Johnny Herbert is one of those figures that never left the Formula One, from his very first test with the Benetton B187 at Brands Hatch in 1987 to his days as commentator for Sky Sports F1. Herbert was there in the paddock. Only early in his career it was questionable if he would ever race again after a massive shunt during the International Formula 3000 round at Brands Hatch. Amputation even loomed however; he recovered from his injuries and made his debut in 1989 with Benetton. Later on, he would race several years for Team Lotus only to return in 1995 with Benetton. His last year in the Formula One was in 2000 with Jaguar Racing. A disappointing year and it seemed Herbert would not return in 2001. However, there came Orange Arrows who contracted Johnny Herbert.
I like to dig a bit deeper into Johnny’s Formula One career. After winning the British Formula 3 Championship in 1987 with Eddie Jordan Racing, he was already in the scope from several teams. In September 1987, he would test with the Benetton B187 at Imola. Instead of signing a test contract, he made the decision to move with Eddie Jordan to the International Formula 3000 championship. In 1988 it seemed he would be one of the contenders that could win the championship. He would test in-between the races for Team Lotus with the Lotus 100T. However, in Brands Hatch he had a terrible accident that threw him into a recovering for months.
In December, Johnny was back at Silverstone, while still using crutches; he tested for Benetton their B188. There was a reason for it, he would become one of Benetton’s driver for 1989. In his debut race, he finished fourth during the Brazilian Grand Prix. Interestingly in his career is the test he had with the Lotus 102C which was fitted with the Isuzu engine. He might have had his best years in the Formula One when racing for Peter Sauber. With his move to Stewart Grand Prix in 1999, winning the European Grand Prix he would stay with the team. The team however was sold to Ford who branded is as Jaguar Racing. His season was a disaster and it seemed Herbert was done for it.
While Herbert was looking to race in the United States and failed a new opportunity came. Tom Walkinshaw had asked him in early 2001 if he was available to become Orange Arrows’ their test driver for 2001. In early February that year the contact was signed, Johnny was now Arrows official third driver. Tom Walkinshaw gave him the free hand to race in the States as long as he fulfilled the job as third driver for the team.
The deal was signed for the whole year with Herbert testing the new Arrows A22 powered by Asiatech in March that year at Silverstone. If either Jos Verstappen or Enrique Bernoldi would get injured or for what reason would be unable to race during a Grand Prix weekend Herbert would replace them. Herbert stated that he moved to Arrows to develop the car. While his ambition were not to become a race driver for the team, which still feels a bit odd. For the announcement photos were made of Johnny Herbert behind the wheel of the Arrows AX3 with Jos Verstappen and Enrique Bernoldi as passengers.
How much did the Briton test for Arrows you may ask yourself. Well, not that much I’m afraid. His first appearance was at Silverstone 7th of March until the 9th of March. The second appearance was two weeks alter at Barcelona where Verstappen and Bernoldi tested as well. He then tested with the Arrows A22 the first weekend of April that year at Magny-Cours together with Bernoldi and Verstappen. He then appears the 15th of May 2001 at Valencia for Arrows. His next appearance for the team was at Silverstone the 12th of June. Then it becomes quiet around Herbert and Arrows. While his contract was for a full season, he would not appear for the team on a track anymore.
In August that year, he tested the Dallara for Mecom Racing Team at Kentucky Speedway. Only days after the test the Briton signed a contract with Champion Racing to race in the ALMS series the rest of the season. He was allowed to continue racing in the States by Walkinshaw. However, it is unsure what was going on in August that year. While he was still the team’s test driver he was not seen any more with the team. Perhaps it had to do with the tests he completed in the Indy Racing League. He went pretty quick in the cars and was aiming to do the Indy 500 a year later. In 2002, 2003 and 2004 he would stay in the states to race in the American Le Mans Series to return in 2005 to Europe.
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