Motor Racing: Herbert's success adds momentum to Jaguar's arrival

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The Independent Online
THE DELEGATION from Jaguar could scarcely believe their luck. The race after being accepted into the Formula One fold, and putting their revered name to Stewart-Ford, the team walk away with first and third places.

This maiden victory, secured in a rain-invigorated Grand Prix of Europe, has been coming all season. It was always likely to be achieved in abnormal circumstances, but there had been clear indications they had the driving talent and machinery capable of capitalising should problems afflict the leading teams.

Less predictable, however, was that the win would be delivered by Johnny Herbert, the 35-year-old Englishman, rather than Rubens Barrichello, the Brazilian changing places with Ferrari's Eddie Irvine at the end of the year. Herbert toiled through the first half of the season, his plight compounded by a wretched run of misfortune and the consistent pace of his team-mate.

Factions inside the camp wanted to unload Herbert, even though he was contracted until the end of next year. He held his nerve, weathered the storm, and came through the rain clouds here on Sunday as possibly the Formula One paddock's most popular winner of the year.

The maturity and timing of this performance ought not only to reinforce his position in a team transparently looking to Irvine for leadership, but perhaps also end the divisions which threatened to undermine the Jaguar venture before it had started.

Herbert said: "This is good for the morale of the team, for Ford and Jaguar. It's what we wanted and it looked as if it wasn't going to happen this year. I believe I can compete with Eddie and that's what I intend to do next season. We've got three grand prix wins each now and I'm sure we can work together. Believe me, I can do it, I can deliver, and next year will be my year."

Most of Herbert's Formula One career has been hard labour, the burden camouflaged by his impish good humour. He arrived in Formula One a few months after shattering his feet in a Formula 3,000 accident and, as he now concedes, he has never completely recovered.

He won two grands prix with Benetton in 1995, but the team and the championship were dominated by his partner, Michael Schumacher. He sought refuge at Sauber only to encounter further frustration. The switch to Stewart at the start of this year brought more of the same, and he was written off as a spent force in many quarters. Until Sunday.

"The criticism has been going on for a while," Herbert acknowledged. "But everybody knows how much bad luck I've had all this season. That's why this win is so satisfying. Through all the difficulties I stuck to my guns. I realise I have to work hard at it but I have never given up on myself. I still believe I can do it, even if the driving doesn't come as naturally to me as it did before my accident.

"The good thing here is that I out-qualified Rubens, as well as beating him in the race. I know I can do well in the races as long as I have the reliability."

Sunday's win, coupled with Barrichello's third place after a thrilling joust with Jarno Trulli, who held on to second for Prost Peugeot, has given Ford and Jaguar momentum.

Martin Whitaker, head of Ford's European Motorsport operation, said: "When you're not winning you do get down and there's no doubt this boosts morale at a good time. It is Ford's 175th grand prix win and Jaguar Racing will be taking over a team that has got better and will go on getting better.

"It helps psychologically when the team know they have two winners driving for them. I think Johnny can compete with Eddie and they will push each other."