Johnny Herbert

You know the little fat feller on Sky? He used to be an F1 driver you know. In fact, he was a pretty bloody good driver who overcame career threatening injuries to win 3 Grands Prix.

In 1987 John Paul Herbert won the British Formula Three championship driving for Eddie Jordan. The next step was F3000, again with Jordan racing. Johnny won the season opener at Jerez and was third at Monaco. A couple of races later the circus moved to Brands Hatch. Johnny was on a high, he had signed a contract to drive for Benetton in Formula One who were managed by his long time mentor, Peter Collins. Johnny was on pole but lost a couple of places at the start. As the cars came back from the trip into the country side (they were using the full GP circuit) Herbert ended up in the barrier. He sustained multiple injuries to his ankles and feet and there was even a concern that he may have to have an amputation. The image below demonstrates just how severe the impact was and also shows how vulnerable the drivers were in those days.


At Brazil, in 1989, after months of surgery and physiotherapy Johnny turned up to make his debut in F1. He had to be helped in and out of the car and travelled around the paddock on bicycle as walking was still painful. Johnny finished 4th in his first F1 race. Team mate Alessandro Nannini was 6th. Unfortunately for Johnny Peter Collins had been ousted as Team Principle and although he took 5th place in Belgium failure to qualify in Canada ended his time with the team and Emanuele Pirro was brought in to replace him. Herbert did a couple more F1 races for Tyrrell in 1989 but for 1990 went back to F3000 in Japan.

Just looking at his results in the Japanese series he didn't appear to be having too good a time although the Reynard chassis probably wasn't as good as the Lola. At this point Peter Collins came along again and asked Johnny to drive for the now declining Lotus team. Johnny suffered at Lotus from 1990 until 1994. 1993 saw a series of points finishes and at the Italian GP in 1994 Herbert qualified fourth. He believes he could have won that race but as Eddie Irvine punted him off on the first lap we will never know. Team Lotus filed an administration order after this race and Tom Walkinshaw bought Herbert's contract.

As well as driving in F1 Herbert also took part in some long distance races for Mazda. In 1991 Johnny was awarded the sportsman of year by Autosport for stopping his car to help another driver. It was also the year he won Le Man with Volker Weidler and Bertrand Gachot at the wheel of the rotary engined Mazda 787B


Walkinshaw deposited Herbert in to a Ligier at Jerez and then at Benetton for the last two races of the season, as team mate to Michael Schumacher. 1995 saw a repeat of the Hill Schumacher battle of the previous season and Johnny was very much number two to Michael. However, Johnny was there to pick up the pieces in Britain and Italy to win two races and finish fourth in the drivers championship.

The driver merry go round in 1996 saw Schumacher move to Ferrari and Ferrari refugees Alesi and Berger take over at Benetton. Johnny moved to Sauber and was there for three seasons. The highlight was a third place in Hungary in 1997 but the Sauber was not a good car during Herbert's time at the team, even with Red Bull money and Petronas badged Ferrari engines.

In 1999 Herbert moved to the Stewart Grand Prix team as partner to Rubens Barrichello. With Ford now owners of Cosworth the team had a new engine for this season and the car was fast but had problems. Rubens took pole in France and managed three podium places. Johnny wasn't a quick as the young Brazilian but was there to pick up the pieces in Germany to give Stewart their first Grand Prix win.


To celebrate the millennium Ford bought Stewart and renamed in Jaguar. Barirchello and Irvine swapped team but it was a season to forget for both drivers. Johnny didn't manage a single points finish and Eddie only got one point for a sixth place in the last race of the season.

This was the end of F1 for Johnny Herbert but like many racing drivers he still need a motor racing fix. He drove at Le Man again from 2001 to 2004 and came second three times. He tried again in 2007 and was fourth in class, ninth overall.

I didn't realise Johnny tried to qualify for the Indy 500 in 2005 but failed to make the grid. He also took part in various LMES races and had a go at BTCC. His LMES exploits were a bit more productive than his touring car races.

What to make of Johnny Herbert? Three Grand Prix victories puts him 54th on the list of all time race winners in F1. I suspect the effects of that fateful day at Brands Hatch in 1988 robbed us a man who certainly had the talent to win a lot more races and possibly a World Title. But then F1 is littered with what if's.

Suffice to say that Johnny Herbert was probably one of the nicest men to ever take part in Formula One. Would he have been ruthless enough to fully exploit his talent? We will never know. I do know that his inclusion in the team at Sky makes the weekends far more bearable and his grinning silliness are an absolute joy.



World Champion
Premium Contributor
He reminds me of the phrase, nice but dim. But he is a nice bloke, or he seems to be, He appears to be the sort of person who wouldn't hurt a fly.


Exulted Lord High Moderator of the Apex
Staff Member
Premium Contributor
A true legend who fought hard to get in a GP car after his crash, rose above the odds to keep racing and proved that good things happen to nice guys. Remained loyal to Lotus and did the best he could in a car that was way out of date. He described the last car to leave Hethel (the type 109) as an undrivable bucket of shit.

He was and remains one of my favorite F1 drivers.


