Lunch with... Johnny Herbert

After his horrific crash at Brands, Johnny used humour to get through the pain and carry on racing. But he’s not bitter about what might have been – he just wants to come back in the next life as Schuey!


James Mitchell

Think of Johnny Herbert and you think of the ever-cheerful, cheeky little guy from Romford, whose irreverent humour and constant teasing brought welcome relief to the increasingly self-important Formula 1 paddocks of the 1990s – even while he was showing himself to be a serious enough racer to win the British and Italian Grands Prix for Benetton, and score Stewart’s only F1 victory at the Nürburgring. You know that Johnny came up through the rough-and-ready mill of karting, Formula Ford and F3, and you assume he’s always been like that, the chirpy Essex kid who’d shrug off any setback with a joke.

So it’s a shock to discover that the indomitable bounce and constant broad grin only date back to his lonely battle to return to the cockpit after his accident – that dreadful F3000 crash at Brands Hatch, which left him with injuries that would have ended the career of a lesser man. That jokey demeanour is something he created as a conscious effort of will, a mask to hide the pain that is with him still. It was to convince the world he was ready to race, ready to win, just like he’d been during his meteoric early career.

“Before the shunt I was shy and distant with people, I didn’t talk much. I was known as a bit arrogant, but a lot of that was my shyness. But inside I was also very confident. Then I had the shunt, and everything changed. The only way I could get over it was put a face on, laugh and joke around so that everyone would think I was OK. Underneath I was extremely serious about my racing, but I probably came over as immature, and maybe it made it harder for me in some ways. It wouldn’t go down well with someone like Ron [Dennis], for example. And then I could never snap out of it, because I could never tell anyone about the pain I had to deal with.”

Behind the laughs, Johnny’s iron determination has taken him through 161 Grands Prix, a string of strong sports car drives that included outright victory at Le Mans, and even the Speedcar title last year, at the age of 44. It has brought him the F1 trappings, too: he, his wife Becky and their two daughters have lived in Monte Carlo for more than a decade now, in a grand apartment overlooking the harbour at Fontvielle. But his courage has never quite been able to recreate that total confidence he exuded before the accident, when he was being courted by three F1 teams and was spoken of as the next Jim Clark.

In Le Michelangelo, the Fontvielle restaurant where we lunch, the owner is an F1 fan. There are famous helmets on display, including an old one of Johnny’s. The waiter wants his photo taken with Johnny, who obliges with typical jokey humour before ordering sea bass with artichoke and a glass of chardonnay.


FFord Festival win with Quest (no.5) was a career breakthrough


“There was no racing in my family. My dad was just an electrician. But my Uncle Pete ran a fun-kart track where we used to go on summer holidays in Cornwall, and he let me drive round there all day long. When I was about 10 my dad thought it’d be a good thing to buy me an old second-hand kart, keep me off the streets, ha ha, and we took it to Tilbury Docks and went racing. You were meant to be 12 to race then this was the 1970s – but we fiddled my birth date to get a licence. Trouble was I was about 3ft 6ins tall, with long curly blond hair. I looked like a girl.” Laughter. “I’d been racing for about a year when one of the race organisers wrote to the RAC and said, ‘This kid looks too young,’ and they asked for my birth certificate. So I got banned until I was 12.”

On his return Johnny began to show real natural talent. Bill Sisley, boss of the Buckmore Park kart circuit in Kent, took note, and helped out with a chassis and some equipment, and at 14 he won the British Junior Championship. Further titles followed, and when Johnny left school he worked for Sisley. “I used to cycle 30 miles from Romford to Buckmore and back each day, and it was Bill who got me my first Formula Ford test at Brands. All I’d driven with a gearbox up to then was my father’s Morris Marina, and they were taking bets on how long it would take me to spin off. Which I did at Paddock on my second lap.

“I had my first race at the Brands Hatch Formula Ford Festival in 1983 in a Spartan. I was fifth in my heat and 11th in the quarter-final, but I was absolutely peeved to the bone. I’d been winning everything in karting and I expected to be as competitive. Formula Fords felt soft after karting, didn’t have the same precision: they were on road tyres of course. I just didn’t enjoy it.”

