'Written rules for racing shouldn't exist' — Johnny Herbert

“Ross Brawn said, ‘We can’t have unregulated aggression on the track.’ But why?”

Johnny Herbert

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Driver penalties were back on the agenda after the Austrian Grand Prix when Lando Norris was penalised for apparently forcing Sergio Pérez off at Turn 4, then Pérez incurred two himself for his actions with Charles Leclerc. Ross Brawn defended the decisions, saying, “We can’t have unregulated aggression on the track.” But why?

Written rules for racing shouldn’t exist, because aggression is part of it and always has been: Nelson Piquet’s sliding outside pass on Ayrton Senna in Hungary 1986; Nigel Mansell on Piquet at Stowe in ’87; Mansell and Senna inches apart in Barcelona ’91. There’s another word: intimidation. You get drivers who have a persona for being extreme in this regard – but what’s wrong with it?

My problem is you have rules now where you have to give space to the other driver. That was done from a safety perspective so that when you’re going into a corner you can’t force another car off the circuit. That is always a no-no and if you do it, you should have the book thrown at you. It’s dangerous, unsporting and it’s not racing. At the same time, overtaking should be difficult and you shouldn’t have to give up the place.

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There’s precedent at Turn 4 at the Red Bull Ring because last year Lewis Hamilton copped a penalty when Alex Albon went off on the outside while challenging him. I thought that penalty was totally wrong, just as it was in the Norris case. When you go into a corner with somebody on the outside, they are the one making the move. The guy on the racing line, why should he have to back off to give the other on the outside more room? The normal racing line is to run out wide. Then you get this argument, “Oh, but the other car was in front.” Now, I can make my car go into a corner ahead of another, as we’ve seen under braking around the outside at Turn 4. But I’ve still got to turn right and stay on the track. So does that give you the place because you are ahead? No.

“I tried being dirty in karting. I wasn’t very good at it so I stopped!”

Pérez and Leclerc later in the race was the same story, and I think the penalty was wrong – because of these rules for racing. Drivers being as clever as they are, will force that rule about being ahead to come into play and because of the precedent that’s been set, the stewards’ hands are tied to be consistent on penalties. What makes it worse is that rules are usually written by people who have never been in a cockpit. I know Formula 1 has a driver steward, in this case Derek Warwick who has normally been good at allowing racing to happen, and I’ve been the driver steward in the past too. But rules for racing is simply not what it should be about.

Consistency from corner to corner is also difficult. Remember Turn 3 with Charles and Max Verstappen in 2019, when Max dived down the inside, took the line and that forced Charles to run wide? That was deemed okay and Max won the race. Very similar and clever from Max. Did he delay steering right a little? Probably. Did he lean on him on the exit? Yes. Good racing. But at Turn 4, it’s a penalty.

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In contrast, the implication of rules on track limits has been very good. Sensors judge when drivers go off the circuit and you can end up with 20-30 deleted times from a session because they have been going across a line or kerb. I’m okay with that. Teams have an agenda that they want their driver to go faster and will argue that a sausage kerb is wrong because it’ll damage the car – so don’t go over the damn sausage kerb! It’s very simple. Taking the kerb away is not the skill.

What do we do about racing penalties? I feel a reset is required and the drivers have to be involved. I’d get rid of rules for racing and ask drivers if it is acceptable or not. You’d get into it where one would say “I was ahead” – but others will rightly say, “Yes, but you were never going to make it stick.” Let them race and sort it out between them. If they go off the track taking the outside line, that was the risk they took. I’m not condoning dirty driving where someone blatantly forces another car off. I tried being dirty in karting when I was young and it always went wrong. I wasn’t very good at it – so I stopped! But I never stopped racing hard. There’s a world of difference.


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