Features - Interview
MAY 18, 2006
Herbert talks about MF1 Racing
Johnny Herbert is MF1 Racing's Sporting Relations Manager. That sounds an unusual title so the best thing to do is to ask the man himself. What is your job?
"What does a sporting relations manager actually do?" says Herbert. "Last year the team had some problems with the media because of the silly stories going around, and basically, they brought me in as someone who could talk to the media and also provide some background. I always found it easy to communicate with the press when I drove in F1, and I think that's because I've always quite enjoyed it, to be honest.
"I also do a fair bit with the drivers, and try and use my experience to help them. I don't tell them what to do, but if they want to have a chat, or I've spotted something, then it could be good for them. Young drivers have got a will to be successful, but guidance is never a bad thing. And I do a little bit with sponsors, as well, at corporate events and such."
"Well, I'm not a frustrated former driver, if that's what you're thinking! If I was ever asked to have a go, I would probably say yes, but I would never ask to have a go. I don't have that interest in driving F1 cars any more. I had my time, and I did my bit, but I'm not bothered about being on the other side of the fence now. As it is, I really enjoy being on the management side and playing a role in the decisions that shape this team as it grows and continues to move forward. It's been a bit of an education, seeing everything from a team perspective rather than as a driver. There are things you've heard about, but actually seeing and hearing them is another matter. It's impressive, the way F1 works, and the discussions that are going on for 2008 are interesting. The main area in which I think we've moved forward since last year is that everybody is gelling together better. Last year, there was a major transition underway, and this year things are much more stable. The mood is very good in the garage, and the guys are relaxed about things.
"Of course, everybody still wants to have a bigger budget so we can do more development. A little bit would go a long way, but then, it's never really enough in this sport, is it? So we've become quite resourceful at making do with what we have. Eventually, there will be a bigger budget, but it's got to be a natural progression, not a whole whack of cash all at once. I think we're going about things in an intelligent way.
"Everyone knew that it was going to be difficult to move forward enough to be in a position to chase points or move through the various qualifying sessions. The sport is probably more competitive than it's ever been before, because of the manufacturers that are involved and the desire they all have to be successful. The competitiveness has increased because of that. We are a small team, but there's a lot of talk about new rules for 2008 which I'm sure will benefit us. You've still got to be in a position to have the right ingredients to fight the other guys, and that's not easy. But the will is still there, both back home in the factory, and in the garage. I still believe that if we get a break now and then, we might be OK. Work is going on, the car has got better, and we are closer than we were last year to the front, pace-wise, although we're in similar positions on the grid. We've shown a lot of potential on Fridays and Saturday mornings, but come qualifying, is doesn't seem to materialise. Except in Nurburgring, where we probably should have got through to the second round. The red flag situation was disappointing, but it was still nice for everybody that we came so close to doing it. We showed flashes of genuine speed at that circuit, which was very encouraging for us all."
What about the drivers?
"From my side, it's hard to judge the drivers because, having never driven the M16, I don't really know how good a car it is," Johnny says. "It's been frustrating for them, as well, because during races they are normally only racing each other. They're both early in their careers, and in this game, that's the only way you can carry on: by beating your team mate, doing a good job, and hopefully sometimes doing a stunning job where you show yourself to be better than the car, let's say. Christijan is a character. He's very, very hard on the guys, which is not a problem. He always wants a lot, but he explains a lot, and he's always trying to improve things. His race engineer, Jody Eggington, is very good, as well, and he's also very hard on Christijan. He will actually argue with him, so I think that relationship is good, as they have developed a respect for each other. Christijan could very easily overpower a 'softer' engineer. Tiago is completely the opposite; very laid back, very relaxed in everything that he does. He's a total pro, really. At the moment, he's putting up a good fight against Christijan, so it's not just one driver having his way with the other. I like the balance we have with our two drivers."
What about your racing?
"I haven't given up driving myself just yet," Johnny says. "I did the pro-celebrity race in Bahrain, but it didn't last very long. I was sharing with Emma Parker Bowles, who is Camilla's daughter. She never drove the car in either race, unfortunately. In the first race, the engine mounts broke and I couldn't steer; and in the second, we got torpedoed off the circuit on the first lap. Emma was all right, she had a nice laugh, but she was very emotional about not getting to drive. I think the nervous tension had built up, and then she never even got in the car!
"The Mini Challenge race in Imola was fun, and it was good to get back on track again and have a little play. The last thing I drove like that was an MG Metro Turbo at Silverstone in 1987, when I was still in F3. A front-wheel-drive is never easy, but at Imola, I got pole and led the majority of the race until the clutch broke with a lap to go - very disappointing. But still, it was good fun.
"It was also little quicker than the Mini 850 I had in my Formula Ford days, which wasn't quite on a par with the modern era. I can still remember when the bonnet flew up on the way to the Dartford Tunnel."