China” what do we make of his four-year reign as the BBC’s face of Formula One?

He hasn’t been without his critics. In fact, within hours of the BBC announcing he would be fronting their coverage of the sport in February 2009, F1 fans logged onto internet forums in their droves to express their dissatisfaction at the appointment of the former children’s television presenter.

But boy he has proved them wrong.

When the fresh-faced 30 year-old appeared on our screens at the 2009 Australian Grand Prix, it marked a distinct change in the way Formula One was covered in the UK, which had for many years been anchored by the likes of Jim Rosenthal and Steve Rider.

Eager to make the viewer feel like they were a part of his jet-setting journey following the F1 circus and become the most accessible F1 presenter ever, he certainly achieved his goal in that regard.

Although perhaps initially slightly intimidated by the presence of 13-time Grand Prix winner David Coulthard and former team owner Eddie Jordan alongside him, he rapidly grew into the role.

His blog posts were an instant hit, offering a fascinating insight into what it is like presenting the world’s fastest and most glamorous sport. Whether it be through recording his talk back during post race analysis; revealing what it’s like being producer and presenter or giving fans a guided tour of the BBC’s offices in the TV compound in Budapest, Humphrey truly delivered in giving F1 fans the kind of behind-the-scenes insights they had craved for years.

On screen, the chemistry with David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan was equally as popular.

The bike ride to, wing walk over and campsite BBQ at Silverstone have been amongst the most memorable of stunts and features performed by ‘the three amigos’ over the years.

The F1 forum never failed to entertain and inform and the emotion conveyed in the Brawn garage moments after Jenson Button won the World Championship at the 2009 Brazilian Grand Prix was sensational.

After four years, Humphrey was willing to admit in his last blog post that he has “taken the F1 job as far as I can.”

Some would argue that the three-Top-Gear-lads-style coverage had begun to run its course and was in need of a revamp.

So what can we expect from the BBC’s F1 coverage in 2013 with Suzi Perry hosting the show?

The BBC’s Head of F1, Ben Gallop, said Perry will bring a “real energy and years of experience to one of the biggest jobs in sports broadcasting.” Of that there is no doubt.

For ten years the 42 year-old presented the corporation’s MotoGP coverage with consummate ease and style.

Presenting solo from the grid, Perry held the show singlehandedly – something Humphrey would probably be the first to admit was not a strength of his.

Since they lost the exclusive TV rights at the beginning of 2012, Martin Brundle’s trademark ‘grid walk’ has undoubtedly been the biggest loss to the BBC’s coverage. David Coulthard – who blossomed this year as a commentator – tried his best, but struggled on the grid in the shadow of his former colleague.

With ‘the three amigos’ broken up, however the BBC decide to cover the sport in 2013, it will be different in style and tone to what viewers have become accustomed to.

BBC bosses could do worse than allow Perry to do what she does best: presenting the bulk of the race build-up solo, with an extended grid walk; guiding viewers through the starting line-up, the background stories and permutations, while engaging with drivers and team bosses and throwing to her pundits and roving reporters when appropriate. A new, dynamic, less awkward coverage of the sport may yet emerge from the state broadcaster.

And when the 2013 season comes to a close Brundle’s grid walk may have been all but forgotten, while those who dreaded the break-up of ‘the three amigos’ may find they haven’t been much missed at all.

F1 INSIGHT: A day in the life of an F1 Design Engineer

We are more than a month into the Formula One close season and the team’s designers and aerodynamicists are busy working on next year’s car.

But the design process is not something F1 teams only begin in earnest once the season is over.

Even with the ban on in-season testing – brought in prior to the 2009 season to curb escalating costs – a dedicated team of designers and engineers remain at the factory all year round, trying to find that extra tenth of a second in performance.

So how exactly does an idea for a new front wing go from a designers head to being bolted onto an F1 car at the track? And how long does it take?

In the first of my F1 insight series, McLaren’s Alistair Niven tells all.

He reveals what his role involves on a day-to-day basis; how he got to where he is now; his advice to anyone wanting to become an F1 designer and what he feels is the best car he’s had a role in designing.

How long have you worked for McLaren?

“I have worked for the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes F1 Team for approximately eight years.”

What is your current job title at McLaren Mercedes?

“Aerodynamic Design Engineer.”

What exactly does your role involve doing?

“As Aerodynamic Design Engineers we take the untamed concepts from our Aerodynamicists and convert them into credible engineered components that are ‘fit for purpose’ for either the Race Car or the Wind tunnel Model.

“In more detail, we take rendered aerodynamic surfaces and produce detailed engineering designs for our manufacturing departments or external suppliers; needless to say the whole process up to the material cutting stage is done electronically using CAD/CAM.

