It's that time of year. All across the land, Formula One folk are doing their best to recover from a punishing but rewarding season. With £10,000 bonuses for all staff members, the first round is definitely on Red Bull this winter.
And as we recover, our thoughts turn to the last nine months: 20 races, 19 countries, countless hotels, airplanes, time zones, and hours spent travelling. Plus a little bit of racing on the side. So, without further ado, here's my 2012 season review:
Best race: Brazil. I know it was the last one, which makes my choice seem like a bit of a cop-out, especially in a season that also saw thrillers in China, Valencia, Montreal, and Abu Dhabi, to name but a few, but the season finale had it all: a real fight for the championship, thanks to SebVet's first lap spin, drama aplenty throughout the pack, changeable weather, tyre gambles... What more could you ask for from Interlagos?
Best overtaking manoeuvre: A purist might argue that it doesn't count (spoilsports!), but the main moment of the season where I remember standing up in the press room and screaming at the screens - along with 90 percent of my colleagues who were doing the same - was watching Sergio Perez chase down Fernando Alonso in Malaysia. There's nothing quite like the thrill of watching a driver on the hunt for his first podium - first possible win, in that case - and Perez drove his balls off and came so bloody close. One of the most nail-biting moments in an action-packed season.
Best GP weekend: Monaco. Last year I went to Monaco as a fan and it sucked. We could only afford tickets to Rocher, and after a night spent partying at the Amber Lounge on Saturday (I know, but it was free...) we got to the track when the only remaining viewing points were at the top of the hill. Thanks to trees, I could hear the race but not see it. This year I had a press pass, walked the grid, went to a shitload of amazing parties, got kidnapped on a yacht, hung out with some of my best friends drinking an ocean of complimentary champagne, and actually got sick of foie gras and caviar. It was mega.
Best press room: Austin. The Austin press room was something else entirely - big enough to hold an impressive kart track if you removed all the tables, a canteen that served delicious junk food all day long, free internet, massive screens for watching the action, a lovely chill-out area outside... The only thing missing was a view of the track and the rumble of feeling the cars firing up underneath your feet, but a modern circuit never gives over valuable Paddock Club space to the press room. Even better, a few hours after the race on Sunday they set up a free bar to ease the pain of working through the night.
Best party: [Image cropped to protect the guilty.] No one throws a party like the Brazilians, whether it's a birthday picnic on the beach in Valencia, a Singapore drinking session that carries on past 9am, or the legendary annual Spa-rty. They have a way of making you feel like you're part of the family, and it's a brilliant family to belong to. In Sao Paulo the locals outdid themselves with the party of the season, which produced a host of fantastic memories, some legendary hangovers, and no photos suitable for publication on the internet. It was a great way to say goodbye to the best season in anyone's memory.
Best party town: Austin. What was great about Austin was the way the F1 paddock split up and found loads of different parties. In some cities there's only a small group of places that most F1 folk go to for a good time. But in Austin, the good time could be found across the city. Sometimes there were other F1 folk around, sometimes there were friendly locals to chat to. But the party wasn't concentrated in a small group of bars - it spread everywhere, even to people who couldn't have cared less about the race.
Best dinner: While there are a lot of strong contenders in this category, the winner has to be the UBS dinner in Hungary. We were taken to Budapest's only Michelin-starred restaurant, where we were given the meal of our lives with the wines to match. After dinner, the digestif trolley included a cognac that had been made in 1941. That's before my grandparents met. The food and drink were beyond words, the company was fantastic, and it was a generally brilliant night.
How could I forget? Possibly because all the champagne washed the memory away? How often does your glass of champagne get removed and replaced with a fresh one because it's not cold enough?
On Friday in Monza Caterham invited me to the Paddock Club for lunch, and it was mega. My review of the meal replaced my FP2 report, as FP2 wasn't as much fun as the lunch, which went on for hours. So many courses! Multiple desserts! Endless champagne! And best of all? Sinfully good company. (Click here and scroll down for my 'FP2 report' of the lunch
Best breakfasts: There's no doubt in my mind here (possibly because I never breakfast anywhere else?) - the best breakfasts in the paddock are found at McLaren, care of the lovely people at Absolute Taste. Bowls of pastries, fresh fruit and yoghurt, cereals, and a full English including black pudding. Add to that excellent cappuccinos and friendly hospitality staff and there's no better way to start your morning.
Best souvenir: Simple. My Ferrari ashtray. The red bit is made of rubber and it's squishy. Squishy!
Best hotel: I didn't technically stay at the Yas Hotel, but I did crash there for a night courtesy of a generous friend (pictured) who had a spare bed. After a week of enjoying the chaos of India, it was a delicious contrast to head straight for the designer rooms of the Yas Hotel, where we stuffed our faces with delicious tepanyaki while overlooking the circuit before heading up to the Skybar for cocktails in an amazing setting. The next morning was vastly improved by a few iced coffees on the terrace, watching the teams setting up in the paddock. Luxury!
Worst hotel: Guesthouse Zyrini, Budapest. I thought this was a bad hotel on the first night, when I realised my air-conditioner didn't work and the fan was broken. Around midnight, when the club in the courtyard downstairs got going and I had to shut my window despite using earplugs and noise-cancelling headphones, I twigged it would be pretty shitty. At 5.21am, when the music finally switched off and my bed stopped jumping along the floor to the baseline I knew what a bad hotel decision I'd made. But the worst bit was coming back on Sunday night after the race, heading for the communal showers, and discovering someone had taken a rather large shit in the middle of the floor.
Best airline: Do you even need me to tell you the answer to this one? Emirates all the way. The staff treat you like a real live human being, even in cattle class. And if you get lucky with an upgrade and turn left instead of right? Wow...
Worst airline: KLM. This year I have travelled on loads of budget airlines, but no one made me feel quite as violated as KLM. They lost my bag, had stuff stolen from it when it was in their care, delivered it to me a day later than promised, and just generally sucked balls in every area. I'd rather stab myself in the face than fly with them ever again. AVOID.
Best prank: After the Sunday press conference in Valencia, a group of us stormed the set-up so we could take some silly pictures. The only downside? I hadn't twigged just how sweaty the drivers are post-race till I stood up and realised the back of my dress was saturated in Michael Schumacher's butt sweat. I was very tempted to put the dress and a copy of this photo up on eBay...