But he persevered, lining up a Spartan drive for the 1984 season – which came to a halt against the bank during an Oulton Park test. “A wishbone came through my leg. Didn’t break the bone but went through the sciatic nerve. That kept me out for a while. In 1985 I raced the Quest. The Van Diemen was the car to have, like Mark Blundell and Damon Hill and Bert Gachot. I was up there but never really made a breakthrough – until the Formula Ford Festival. My practice was damp, so I was tooling round on my second lap, knowing it’d be drier later in the session, when I threw it in the barriers at Paddock and took the back of the car off. I thought, ‘That’s that,’ but Mike Thompson, who ran Quest, mended the car and persuaded the officials to let me do three laps in another session to qualify. So I started my heat from the back of the grid with a 10-second penalty. I got up to sixth in that, I was fourth in my quarter-final, I was second in the semi-final, and led the final from start to finish. It made quite a story. So going off in practice ended up doing my career some good.


Lotus boss and mentor Peter Collins offered an F1 lifeline


“I did FF2000 in 1986 for Quest, but it wasn’t up to much. It was only their FF car with a spacer, the bigger engine and some wings they’d found. But I had an F3 test, and for the first time I found that kart-like responsiveness in a car, that feeling of being in contact with the asphalt. I did my first F3 race that summer in Mike Rowe’s Ralt, and did some more races for Glenn Waters’ Intersport team. At the end of that year in the Cellnet Awards [predecessor of today’s Autosport Awards] Martin Donnelly got the £5000 and I got the £2500. At the dinner Eddie Jordan, who was running his F3 team then, was at the next table. We did the deal that night.”

In the first six weeks of the ’87 season Johnny’s Eddie Jordan Racing Reynard scored four wins and set four fastest laps, putting an early lock on the British F3 Championship. He rounded off the year with victory in the wet Cellnet Superprix at Brands. As they had done with Ayrton Senna four years earlier, F3 watchers speculated about future World Championship titles for young Herbert. And before he’d even clinched his F3 title, Benetton asked him to an F1 test at Brands Hatch. It was less than four years since his first car race.

“F1 was in its turbo days then, of course, and it was quite a jump from 150bhp in the F3 to 950bhp with the F1. It was a full F1 test – Mansell was there in the Williams, Senna in the Lotus-Honda – and I was in Thierry Boutsen’s car. They didn’t have a seat for me, so we got some cushions from Stuart and Di Spires in the motorhome and stuck them behind my shoulders. I went out on my first lap with all that turbo lag, going baaaa, baaaa, round Paddock, down the hill, and then I floored it and it went baaaa, baaaa, ssssss, BAAAAAM! and I was at Druids. It was bloody amazing. It was very, very quick, but you had the brakes, you had the grip, and I had that feeling of contact again, just like I’d grown to love in a kart. I did about 40 laps. Even without a proper seat I was quicker than Boutsen, and [Benetton team boss] Peter Collins was pretty happy.

“He wanted me in the car for 1988, because Teo Fabi was leaving. It came down to a test at Imola between Sandro Nannini, Stefano Modena, who was F3000 champion that year, and me. It was damp in the morning and I’d never driven an F1 car in the wet. Trying to get the tyres warm was interesting: in an F3 car you could poodle around and generate some grip quite easily, but in an F1 car it can be hard to get the temperatures up. In the end Nannini [who’d done two F1 seasons with Minardi] was a bit quicker than I was, and I was quicker than Modena. The Benetton family wanted an Italian in the team anyway, so Sandro got the drive.


Learning the basics in karting


“But Benetton took an option on me for F1 in 1989, and Peter came up with a deal whereby Eddie’s new F3000 outfit was sort of the Benetton junior team. So for 1988 I did F3000 for EJR.”

His season started with a win from pole at Jerez, but in the second race at Vallelunga he was punted off by the controversial Swiss driver Gregor Foitek and sustained severe concussion, missing the next race. At Monza he came through from the back of the grid to third, setting a lap record which stood for several seasons. Then Team Lotus asked him to an F1 test at Monza.

“Benetton released me to do it. I did 135 laps over two days, and ended up 0.3sec faster than Nelson Piquet. Afterwards Peter Warr said that if Benetton didn’t take up their option for 1989, Lotus was interested. Then when I got to Brands for the August F3000 round Frank Williams was there, and he said he wanted to talk to me after the race. Everything was going so well for me, my confidence was growing and growing.”

