BBC’s Jake Humphrey prepares for his Formula One exit – and what happens next

Local boy Jake Humphrey signs copies of his book on Formula One, The Inside Track, in Norwich. Photo: Steve Adams Local boy Jake Humphrey signs copies of his book on Formula One, The Inside Track, in Norwich. Photo: Steve Adams

Thursday, November 15, 2012
2:39 PM

With just two rounds of a record-breaking 20-race season left, it’s not only the likes of Michael Schumacher preparing to say his F1 farewells.

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For four seasons, Norfolk boy done good Jake Humphrey has led the BBC’s coverage of the sport we love in triumphant style – coverage recognised globally as the best around, even with the arrival of Sky.

But that journey is almost at an end. After this season Humphrey switches his focus to BT’s 2013-14 Premier League football output, as well as the small matter of becoming a dad for the first time; Jake and wife Harriet’s first child is due in March.

So trips to Austin and Sao Paulo will send off the 34-year-old from the job that has marked the Stoke Holy Cross presenter as one of British TV’s big hitters – a meteoric rise from years on children’s programming, and one that required hard work and a thick skin.

His four years in the F1 circus are told in his newly released book The Inside Track – from criticism on the BBC’s own website when he was first given the job to winning F1 fans over, written by him in full from various hotel rooms over the current season.

Good week, bad week

GW – Austin: Formula One returns to the United States this weekend and to a brand new purpose-built track delivered on time and promising big things. Here’s hoping.

BW – HRT: After barely a year under the ownership of Spanish investors Thesan, the team has been put up for sale – meaning an uncertain future over coming weeks.

He admitted the book was a “tough challenge” but is “really proud” of the result. Unsurprisingly, there were plenty of tales to tell.

“It’s stories of fun and games, of hanging out with David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan, to the time I hung out with Fernando Alonso in his pants to the day I nearly killed Murray Walker, to what it’s like to crown a few Formula One champions on the way,” Humphrey told me ahead of his Norwich book signing on Saturday. “It’s been quite a journey from Norfolk to the rest of the world.”

There is little doubt the BBC would struggle to replace any part of the Jake, EJ and DC triumvirate.

“A lot of people say CBBC was good because it gave me a good insight into what it would be like to work with Eddie Jordan,” Jake jokes.

“What I often find is that 10 seconds before we’re on air he pulls out his ear piece and asks me, ‘What are you going to ask me?’

“So I tell him and about 10 seconds later he pulls it out again and says, ‘What am I going to say?’ I have to explain I can’t do it all for him.”

A note for the tape here – Jake’s impression of his BBC colleague is superb; one clearly four years in the making. His F1 career took a little longer, but Norfolk’s motorsport heritage played its part.

“Growing up in Norfolk there’s a serious grassroots love of motorsport,” he added. “Lotus were only down the road and had Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell driving for them when I was watching.

“I remember going for dinner with Steve Ryder before I got the job and he said, ‘Whatever you know about F1, multiply it by a thousand, double it, and you’ll still be some way short’.

“What got me through was, with the pressure of standing in front of 7m people hosting Formula One, I always thought my time on children’s TV would help me deal with the technical element of presenting. The only area I might get caught out was with my knowledge. So I made a concerted effort to buy every F1 book you can imagine, DVDs, and I just immersed myself in the sport for the six months before the job began.

“When you’re a presenter on something like this, following in the footsteps of Murray Walker or Des Lynam, you’ve got to live up to the standard set before you, and that brings such a responsibility. You can’t let people down.”

Months away from home, dealing with a 20-race calendar and the opportunity to front Premier League football coverage – hopefully involving Norwich City – all led to Humphrey’s F1 departure.

And a bit of memorabilia hunting aside, he has little unfinished business from a spell highlighted by Jenson Button’s drivers’ title win and one he believes will end with the finest of Sebastian Vettel’s title successes. The BBC is yet to make a decision on his replacement – although Chris Evans is apparently camped outside the head of sport’s office as I write.

But while the end is nigh, not for one moment has Humphrey taken what he has for granted.

“I still feel such a lucky guy to have been given the chance to do Formula One,” he added. “I’m just this bloke from Norwich who messed up his A-levels and somehow that’s ended up with me being here.”

Not just here, but there and everywhere over the past four years.

One thing’s for sure – F1’s loss is BT’s gain.

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