Motor racing: Herbert's future in the balance

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Motor racing

Johnny Herbert's chances of joining the team who took Jackie Stewart to two world titles could be scuppered not by his proven ability, but by dint of his very Englishness.

The Warwickshire-based driver has been linked with a possible move to Tyrrell-Yamaha next season following his dropping by Benetton-Ford. Switching to the home of a former champion - Stewart won two of his three titles at Tyrrell - after being dropped by the current champion Michael Schumacher's team, would be a consolation prize, despite the Woking team's lack of competitiveness this season.

However, Herbert's hopes as far as Tyrrell are concerned - he is also being mentioned for the vacant Sauber-Ford seat - could be dashed by engine supplier Yamaha's keenness for a Japanese driver.

The Finn, Mika Salo, has already been retained for next year - which leaves Herbert only the seat currently occupied by Japan's Ukyo Katayama to aim for.

"If we did not see any Japanese driver in Formula One, it would be very sad," said Takaaki Kimura, Yamaha's project leader. "It is also good for the company, our workers and Japanese motor racing."

If he does make the switch, then Herbert, who competed in one race for Tyrrell in his debut season, will be powered by one of the lightest engines ever developed for Formula One racing. The company has high hopes that its new V10 engine will help achieve its most successful season since entering this area of the sport in 1989.

"Our target is to win Formula One," Kimura said. "But for the next couple of years, the realistic target is to get more points and get on the podium."

Herbert is already known in Japan, having competed in the country's Formula 3000 series in 1990 after his grand prix career had been interrupted by a serious racing accident.

He is reported to have pitched his salary demands too high, while Katayama, who has had a disappointing season, can bring much-needed sponsorship to the team.

However, the 31-year-old driver has shown he is capable of winning races. His triumphs at Silverstone and Monza have taken him to fifth place in the championship. Herbert believes his future should be decided after the Japanese Grand Prix, the penultimate race of the season, which takes place on Sunday.

"After Suzuka I should know exactly where I am going," Herbert said. "I want to stay in Formula One. IndyCar is for the future - it is not something I want to do at the moment. If I do stay in Formula One, it will be with a team who I believe will give me the chance to win races. If I feel the team are not giving the right signals, I won't go there.

"It may be more of a challenge for me being in a second-ranked team and trying to put them into the top rank."

Meanwhile, the Formula One season nears its close. In the penultimate race of the season, the attention will be on on whether Schumacher can equal Nigel Mansell's 1992 feat of nine wins if he takes the chequered flag on Sunday.

The newly crowned world champion could then become the first driver to reach double figures in a season, with another victory in Australia, although the German has had the advantage of an extra race this year.