“Struck”: Herbert's amazing comeback debut in 1989


(Motorsport-Total.com) – An amputation seemed to be necessary. But Johnny Herbert was lucky. He not only survived his serious accident injuries, but made it into the Formula 1 cockpit in record time and even in fourth place in pain in his first Broad Prix. This is the extraordinary story of his remarkable Formula 1 debut.

Aguri Suzuki, Johnny Herbert

© Motorsport Photography

Manufacturers Hatch 1988: Johnny Herbert (top left) seriously injured the shatter Zoom Derive

It starts on a hot summer day in Manufacturers Hatch, where Herbert is one of the favorite favorites in the formula 3000 tries to catch up from the pole immediately after a bad origin.

In the section ” Pilgrim's Tumble “but there is a contact with Gregor Foitek – and a mass accident develops that tears nine vehicles out of the race.

Months later Herbert drives in the formula 1

The worst hit is Herbert: his yellow Reynard-Cosworth strikes hard on the left, then on the right into the course boundary. Although he is not life-threatening, he is very seriously injured: the doctors do not know at first whether there is a chance of healing for the multiple broken legs, an amputation is a realistic measure.

But Herbert bites through, endures surgery after surgery and not only saves his legs, but also his racing career. Even more: he succeeds in getting his confirmed place as a Formula 1 regular driver at Benetton for 1989 to actually take. Only 217 days after the heavy formula- 3000 – Shatter in Manufacturers Hatch Herbert contests his first Broad Prix in Rio de Janeiro .

He makes himself confident, but the team leadership doubts. Above all, the new Benetton leader Flavio Briatore. “He was new to the business at the time,” Herbert says looking back. “Flavio was worried I wouldn't pack it.”

Final doubts about driver health

That's why Briatore Herbert put the test to the test in advance: “When testing before the start of the season, I was asked out of the blue to do a race distance. Everyone disappeared then in the hospitality because they thought I would only last ten rounds or so. “

Photo gallery: Herbert's legendary comeback debut 1989

Manufacturers Hatch on 21. August 1988: In this serious accident in the formula 3000 Johnny Herbert (yellow car top left) suffers several broken legs. His motorsport career seems to have ended … Photo gallery

An hour and a half later, Herbert rolled out on the track with an empty tank. “So that battle proves it,” he says. A last meeting with Luciano Benetton, Briatore and manager Peter Collins on site in Rio seals Herbert's Formula 1 debut. “They had nothing to oppose [nach dem erfolgreichen Ausdauertest],” says Herbert.

The British racing driver, at that time 24 years old, the team leadership conceals that he is still in severe pain. His condition was “still not standard” a good seven months after the accident, he says later. “I couldn't brake very hard, not even with my right foot.”

Herbert's bump “trick”

From his point of view, a violent bump in front of the back straight turns out to be particularly bad. “My left foot battle was still very sensitive and my ankle was as thick as a bowler hat,” Herbert explains. “When I caught this bump, my ankle hit the chassis. I was in excruciating pain.”

Herbert doesn't let that deter him either, but bites through: ” I realized that once I went over the pain barrier, I had to keep my foot on the ground so that it could swing to the side when I hit the bump. “

However, this special approach has a price for the Formula 1 debutant: even more pain. “It hurt like hell,” says Herbert. “I roared in the car. But after that I had no more pain for the remaining laps. That's why I did that again before the introductory lap in the race.”

The sensation is close enough to touch

Herbert was already in the spotlight at this point . In qualifying, he achieved tenth place under 26 qualified drivers, almost two tenths ahead of his experienced Benetton colleague Alessandro Nannini and just 2.3 seconds behind pole man Senna.

Johnny Herbert, Benetton

© Motorsport Photography

Arrived in Formula 1: Johnny Herbert 1989 in colorful Benetton Zoom Derive

Then follow 61 tough rounds in Brazilian heat, which Herbert coped “well” with his special circumstances, as he explains in retrospect .

But the best, he believes, is yet to come. Because shortly before the end he holds P4 behind Nigel Mansell in Ferrari, Alain Prost in McLaren and Mauricio Gugelmin in March – and sees good chances of a podium in the first Formula 1 race!

Confusion in the Benetton box

Herbert describes the bid from his View: “I thought I was in the last lap and was in the gearbox of Gugelmin, who in turn had Alain right in front of me. I prepared [auf eine Attacke] and already dreamed of the podium.”

Then the bitter disappointment: “The race was waved off, even though my pit board showed another lap.” According to Herbert, the mistake was quickly found: “My crew battle was so excited about my race that they hadn't updated the pit board.”

Whether Herbert actually did another lap would have ensured a podium finish? In any case, his good times at the end of the race make him believe in it. Either way: For him, the Brazil Broad Prix 1989 as a milestone.

A milestone for Herbert

“Nobody forgets this race,” says Herbert. The risk of driving in Formula 1 despite injuries that were not fully healed had paid off for him. “If I had unlatched myself to return later, I would have been considered as rejects. Because people like Jean Alesi or Michael Schumacher were added.”

“This fourth place “, Herbert says today,” saved my career. ” And just a few months later, Herbert works as a savior. At least he starts 1991 at a sports car race in Fuji in Japan made a courageous attempt to help.

Because just before Herbert, Nissan driver Takao Wada had an accident at the end of the long home straight, the car was burning on the roof. “Nobody stopped, he didn't battle himself out yet. And because I thought I could be at the scene of the accident faster than the sports center, [hielt ich an und] ran over there,” says Herbert.

The racing driver instinct intervenes

“My instinct told me “I should help. A lot of drivers didn't do that. Maybe they didn't want to face the used to be they would find there. So I didn't have a bid. I had my own shatter behind me. Probably that's why I did it. “

By the time Herbert reaches the wreck, Wada has already left it on his own. The “Sportsman of the Year” award at the Autosport Awards 1991 Herbert wins anyway, just like the 24 hours of Le Mans for Mazda in the same year and a total of three Formula 1 Grand Prix for Benetton (both 1995) and Stewart (1999).

Herbert never becomes world champion, but ends his career without another such serious accident. Today he works as a Formula 1 expert for British television.

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