“We currently use ‘CATIA V5’ as our preferred CAD option. We tend to work in small teams concentrating on specific areas of the car.

“I spent my first few years at McLaren developing the geometry and aerodynamic concepts of the front suspension and braking system before moving onto the aerodynamic benefits of exhaust systems and rearward surfaces.”

How do these duties fit into the overall development of the McLaren car and the way the team operates as a whole?

“Although many of the mechanical and electrical concepts on the race car change throughout the season the largest amount of change takes place on the aerodynamic surfaces.

“An aerodynamicist can visualize an idea which we, as Aerodynamic Designers, convert into ‘realistic’ designs.

“These creations are transferred electronically to our manufacturers (either in-house or external) for the production process which can take the form of; machining, fabrication, moulding, rapid prototyping etc.

“The completed parts are often shipped straight to the track and assembled to the race car.

“This whole process regularly takes place within one working day. One working day in motorsport means 24 hours! So to summarize: Concept – Design – Manufacture – Transport – Assemble – Race.”

How did you get to where you are now? What qualifications and experience did you obtain prior to arriving in your current position with McLaren?

“I took a bit of an unusual route into Formula 1.

“I served a mechanical engineering apprenticeship after leaving school and then went to Glasgow University and studied for a combined degree in Aeronautical & Mechanical engineering.

“I was then offered a Lecturing post at a college in Barrow-in Furness teaching mechanical engineering to students working on the Trident submarine programme.

“Five years later I moved to Surrey, to take up a Lecturing appointment at Brooklands College, next to the famous Brooklands race track, teaching mechanical and aeronautical engineering.

“We designed and taught the first suite of National and Higher National Diploma’s in Motorsport engineering which is still running to this day.

“After twelve years at Brooklands I moved to Oxford to lecture on the automotive engineering degree course at Oxford Brookes University.

“Several years later I was asked to run a GT team back in Surrey and a year later joined McLaren as an Aerodynamic Design Engineer.”

How much of a F1 fan were you growing up? Did you always want to do what you do now or did you drift into it, almost by accident?

“I have been a motorsport fan for as long as I can remember, but my early passion was football and was lucky enough to play semi-professionally for over twenty years.

“I started racing motorcycles when I was eighteen on a Yamaha TZ350E before moving onto a Suzuki RG500.

“I blamed my lack of money for not winning, but looking back it was probably my lack of ability that was the primary reason!

“The main reason for choosing an Aero/Mechanical degree was that I really wanted to be an astronaut, but with the opportunities in that direction being few and far between I subsequently fell into lecturing.

“Looking back I have no regrets.”

Do you travel to races? How much involvement with the drivers, mechanics and team bosses seen at a Grand Prix do you have?

“As Design Engineers we are not required at race events.

“Originally, when ‘in-season’ testing was allowed, Design Engineers would attend two tests per year.

“The drivers on average come into the McLaren Technology Centre about once a week to either use the simulator or attend marketing events. They will have meetings with their Race Engineers to discuss car developments and up and coming race strategy.

“The Race Engineers will have been briefed by the Lead Aero Designers on aerodynamic improvements.

“Martin Whitmarsh or Jonathan Neale give a detailed debrief to the factory based staff on the Monday after every race.”

In your time at McLaren, what have been the biggest changes you have seen? How have these changes affected the way you and the team operate on a day-to-day basis?

“Without doubt the biggest change has been the speed of production, as mentioned earlier.

“An idea can be in the head of an aerodynamicist at the beginning of the day and less than 24 hours later it’s racing around a track on the other side of the world.

“This puts an enormous amount of pressure onto engineers, machinists, logistics departments and mechanics.

“The extra tension and excitement during this process tends to be the biggest surprise to most new employees from other industries.”

What is the best car you have had a role in designing?

“The obvious one is the 2008 Championship-winning McLaren MP4-23, but the previous years’ car, the MP4-22, was also great.

“This was the car in which Lewis Hamilton started his F1 career and started winning races almost from the outset, before narrowly missing out on the championship in his rookie year.

“But, as many Design Engineers will tell you, the best one will be next years’ car!”

What effect do you think the 2014 engine regulations will have on the racing?

“As the current regulations have been around for some time now, the gap between the front and rear of the grid has narrowed.

“I would imagine these differences will initially increase again with the advent of the new engines and all the complex chassis changes that will have to be incorporated.

“The existing engines are all producing a similar output, but that will change with the new V6 unit and will take some time for the engine suppliers to reach an equilibrium.

