TopGear.com meets Jake Humphrey

What with the revolving door reaching warp speed at the BBC, it may have momentarily escaped your attention that we at the Club are about to lose one of our official Sunday Afternoon heroes.

Jake Humphrey has just this weekend’s Austin GP (times below) and next weekend’s live Brazilian GP to go before he leaves us for the football. And on the basis of his Tweets and last year’s season finale, we reckon it’s going to be emotional. “Last year, when we played out the season with Kasabian, the last full BBC season, I had to remember to wipe away the tears before we went live on the forum,” he says.

There are lots of tears in Jake’s new book ‘The Inside Track’, which covers his time as the face of F1 on the Beeb. That he’s quite clearly a man with big enough heart for everyone was apparent when Jake asked us over for a chat. What you see on the TV, what you get in his tweets, his blogs is what you get in the book, is what you get in person, though he is a little bit more sweary face to face. Charismatic, quick, almost impossibly affable, fit as the butcher’s dog and apparently very happily married and expecting a first child next year, his is a good hand. You would like to be Jake.

But leaving F1? When the late Aussie singer and sex-god Michael Hutchence left his girlfriend the model Helena Christiansen for Paula Yates, one UK men’s mag ran a cover shot of the Danish supermodel with the line, “Honestly. Would you leave her for Paula Yates?’ We suggested to Jake that leaving his job in F1 implies a similar lack of judgement.

“Ha! Sure. I get to travel the world and host a show with two great mates. I stand right in the middle of one of the world’s most exciting sports. Yeah, it is the greatest job in the world. But my family has this saying ‘never sit in the comfy chair’. Football was my first passion and I think it’s never really been presented well in the UK. It’s a great challenge. But I hope the door remains open to F1.”

Jake’s agent sits behind us as we talk so there seems little point in asking ‘come on then… how much?’ It’s bound to be a lot. But by way of balance, Jake does point out that his child is due on the first day on next year’s F1 season. So let’s call it a ‘lifestyle choice’ and move on.

The book covers the last four seasons, since the BBC grabbed the F1 deal back from F1. Jake recalls: “I remember sitting down with Steve Ryder before the season started and him telling me ITV’s last season [Lewis Hamilton’s last lap championship] would be hard to follow. Well just looked what happened; Brawn’s phoenix from the ashes story, Vettel’s first championship in the last race, his utter domination last year and this season… eight winners.”

Humphrey reveals in the book just how nervous he was back in 2009. His appointment, though hard to reconcile now, was controversial. He was, after all, ‘just’ a kids TV presenter who occasionally dabbled in sport. “I called my wife after it was announced and she was in tears: ‘They’re all saying you are going to be s**t’. Where I asked…? ’On the BBC website’”

Consequently if there is a theme to Jake’s narrative it is that he felt, and to a certain extent still does, a need to justify his appointment, to tell the world he knows just how lucky he is. If that seems a little fawning, then you do need to read the book and get to know the chap.

We like Jake here at the Sunday Afternoon Club for his ability to always guide the show back to the people and never let it be overwhelmed by the technology. If you are going to do that — and he has, time and time again — then you’re going to need to put a bit of yourself out there. And that’s what Jake has always done. On his blogs and Tweets, Humphrey’s looks break down the edifice of ‘the broadcast’. That inevitably led to us asking whether the ‘Topgearisation’ of the F1 broadcasts was done knowingly.

He doesn’t deny it. “It was kind of inevitable the way the relationship developed, especially this year with no Martin Brundle. DC doesn’t care and EJ just doesn’t know in many cases, so it makes for a great combination and the ‘Three Amigos’ thing just grew out of that. We knew the audiences liked the banter so we gave them what we want. But yes; three guys having great fun surrounded by fast cars…”

It’s not all been hi-jinx, however. Let it not be forgotten, Eddie Jordan has broken the three biggest stories of the last four years on air: Jenson to McLaren, Michael out of retirement, and most recently, most spectacularly Lewis to Mercedes.

“We were pretty certain about it a long time before we went public. It was one of those stories that just came together from all of us, but we knew it was huge. Nothing like it since Senna left McLaren for Williams. McLaren didn’t want us to run it. So we made a plan on how to get it out there and decided EJ should break it on the basis that you take it or leave it when Eddie says something. But we got the major cold shoulder from Lewis at Monza. You can see how grumpy he was with us.”

Jake admits that Lewis is one character he’s not quite been able to break down. “Yeah, Lewis, Michael and Alonso. But mostly Lewis, and it might not be his fault. I have to say I still feel utterly star-struck in his presence…”

Well not that we have ever noticed at the Sunday Afternoon Club, Jake. We’re going to miss your ability to hide solid questions behind bonhomie, and we suspect F1 is too. Jake’s not giving anything away on who his replacement will be, although we think he might know… Our guess is someone entirely new (and let us know your suggestions in the handy space below). They have big shoes to fill…

Jake’s farewell tour starts in Austin this weekend, from where the BBC will be showing highlights of qualifying and the race at 22.30 on Saturday and Sunday. The weekend is live on Sky. Free practice tomorrow is at 15.00 and 19.00; FP3 at 15.00 and qualifying at 18.00 on Saturday and the race at 19.00 on Sunday. Fire up your EPG to see programme times…

The Inside Track by Jake Humphrey, published by Simon & Schuster is available at all book stores priced £18.99. And probably online too, if you are the kind who still buys their coffee from Starbucks…

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