“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.
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.
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.