“From a spectators point of view I would imagine the noise may be a disappointment compared to V8’s, V10’s & V12’s of the past.”

What advice would you give to young people looking to get into what you do?

“Be very hard working, methodical, punctual and polite.

“Try and get as much hands-on experience as you can, working for nothing at weekends within other race formulae always looks good on a CV.

“Physics, Maths, Technology and English are the preferred A-level options at most good engineering universities.

“Grand Prix teams employ graduates from most forms of engineering including mechanical, aeronautical, electrical, software, product design etc.

“The National Diploma/HND in Motorsport Engineering is another route into F1 – it just depends on how long you wish to study for before you start your career in racing.”

In the next F1 INSIGHT, we’ll be hearing about life on the road as an F1 mechanic.

Can the Circuit of Wales deliver the next Welsh F1 driver?

In Formula One’s 63-year history, British drivers have won the World Championship 14 times – more than any other nation.

But since the tragic death of Tom Pryce, from North Wales, in the 1977 South African Grand Prix, not a single Welsh driver has made it onto the Formula One grid.

But could that all be about to change?

The 830 acre site in Blaenau Gwent, where the Circuit of Wales will be built. Published with permission from Good Relations Wales.

The 830 acre site where the Circuit of Wales will be built – published with permission from Good Relations Wales.

There are plans to build a “world class” race track over an 830 acre site near Ebbw Vale, in the Blaenau Gwent area of the Welsh valleys.

The £250m facility – called the Circuit of Wales – is designed to host international events, such as MotoGP, World Superbikes, World Motocross and World Touring Cars.

A new dual carriageway will be built to help access to the circuit and the developers believe they will be able to accommodate up to 70,000 spectators arriving by car.

Circuit developers are aiming to get up to 70,000 spectators through the gates on race day

The Heads of the Valleys Development Company aim to get up to 70,000 spectators through the gates on race day

The project is spearheaded by the Heads of the Valleys Development Company. One of the brains behind the plan is Chris Herring – a motor sport industry veteran, formerly Communications Director of the Honda Racing team.

Herring told me the “first-ever purpose-built Grand Prix circuit in Great Britain” is something that is “long overdue in the UK.”

Why Blaenau Gwent?

There were “opportunities to take it elsewhere in the UK” but Blaenau Gwent was “easily the place to bring it,” said Herring.

Developers plan to turn this barren piece of land into a world class facility by 2015

Now a barren piece of land – developers plan to turn this into a world class motor racing facility by 2015

“Blaenau Gwent council were very helpful, very co-operative in the beginning.

“From a local economy point of view, it will make a much bigger difference than it would have done in any other environment elsewhere in the UK.”

There will be a low carbon technology park adjacent to the circuit; an international karting track; two motocross tracks; hotel and leisure facilities and a leading motor sports race academy and training facility.

“Everyone focuses on this circuit as the sexy bit, but the circuit couldn’t happen without everything else balancing out the cost of building the race track,” said Herring.

“There’s a serious lack of qualified engineers in motor sport, which needs to be addressed. That’s why we’ve engaged with the Welsh universities, such as Swansea Metropolitan and Cardiff.”

An artists impression of the Circuit of Wales - published with permission from Good Relations Wales

An artists impression of the Circuit of Wales – published with permission from Good Relations Wales

“You look at Sepang (the purpose-built F1 circuit in Malaysia) and there’s a race track, a motocross track next door and that’s it – there’s no industry, nothing.

“Here, within a two hour drive you’ve already got a huge amount of motor sport business.

“Within thirty miles of Silverstone is probably 95 per cent of the British motor sport industry. It would be nice to get a little 10 to 20 per cent of that down here.”

Hywel Lloyd, from Wrexham, raced competitively in Formula Renault and British F3 until recently. Now, as team manager for the CF Racing British F3 team, he said the proposed circuit is “quite important” for motor sport in Wales.

“I think people will want to come there and a lot of race teams will want to be based there as well.

“There are a few good race teams in Wales, on their own merits, so it can inspire a lot of people, not just drivers, to get into Formula One.”

The developers claim the Circuit of Wales will “drive change and transform lives” in the area, bringing estimated economic and regeneration benefits worth over £50 million a year to the Welsh economy.

What the Circuit of Wales will look like at night - published with permission from Good Relations Wales

What the Circuit of Wales will look like at night – published with permission from Good Relations Wales

But will it inspire and help nurture Wales’ next F1 star? Herring believes it can.

“Having a circuit is a magnet, it brings youngsters in.

“People need the experience and the know-how. With this facility they’ve got a good chance, in a safe environment, to learn the trade with a lot training and practice facilities that don’t exist all over the UK.”