At Brands, as expected, he took pole by a clear margin, and was leading the race when it was red-flagged after Foitek and Roberto Moreno collided at Paddock Bend. At the restart Johnny, fatefully, made a bad start, and was third into Paddock just ahead of Foitek. “He was on my outside and we banged wheels at Druids. We came down Graham Hill, through Surtees and onto the Grand Prix circuit, and he tried to pass me with two wheels on the grass. It was bloody tight, I suppose we were doing 150mph, and his right front wheel hit my left rear. That swung me left and, one of those unfortunate things, it was just where the Armco came out round the bottom of the bridge over the track. Anywhere else I would have hit the barrier a glancing blow, but at that point I hit it head on. Most of the front of the car, the nose and the front suspension, came off in that first impact. Then it shot across to the other side and again went in head on, this time with my feet hanging out the front. It was in the early days of carbon fibre – very strong, but it would shatter on impact, and it shattered all the way back to my knees.”

In the ensuing pile-up 10 cars were involved. Foitek’s car cartwheeled down the track, but he escaped with a broken wrist. But Johnny’s lower legs, ankles and feet suffered massive and complex injuries. He describes them in dispassionate, even-voiced detail.

“When it all stopped I opened my eyes and all I could see was a big hole in the front of my car. I thought my legs were gone. I just remember saying to the people who came to me, ‘Knock me out, knock me out.’ Then I was in the hospital in Sidcup and they were saying, he could lose the left one, he won’t walk again. I’d lost a lot of blood, so I was out of it most of the time. The left foot was the one that was hanging off, so they sewed it back on. The right one just got smashed, dislocated at the ankle, the big toe got sliced off, it all got very hammered. Apparently one of my racing boots got collected by one of the other cars, and made it back to the pits in its air intake. The left ankle joint got broken, too, so they put that back together, but I haven’t really got any movement in that one. Lucky it’s that way round, you see, because the left foot just does the clutch, the right does the throttle and brake. There were still a lot of bits and pieces inside, and for years after I’d get these infections, everything would swell up, and the odd thing would come out of my heel, some bits of rubber or a blade of grass.


Speedcar success in Dubai

“The hospital at Sidcup was brilliant. It was where they’d take the bikers who crashed at Brands, so they had experience of broken bones. I was there for about a month, and then I was moved to a private hospital, and then eventually I went to the Tony Mathis clinic in Austria to try to build up some strength.

“Through it all, there was never any question in my mind that I wasn’t going to get back to racing. The doctors told Becky I would never drive again, but they didn’t say it to me, and Becky supported me. I could have gone away for two years, got myself better, and then come back and said, ‘Da-da! Here I am,’ and no team would have touched me with a bargepole. So I knew I had to get back as soon as I could. There were bad days, of course, but I just believed I could do it. If you try your hardest at something and it works, it’s worth it. If you try and don’t succeed, at least you’ve tried. I worked and worked, and then I’d have a bad day, get depressed, then I’d start again, get myself motivated and just do it. It was hard and painful stuff. It wasn’t just my legs and feet, it was getting my head to heal.

“Through it all Peter Collins was so supportive. He kept phoning me up and asking how I was, and one day, when I was still in a wheelchair, my legs in plaster, he phoned me from Jerez. He was at the Spanish GP, so it was six weeks after the accident. He said Benetton were taking up their option on me. That gave me something to work towards. Peter had massive faith in me.

“So in December I got myself to Silverstone for a test. I was on crutches now, but I wasn’t allowed to put any pressure on my left foot. Got in the F1 car, did a few laps, I was just getting into the groove, and I came in and said to Peter: ‘I don’t think I can do this.’ His face went white. Then I said, ‘I’ll just give it one more go.’ Went out and did a really good quick lap. I came back in and said to him, ‘I had you going there, didn’t I?’ It was just a joke, one of my jokes.

“Then we went to Rio for the pre-season tyre testing. Flavio [Briatore] had come into Benetton now, and I wasn’t allowed crutches, he didn’t want to see one of his drivers like that. He said it didn’t present the right image for the team. So I hobbled around, which I thought looked worse. I was told I had to do a race-distance test. I didn’t know at the time, but Flavio said I had to do it, because he was sure I couldn’t get through it, and he had Emanuele Pirro standing by to fly out. The mechanics filled the car right up – race distance tanks in those days – but they didn’t think I’d last, either. So I went out, and kept going until the fuel ran out.


Final F1 win – first and last for Stewart – at 1999 European GP


“Then the race, and I finished fourth. I was 10.5 seconds behind Mansell in the Ferrari, who won, and 2.7sec behind Prost, who was second in the McLaren. Everybody was in shock about that. And I’d outqualified Nannini in the other Benetton, too.

