Johnny Herbert

I thought as its the close season I'd start a thread for one of Britian's forgotten F1 Heroes, Johnny Herbert. Whilst most people reflect on the mid 90's British F1 as being the Hill/Coulthard period there was another driver up there driving for the top teams and winning races and that was Johnny and even though he isn't remembered as such he only missed greatness by a narrow mark.

Johnny had a pretty awesome record in the lower formula and after winning the Formula Ford festival in 1985 was widely regarded as a future world champion and was even getting comparrisons to the great Jim Clark. He teamed up with Eddie Jordan in 1987 and romped to the British Formula 3 title. He then graduated to the Formula 3000 championship where he won his debut race and looked set to challenge for the title until disastor struck at Brands Hatch. Anyone who saw the accident he had at Brands Hatch in 1988 can;t help but have it stuck in their mind. A fearsome impact with the barriers that broke both his legs in multiple places. Anyone who saw the accident can't also have been anything but astonished to see him line up on the grid in a Benneton F1 car for the first race of the 1989 season in Brazil and probably even more astonished to see this young guy that at the time could hardly walk bring the car home in 4th on his debut. Although the race was a mixed up one Herbert only finished 10 seconds behind the leader. Now days I don't think they would have let Herbert drive as he could barely walk unaided.

Unfourtunatly the miracle performance on his debut didn't last and despite a 5th place in the U.S Grand Prix at Phoenix (only 6 drivers finished!) Herbert struggled to keep the pace and after failing to qualify in Canada he was dropped by Benneton in favour of Emanuale Pirro (who didn't do much better). He did pick up a couple of drives for Tyrell later that season and drove for Lotus in the last 2 races of the 1990 season but the truth was for both those years that Johnny was not fit enough to be driving in F1 and certainly wasn't showing the form he'd done in his junior career. But 1991 was to change all of that.

Originally Hebert was to be Team Lotus's reserve driver for 1991 which is why he did a deal with Mazda to drive various sportscar races for them. It turned out though that Julian Baily(remember him?) was pretty awful compared to his team-mate(some guy called Mika Hakkenien) and by the 5th race fo the year Lotus had ditched him in favour of Herbert. Herbert drove most of the rest of the season for Lotus apart from when he was busy with Mazda. It was here that he showed his recovery was well on its way by pretty much keeping pace with Mika. He also won the Le Mans 24 hour series, not to be mocked, pulling a double stint at the end to make sure the car driven by himself, Volker Weidler and Bertrand Gachot(before the taxi driver incident) took the victory beating a Mercedes team led by a certain Michael Schumacher. Johnny actually had to be carried from the car at the end due to dehydration and missed the podium ceremony - he's always claimed it was because he ate some 'dodgy spaghetti' before he got in the car but in actual fact the Mazda mechanics forgot to replenish his water bottle on his last stint! whoops. Also in the same season Herbet recieved praise from the whole of the motorsport world when during a race he was driving for Mazda he pulled the car over to rush to the aid of a felllow driver who's just crashed badly after a highspeed puncture.

From 1992 onwards F1 became Herbert's focus and he scored a 6th place in the very first race of that season. He only scored points once more that season after that but if you think that he had 11 retirements out of 16 thats hardly surprising. Johnny stuck with Lotus as they continued to decline scoring three 4th positions and a 5th in 93 - his 4th place at the British Grand Prix was hailed by Murray Walker as the return of Lotus to the top flight. Lotus only scored points one more time after this before folding.