This view is one echoed by another Welsh racing driver, Seb Morris.

Last year Morris was named ‘Young Welsh Racing of the Year’ by the Welsh Racing Drivers’ Association. More recently, he featured in Sky Sports F1’s ‘Britain’s Next F1 Star’ series.

And although Morris feels the circuit is “probably not” going to help him get into F1, he said the opportunity it will provide is “very promising”.

“The chance and opportunity of visiting a new track that could be built in Wales would broaden Wales’ view of motor sport. I don’t personally think it’s that strong at the moment.

“But if there was a big circuit, with proper venues, that could really create a whole new industry and revenue for Wales.

“I think Wales as a country needs a Silverstone – something big like that.”

The timescale

“It’s effectively a two year build time”, said Herring. “We’re hoping to be on site by June/July 2013 with a view to being finished in June/July 2015.”

As for whether the Circuit of Wales can end a 35-year wait for another Welsh F1 driver, only time will tell.

Button wins Brazilian bonanza as Vettel clinches third title

Jenson Button won a thrilling Brazilian Grand Prix at Sao Paulo’s Interlagos circuit, ahead of the Ferrari’s of Fernando Alonso and  Felipe Massa.

But with Sebastian Vettel’s fighting drive to a well-earned sixth-place finish, Alonso’s second place was not enough to deny the German a third World title.

Vettel clinched the championship by just three points in what Red Bull team boss Christian Horner described as “the most stressful” race he’d been involved in.

For Vettel, the record books just keep tumbling. At the age of just 25, he is the youngest-ever triple World Champion and one of only nine drivers to have clinched the Formula One World Championship three times.

And off the back of his titles in 2010 and 2011, Vettel has joined an even more exclusive club of drivers to have won three World Championships consecutively. Only Juan Manuel Fangio (1954-57) and Michael Schumacher (2000-04) had achieved that feat previously.

A top four finish would have guaranteed Vettel the title. After the opening lap, it was obvious the task in hand was to prove one of his greatest challenges yet.

From fourth on the grid Vettel had a poor start, dropping down to seventh. Approaching turn four, it went from bad to worse for the German. Bruno Senna – whose uncle Ayrton had held the record for youngest triple World Champion – misjudged his breaking point on turn-in, slamming into the side of the Red Bull, spinning him round.

Cars dodged to the left and right as Vettel was left rolling downhill in reverse. Only until the last of the back-of-the-grid stragglers had past could the German spin around and set off in pursuit, in what was now a damaged car.

Meanwhile up ahead, Alonso was making the most of his championship rival’s misfortune.

From his seventh-placed grid slot, the Spaniard made up two places off the start line. A lap later, he made yet more ground, scything up the inside of Mark Webber’s Red Bull and team-mate Massa into turn one.

Whether he was aware of Vettel’s predicament or not, it was opportunistic driving from Alonso, who now found himself in the vital third place he would need to win the title, should Vettel fail to score.

The German, though, had other ideas.

With the track becoming increasingly slippery, Alonso chose to switch to intermediate tyres on lap ten. Vettel did likewise. In the absence of pit radio, Alonso would have been astonished to see Vettel in his mirrors as he exited the pits. Boy had Vettel made up ground.

Ahead of the two men in contention for the championship, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Jenson Button were driving superbly in the tricky conditions, notching up a huge lead over the rest of the field.

All that changed on lap 22, however, after the safety car was deployed to clear up dangerous amounts of debris scattered across the track.

Eight laps later, Hulkenberg led the field off the restart, with Button, Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel in hot pursuit.

On lap 31, Hamilton, in his last race for Mclaren, made a bold move on team-mate Button to take over second place. Then, on lap 48, Hulkenberg made a rare error, putting a wheel on a slippery white line, and Hamilton was into the lead.

It was a lead that lasted for just seven laps, though, as Hulkenberg spun into the British driver while attempting a re-pass into turn one.

Retirement in his final outing for the team which had nurtured him since he was thirteen was not the ending Hamilton would have wanted – or deserved.

All of this enabled Button to scamper clear into an unassailable lead. Behind the 2009 World Champion, Vettel’s dramas never ceased.

Wheel-to-wheel battles with the likes of Massa and Kamui Kobayashi continued. And then there was the weather, which changed almost as rapidly as the on-track combat the TV director chose to follow. One moment it was a pit stop for slick tyres. Three laps later, Vettel would be in for intermediates.

A small favour from Michael Schumacher – the man whom he admired so much as a young boy – was the only saving grace for Vettel on a day everything seemed conspired against him. The seven times World Champion – in his last outing for Mercedes before finally calling it a day – decided not to get involved in his fellow country-man’s charge for the championship and duly let him by for sixth place.

