'Hamilton and Verstappen are the best I've seen going head-to-head for a title': Johnny Herbert
Sit back and count yourself fortunate to witness two of the greatest F1 drivers fighting it out for the championship
Brazil was a fantastic race. Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are the two best drivers I’ve seen going head-to-head for a title, and that includes Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. This is another level and it’s thrilling.
Whatever we think about the DRS penalty that put Lewis to the back of the sprint race grid – and the bottom line is the rule says if the test fails the car doesn’t pass – it certainly made the weekend. It wasn’t just the speed Lewis had, it was how he used it. There was no rush, no panic, his placement of the car was fantastic, and his qualifying lap on the Friday was among his best, too. Damon Hill said after the race he thought that’s the best drive he’s ever seen, and I have to agree.
From where I’m sitting we are very fortunate to be seeing two of the best fighting for the top spot. One has maturity, the other has an edge to him, as we saw when Max squeezed Lewis off during the grand prix. I’m surprised he got away with it because it was obvious what he did. It was a two-stab move, because he squashed him even more when they were off the track. Yes, squeezing is part of racing, but that move was not. That’s not a skill, clever or smart. In contrast, what Lewis then did into Turn 1 to put Max on the defensive before he took the lead at Turn 4, that’s racing. Also when he came past Max, Lewis chopped in front to take a bit of aero away. That’s it again. But you don’t force the other driver off the track.
“Without that penalty it would have been domination by Lewis”
I hope team manager Jonathan Wheatley’s message to race director Michael Masi about ‘let them race’ had no influence on the decision not to penalise Max. I’d be very surprised if it did. The problem was it wasn’t clear what he was doing with the steering wheel. He probably should have given up the place, but us drivers don’t think like that. That would have been smart – then again, he got away with it! But I know if I’d done the same thing I’d have thought, “I might get a penalty for this.” As drivers, we all know what we’re doing.
Off track, there was plenty of playground silliness with the cheating accusations between the teams, particularly with the way Red Bull go about it. I’m not a fan of Christian Horner using the media as part of his weaponry. If you think there’s something wrong and cheating is going on, damn well throw a protest in. If Christian knows what they are doing he can tell his engineers to do the same on their car, and don’t put your driver up there to put his hands on the other one. Max handling the Mercedes rear wing in parc fermé, for which he earned a £42,000 fine, was a way to make it known Red Bull thought there was something wrong. Such actions are petty.
On the sprint race (we’ve had three now, at Silverstone, Monza and Interlagos)… are you ready for this? Reverse-grid works perfectly! Taking Lewis out of it, the race was OK. I don’t mind the sprint race and the format, because Friday means something when it’s used thanks to the traditional qualifying session. I don’t like that it decides pole position. That for me should be the result from Friday qualifying and winning a race is not the same as taking pole. But as a whole the sprint’s OK. It’s always going to be track-related where it works best, but it does seem to turn the Sunday race on its head. And like Fernando Alonso at Silverstone, there’s always that chance that a driver will get something extra out of it.
I see things so differently now I’m on the TV side with Sky F1 compared to when I was driving. The entertainment factor is the most important thing to modern generations. I know the old school would say “no, no, no” on reverse grids. That’s not what we’re all about. But without that penalty at Interlagos it would have been total domination by Lewis. Is it fair that the fastest should go last? No, it isn’t – and there would be so much gamesmanship, too. But if you are in the fastest car you can get to the front anyway, as we saw. Then again, I’d be very surprised if it ever happens.
Mercedes had the edge in Brazil, but not by as much as some said and as we’ve seen it’s swung throughout the season. The main takeaway for me is we’ve got perhaps the greatest driver we’ve had in F1, against maybe the next one. There’s little between the cars and little between the drivers. What more could we possibly want?
Johnny Herbert was a Formula 1 driver from 1989-2000 and a Le Mans winner in 1991. He is a regular contributor to Sky Sports F1
Follow Johnny on Twitter @johnnyherbertf1