Johnny Herbert on Hamilton, Schumacher and the 2022 F1 season
The 1991 Le Mans 24 Hours champion and Sky Sports pundit discusses being Michael Schumacher's team-mate, Hamilton v Verstappen and the 2022 season.
The Sky Sports F1 pundit discusses his career and the 2022 F1 Championship, which Lewis Hamilton is favourite to win on Betway's betting sites.
How do you think the 2022 F1 campaign is shaping up?
It’s exciting. The new rules for 2022 mean that there is the potential for things to be a lot closer at the top.
We’re still going to have the normal battle between Mercedes and Red Bull, and I would expect those teams to be at the top again, but I know that fans of McClaren believe that Lando Norris has taken a big step forward and we can probably throw Ferrari into the mix as well.
The good thing with the new rules is that it’s going to be a little bit tougher. The drivers are already saying that they’re having to think a little bit more about it when they’re in the car.
That can only be a good thing and hopefully it sets us up for a competitive campaign.
Where do you think F1 is at after the controversial end to last season?
It was a real shame what happened at the end of last season.
Formula One was in a fantastic place because of the wonderful battle between Lewis and Max throughout the season. There was a huge build-up to that final race and the hype around the sport was as big as it has been for a while.
And then we saw that very strange decision from the race director and I think a lot of people who had been so excited throughout the season suddenly questioned what they’d been watching. It was so disappointing to have built that audience and then for the sport to let itself down like that.
You don’t tinker with the rules when you think it’s OK. A lot of people were upset by it – F1 purists who have always loved the sport felt let down and new fans were a bit disillusioned, because that’s not what sport should be about.
The sport now has to reset – and hopefully an exciting 2022 campaign can do that.
What do you think of the FIA’s decision to axe Michael Masi?
The decision to remove Masi is part of that reset F1 had to implement.
The drivers’ trust in the race director had to be restored, that’s so important. That trust just didn’t exist and that isn’t a healthy place to be in going into each race.
Bringing in two new race directors to alternate throughout the season makes sense to me.
Do you think Lewis Hamilton is ready and motivated to win his title back?
Some people seem to think that because of what happened last year, Lewis is going to be particularly motivated to come back for revenge.
That’s not Lewis’ way. Lewis is motivated to do the best he can at any given track at any part of the season. He had that hunger in 2007 and he still has it now.
It amazes me how receptive he is to learning, even as a seven-time champion.
That said, I’m sure the way that Max is pushing him does help. It’s amazing, even for me as an ex-driver, to watch the way that these guys find ways to navigate their way through the season and adapt to different races.
Driving around Bahrain is one thing, but then going to Saudi Arabia, to Australia, back to Europe, and so on requires so much adaptability and concentration.
That’s the skillset that I think is going to make this Championship and I really hope that they both turn it on.
There has been a lot of sniping between Christian Horner and Toto Wolff in the press. Do you think it’s becoming a distraction from the racing?
From my side, it’s a distraction.
The conversation now always seems to be about the teams, whereas actually it’s not about the team and never has been.
I think that has become a little bit muddled recently. The teams were so entwined with that finale to last season, in terms of their complaints to the race director and the press, that it has become too much about them.
When we think back to classic races, we remember the winning drivers, not the teams. The drivers have always been the big draw, I think, for race fans.
The gladiators that they are on the racetrack mean that we see sensational races week after week. That’s the deal.
Will Lewis overtake Michael Schumacher as F1’s GOAT if he wins the title this season?
Ah, the old debate. From my perspective, there are several drivers who could be considered, not just Lewis and Michael. Sterling Moss always said that it was Juan Manuel Fangio.
One thing that probably gives Lewis the edge, even if he doesn’t win the eighth, is that he has to deal with everything else that comes with being a star now.
Over a race weekend now, he’s doing numerous interviews, he’s got stars from the movie world, the music world and wherever else all around him, and that all adds to the pressure before those lights go out.
I remember when I did my first race in 1989 in Rio, I hadn’t gone through it. I didn’t know how to deal with the press, really.
Considering that, Lewis’ domination throughout this period has been so impressive. That will to win weekend after weekend, season after season.
I never thought I’d see any driver match Michael’s Championship tally, I just didn’t think that was feasible.
I think there’s a fair argument that he’s already the best.
What was it like being a team-mate of Schumacher at Benetton?
It was very much a case that Michael got the very best he possibly could from the team that was around him.
The difficulty I always had was that when Michael was asking for an extra day’s testing, for example, Flavio Briatore would always say yes, but that wouldn’t be the case if I asked. My issue was never with Michael, it was the way that Flavio only focused on one driver.
And it wasn’t just me who got affected by that. Jenson Button, when he was there, got badly affected by it. Mentally it’s very, very tough.
Realistically, I probably never would have beaten Michael, but I never got given the chance to get myself into the mental state needed to win races and win a Championship. I never got given a go.
Michael was very good at getting the people around him. Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne, the car designer, and a few other people moved to Ferrari and it wasn’t long before they became a winning machine with Michael, too.
I remember Ross saying that Michael was the greatest driver he ever worked under and you can imagine how much energy it must have given Michael to hear that kind of thing all of the time.
What’s lovely now is that we don’t have that situation anymore.
Teams give their drivers the best chance of winning races and Championships if they’re going well enough. I don’t feel I was given that opportunity.
How did you overcome the injuries caused by your crash at Brands Hatch in 1988?
It was very difficult because all of my natural talent basically disappeared. Everything that had come easily suddenly felt like hard work.
The belief that I could win in any car on any track disappeared. But I was always determined to succeed and I did have to adjust the way that I was driving. I had to change the way I work the pedals, for example, because my ankles didn’t move much at all.
As it turned out, I never would have beaten the likes of Michael. But if I hadn’t crashed? Yeah, I think that would have been a very different story. But life’s not fair sometimes.
Final question – who will win the F1 title in 2022?
Ah, I knew you were going to go there!
I think I’m going to go for Lewis because the concept Mercedes have put together looks mighty interesting and the motivation, that burning desire, is still there.