But even though Massa had let team-mate Alonso by for second place two laps earlier, seventh would have been good enough for Vettel.

“It is difficult to imagine what goes through my head now even for myself,” Vettel said. “I am full of adrenaline and if you poke me now I wouldn’t feel it.

“It was an incredible race. When you get turned around at Turn Four for no reason and it becomes like heading the wrong way down the M25 it is not the most comfortable feeling.

“I was lucky no-one hit me but the car was damaged and we lost a lot of speed, especially when it dried up. Fortunately it started to rain again and I felt so much happier.

“A lot of people tried to play dirty tricks [during the season], but we did not get distracted by that and kept going, and all the guys gave a big push right to the end.”

For Alonso, it was the second time in three seasons that a third World title had slipped from his grasp.

In 2010 a strategic error by the Ferrari team allowed Vettel to snatch the title in the Abu Dhabi season finale. This year, there is no doubt that Alonso has dragged a dog of a car that simply had no place to be in contention for the World Championship. But for being caught up in first lap accidents in Belgium and Japan, he would have won the title.

“I’m very proud of the team,” said Alonso. “We lost the championship before today, not in Brazil, this is a sport after all.

“When you do something with your heart and do it 100% you have to be proud of yourself and your team and we’ll try again next year.”

View from the stands: Silverstone

It’s where Formula One was born in 1950 and it remains one of the most popular and best-attended Grands Prix of the season.

Once an airfield in World War Two, Silverstone has changed beyond recognition over the years.

Gone are the days when straw bales ‘protected’ the fans from the death traps that the Hamilton’s and Vettel’s of yesteryear hurled around at brake neck speed.

Today’s modern facility boasts a brand new pit and paddock complex, superbly positioned grandstands and provides fans with entertainment ‘e-zones’ and a post-race concert.

I first attended the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2003. Almost ten years on, it’s a weekend I still remember vividly.

After watching qualifying on the Saturday at a friend’s house, a group of seven of us made the trip up to the Northamptonshire countryside.

The atmosphere at the Whittlebury Park campsite right next to the Copse side of the circuit was fantastic, with race-goers partying long into the night.

Unable to sleep, I crept out of my tent at around 5am and walked through Copse Wood and made my way towards the circuit to discover what I could see.

A short stroll later, I will never forget the moment I emerged from the woodland to the site of the five Copse grandstands lining the legendary (and then first) corner.

Eyes out like saucers, I tried to take in the size of it all. The car parks were already filling up with those ‘general admission’ ticket-holders eager to find the best spot; the smells of the burger vans cooking breakfast for the early arrivals wafted through the air; the ITV studio stood adjacent to the pit straight grandstand, ready for Jim Rosenthal to host the action to millions of television viewers.

The wait for everyone else to wake up seemed endless. Eventually they did and we made our way to a small café on the edge of the campsite for breakfast.

Support races including Maserati’s and the Porsche Supercup entertained an expectant crowd in the morning before it was lights out for the Grand Prix itself.

And what a race it was. Rubens Barrichello made a poor start from pole position, with Renault’s Jarno Trulli and Mclaren’s Kimi Raikkonen nipping ahead at the first corner.

David Coulthard’s headrest falling off his car aside, it was a fairly uneventful opening twelve laps.

Protestor Neil Horan invades the track at the 2003 British Grand Prix

That was until madness struck when a protestor invaded the track on the hanger straight, with the cars driving towards him at speeds of up to 190 miles per hour. The crowd on the pit straight roared when a brave marshal ran onto the track and rugby tackled the man. Remarkably no one was hurt. But the deployment of a second safety car – under which nearly every car pitted – shook up the order in a way no one could have predicted.

What followed was overtaking galore and a truly remarkable drive from Rubens Barrichello to claim his first win of the season.

I made a second visit to Silverstone in 2006.

Again, we watched from what was the old pit straight grandstand overlooking the pit lane entrance. With the aid of a giant screen, this made following the strategies much easier than if positioned at another point around the circuit.

View of the old pit straight grandstand. The pits have now moved to the opposite end of the circuit.

The race was hardly a classic but there was a unique vibe about the weekend with it being a month earlier than usual and on the opening weekend of the 2006 World Cup.

There were England flags everywhere. Sitting in the grandstand with the GP2 race in progress while the BBC’s coverage of the England game was being beamed on the giant screens felt strange, but it kept everyone happy.

For my third and most recent visit to Silverstone in 2009, I decided to watch the race from the Stowe corner grandstand – a fantastic vantage point to catch the overtaking and one which I’d thoroughly recommend.

