Farewell Johnny Herbert!

After 11 seasons in Formula One, Jaguar's Johnny Herbert will be heading Stateside for a new career in the CART Championship Series after the Malaysian Grand Prix

Farewell Johnny Herbert!

Adam Cooper reports on a special celebration of Herbert's F1 career.

Hundreds of members of the Grand Prix circus took time out to attend a tribute to the retiring Johnny Herbert in Malaysia on Friday afternoon. Despite busy schedules, many drivers and team folk like Sir Frank Williams made the effort to say an appropriate goodbye to one of the most popular drivers in the sport.

Proceedings took the form of a 'This is Your Life' style presentation, compered by none other than Murray Walker. Many names from Johnny's past appeared and shared their memories.

Appropriately enough, the first was his father Bob Herbert:

"He was what they call hyperactive, when they didn't know what hyperactive was - but we did, I tell you!" Herbert Sr laughed. "There was one incident when we were racing: I wanted to go one way on the set-up, and he wanted to go the other way, and it got a little bit heated. I said okay then, do it yourself, and walked away. All of a sudden then coming past my ear was a screwdriver..."

Bob then presented his boy with a souvenir of that day, in the form of a screwdriver, although not, we assume, the same one! Johnny's wife Becky then told us of how they had met at the 1986 Formula Ford Festival. And no, it wasn't love at first sight. All Johnny could see was her legs and bum!

The first of a string of ex-Herbert team-mates to pay tribute was recently deposed World Champion Mika Hakkinen, who was with Johnny at Lotus in 1991-92.

"We had a great time," the Finn recalled. "It was quite difficult for me at the time to understand the English sense of humour, because I just started in Formula One. One time at Magny-Cours I was working late with the engineers and really working hard, and Johnny left earlier to go back to the hotel. At Lotus at that time the budget of the team wasn't very big, so we had to share the room together.

"We stayed in this hotel, the Holiday Inn in Magny-Cours, and you can imagine it was a very small room, and one bed, so I was definitely very nervous. One evening I came back to the room. I knew Johnny was already in the room, and what I see is that Johnny lying completely naked in the bath, playing with a duck..."

The way Johnny remembers it is that Mika was the one in the bath, but who wants to spoil a good story! Another former Lotus team-mate sent a message by fax.

"I hope you do whatever you want to do in the future," said Alex Zanardi. "You are the best team mate I've ever had. I had a great relationship with Jimmy Vasser, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time with you at Lotus. You have more talent than people recognise, and are one of the few that can say 'I've won an F1 race.' And I wish I could say the same."

Alex pointed out that he had always paid for their shared hire cars, and Johnny was given a Hertz voucher for a trip from Timbuktu to Bognor Regis to remind him of that fact...

Although he was in Malaysia, Eddie Jordan couldn't stay for the presentation, so he appeared on video. He proceeded to relate a rather embarrassing tale involving Johnny and some young ladies that had most people cringing, and Johnny turning even redder than the hot lights had already made him. But his former Formula Three team boss at least ended on a high note.

"Johnny, you've been a joy to work with and I love you very much," concluded Jordan. "Apart from that I made you, I also own you, so Johnny Herbert, thanks for the memories."

ITV's Martin Brundle was a little sheepish when he stepped forward; he admitted that they'd never been team mates, and nor had he turned on Johnny's taps, but nevertheless he held him in high regard.

"He's such a nice bloke, a genuine guy, very professional, happily married to the lovely Becky. It's so difficult to find some nitty gritty on Johnny, he's just a super nice guy. I just really wish we'd seen Johnny Herbert without his problems with the legs, to see the full potential of what he could have achieved."

The next team mate to appear was Heinz-Harald Frentzen, who was alongside him at Sauber in 1996.

"I thought there was nothing special about Johnny when I saw him the first time, but when I saw his wife I thought there must be something special in him! She's very tall, very good looking..." joked Frentzen. "One of the funny memories was what I heard he did to Peter (Sauber). Every driver sometimes has got the pressure of going to the toilet before the race. Some of them just go, and some of them stay in the car. Johnny was peeing in the car, and one of the mechanics came and gave him some paper to clean the seat. Peter was always coming to the drivers to say good luck and shake their hands, so you could imagine what happened..."

