Ex-F1 driver Johnny Herbert is all set for his British Touring Car Champs debut at Silverstone this weekend. But before talking about that, we had to ask him how he feels Jenson Button is getting on, after a seeming slump in performance of late.
“He’s not working so well at the moment. It’s Rubens who’s proved he’s in the right shape to win,” says Herbert. “Jenson was lucky in Valencia, because both McLaren and Ferrari helped him, and Red Bull finishing out of the points did too.”
The 45-year-old thinks Jenson’s main rival, going towards the end of the season, is now his Brawn teammate.
“Rubens will be on a roll. It’s the right time for him, and the wrong time for Jenson, who needs to get back to his winning ways. We need the Jenson that we saw at the beginning of the year. The pressure’s right on him from now on, and this weekend’s race [at Spa in Belgium] is key. He needs to up his game.”
But away from F1, Herbert’s focus is on the BTCC. He’s driving a Team Dynamics Honda Civic for the final three rounds of the season, replacing James Thompson who’s committed to the WTCC and Australian V8 Supercars series.
But Herbert’s involvement came about quite by chance.
“[Team Dynamics boss] Steve Neal asked me to drive one of his Civics up the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed,” he says. “Later in the day he asked me if I’d driven a BTCC car before [in anger], which I hadn’t because I’ve been rather spoilt.”
Herbert says he never felt right in front-wheel-drive cars before, but was intrigued enough by the Civic to ask if he could attend an afternoon test session at Rockingham.
“I said I’d have a go, and that if I felt comfortable in it then we’d discuss the prospect further. I was surprised by how much grip there was, and so said I’d race for them as long as the next test at Pembrey was successful. That happened on Monday, and it was all good.”
He had a steep learning curve at Pembrey, getting an understanding of how the car worked, and tried many different set-ups for wet and dry conditions. And he had to change his driving style, too.
“I learnt left-foot braking! It was the first time I did that since my karting days. I’ve had limited feeling and movement in my ankle movement since my accident [in F3000, breaking both legs], but you don’t need much pressure on the brakes in the Civic, so it’s OK.”
And there’s no secret neck injury that will keep him out of the car at the last minute, either. “No, there’s none of that. I haven’t fallen off of a motorbike recently,” he laughs.
But what he’s preparing himself for most is the regular paint-swapping that goes on in the BTCC, more so than in any other form of motorsport.
“I always came off the worst in karting from physical contact. But if they start with me here, then I’ll have to do the same. All the drivers are good at it.”
Herbert says that like with anything he’s done, he’s aiming for a win this weekend.
“I’ve won in every Formula I’ve driven, so hopefully that’ll carry on. I know how difficult it is from when Nigel [Mansell] had a go, but I’d love to get on the podium. And to get a pole!”
You’ll be able to catch Johnny Herbert and all the BTCC regulars this weekend at Silverstone, or come back here next week to find out how he got on.