The parade lap: the cars make their way through Stowe corner before the start of the 2009 British Grand Prix

With the use of binoculars, I was able to follow the action for half of the lap: all the way from the exit of chapel, down the Hangar straight, through Stowe, Vale and Club, before the charge up to the Abbey chicane.

Sadly, this is no longer possible, following the building of the new pit and paddock complex.

The new layout has, however, enabled fans to enjoy viewing from two parts of the circuit at once – with several grandstands offering views of Farm/Village/Wellington Straight and the brilliant Maggots/Becketts complex.

For more information on Silverstone – with advice on getting there, buying tickets and camping – please see my all-you-need-to-know guide.

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Ash Miller talks racing, dancing…and Hamilton’s move to Mercedes

Ash in action at Brands Hatch

From Brisbane to Brands Hatch, racing driver Ash Miller has been around for a while now. He may not be a household name, but his commitment to and achievements in motor racing to date – not to mention his talents outside of the sport – is something to be admired.

By the age of six, Miller was already pestering his Father for a kart, telling him he was “holding up” his Formula One career. In 2000, his Father was presented with an affordable package and Miller’s karting career was underway. It started off as a hobby and “a bit of a reward for doing well in school”.

After five years, Miller drew a line under his karting days at the state championships in 2005, which he describes as a “pivotal point”.

“We had such a terrible race meeting in terms of results, everything went wrong. It culminated with me being taken out deliberately about five laps into a fairly long final. It was the tipping point, I guess.”

Frustrated by the politics involved, Miller turned to car racing, which was he says was an “interesting” transition.

“Everything happens a lot slower in a car than a go kart. The first time in a car was quite easy compared to the go karting because with go karting everything is so fast paced and everything is on edge, everything happens a lot quicker.

“When the back end starts to come out (in a car) you can feel it almost before it’s happening, whereas in a go kart as the back end comes out it’s out before you know it.”

2009 saw Miller break through, claiming several victories and sealing both the Production Sports and the Mazda MX5 Queensland Championships.

The following year Miller raced undefeated, winning every round of the 2010 CUE One Hour Endurance Series for class 2E – by over a minute, on some occasions – sealing the Mazda MX5 National Title in between. The challenge of endurance racing was an altogether different challenge, though.

“Initially when we were doing car racing it was club meetings and sprint meetings and trying to get the experience up.

“We did the first round in the CUE One Hour Endurance championship because it was local. I co-drove with the son of the guy who engineered my car.

“I loved the amount of track time we got, because a driver is never going to say ‘no’ to more track time and I just really enjoyed the challenge, really enjoyed the strategy, the thrill of not just going ballistic.

“It was definitely a step up.”

Outside of motor sport, Miller is a qualified journalist. He started out writing for a national karting magazine in Australia. When the subject of payment came up, however, Miller realised he would have to gain a qualification and he subsequently obtained a degree in journalism.

Now he works on a freelance basis covering touring cars for Motor Sport News and says he would “love” to try his hand at commentating. Training as a journalist, though, has benefited him as a racing driver, he says.

“It’s helped out an awful lot with the motor sport, as a lot of the guys behind the wheel don’t really know how to deal with the media and we need to work with the media to get the most out of it.

“So being on both sides of the fence, it’s given me a real appreciation of both elements.”

Like his fellow countryman Mark Webber did in the mid-90s, last year Miller moved over to the UK to race.

Driving Druids at Brands

His first taste of competition was meant to be the Britcar 24 hour race. But two weeks before he was due to fly out the team had an accident with the car and he was out of the race before he had even turned a wheel.

Fortunately, GT3 driver James Walker – who has provided a lot of managerial support in finding drives – was on hand and helped secure him a drive in the final Renault Clio Cup race of 2011 at Brands Hatch, which he describes as “proper competition and the real deal.”

At this point, it dawned on Miller that he had to make a sacrifice with another of his exploits out of racing.

Long since he took up racing, Miller has been a dancer. He is four times an Australian Irish Dance Champion and he climbed the professional ranks, finishing 11th in the 2007 World Championships.

However he was faced with a “water shed moment” last year when the Clio Cup round clashed with the Irish national dancing championships and he realised he could only do one or the other.

After an impressive debut in the final Renault Clio Cup race of 2011 at Brands Hatch, Miller returned to the UK this year ready to race.

Disappointingly, the 2012 season didn’t materialise as expected.

“When I planned the move here I was in a good position with funding and I had a contact in Australia who was going to help me get started in the championship with the Clios this year. Things were looking good.

