It’s been a long time coming, but the first Grand Prix of the 2009 season is almost upon us.

This is the first race in an awfully long time where I won’t be automatically supporting David Coulthard following his retirement at the end of last season.

It begs the question as to who I should follow this time round - or in fact is it really necessary to follow anyone in particular?

I don’t think it is a requirement as such, as I think you can enjoy a race without rooting for a particular driver or team to do well but at the same time I think there is more enjoyment to be had if you do follow someone. In the case of DC, I’m not sure enjoyment was necessarily the overriding feeling - normally it was disappointment that someone had hit him, or that his car had broken down!

So, who to follow this year…

There are a couple of obvious candidates - firstly Red Bull as a team overall, given that DC is still involved heavily with them and in fact still has a chance of driving in the next couple of races if one of their drivers is unable to. I’ve never really been able to throw my support behind a team before though to be honest, I find it easier to align myself with the individual driver and therefore support his team almost by default so I don’t think Red Bull are the ones for me.

Given that I started following DC initially because he was Scottish and from near where I live, the next obvious candidate would be either Jenson Button or Lewis Hamilton as they are both British - the next best thing as there are no Scots left. But, the reason I continued to support DC was because of his attitude and personality. I could always seem to relate to what he was talking about and empathise with him when things were going wrong - he seems to always look at things from a realistic point of view, rather than just saying what he thinks people want to hear.

I can’t say that I’ve noticed the same qualities in either Button or Hamilton, so following either of them would be doing so just for the sake of it rather than truly wanting them to win.

That leaves a couple of possibilities - Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.

Alonso is undoubtedly, in my eyes at least, the best driver on the grid. His car is likely to let him down though, unless Renault pull something unexpected out of the bag, and this is a shame as he really deserves to be fighting it out up at the front. It will be an even bigger shame if he never gets another chance to be in a genuinely fast car like the McLaren or Ferrari again. He wasn’t entirely blameless in the whole McLaren/Hamilton saga but I had a lot of sympathy for him in that period - he must have thought he had a massive chance of winning another couple of world titles in his stint with the team but instead all he ended up with was grief.

As for Massa, he didn’t have the best start in F1 as he earned a reputation for being a bit of a car-wrecker, rightly or wrongly. A good start to your career is essential to influence how you are perceived by the public, just ask Lewis Hamilton, so Massa has done incredibly well to turn that all around so that he is respected as one of the best on the grid.

His attitude at Ferrari, especially when coupled with Michael Schumacher, was apparently geared around his acceptance that he had a lot to learn and who better to learn from than a multiple world champion in arguably the best team in the sport. You have to admire him for that as a lot of people who come into F1 seem to have the idea that they have now done their learning in the lower formulae and that now they are in F1 they have made it so can sit back and reap the rewards. This is never the case, even the best have more learning to do.

Every driver is there to win the world title, or to try to at least. Winning it must feel incredible, the culmination of a life’s work and for a minute or so last year Felipe Massa was the world champion, that dream had been fulfilled. Or so he (and the rest of the watching world) thought, but then the improbably happened and Lewis Hamilton stole it back off him at the very last moment.

I think it was the most amazing finish to a race I’ve ever seen, never mind a championship. The emotional rollercoaster Massa was put through would have been too much for most people to bear, but as the race winner (at his home GP of all places) he was forced to face the public not only up on the podium but also in the post-race press conference.

How he got through those I’ll never know - not only did he show up and answer the questions, he did so with a dignity and humility few others could have matched. With the shoe on the other foot, I have serious doubts Hamilton would have spoken so well, but I may be doing him a disservice there.

On balance then, I’m going to have to favour Massa this year. I’m not planning on rushing out to buy a truckload of Ferrari merchandise or anything as I rarely bought anything related to DC either, but once the season is under way, he will be the one I’m shouting for to be World Champion come November.

Good luck Felipe!!