Friday, 28 September 2012

Let's celebrate a great British Grand Prix

I must confess, at the start of the year I wasn't sure what to expect from Formula 1 in 2012. The question for me was: how could a sport that has enthralled us so much in recent seasons deliver again - while at the same time hold its own in a year so packed with stunning sporting spectacles?

We've had the European Football Championship, now followed swiftly by Wimbledon and then almost immediately the London Olympics will be upon us. It's a veritable feast for those sports lovers keen to sit down on the sofa in June and not get up again until late August (if I wasn't working I'd be one of them!).

Among such sporting riches I wondered just how F1 would make its voice heard. Well, here we are, almost at the midway point of the season and it seems I needn't have worried.

Due to the fact that my brain has probably only a hundredth of the power of Adrian Newey's and works at roughly a tenth of the speed of Sebastian Vettel's, there are many things I still can't work out about this sport. One of them: just how does it manage to keep on delivering storylines that even Brookside in its heyday would have been proud of?!

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Jake and the team arrive in Silverstone last year.

Since the BBC team and I got involved it's been one drama after another. In 2009 alone we had the Brawn GP 'phoenix-from-the-flames' act, Felipe Massa's nasty accident in Hungary and then Jenson keeping us all guessing until we got to Brazil.

2010 then delivered arguably the most competitive season the sport has ever seen with five drivers in with a shout of the title, and the least fancied of the lot eventually winning it.

Meanwhile, last year was all about the record-breaking domination of our back-to-back champion, as Seb found his feet in the sport - and his place in the history books - with the most amazing performances week after week that all of us, bar Mark Webber, just watched in awe.

And then 2012 arrived. The year of the Union Flag. The year we all celebrate being British, and the Queen being on the throne almost as long as this sport has existed. The year that Wayne Rooney and England would chase glory in the east of Europe, while the likes of Chris Hoy and Usain Bolt would do the same in the east of London.

And among the flotillas, the flypast and the flag waving, Formula 1's job was to remind the British public that if you want to celebrate Britain, then celebrate this sport!

In an age of low profits and high anxiety, it's only natural that we lean on the things we know and trust, and we should include Formula 1 in that bracket. To most of us, it's always been here.

We should not only celebrate it because it employs thousands and contributes millions to the British economy each year. We shouldn't just feel pride because eight of the current teams are based on these shores, or that this was the country where Formula 1 actually began - but because in times like this, what we need is a bit of escapism, something to entertain us. And this sport is currently doing both.

And best of all, this weekend it's the British Grand Prix!

I have incredibly fond memories of this race, and we always try to find a way on the show to tell the story of you, the F1 fans, who attend in your thousands. And whether it's chants of 'BBC' from the grandstand or 'Eddie, Eddie, Eddie' as the crowds gather round us in our pre-show build-up, we appreciate the support you've shown us over the years.

Having arrived on a three-man tandem bike and hovered overhead in a helicopter in the past, we've decided on a quintessentially British, extrovert way of arriving for this year's grand prix. If you're there on the Thursday you won't miss us! I suggest that sometime late-morning you look to the skies and give us a wave... that's all I'm saying.

However, it's the drivers who will again provide the real entertainment this year. And after the British fans braved the rain of 2011 and despite there being no British winner since 2008, I truly hope that this year is a race to remember. As well as a grand prix that lives up to the high standards this season has set.

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Will 2012 match up to Mansell's classic win in 1986?

If Valencia is anything to go by then it looks like Silverstone will be a cracker. We won't have the sweltering conditions that some races have given us, but with another mixed-up grid full of mixed-up strategies, once again I hope it will have us guessing until the very end.

And we're also at a crucial stage of the season as far as the title is concerned. Can Fernando Alonso now string some success together and build a championship lead? Meanwhile Mark Webber can really show what consistency can do. If Lotus really harbour title aspirations then now is the time to start turning pace into wins, and what kind of form will Michael be in now he's bagged his first podium since 2006?

And that leaves the three lions. Paul Di Resta continues to show flashes of brilliance and stunning raw speed - surely it's just a matter of time until he makes a move to a big team. But he's also got the likes of Sergio Perez and Romain Grosjean battling for the crown of top rookie.

Is Jenson going to be cut adrift after struggling on Saturdays and having to fight for scraps in recent races? And as for Lewis, he may well arrive at Silverstone like a bear with a sore head after the way his Valencia race ended, but I predict he will make it British Grand Prix win number two on Sunday.

So, if you can't make it to the race then don't take down your Jubilee bunting and put the fizz back under the stairs just yet. Chill a bottle, settle down in front of the TV and watch a British love affair unfold that is every bit as special as we've seen so far this summer.

And if you are coming to the race, then make sure you bring that Union Flag. This feels like a year that we've fallen in love with being British again, so as the world tunes in to see what Northamptonshire has to offer on Sunday, let's help make it a race to remember.

And after the race, head to Luffield for the grand prix party, as we're hosting the F1 Forum live on stage and we want you to be part of the show.


Jean Behra Derek Bell Stefan Bellof Paul Belmondo Tom Belso JeanPierre Beltoise

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