“Actually Rio was a less punishing circuit than most from a braking point of view. There was one hard braking point at the hairpin, and there was a big bump there, and every lap it hurt like hell because my left leg was swollen where it hadn’t healed properly. I found that if I let my leg go totally relaxed at that point my foot would go bang against the side of the cockpit, smack it so hard it sort of went over the pain threshold, which helped. I took 10 Nurofen before the race. I talked to Prof Watkins, and he told me what I could and couldn’t take. At the end of the race I got out of the car pretty slow because I was really hurting – but I still got out before ‘Noige’ did.” Laughter.

“Nothing after that was quite as good as Rio. At Imola I qualified 23rd, got up to eighth but then spun. But I finished. Monaco was a disaster because I couldn’t brake properly. I didn’t have the strength in the ball of my right foot: I could only apply about half the necessary pressure. The brakes weren’t even getting warm, and the only way I could do it was by braking with my heel. But I finished. Mexico I lost third and fourth gear, but I finished. Phoenix I finished fifth, from 25th on the grid. But in Montréal – a heavy braking circuit again – I didn’t qualify. That was it. Flavio fired me. Actually he didn’t have the balls to do it himself. He got his secretary to phone me and tell me I’d been dropped.

“It was a shame, because the tracks where I was always going to struggle were behind us then, and coming up were places I could adapt to better, like Silverstone and Hockenheim. So there were a few tears. But it was probably the right thing, actually. I think my feet were getting worse at that point, and obviously I was under a lot of pressure. Later that season I did Spa and Estoril for Tyrrell, because Jean Alesi was tied to F3000 races those weekends, but neither of those was much good. So I decided to go away to Japan for 1990 and race there in sports cars and F3000, get myself as close to 100 per cent fit as I could. That year in Japan was a great help: I did a lot of racing, with much less pressure. And I came back to race at Le Mans.”


Winning Le Mans with Mazda in 1991

Motorsport Images

Johnny did the 24 Hours three times in Mazda’s raucous rotary-powered machine, driving with Volker Weidler and old FF sparring partner Bertrand Gachot. In 1990 they retired; in ’92 they were fourth. But in ’91 they scored a memorable victory, the first for a Japanese car.

“I did Le Mans to show people in Europe I was on the mend. I never expected to win, so the victory in 1991 was a bonus. Not getting on the podium was something else. I did a triple stint at the end because we were in the lead, and the team decided it would be silly to put someone else in the car when I was in a groove and everything was OK. So each time I came in to refuel I stayed in the car. The fluid in my drink bottle got used up in the first stint, and it was a very hot afternoon, and really hot inside the car. At the end I got out, my head was spinning, and I collapsed over the bonnet. They took me to the medical centre and got some fluids into me, and I was fit for the party. But I missed the podium.

“Late in 1990 Lotus called me up to do the last two GPs, Japan and Australia, after Martin Donnelly had his accident in Jerez. By 1991 my old mentor Peter Collins was running Lotus. Things weren’t working out with Julian Bailey, so in June Peter was my saviour again. He gave me my second chance in F1, alongside Mika Häkkinen.”

Johnny was a Lotus fixture at Hethel for the next four seasons. The team was in its twilight years, and the car was at best a midfield runner. But there were high spots. At Interlagos in 1992 he qualified dead last and came through to seventh, before Boutsen took him out. At Montréal and Suzuka he qualified sixth, only for the car to fail each time. In ’93 he had a trio of fourth places at Interlagos, the wet Donington and Silverstone, and at Monza in ’94 he was fourth on the grid, only to be punted off at the first corner by Eddie Irvine’s Jordan. In his two years alongside Häkkinen, Johnny outqualified Mika 14 to 10.

“During ’91 and ’92 I felt more at home with the cars, because we had big wings, big fat tyres, lots of grip. You could be aggressive, and in a way it filtered out some of my problems. When the rules changed the cars got more sensitive, and I didn’t have the delicacy of touch in my feet.

“I tried to leave Lotus during 1993 to further my career, but understandably Peter held onto me. Then after Portugal in ’94 it all unravelled: the money had run out. The team was liquidated, and Tom Walkinshaw bought my contract as one of the assets. He and Flavio were controlling Ligier as well as Benetton, and I did Jerez for Ligier alongside Olivier Panis – finished eighth. From there I went to a test in Barcelona with my Ligier overalls, but when I got there Flavio said, ‘No, you’re testing for Benetton.’ Typical Flav, keeping me guessing. So for the last two GPs of the year I found myself in the Benetton team, replacing Jos Verstappen.


