John Paul Herbert, better known as Johnny, is a former racing driver from the United Kingdom, best known after his Formula 1 career but he is also the winner of 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Eddie Jordan spotted Johnny's talent
He was born on 25th of June 1964 in the town of Brentwood in Essex. Since the relatively late start of his racing career in the mid-1980s, Herbert was considered as one of the biggest British racing talents since the time of Jim Clark. In 1985, when he won Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch, Johnny was spotted by many teams. Eddie Jordan persuaded him to join the team with which Herbert won British Formula 3 Championship title in 1987 after he has scored five wins.
Herbert almost finished his career after huge crash
For the following year, Jordan Racing team promoted Johnny to compete in International Formula 3000 Championship. The debut was perfect after Herbert won the opening race at Jerez circuit. Later he finished 3rd in Monaco, but a huge accident at Brands Hatch left his career in limbo.
Video - Huge crash at Brands Hatch, 1988
He was horribly injured after crashing into the barriers. Foot and ankle injuries were so ugly that the doctors were thinking about amputation. Luckily, after many surgeries and the long period of physiotherapy, Johnny managed to get back and continue his career despite the fact his moving was limited. He couldn’t run anymore and he had to change his driving style.
F1 debut in 1989
Despite all the circumstances, Herbert was offered a ride in Formula 1 for 1989. Benetton team hired Johnny as a full-time driver and his debut in Brazil went surprisingly well as he finished 4th. Later in the season he scored points in the US Grand Prix and finished 14th in the Drivers’ championship what was a solid achievement knowing that he was dropped from the team with the arrival of the new management. The same year he drove two Grand Prix races for Tyrrell F1 team, but failing to impress.
Years in Japan and victory in 24 Hours of Le Mans
The following two years Herbert spent in Japan, competing in Formula 3000 championship finishing 16th and 10th overall respectively. But, what was more important, he got an opportunity to drive for Mazdaspeed team in 24 Hours of Le Mans. After an unsuccessful try in 1990, in 1991 Johnny won the race driving a famous Mazda 787B alongside Volker Weidler and Bertrand Gachot.
During 1990 and 1991 Herbert also appeared in the selected Formula 1 races as a driver of Team Lotus but failed to earn a single point out from 10 starts. The best result was 7th place at Spa in 1991. However, in 1991 Johnny earned Autosport’s Sportsman Award for stopping his car and helping to another driver who had suffered a puncture driving at high-speed during the Fuji Long Distance Sports Car Series race.
In 1992, Johnny lost his Le Mans crown but still did well. Driving a Mazda MXR-01 alongside Gachot, Weidler, and Maurizio Sandro Sala, he finished 4th. After that appearing, he had to wait nine years to return at Circuit de la Sarthe because of his duties in the Formula 1 World Championship.
Disappointing results in 1993
During 1992, Herbert managed to earn two points for Lotus team after he has finished 6th in South Africa nad France. The following season was a slightly better as the Brit finished 4th at Interlagos, Donington Park, and Silverstone, while at Spa he was 5th. At the end of the season, Johnny had 11 points what was enough for 9th overall finish.
The season of 1993 was a bit frustrating. Herbert changed three teams and four cars throughout the year, so it wasn’t a surprise that he finished a season without points. He started a year with Lotus but left the team three rounds before the end of the season, frustrated with cars unable to compete with rivals. Later he drove one race for Ligier and two races with Benetton, but the results were disappointing.
Move to Benetton and an excellent 1995 season
Finally, during 1995 Johnny Herbert proved that he has the quality required for the top of the standings. He drove for Benetton, alongside Michael Schumacher and managed to win two races, at Silverstone and Monza. He also finished 2nd at Catalunya Circuit and was 3rd at Suzuka, eventually finishing the season in 4th place in the Drivers’ Championship but helped his team to win the Constructors’ Championship title. A bit surprisingly, Benetton decided not to retain Herbert’s services for the following year.
Next stop - Sauber F1 team
In 1996, Herbert joined Sauber team which was relatively ambitious, but couldn’t materialize it on the track. Anyway, his best result was 3rd place in Monaco and those four points were only he scored in his first year with the team. The season of 1997 was better for Johnny. The 3rd place at Hungaroring was the highlight of the year but he also scored points in five more races. At the end, he had 15 points on his account what was enough for the 10th position overall. In 1998, his final year with Sauber, the things have worsened after Herbert scored only once, in the season’s opening Grand Prix in Australia, and retired from half of 16 races that year.
Last Formula 1 win scored with Stewart team
For the 1999 campaign, Herbert moved to Stewart with which Johnny managed to score his final Formula 1 win. During the first half of the season, results were relatively poor but the British driver managed to finish 5th in Canada. However, the finish of the season was much better after Herbert won European Grand Prix at Nurburgring and finished 4th in Malaysia. With 15 points in his books, he was 8th in the Drivers Championship.
In 2000, his final year in Formula 1, Herbert drove for Jaguar team, but without any success. He couldn’t earn a single point from 17 races, so left the most popular racing series somewhat disappointed. Anyway, that wasn’t the end of his racing career as he switched to endurance racing.
Four years in American Le Mans Series and three-time Le Mans 24h runner-up
Since 2011, Herbert competed in the American Le Mans Series and in 24 Hours of Le Mans. During four years in the ALMS, he scored six wins and twice finished at 4th place overall. He was unlucky at Le Mans 24. For three times in a row, from 2002 to 2004, he finished as a runner-up with three different teams.
In 2002, driving for Audi Sport North America alongside Christian Pescatori and Rinaldo Capello, they lost to Joest’s Audi. In the following year, as a member of Team Bentley alongside Mark Blundell and David Brabham, he was behind Bentley’s first car while in 2004, driving for Audi Sport UK with Jamie Davies and Guy Smith, Herbert finished behind Audi Sport Japan team.
Formula 1 commentator for Sky Sports
Before the end of his racing career, Johnny Herbert appeared in the BTCC and Indianapolis 500, as well in the International Superstar Series in which he managed to win one race. After retirement, he worked as an F1 race-stewards advisor. He also works as TV commentator of Formula 1 races and annually organize charity karting events.