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Friday favourite: Why Herbert prefers a car he had to wrestle above his F1 winners

Although he didn't achieve the success with it that he would later enjoy with more competitive cars in Formula 1, the Lotus 107 Johnny Herbert drove with Cosworth and Mugen power for 32 races between 1992 and 1994 had a trait that he only wishes others could emulate. Here's what makes it his favourite car

Johnny Herbert, Lotus 107-Ford, retired.

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Johnny Herbert won the Le Mans 24 Hours with a Mazda 787B – a firm favourite among sportscar fans – and three Formula 1 races in Benetton and Stewart machinery. But the two cars he selects from his career are machines he failed to win in.

“The best car I drove at Le Mans was the Bentley, very nicely engineered,” says Herbert of the Speed 8 he shared with Mark Blundell and David Brabham to finish second at Le Mans and third at Sebring in 2003.

“Everyone said it was an Audi R8, but it was more than that. The engine and gearbox, yes, but everything forward was completely new. Fundamentally it was a Bentley, it looked beautiful and it was better than the R8.”

Herbert scored one of his favourite victories, at the 2003 Petit Le Mans, in a Champion-run R8, but the car he picks as his number one was nothing like as reliable as the great German endurance racer. In fact, it broke down in nearly half the events Herbert started in it.

The Lotus 107, designed by Peter Wright and Chris Murphy, arrived after the first few rounds of the 1992 F1 season and went on, in one form or another, until the middle of 1994.

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“The most fun and most adrenaline I got was with the 107 Lotus,” says the veteran of 160 grands prix. “We still had the massive diffusers and big fat slick tyres.

“You could attack every single corner. You could wrestle those cars and that’s how I thought it should be – you should fight these cars and they should fight back. I enjoyed that period.

Herbert took a best finish of fourth with the Lotus 107 on three occasions in 1993

Herbert took a best finish of fourth with the Lotus 107 on three occasions in 1993

Photo by: Motorsport Images

“As time went on, with the narrower tyres – I hated grooved tyres – the sensitivity went up and my sensitivity couldn’t go up with it [because of his foot injuries from his 1988 Formula 3000 crash at Brands Hatch].”

Herbert also liked the 107’s predecessor, the 102, but the 107 had more potential: “The 102 was actually a bloody good car – you could chuck it everywhere – but my it was slow! It was good in the wet, very forgiving, but the 107 was a car you could attack.”

Interestingly, despite (or because of) developments, such as the active suspension pushed to the forefront by Williams, it’s the earliest version of the car that Herbert liked most. That’s despite the fact that he scored three fourth places in the 1993 B-spec version on his way to ninth in the drivers’ standings, a position that could have been higher with better reliability.

"You could wrestle those cars and that’s how I thought it should be – you should fight these cars and they should fight back" Johnny Herbert

“The 107 lasted about 25 years – that’s what it felt like!” he says. “It got worse. It went active in 1993 and we had a good race in Brazil, but it just wasn’t there.”

Herbert continued to race the car, now in C-spec, for the first four rounds of 1994 after Lotus traded Cosworth for Mugen V8s that were hardly an improvement.

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A pair of seventh places at Interlagos and Aida, that didn't net any points due to the scoring system of the time, were the underwhelming highlights before Lotus introduced the 109 in Barcelona. But his fortunes didn't improve and he scored no more points for the moribund team that collapsed at season's end, by which point he had switched to Benetton.

Herbert bowed out with the 107 after a gearbox failure at Monaco in 1994

Herbert bowed out with the 107 after a gearbox failure at Monaco in 1994

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

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