Johnny's Benetton years were represented by Pat Symonds, the team's technical director. His main recollection came not from the 1994-'95 era, but from Johnny's earlier stint with the team.

"When a new driver comes and joins the team, there's always a little bit of tension. You have to get to know each other, how to work, things like this. When Johnny first came to Brazil for the test (in 1989) it was shortly after this terrible accident that he'd had at Brands Hatch," said Symonds. "So there was quite a lot of trepidation, was this little guy going to be able to do it, and how we were going to get on with him?

"It didn't take us long to figure it out. Johnny had quite a lot of trouble getting into the car, and he had his sticks and his foldaway bike, and he was a right little cripple! We found that if he was getting on our nerves all we had to do was turn the radio off on the car, take the crutches away, and we'd have no more trouble at all. We'd just leave him there and go and have lunch! Johnny, we wish you all the best in the future. From everyone at Benetton, we thoroughly enjoyed working with you, and it's not over yet."

Yet another team-mate appeared in the form of Rubens Barrichello, who was alongside Johnny at Stewart last year.

"We had a really great time... apart from the farting in the motorhome! Very few people know that I was present at that Rio GP (in 1989), when he started. I was an intruder because I didn't have a pass, but if I knew Johnny I'm sure he would get a pass for me!

"We had such a great time together. People asked me in Nurburgring (in 1999) were you depressed by the fact that you were knocking on the door and Johnny won? I wasn't. I really enjoyed that time and we had such a good relationship, and I think it was really good for Stewart-Ford as well. Johnny has very bad habits... the poor mechanics were on the grid, and the car had a small leak. They went to check it out to se if it was oil, and it was pee. He keeps on pissing on his pants. It's the only thing I haven't done in my life yet, but I have to try before my time is over."

Also representing the Stewart era was the man himself - JYS. He said he suddenly felt old, having been racing in F3 the year that Johnny was born.

"I was there in Brazil," said Jackie. "I had a pass, Rubens. And if you are going to pee in the car Rubens, I would appreciate it if you did it at Ferrari, before you come back to Jaguar! I think to this day Johnny's courage, and his determination, and his single-mindedness has been what has made the man. To drive a Formula 1 racing car you have to have great sensitivity. We know you've had it in your hands, Johnny, from what Mika says - and apparently it was a very small duck! But in your feet you have to be sensitive also. And to have to drive an F1 car at the absolute limit, with feet that have had every bone almost destroyed and certainly broken, to come back and still drive racing cars in the way that you have in these years has just been a tremendous declaration of your perseverance and your courage."

Johnny was given the wing endplate of his Nurburgring-winning Stewart SF3, plus a tartan cap, by way of a thank you for scoring the team's only victory under its original name. The Jaguar theme continued with the appearance of his current team-mate, Eddie Irvine.

"The first time I really met Johnny was in 84 and '85," he recalled. "We were both driving Formula Ford. Johnny was a bit of a star, and I was basically a potato farmer coming over from Ireland. He was going quickly and I wasn't. He was actually a bit quick with the girls as well, because I remember we started seeing the same girl - and he got there before I did!

"Then I remember I saw two good looking sisters at one race, and one of them actually turned out to be Becky. And the next thing was he was there as well. I thought I'd better up my game. Anyway, I have done, so I'm alright. We've had a tough season, but we've had some laughs in the debriefs, that's for sure. And Johnny has made this car as equally hard to drive as I have. But the best story I've just heard... you know the way Johnny pisses in the car before the race? Well, that really pisses off mechanics. Johnny has been going really good in the last three or four races, and Ricky, one of his mechanics tells me he's been pissing in his drinks bottle for the last three or four races. So Ricky come over to my car and fill it up!"

Later opinions were divided as to whether there was any truth in that tale, but again it was a good story. Eddie concluded by giving Johnny a big 'Turn Left' sign, by way of advice for his new career in Champ Cars.

Current team boss Neil Ressler was the last guest.

"I've come to know the same things all of you know. He's a good friend, a good team mate, and has a great sense of humour in a business that could do with a bit more humour, and an all around good guy. I'm tempted to say that I'm going to miss him, except I'm hoping like hell we can get him in a Ford-powered CART car. If we do I'll see a lot of him."

Murray then drew things to a close, reminding us and Johnny that having won in karts, FF1600, F3, F3000 and F1, he hadn't had such a bad career after all. Here's to that sentiment.

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