Lunch with... Johnny Herbert & Damon Hill

Brilliant sportsmen both, who formed two parts of the most talented group of their generation. But are they now really Formula 1’s answer to Ant & Dec? Damien Smith finds out

Hill and Herbert header

Paul Marc Mitchell

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Dumb and dumber. That’s how Sky Formula 1 presenter Simon Lazenby once chose to refer to our guests for lunch this month. The question is, which one is which? Let’s find out!

Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill have been friends for 35 years and counting, dating all the way back to their Formula Ford days when they first sized each other up as rivals on motor racing’s devilishly slippery nursery slopes. Such bonds forged during lives and careers that became interwoven have led to a natural chemistry that Sky has tapped into as part of its F1 TV coverage. They have become something of a double-act on the box – “F1’s answer to Ant & Dec” as they describe it – and have gained a reputation for, let’s say, the lighter moments of race broadcasts. It’s not that they don’t take media work seriously – heaven forbid – but with a shared 261 grand prix starts behind them, not to mention 25 wins and one drivers’ world championship, they’re at a stage where they don’t take F1 life too seriously – or at least most of it. “The pressure is off for us now,” as Damon puts it. “We’re lucky, we’ve made it through the tough bit.”

Off the back of the TV double-act, the duo have now decided to produce a book together that takes a light-hearted poke at the sport both of them love. The clichéd title Lights Out Full Throttle gives you some clue to the tone they set, as does the sub-head, The good, the Bad and the Bernie of Formula 1. Ba-doom! But while there’s plenty of fun and self-deprecating mickey taking, there’s inevitably plenty of thought-provoking insight from two vastly experienced and respected aces. Hill has just turned 60, Herbert is happy to lag behind on this one at 54. They recorded their chats with ghost writer James Hogg in a 15th-century Elizabethan house by a roaring log fire, before the world was spun off its axis. Cosy. Certainly more than our conversation conducted over Zoom. Each, of course, has dined with us before, without the other, Hill in 2007, Herbert in 2008. And with career stories that are both branded into motor-sport lore, we’ve chosen to take a leaf from their book and skip around some themes. Inevitably the lunch involves much mirth, many chuckles (mostly from Herbert) and, like the forthcoming book, some tasty nuggets.