Herbert fears Irvine could miss the point

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The Independent Online

Johnny Herbert fears a point he lost in his last race could wreck future team-mate Eddie Irvine's hopes of World Championship glory.

Johnny Herbert fears a point he lost in his last race could wreck future team-mate Eddie Irvine's hopes of World Championship glory.

The Stewart Ford driver had to settle for fourth place in last week's Malaysian Grand Prix after being overtaken by McLaren's Mika Hakkinen on the penultimate lap.

But the one point could make all the difference when Irvine and Hakkinen go head-to-head for the drivers' title in Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.

Had Herbert clung onto his podium spot then second place this weekend would have been good enough for Irvine to win the championship for Ferrari by one point even if Hakkinen triumphed in the race.

But Irvine now knows that even if he finishes second, the Finn would retain his title with victory in Japan because of a greater number of race wins this season.

The duo are currently locked on four wins each after Irvine was reinstated as the Malaysian race winner last weekend following Ferrari's successful appeal.

"That extra point could be crucial for the championship," admitted the 35-year-old who will partner his fellow Brit in the renamed Jaguar Racing team next season.

"I wanted the podium so it is a bit annoying, but at the end of the day it was a good race and a good weekend for us.

"I made a bit of a small mistake and it was a shame really because it just allowed Mika to get close on that lap. That was the opportunity he needed to pass me.

"Eddie can do it - he won in Malaysia so there is no reason why he cannot do it in Japan. But it is not over yet."

Herbert is already relishing the battle for supremacy at Jaguar next season with Irvine - even if the Ulsterman brings with him the number one of world champion.

The Essex-born racer shrugged off a wretched start to the campaign when he was dogged by bad luck to end a four year losing streak with victory in Germany last month.

Herbert went on to out-qualify Ferrari bound team-mate Rubens Barrichello for the first time in 15 attempts this year in Malaysia.

"If Eddie wins the number one of world champion that would be great - then I can thrash him when he comes to Jaguar," he added.

"It has been a great end of the season for me. It all went a lot better for me around about Austria, but it never clicked.

"Having that win has taken a hell of a lot off my shoulders. Then as soon as I went to Barcelona for the last test I felt I was driving completely different.

"I was much smoother and quicker as well. I was quick all weekend in Malaysia to get fourth.

"If I can do the same in Suzuka it will be a great way to go into the winter testing and start next year in a very positive mind."

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