Features - News Feature

JUNE 6, 2001

Johnny Herbert rates the F1 teams, Part 1


Michael Schumacher, Monaco GP 2001
© The Cahier Archive

He's still quick, as he proved while testing for Orange Arrows, and he keeps up with the intricacies of the F1 scene. So who better to give his opinion on who is doing a good job and who isn't than three-time F1 winner Johnny Herbert?

He's still quick, as he proved while testing for Orange Arrows, and he keeps up with the intricacies of the F1 scene. So who better to give his opinion on who is doing a good job and who isn't than three-time F1 winner Johnny Herbert?


"Obviously, Ferrari started 2001 as it had ended 2000. It just carried over the momentum despite the changes in the regulations. It had a slight advantage in the first two races, in Melbourne and Sepang, and Michael exploited that fully. Rubens was in the points too, so it was all as you might have expected. The team did very well in the winter tests, working away from everyone else, and it just blew everyone away.

"The car is drivable. It's a good package: the engine, gearbox, suspension, aerodynamics, everything. Especially the aerodynamics. It came out of the rule changes better than anyone else. It had an aerodynamic advantage, though since then it hasn't moved forward as fast as McLaren and Williams have.

"It was interesting that Brazil was a weak race for the team; I'm not quite sure what happened there but it didn't look very impressive and Williams and McLaren were way better there.

"Michael really struggled in Imola, and I think he gave up. There was some sort of problem with the brake scoop, but I think he knew he wouldn't score a point so he gave up. It's a bit like that famous broken leg thing; why did it take from July to October before he was supposedly fit enough to go back to work? He knew then he couldn't win the title, so why bother? His first run in Malaysia he was limping like an old man; not long afterwards he was walking normally.

"He was so lucky in Barcelona, but maybe that's the sort of luck that wins you championships."


"McLaren had a clear aerodynamic problem in Australia and Malaysia, with lots of understeer, but they have done since then has been terrific. In a very short space of time it pulled out all the stops to cure the problem. Two weeks after Malaysia it had a much better performance from the car in Brazil, where it was better than the Ferrari in the dry even with a wet set-up. In Imola and Barcelona it was better again.

"It's interesting that in 1998 and 1999 McLaren got off to a better start than Ferrari, but then Ferrari had to fight back. In 2000 and 2001 it's been the other way around. Each time one got ahead and the other had to fight back but it seems they neither is right with the other at the same time. This year Ferrari had the initial advantage but it hasn't really capitalized on it as much as it should have, because Coulthard had four podiums in the first five races, and beat Michael twice. That's good damage limitation, and I think McLaren had an advantage in Barcelona, it had the edge.

"David did a very good job in Spain, finishing fifth after starting at the back and making an extra pit stop. He did very well to grab two points. And he did well in Austria and Monaco, too, considering his problems in the latter. And what can you say about Mika? McLaren lost out doubly in Spain, because Mika lost 10 valuable points, and Michael gained four more than he should have, so David lost eight points to Michael instead of five. And Austria and Monaco were disasters.

"McLaren clearly has a lot of work to do on its electronics, to avoid the embarrassment of not even being able to get going in races. So far that has cost the team a huge amount."

Juan Pablo Montoya, Monaco GP 2001 © The Cahier Archive


"Williams had smoothed off whatever rough edges the FW22 had by creating the FW23, and it has done a pretty good job.

"I'm not surprised because I always expected the team to come back. There are some very, very clever people there, and despite Adrian Newey leaving they have bounced back and shown everyone who doubted them that they were totally wrong to do so. The team has done a sterling job; the engine, chassis, tires and drivers - every part of the package is working really well. Two seasons ago Williams was nowhere, but now with BMW it has effectively made up ground in a year. It has clawed back a massive chunk. No-one else has done that. It's come back again, with a completely different package, and in shorter time than it took Mercedes t make the grade. Remember that Merc's original V10 ran with Sauber first, and it still took McLaren-Mercedes three years to win a race. What makes it even better is that just over a year ago BMW counted it a good day if it fired up the engine in the garage and it didn't self-destruct. Then if it did half a lap, a lap, a couple of laps. Between November 1999 and March 2000 it did one hell of a lot of work. Last year when we had an engine problem at Jaguar it took seven months to fix it. BMW got the right people, with the right commitment, at a time when making things work in F1 is more difficult than ever. It has clawed its way back in big steps.

"I think what you saw in Brazil and Imola was a well balanced race car, but not necessarily a well balanced qualifying car. The Michelins worked very well there, and basically put the car way ahead of Schumacher and Ferrari. Don't forget that in Interlagos it was Montoya who was on a single stop race, with Michael on a two-stopper, whereas many thought initially that it was the other way round.

"The FW23 is a damned competitive race car, a hell of a race car. I think it still lacks downforce, but the BMW has around 840 bhp and is very drivable."


"Benetton is a disaster, but that is no particular surprise. The whole package is nowhere near enough. Benetton is no longer one of the big boys, in any form at all. Nothing is good there, apart from the drivers.

"I don't think it's all down to Renault, either. The engine probably has less power than Minardi's Ford V10; it was three seconds off the pace at Barcelona, but that isn't all engine. The chassis doesn't use the Michelins as well as the Williams does, and the team seems to me to lack direction. It's been at the back of the grid all season. There is a revised version of the car and the engine due mid-season, but these things don't always work out. I'm not saying it's Mike Gascoyne; I just don't think that the B201 is right. Nor am I saying that Mike can't do it, but I don't see it coming right this year. Benetton needs a new car and engine. I just don't see why Renault ever thought of doing that wide-angle vee, with all its inherent shortcomings."