Johnny Herbert: 'Give me all the grip and power I want — that's F1'

"Bringing back ground-effect aerodynamics to Formula 1 has been brewing for a long time"

Johnny Herbert


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Formula 1 regulation resets don’t often work out as intended, but this time bringing back ground-effect aerodynamics has been brewing for a long time.

I remember saying it’s the answer years ago with Damon Hill and Martin Brundle. We all agreed. My only concern is we’ve still got a front wing; it’s smaller and more controlled, but it will always make a difference. Still, now the floor will be fundamental in unlocking grip. From what I understand, teams are already ahead of where they were last season, creating a massive amount of downforce.

What effect will it have on the racing? From a driving point of view, give me all the grip and power I want, because that is always what F1 should be about. It should be the hardest, most difficult, smash-you-in-the-face type of car on the planet. When I started in F1 you got out after a race feeling like you’d ran a marathon and done 14 rounds with Mike Tyson. It used to really beat you up. It was tough, and I think it still is – but it’s a different physical challenge today.

The ground effect should benefit us as race fans if the cars can follow each other closer, as per the ethos behind the change. But for as long as I can remember teams have always aimed to make their cars not only as quick as possible, but also hard to follow, to screw the cars behind. Red Bulls and Mercedes are designed to lead, not follow.

Whatever you think about what happened at the end of last season – and it certainly upset me from a purist point of view because the championship wasn’t decided in the right way – we still had an absolutely cracking 2021. Now we want more Max Verstappen vs Lewis Hamilton, to keep that momentum going.

“It’s a brilliant opportunity for George. Now the work starts”

At Red Bull, although Honda is out it hasn’t just walked away and left the team high and dry. There’s a transition to independence that should be super-smooth. What might harm it is the budget cap and the emphasis Red Bull put into last year for Max to win the title. What no team can do is throw in ‘a couple of mill’ to solve a problem. Now you just have to be super-clever, which Adrian Newey and his team invariably are.

But I hear there was a 2022 car fire-up at Mercedes just before Christmas. That’s how far it seems they are on preparation. I have a worry they could have a dominant car again. It’s very impressive – but let’s see. I don’t remember such early fire-ups in my day. Back then, cars at Christmas were still a piece of plywood!

The reset is a big opportunity for Ferrari – but how many years have we spoken about the potential and passion in Maranello? The team was on it a couple of years ago, but that didn’t turn out to be entirely legit… and when whatever it had was taken away, my, was it miles off. If Ferrari does get it right, it has two bloody good drivers who will deliver. We already know Charles Leclerc has got it and can go wheel to wheel with Max, but Carlos Sainz Jr has also impressed me massively.

It was lovely to see McLaren winning a race in 2021, at Monza with Daniel Ricciardo, although not quite with Lando Norris in Russia. Lando was mighty last season and grew up. His relationship with Daniel is not the pally one we saw with Carlos, and I think he realised he has to have that professionally selfish side to him – but in a lovely Lando way.

Then there’s George Russell, who is very exciting. Mercedes couldn’t miss the opportunity to move on to the next generation. It’s a brilliant opportunity for George and I’m glad for him. Now the work starts – but he is a grafter, especially on sim work, which is vital. The battle will be the mental game and this will be the toughest he’s ever faced. We saw that star quality when he got in the car in Bahrain in 2020, but Hamilton, like all the greats from the past, has that something extra special and he can do it 99% of the time too – so George has to manage it 99.1% to get under Lewis’s skin. There will always be favouritism in a team, it’s part of the game, so George has to do what he did in Bahrain every single time, because that’s what Lewis will do. Can he manage it? I think he can.

So more Max vs Lewis, plus new blood in Russell and four teams that could do very well – plus I might throw Aston Martin in there as well. Hold tight for another gripping ride.

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