Johnny and Jamie Davies won inaugural Le Mans Endurance Series in 2004 with Team Veloqx R8


“And for 1995 that’s where I was, back with Flav, and alongside Michael Schumacher. In Brazil Michael qualified second, I qualified fourth, but in the race I had a clutch problem. Then in Argentina I was 0.012sec slower than Michael in first practice. As we were walking to the car park that evening he said, ‘There are things to do with my driving that I don’t want you to see, and I expect there are things about yours that you don’t want me to see.’ ‘Doesn’t worry me what you see,’ I said, ‘the quickest man is the quickest man.’ And he said, ‘Well, I don’t want you to see my data.’ Next morning Ross [Brawn, the Benetton technical chief] told me Michael had had a word with Flavio, and Flavio had agreed it. So I was banned from looking at his data – although he could still see mine. Michael’s way isn’t my way, I know he will try all sorts of things to have the team for himself, and I don’t blame him. But it was Flavio who allowed it. He’d said, ‘This is a team thing, we want to win the Constructors’ title together’ – well, we did win the Constructors’, helped by the two wins and the 45 points I got them. But Flav was always having little digs at me, and I’ve never understood why. Maybe I didn’t handle it well, and took it all too personally. Slowly it all deteriorated.

From the archive

“I remember what the crowd were like when I won the British Grand Prix. That was nice. But I had other things to think about. For the last 10 laps my legs were hurting so much I was screaming in the car, just screaming out loud. But it was the usual thing – I could never tell anyone about it. I just got through it, and kept it to myself after it was over. I never had a manager mainly because I didn’t think I could talk to anyone about what was really going on with my legs. I had to deal with it myself, it was down to me. I didn’t even talk to Becky about it.

“But it still never entered my head that I could hurt myself in a racing car, even though I’d done just that. It didn’t enter my head before my accident, and it still didn’t enter my head after. Well, I knew it could happen, because it had. But I didn’t have any concern about it.

“After the Silverstone win Flav gave me a quick hug, but it was all fake. He asked for my cap – the Goodyear winner’s cap that you got – and I gave it to him. Wish I hadn’t now. A couple of months later I won again, at Monza. The parc fermé used to be the other end of the pits from the podium. I was always awkward after a race, and it was an effort to walk all the way there and get up to the podium. Flavio greeted me with a dismissive ‘Hi,’ we did the trophy thing, and I didn’t see him after that. At the end of the year Michael and Ross left and went to Ferrari, but there was never any question of me staying. I didn’t want to stay anyway.”

So Johnny joined Sauber, and stayed for three seasons and 40 GPs. “What a contrast. I always felt they were behind me. A lovely group of people, and Peter Sauber is a great man. They achieved a hell of a lot considering where they were and what they had. Then in 1999 I went to Stewart, with Rubens [Barrichello].” Johnny fitted in well with Jackie’s team, but it wasn’t until September that it all came good, in the European Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. In a dry-wet-dry race, when all the fancied favourites hit trouble, Johnny read the conditions perfectly.

“You’ve got to keep looking at the weather in a race like that. Just before my first stop I was watching a threatening cloud coming straight at us. On the lap I was coming in for tyres, it started to spit around the back of the circuit, so I told them on the radio to get wets ready. It was my call, and it just worked out. Rubens came in two laps later, and he went for dries, which as it turned out was the wrong call. My wets got me through the wet part, and when I changed back to dries I was in second place. Then Fisichella put it off the road and I was in front. We weren’t the quickest car, but it just worked in our favour. Jackie was so happy when I won, it was lovely. He was three races from the end of running his own F1 team and he’d won a race – at the same track where he’d scored his last win as a driver, 26 years before.

“Actually, I always thought my next race, in Malaysia, was better. One of the best F1 races I ever did. My confidence was high after the win, and I qualified fifth and finished fourth. It was one of those rare times when everything felt right again, almost like before my accident. I felt at one with the car, that feeling of symmetry, and I found I could reel off very quick, consistent lap times.” He held off the McLaren of champion-elect Häkkinen until two laps from the end.