“But not long from flying out, his position changed and the funding was not withstanding, as happens. With a lot of the financial turmoil that’s happening, it’s unpredictable at the best of times.

“So I still went ahead with the move over here and used 2012 as a building block to make contacts for next year, put something in place and really be able to structure it properly so we can go into 2013 knowing exactly where we stand.”

“As much as it has been frustrating (not racing in 2012), I came over here knowing what a challenge it was going to be and throughout everything I’ve done in my life I’ve always reveled the challenge and believe that nothing is ever worth doing if it’s going to be easy.

“This has probably been the hardest challenge that I’ve had to face in my racing career. But you wake up every morning with a positive attitude and still with the belief that with every day that comes, you get a bit closer to the goal.”

While 2012 has been a frustrating year on the side lines – with the some kart endurance racing and the Karun Chandhok charity karting festival providing him the only chance to compete – Miller says he is “about 70 or 80 per cent confident” he’ll be racing in 2013.

I asked Ash how the motor sport scene in the UK compares to that of the Australia and whether it’s easier to get noticed.

“Absolutely”, he says. “Motorsport over here in the UK is still a very viable means of both marketing and it’s part of culture – much deeper ingrained in culture, from a grass roots level all the way up to professional level than it is in Australia.

“In Australia you’ve got this massive gap between grass roots motor sport and professional. The guys who make it to super cars have done because they have a lot of backing and that’s what the drivers coming up through the ranks in Australia are facing.

“The cost of a national Formula Ford season in Australia is another 30 to 40 per cent more expensive there than it is over here.

“And the coverage over here is much better for motor sport generally. You’ve got channels like ITV4 which run the British Touring Cars. That’s something that was really attractive for the Clio Cup is the package that you’ve got to be noticed with on television. You don’t get that in Australia.

“The Clio Cup is immensely popular with the fans. The fans go to see the support classes as much as the main event, whereas in Australia everyone’s there for the V8 Supercars and ignores everything else.”

On the current state of play in Formula One, Miller says it’s a “sad thing” that his fellow countryman Mark Webber “seems to have been trumped by this up-and-coming young star year after year” but if he were to bet on the outcome of this year’s World Championship he would “put it on Vettel.”

“I think Alonso’s faced with a harder and harder challenge and you can’t fault him for his determination.

“If there was a race for persistence then I think Vettel would fall for Alonso – he’s always there or there abouts.

“Korea 2010 was the pivotal moment where Mark might have ended up letting it slip out of his grasp. From a country man’s perspective, I’d love to say that he’s got a shot at the title for the next ten years, but from a realistic point of view as long as Vettel’s in the game I think he’s going to have a very tough time.”

“You hear a lot of people say about when Schumacher was dominant how boring Formula One was, but I think those who watch it don’t realise how much history is being made here.”

But what does he make of Lewis Hamilton’s switch from Mclaren to Mercedes?

“From a purist’s perspective and from a driver’s perspective, if your driving becomes a little bit stale and you start looking for a fresh challenge, you’re not one hundred per cent committed to the job at that team.

“From a results perspective it probably isn’t the smartest move but from a personal perspective, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Hamilton’s looking for a new challenge.

“He’s still discovering himself as a man, as well, he’s still finding out what makes him tick. Growing up in the eye of the world in Formula One you don’t exactly get every opportunity to discover who you are.”

“The one thing he (Hamilton) does have up his sleeve is Mercedes’ budget. They’re committed to Formula One which he doesn’t have to worry about.

“This is speculating, but I think where Hamilton may succeed where Schumacher has failed is the fact that Schumacher was very much at the twilight of his career. Hamilton is still eager and hungry…but he doesn’t seem to have the steely mental confidence that Schumacher had.”

As for his own future, Miller says his focus is very much on securing a drive in the Renault Clio Cup next season and his ultimate goal is Le Mans – although he “wouldn’t turn down a Formula One drive.”

Would anyone?

Vettel dominates in India to extend championship lead

Sebastian Vettel claimed a dominant victory in the Indian Grand Prix to extend his championship lead by another six points over title rival Fernando Alonso. The reigning World Champion now heads into the final three races of the season thirteen points ahead of the Spaniard, with 75 available. Following victories in Singapore, Japan and Korea, Vettel has for the first time won four Grands Prix in succession.

“It has been an incredible two years for us here to get pole on Saturday and win the race on Sunday,” said Vettel.

“I don’t know what it is about this circuit but I really like the flow of it. Big thanks to the team, as I said on the radio, every single one is pushing very hard and I think there’s not one thing that stands out.

“I’m glad to be part of that and just enjoying the moment.”