World Champion
Johnny Herbert - always highly rated by Murray Walker who thought he was a world champion in the making and everyone's favourite underdog

I associate him with

1) That crash at 145mph just on the verge of signing for Williams destroying the career momentum he had to F1 and his subsequent career

2) The Unluckiest or most retired driver in F1 - he suffered a lot of retirements mostly gearbox related which indicates he revved his engine higher

3) Shafted at Benetton - Twice by Flavio to the point he was sacked and only found out on Ceefax that Berger was replacing him. Schumacher realised he could be fast enough and decided to not share telemetry data after one practice session
I am glad that neither Alesi or Berger did any better than him at Benetton to prove Flavio what an idiot manager he was

4) A nice guy who did not manage his career well enough namely stayed at Lotus too long when Williams were said to be interested to find a replacement for Mansell. This proved to be a big mistake especially seeing how things turned out for his old teammate Hakkinen who took the Mclaren opportunity when it came

5) The British GP win ... I think that was one of the most popular wins and he was marketed as British GP winner for a while and said it was his lucky underpants that was his charm

6) A promising career which never was truly fulfilled

Dario Resta

Podium Finisher
I remember reading that Johnny had pieces of grass working their way out of his foot injuries for years after the F3000 crash. That was a fearsome impact. Top bloke, and loved him and Ted riding "Herbert's Lemon" in the Red Bull Soapbox race.

Bill Boddy

Professional layabout
Premium Contributor
He has also been one of the last drivers to mix with the fans, I think it was after the race at Silverstone in 2002 when the pre-concert love in was taking place on the stage Johnny Herbert was riding an electric scooter around in the crowd.


The great thing about Johnny is that no matter what, he has never lost his sense of humour, but he does start every sentence when asked a question with.

Eeeeeeeeeeeehhhhhhhrrrrrrrrrrrrmmmmmmmmmm yeeeeeeaaaaaaah but..................


World Champion
I'll also remember thinking :censored: is Flavio playing at with Johnny's position at Benetton when

i) He agreed with Schumacher not to give him access to share telemetry
ii) He gets less testing and usually when the parts have done a lot of mileage
iii) He's offering very little incentive about his seat with constant rumours Jos Verstappen was going to replace him and Johnny only had an 8 race contract apparently

iv) Even when Schumacher won the title already , there was a chance Herbert could have got 2nd position in the last two rounds and there was not really improved assistance
v) Flavio did not have the decency to inform him he was going to be replaced by Berger face to face
vi) Johnny almost had no drive left for 1996 when the only options left were Tyrell and Sauber

Flavio has a history of destroying a lot of drivers careers and it is a travesty that Johnny happens to be on the receiving end twice from him
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World Champion
Incidentally Johnny Herbert has an article on this week's Autosport giving his view why for any driver especially a British driver it is great to win the British Grand Prix

He was retelling that moment 20 years ago when he inherited the lead from Schumacher and Hill crashing and had to cope with left foot braking because his right foot was in pain as the consequence of his horrific crash

He also retells the pressure he was under being shafted by Briatore and Schumacher. Basically he was left to rot and treated as an outcast after he was denied access to Schumacher's telemetry.

Then he was under pressure because apparently his previous two races he was taken on lap 1 and only had 12 pts from 3 pts finishes up to then and Verstappen was ready to replace him because he had become available because SImtek folded ( and of course he was contracted under Flavio )

Ever the scheming limelight stealer Flavio pretended it was a team victory and playing it in front of the cameras by embracing Johnny as soon as he got out of the car which Johnny off course full of emotion and adrenalin at the time regrets doing it now

At Monza when Johnny won again , it was Flavio up there with him on the podium picking up the constructors trophy and not even saying much to him

Johnny admitted his mistake was he showed he was going to be quick enough to challenge Michael early on to which made Michael realise he was going to be competition and marginalised him. Incidences like in testing where Schumacher gets first two days and Herbert would get the remaining 1.5 days or 1 day. Schumacher would say he needed to do more experimenting with the car and take away Herbert's time


Unfortunately everyone assumed poor old Johnny as a 2nd tier driver having been comprehensively thrashed and on average 1.5 seconds a lap slower in quali. No one could see just how difficult the Benetton was to drive with its knife edge sensitivity between understeer and oversteer

It was only when Berger and Alesi were signed to drive a 1996 Benetton based on Schumacher's driving style and could not do much better it made people realise Johnny actually did well in a car he did not like

Berger in testing in 1995 Benetton suffered 3 huge crashes in post season testing and said it was the most unforgivable car he has driven

Gerhard even went to Johnny to acknowledge that he did a good job in 1995 because it was the most difficult car he had driven


Exulted Lord High Moderator of the Apex
Staff Member
Premium Contributor
My wife bought me Johnny Herbert's biography "What doesn't kill you.... My life in motor racing" for my birthday.

I've just started reading it tonight and on page four he writes "I was as much use as Taki Inoue on a speed awareness course"


I think I'm going to enjoy this book.


Exulted Lord High Moderator of the Apex
Staff Member
Premium Contributor
And on page 45:

"Sweating like Mark Blundell at an all you can eat buffet"

This line contained within an anecdote about how the owner of Johnny's first Formula Ford team made most of his cash by dealing in huge amounts of Cannabis.

Great book.
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