Herbert remembers Ford's last F1 win with 'Team Milton Keynes'


The Red Bull – Ford announcement sees the link-up of two organisations which have tasted victory together before, as Johnny Herbert remembers

Johnny herbert Stewart GP 1999 European GP

Herbert claimed a famous win for Stewart at the Nürburgring

Getty Images / Paul-Henri Cahier

Three-time Formula 1 world champion Jackie Stewart. Ford, one of the grand prix world’s most successful engine manufacturers. And Johnny Herbert, a British GP and Le Mans winner. All coming together to win at the legendary Nürburgring (in its modern iteration), 30 years after Stewart took perhaps his greatest win at the ‘Green Hell’.

As historic racing combinations go, the provenance doesn’t get much more potent.

With the Red Bull F1 squad – to a large extent the same ‘Team Milton Keynes’, started by Stewart Grand Prix, bought by Jaguar and then transferred to the energy drinks powerhouse – announcing a new technical partnership with Ford, Herbert remembered to Motor Sport the last win that the team and manufacturing brand took together, over 23 years ago.

“It was everything Jackie and co had worked for – a last roll of the dice,” he says.

4 Johnny Herbert Stewart GP 1999 European GP

Team was beset by reliability issues in early ’99

Grand Prix Photo

1999 was the third and final season of the eponymous Stewart team set up by F1 legend Jackie and son Paul, and in its car and engine package – backed by Ford’s millions – looked to have put its best foot forward on its swan song.

When it finished the race that is. Though technical director Gary Anderson’s SF3 looked to be the third fastest in the field on a good day, he summed up the engine pithily to Motor Sport in 2020: “very good, was a bit fragile.”

Both units blew up after overheating on the grid at season-opener Melbourne – not the most auspicious start.

“It was a blinding piece of engineering”

Herbert’s team-mate Rubens Barrichello showed just how fast it could be by leading his home race in Brazil – before the SF3 conked out again. He still scored podiums at San Marino and France however, and a pole at the latter – whilst Herbert had only a fifth in Canada to show for his efforts by the season’s halfway point.

The Brit knew though knew it was only a matter of time before things came together.

“It was a blinding piece of engineering,” he says of the ’99 Ford V10. “An absolutely a beautiful thing – and it was just a joy to drive once I’d got used to it.

From the archive

“It took me a while to adapt to the team and car, but once we had the electronic differential from Austria, it sort of clicked together a little bit better.”

The points still didn’t come though – until a classic case of driving talent, strategic nous, erratic weather and a little bit of luck all combined for Herbert and Stewart at the third-to-last race of the season for the European GP.

“I was sitting on the grid, and was watching this huge cloud coming over from Spa,” says Herbert.

“It didn’t deviate in direction or shape, and was very broad.”

As one of F1’s most chaotic GPs ever got underway, the ominous cloud inched nearer.

After a false start, a barrel-roll for Sauber’s Pedro Diniz, electrical failures for both Jordans, David Coulthard throwing it off the road and various pit-stop bungles for title contenders Mika Häkkinen and Eddie Irvine, Herbert was quietly slipping up the order.

2 Johnny Herbert Stewart GP 1999 European GP

Herbert utilised strategic sense to make tyre change at right time

Getty Images / Paul-Henri Cahier

He then made the right decision at the right time.

“The cloud just kept coming and coming and fortunately, they called me in and as it began to rain at the bottom end of the hairpin,” remembers Herbert

“I thought, ‘Well, that’s just gonna cover the whole track. This is an opportunity because this is going to be a lot of rain.’

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“So I put wets on and then Rubens came in the next lap. That was where it made the difference.”

The canny move was helped by more fortunate circumstances, and before he knew it Herbert was in the lead.

“There was luck involved with Ralf [Schumacher] getting a puncture and [Giancarlo] Fisichella throwing it off the road, but that’s part of racing.

“It’s about not making mistakes, and an element of luck at the same time. That happens so many, many, times.

“It’s just nice that the team was able to cope with all that. They didn’t crack or make the wrong decisions in those tricky pitstops.”

When the flag fell, Herbert would take a massively popular third and final F1 win, with Stewart claiming a 1-3 – sandwiching the slightly bemused-looking Jarno Trulli on the podium, who finished runner-up for Prost.

3 Johnny Herbert Stewart GP 1999 European GP

Win was perfect end to Stewart era for all concerned

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Herbert would go on to score a fourth at Malaysia – “my best ever F1 performance” he says – as the team which saw both cars go up in smoke at the season-opener ultimately finish fourth in the ‘99 constructors’ championship.

“It was a family team with a family atmosphere,” says Herbert.

“I got on well with his wife Lady Helen, Paul and his other son Mark – Jackie could be a tough man to work with, but he still had that passion for driving side, he was always there to try and help.

“It was nice because we won in the ‘Green Hell’, where he had taken his famous win.

“It was the last hurrah. The last roll of the dice. Everything Jackie had been working for.”