Behind him, Alonso drove impressively to finish second, after starting fifth. Webber completed the podium, with the McLaren’s of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button fourth and fifth.

Vettel led off the line from pole position and never looked back. The German led from lights to flag, building a 28 second lead before his one and only pit stop on lap 33, emerging a full 12 seconds in front of his team-mate Mark Webber. In doing so, Vettel became the first man since Ayrton Senna to pick up a hat trick of wins and lead every single lap in the process.

It was a race generally lacking in wheel-to-wheel action, with the notable exception of the opening lap. Hamilton, Button and Alonso enjoyed a tremendous tussle behind the Red Bulls, from which Button emerged the winner and Hamilton the loser in fifth, two places behind his starting grid position.

On lap five, Alonso used his DRS to sweep passed Button into turn four, to take third place. Two laps later, it was Hamilton’s turn to make a move on the 2009 World Champion, who slipped back to fifth.

The McLaren mechanics changed five wheels on Hamilton’s car at his pit stop, after the 2008 World Champion complained of down-shift problems with his steering wheel. Button meanwhile finished almost half a minute behind the winner. Setting the fastest lap on his final tour was scant consolation.

Further back, Kimi Raikkonen endured a frustrating afternoon in the Lotus stuck behind the Ferrari of Felipe Massa. The Brazilian switched to the hard compound tyre a lap later than his former team-mate. When he emerged from the pit lane marginally in front of the Finn, the 2007 World Champion pounced, making an incisive pass into turn three. One corner later though, Massa used his DRS to opportunistically cruise back past Raikkonen, who remained there until the chequered flag.

There was more misery for Michael Schumacher, who retired for the eighth time this season. The seven times World Champion – who will hang up his helmet for good at the end of the season – had a difficult afternoon. After slamming into the back of Jean-Eric Vergne in Singapore, the Frenchman repaid him the favour, causing the German a right-rear puncture. Schumacher was later under investigation by the stewards for ignoring blue flags, before finally retiring five laps from the end.

Elswhere, Nico Hulkenberg will have pleased his team and sponsors will a well-earned eighth place finish in the Force India, while Romain Grosjean and Bruno Senna finished in the last of the points-paying positions.

Fernando Alonso was undoubtedly the driver of the day though – yet another heroic performance from the Spanaird, passing both McLaren’s early on, before breezing past Webber, who was without KERS, on lap 48.

As for the championship, it would take a brave man to bet against Vettel becoming only the third man in Formula One history – after Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher – to win three World Championships on the bounce. The momentum may be with Vettel, but there is time yet for the kind of bad luck that beset Alonso in Belgium and Japan to hinder the German’s march towards championship glory.

Schumacher wraps up 7th title in the Ardennes – Spa, 2004

Without a doubt the best race I’ve been to was the 2004 Belgian Grand Prix.

Two years earlier, the former F1 driver Tomas Enge checked into out B&B in Monmouthshire with some of his Czech mates, when he came over to see the Wales Rally GB. I dug out a tape of his crash in the Prost F1 car at Suzuka 2001 and showed it to him, which was met with a wry grin. My Dad and I mentioned that we wanted to go to Spa one year and he happily gave us his number and told us to give him a ring when we were there.

With no race in 2003, we made the trip a year later and Tomas – racing in F3000 – turned up at midday on the Saturday with a couple of paddock passes. He gave us a tour of his garage in the old Spa pit lane and at one point my Dad walked up a metal staircase only to find himself standing on the podium, to cheers of the crowd in the grandstand opposite! Standing on the pit wall as the F1 cars came screaming past down towards Eau Rouge in qualifying, kicking up huge amounts of spray, was breathtaking.

The race itself was a thriller. It was the 14th of the year and Michael Schumacher had failed to win only one of the previous 13.

Kimi Raikkonen took a storming win from 10th on the grid in the Mclaren, making a race-winning pass on Michael into Eau Rouge.

There was overtaking galore, three safety cars, loads of crashes and just about every car in Michelin tyres got a puncture.

Schumacher claimed his 7th title but on the day he was beaten fair and square by a brilliant Kimi – and boy did he look miserable; you could tell he hated losing.

At the end of 2006 – when he announced his retirement – I thought I’d always be able to say: “I was there when Schuey won his last title.”

When the German made is comeback in 2010, I wondered whether that would always be the case. But with Lewis Hamilton having now replaced him at Mercedes, it looks as though he has, finally, called it a day having failed to discover his Ferrari form.

What an honour it was, though, to have witnessed Michael Schumacher break his own record and become the first man to attain seven world titles.

But with Sebastian Vettel having now racked up three in a row, Schumacher’s fellow countryman has every chance to go one better.