Motor Racing: Johnny Herbert - `I hope and believe this is the start'

While Damon Hill has been the centre of local attention in the build-up to the British Grand Prix, Sunday's race at Silverstone will also be important for three other home drivers. Derick Allsop talked to them
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THE BRITISH driver most in need of a good result on Sunday is Johnny Herbert. This season is proving a severe challenge to his famous sense of humour.

Herbert has managed just one finish in seven races, taking fifth place after a stirring race in Canada. The rest of his year has been a catalogue of breakdowns and mishaps. The portents were not good from the start. His car developed a problem on the grid in Melbourne. Unfortunately for him, so did that of his Stewart-Ford team- mate, Rubens Barrichello, and the Brazilian took the spare.

The cumulative effects are taking their toll on Herbert. Without the race distances he has been unable to find his rhythm and confidence. The consistent pace of Barrichello is serving to emphasise his plight. There are genuine suggestions he might not be retained next season, even though his contract has another year to run. Those close to him say he is in a trough. "I really wanted to come to Silverstone with a couple of results behind me because I know that would have given me such a lift," he said. "I just have to hope and believe this is the start.

"The momentum factor is important for me and my state of mind. Even if you know there are problems with the car and it is not your fault, it still niggles you. When you look at it, one result out of seven is not good for me or the team."

Stewart have recently been bought out by Ford, and the company's declared ambition to figure at the forefront of the sport has heightened Herbert's anxiety to prove his worth. "I have a contract for next year, that's stamped, and an option for a third year," he said. "I am looking a couple of years down the line because Ford have the potential to be up there with the likes of Ferrari and McLaren.

"They are a team of the future and I want to be part of it. They have just as good a chance of cracking it as any of the big teams because they are very motivated in motorsport. You can see that not only in Formula One but also in the world rally championship.

"I've always got on well with them but you have to perform well enough to be involved with them. I need to get on a roll to show how I can perform."

Herbert acknowledges his qualifying might have been better and he has endeavoured to improve his fitness this year, two areas of concern for the modern Formula One driver. Overtaking has become even more difficult and pit-stops have turned races into a series of sprints.

A the age of 35 he feels he has "a few more years" left in him, yet admits he was never able to drive at his optimum following a crash in a Formula 3,000 race 11 years ago in which he smashed both feet.

Seven months later, he made his Formula One debut with Benetton, taking a remarkable fourth place in the Brazilian Grand Prix. However, his minor miracle was overshadowed by Nigel Mansell's debut victory for Ferrari. It was to be the story of Herbert's career.

He had two wins during a second spell with Benetton in 1995, the first at Silverstone, which remains the last success by a British driver in his home grand prix, the second in Italy. On both occasions the headlines were dominated with clashes involving the championship contenders, his then team-mate Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill.

"Generally in my career I haven't achieved what I would have liked," Herbert admitted. "The accident didn't help way back at the beginning. What pleases me is that I got back after that to a certain point, I got to Formula One and won races.

"Maybe I'm not quite as good as I could have been, but that's how things went for me. I still feel there is a lot more I want to achieve and could achieve. I feel I am still having to prove something to people. But I do believe I can do that if I can get things going my way. Hopefully, I can get the momentum going and have the chance to fulfil myself.

"The championship is still there to go for. I have to tell myself that. If you don't have the vision, the dream, there is nothing left."