Johnny Herbert: Decisions should be made by F1 and the FIA. Teams have too much power

"F1 teams already have too much power and shouldn't be allowed a say in setting regulations — they just want to find an advantage"

Johnny Herbert sitting and laughing

So we’re facing a season of Red Bull domination. That’s the takeaway from the first three Formula 1 grands prix. At a time when entertainment and ‘the show’ are in particular focus, should the team be pegged back? And has it been punished enough for the budget cap overspend it was found guilty of? Big questions. Let’s take the second one first.

There was a chance to peg back Red Bull months ago when the team was found to be in breach of the budget cap. No, I don’t think the punishment was harsh enough. As far as I’m aware, CFD (computational fluid dynamics) is probably more important than wind tunnel time. The car is designed via CFD, then checked in the wind tunnel – so the CFD is the real deal. That means a wind tunnel penalty only has so much effect because the CFD is so damn powerful, and there was no penalty given on that front. If you are going to penalise, you have to do so on the basis of all the tools the teams use. So did Red Bull get away with it? The proof is in the pudding: yes, it did. It said it was going to lose out – but where exactly has Red Bull lost out? Perhaps its dominance isn’t as great as it expected!

On to the question of pegging the team back. It’s hard to justify a change in the sporting regulations mid-season. Perhaps we should be talking about changes for 2024. At the same time, there’s a pressure to pull in those casual viewers, whatever Stefano Domenicali might say about the new generation of fans not being bothered about domination. That’s a strange thing for him to say. Sounds like an engineer talking rather than a promoter.

On this – or any other subject for that matter – decisions should be made by Formula 1 and the FIA together. The teams shouldn’t have a say. They have too much power and tend to dilute whatever they can because all they want is to find the advantage. Their priority is to dominate and win, which I understand. But that’s why they mustn’t be allowed to dictate.

Take sustainable fuels. Why is F1 holding back until the new engine formula in 2026? Do it now and get on with it. The development of such fuel technology will be so quick if teams have to race with it. Do it for the good of the sport now, in a world that is expecting someone to find that next technological breakthrough. That’s what F1 is so damn good at. It’s now that F1 can make a statement: that we can make combustion engines survive. The technology is there already in terms of carbon-capture fuel.

“The top three we have always had is finally changing”

I digress. Back to the point in question: improving the show now by pegging back Red Bull. Since  I became involved with TV my attitude to F1 has changed. As a racing driver, I was in this bubble of technology and just being fast. ‘Fast is good’ was the mantra. But actually it isn’t always. It’s how you use what you’ve got to make racing entertaining, and that can be done. So would it be bad for Red Bull to be pegged back? Perhaps a fuel flow or boost reduction, or take away some DRS? Actually, I don’t think it would be a bad thing. As a driver I’d relish the challenge. But teams don’t like it when F1 is unpredictable.

One argument you hear is to make all the cars the same. Core F1 fans who love technology say no, that’s not what F1 is all about. But the technology causes the problem of domination because when one gets it absolutely right, as Adrian Newey and his team have done, this is what you get. So do you give them some sort of penalty for being the best? If you do, I still think the results would be the same.

Put all the Formula 2 cars on the grid, for example, and paint them in the team colours. Who would win? The best team would still win. The guys at the front will still be the guys at the front. Will it be closer? Probably, but there will still be a gap. One team will always be able to extract more from those standardised cars. Is that scenario better for the show? In some ways, yes. Is it F1? Well, again, the purist would say no. But you don’t necessarily need to lose cutting-edge technology – just use it differently.

Anyway, it’s not all doom and gloom this season. What is great is that Alpine is talking about the possibility of beating Mercedes, while Aston Martin is already beating Mercedes and Ferrari. The top three we have always had – Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari – is finally changing.