Johnny nearly stayed at Lotus until the bitter end but as it was obvious the ship was sinking and he abandoned it with 3 races to go for a drive at Ligier. That lasted all of 1 Grand Prix as Ligier at the time were owned by a certain Flavio Briatorie who on seeing Herbert's speed in the Ligier decided he was exactly what Benneton, the team he managed, needed after the disastor that had been JJ Lehto and Jos the Boss. Herbert didn't finish either of the 2 races he had for Benneton at the end of 94 but he did enough to ensure he was kept on as number 2 to Schumacher for 1995. 1995 was probably the peak season for Johnny in his career, yes he played second fiddle to Michael Schumacher but he also scored 2 victories(1 more than a certain David Coulthard) and 4th in the drivers championship helping Benneton to the constructors championship along the way. 4th may not seem that impressive but in actual fact the Benneton Renault was very much an inferior car to the Williams Renault and it wasn't just Schumacher out performing the machinary that led it to be ranked first. Coulthard only finished 4 points in front of Herbert and should have been much further ahead if it wasn't for constant errors. Herbet on the other hand made sure he was always in the right place at the right time to take advantage of any oppotunties that came his way both his victories that season can be put down to that exactly. At Both Silverstone and Monza Schumahcer and Hill collided and were out the race and both time the two title contenders went out it was Johnny who made sure he was there to benifit with 2 brilliant drives. Personally I thought Herbert was one of the drivers of the season that year and why Benneton chose to chuck him in in favour of Alesi and Berger I have no idea but they did and Johnny was left out of the top teams and took the option of the drive at Sauber

Herbert spent 3 years at Sauber and never really repeated the success of this 95 season. He got on well with the team and scored 2 podiuns whilst he was there but never really set the world alight. in 1997 he scored all by 1 of Sauber's championship points and took them to 7th in the constructors but by the time he was joined at the team by Alesi in 1998 it was clear Johnny was in need of a change.

1999 saw him join the Stewart Team who had been on the rise since they entered in 1997 and whilst its fair to say he was out classed by young up and coming team mate Rubens Barrichello (yes he was young once) it was Herbert who took Stewarts maiden(and only) victory that season in a dry/wet European Grand Prix where Johnny (much like his other victories) made sure he was in the right place at the right time. This sealed the deal really for Ford to buy out Stewart so for 200 the team became Jaguar. Rubens cleared off too Ferrari and a certain Edmond Irvine was paid very very large sums of money to be Johnny's team mate. Thus began the disastor that was Jaguar Racing and the very last season in F1 for Johnny. A sad end to his career chugging round in an expenisve dog of a car with no points finishes but so is F1.

Johnny has stayed in Motorsport after he left F1 and has still remained a front runner in everything he has taken part in especially in the American Le Mans series. He won the official Le Mans series alongside James Davies driving for Audi in 2004 and in 2008 became a champion in Stock cars when he won the Speedcar Series. He's also dabbled in F1 management and ran the Jordan team for a year before Spyker bought the team out. Johnny's career stats aren't as impressive as they should be but his array of team-mates certainly is - Naninni, Hakkenien, Panis, Schumacher, Fretzen, Alesi, Barrichello and Irvine all had the privledge and were all at somepoint race winners so Johnny was never short of someone to compare himself too.

You can probably tell I am a fan of Johnny Herbert and I think he was a very under-rated driver in an era people are quick to describe as 'uncompetitve'. Personally I never understood why one of the bigger teams didn't take a bigger gamble on him as given the equiptment he could produce the result - his year at Benneton certainly proved that. I do sometime wonder that if like Mr Coulthard Johnny had moved into a media related job after he finished in F1 his exploits would be remembered slightly clearer but overall you have to say Johnny Herbert's career is a story of what might have been. He really was highly rated before his F3000 crash hence why he still got an F1 seat in 1989 and he himself said he never felt the same in a race car after that crash. Would he really have been the next Jim Clark? Big shoes to fill and I guess we'll never know.

Anyone got an opinion or memories of Herbert?
His win at Silverstone in 95 was awesome. I was there and the crowd went nuts it was brilliant to see him get some well deserved time on the top step. Genuine nice guy as well he did several autograph sessions at Silverstone and had time to chat. Always liked Johnny, good bloke. Nice to see him doing some steward duties for F1 hope that continues.
That was a great read thanks for all the work there. I liked Johnny and watched him get that win at Silverstone. I was rooting for Hill at the time but Johnny winning made up for what happened to Hill. Nice guy and yes one feels he had a raw deal. A 'what might have been' driver. But he survived the crash.......
And now he is one of the stewards whose views and decisions can be relied on.
Johnny has never been underestimated by me, the only reason he never won a WDC in my opinion is because he never really got back to peak fitness after his horrendous crash. Both his feet were all but severed and he suffered severe chest neck and back trauma.

The man will always be one of my hero's even if he is unsung by many...
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