“It was a good time at Stewart. Of course Jackie would always tell his drivers how to drive, but he was only trying to help. It was just his way, and I never resented it. I found it amusing. In a Barcelona test he was watching on the long left-hander, where the car used to move around a bit if you were trying.” He switches into a high-pitched parody of Sir Jackie’s Scottish tones: “Johnny, you’re being aggrrrressive with the car, you want to be smooooth.” Peals of laughter. “Next time I went out I made sure I was smooth where he was watching, but I was probably two seconds slower that lap.”

At the end of the year Stewart became Jaguar, and it all started to go wrong. “Stewart had finished fourth in the Constructors’ and won a Grand Prix, and Jaguar talked big. The team nucleus after the takeover was the same, but the corporation around it kept changing – Wolfgang Reitzle, Neil Ressler, Bobby Rahal, Niki Lauda. But there never seemed to be anyone strong enough to manage it. The car didn’t handle well, and we had engine problems, something with the oil system, but they never got to the bottom of it. Everybody started protecting their own backs and you just knew that it was never going to work. I wasn’t enjoying it any more, and my results showed that. I wish I’d stopped at the end of ’99.”

The final indignity was when the Jaguar’s suspension broke in Johnny’s last GP in Malaysia, sending him crashing into the tyre barriers. He had to be stretchered away from the wreck. “I was carried to the cockpit for my first Grand Prix, and I was carried from the cockpit in my last.” Plans for a CART drive in 2001 came to naught, but he did some testing for Arrows, and drove the Champion Racing Audi at Le Mans and in the ALMS.

“It was wet at Le Mans that year. Between the second chicane and the kink, there was a river running across the road. During the night visibility was so bad I had to push myself up on the footrest and peer over the top of the screen at 200mph to see the white line down the middle of the road. But I’ve always enjoyed the wet. With karting you learn the basics very early on. Control in the wet, feeling it beneath you, that’s one of the basics.” That race ended in clutch failure, but in 2002 in a Joest Audi he finished second. “I think Le Mans is fantastic. The ACO have done a great job of maintaining its status as a classic. I now understand how to train for the race: it’s a package of things that you work towards, to cope with the time and the heat, how you rest, how you eat. Some F1 drivers don’t like it, but I don’t think it’s especially dangerous, if you’re up for the challenge of it. Trouble with F1 is, it’s in its own little bubble cocooned from everything else. It seems unaware that there’s a lot of other good racing going on.

“Doing Le Mans for Bentley was special. It was a gorgeous-looking car, and of course you thought of the Bentley Boys history at Le Mans. In 2003 one of the two cars had a trouble-free run and one had a few problems, like the battery kept going flat. I was in that one, with David Brabham and Mark Blundell, so we finished second two laps down. But that’s Le Mans. I was second again in 2004, in the Team Veloqx Audi, so I got second place three years running. And in 2007 I did it in an Aston Martin DBR9 – just about the first time I’d raced a front-engined car, apart from historic races in a Jaguar D-type. In the Aston everything was the opposite to what I was used to. You had to be very smooth. If you were clumsy with the throttle the front would move, but the back was always there.”

Most recently Johnny has campaigned big rumbling NASCAR-like stockers in Speedcar. The first series had 10 races in the Middle East and South-East Asia, with several ex-F1 drivers taking part, and Johnny won the title in the final round at Dubai. “The cars are raw and primitive: 600bhp V8s, H-box gearchange, big steering wheel, lots of noise. To start with it was carnage, wrecks everywhere. Soon people realised they weren’t going to earn any cash that way, and since then the racing has been bloody good. It’s lots of my old buddies – Jean Alesi, Stefan Johansson, JJ Lehto, Jacques Villeneuve. After the race we go out and have a good time. And if I thought it was hot in the Mazda at Le Mans, we’re often racing Speedcar in 34deg C, and all that sheet metal just sucks in the heat. It can get to 50deg C in there.”

Without the accident, would Johnny have been a World Champion? “I don’t know where I’d have got to. I think I would have done pretty well. All I can say is, before the crash, in my head I could be anybody I wanted to be, in any car, any conditions. As I won more races the feeling grew. I had the shunt, and I never had that feeling again. It was like someone got hold of it and, whoosh, it was gone. It never ever came back. Once or twice, like in Malaysia in the Stewart, I remembered what it was like, and it felt right. But that was very rare.

“I always say that in my next life I’ll do a swap with Michael [Schumacher]. He can have my career and I’ll have his.” The Herbert laugh again, and then: “But, looking back, it’s been a good career, really. Considering…”