If anyone walks in now, how ever am I going to explain this? That was the question that crept into my mind as I sat facing Johnny Herbert, only too aware of the sterile emptiness that inhabited the stark white hospitality suite. Johnny, three-time Grand Prix winner and much-loved British sports car hero, was bouncing up and down in his plastic chair, screeching and wailing with total abandon, his arms jerking about wildly in front of him. My face had frozen into a fixed, rabbit-in-headlights smile of bewilderment. Was this really happening?
It was. But I’m pleased to report that the 1995 British Grand Prix winner wasn’t going through some personal trauma of a mental meltdown – although had the cleaner who interrupted us a few minutes later walked in mid-frenzy he could have been forgiven for jumping to that conclusion. No, Johnny was just taking himself back to the crazy cacophony that was the cockpit of the Mazda 787B in which he won the Le Mans 24 Hours in the distant past of 1991.
And it was clearly a journey he’d taken before. His impression of the banshee rotary engine squalling its way through the Porsche Curves was uncanny. He’s clearly practiced this more than most of us would ever care to admit…
You’ve got to hear it. I’ve tried to describe it in the January issue of the magazine, alongside Aston Martin racer Sam Hancock’s test-drive of the bright orange and green Mazda. But no matter how hard I tried, words on the page just could not do it justice. So close the windows, lock the door (just to make sure no one walks in and wonders what the hell you’re doing)… and go to the bottom of the page. I guarantee it’ll make you smile.
It’s impossible to be around Johnny and not have fun, as I found during a very special day at Misano recently. We’ve been offered tests of Le Mans winners before, but it’s super-rare to have a chance to sample the most recent car to conquer the 24 Hours – in the same calendar year it won the race. When Audi’s message landed that its stunning stealth-like R18 would be ours for a day, I almost choked on my tea.
So who should we ask to drive it? Johnny’s experience and history – which includes racing Audi’s five-time Le Mans-winning R8 – made him the ideal choice. And as he hadn’t driven a contemporary prototype in anger for seven years, let alone a modern turbodiesel, we reckoned he’d offer an interesting perspective on the evolution of the breed. And so it proved. You can read how he got on in the January issue.
As I write, we are preparing for the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix and at this time of the year we naturally reflect on what we’ve seen in the past months. Our full review of the F1 season will follow in next month’s issue, but for now you might be interested to find out more about the architect of Sebastian Vettel’s stunning success in 2011.
Christian Horner is the man responsible for putting the pieces together at Red Bull Racing, taking the team from the midfield mire to double World Champions in just seven seasons. He was responsible for luring Adrian Newey from McLaren and the steady hand of his leadership deserves huge credit during this super-competitive era.
Simon Taylor met Christian for lunch between the Korean and Indian GPs and discovered, to our delight, that there’s no big secret to his success. Like the best bosses, Horner doesn’t get lost in meaningless management speak. He’s straightforward, grounded – and as Simon found, a true racing man with the sport in his blood.
Nigel Roebuck reflects this month on the blossoming of Vettel during a season in which he has grown into a great champion – and one who has the potential to break every record going in the future. Nigel also takes us back 30 years to the bizarre story of Formula 1 in Las Vegas. At a time when Bernie Ecclestone is once again gambling on the US, with a race that might not happen in Texas next year and another pencilled in for New York a season later, Nigel’s account of a sport trying to shoe-horn itself into a country that doesn’t seem to want or understand it might ring a few bells.
Finally, I can’t sign off without mentioning our brand-new website and the 2012 Motor Sport Hall of Fame. Thanks to the hard work of Ed Foster and the team here at Motor Sport, we have an online site to be proud of. And to kick off a new era, we’re launching a competition to win tickets to our star-studded night.
The third annual Hall of Fame will take place in London on February 16, 2012 and we’re offering five pairs of tickets for you to join us at the Roundhouse. All you have to do is tell us who you think we should be inducting into our exclusive club of motor sport greats this time around. Please click here to find out more.
Enjoy the issue and please do take the time to explore the website. I’d love to know what you think of it.