Johnny Herbert has added his two cents to the ongoing discussion around Michael Schumacher’s Formula 1 comeback. Herbert, who was an F1 pilot for eleven years, and partnered Schumacher at the Benetton team in 1995, spoke recently at the Autosport International Racing Car Show, in Birmingham, UK.
When asked how Schumacher would fare against the current crop of F1 drivers, Herbert, echoing the words of Sterling Moss and Martin Brundle, who also spoke at the show, seemed to think that the German ace would have his hands full. “People like Lewis [Hamilton], Sebastian [Vettel] and Jenson [Button], the mentality is different now than it was when Michael was last racing,” said Herbert. “It will be much harder on him.”
Herbert allowed that Schumacher, like Senna before him, had helped reset the standards for driver performance. As a result, the level of on-track commitment that Schumacher brought to each race weekend has been internalized as standard protocol by the best young drivers of today.
He also said that nearly twenty years ago, when Schumacher first carved out his reputation as the dominant driver of his era, many would defer to him on the track, much as they’d done with Ayrton Senna.
“There was always a bit of an aura with Michael, like with Aytron [Senna], when you saw the helmet in your mirror,” Herbert said. “There were only a couple of drivers that never gave him an inch.”
However, Herbert suspects that the younger drivers of today, many of whom have no experience racing against the German legend, will feel challenged rather than awed by the prospect, and will look forward to taking him on. “I think now everybody is going to be much harder on him,” Herbert said. He predicted that Schumacher would be put in the position of, essentially, having to establish his reputation all over again with the youngsters of today.
Herbert raised another issue which hasn’t been addressed much previously, namely, how Schumacher would cope with the in-season testing ban. One of Schumacher’s strengths was his methodical approach to car development, coupled with a deeply ingrained work ethic. But, as Herbert pointed out, much of the opportunity for this methodology has been sharply reduced by the testing ban.
“It’s going to be very different for him,” said Herbert. “Michael’s work ethic was always test at Fiorano, analyse, race, test, analyse, race. It was just complete and utter development. This time around, he’s only got February. There’s nothing during the year.”
All of that said, Herbert suspects that one aspect of Schumacher’s comeback that shouldn’t present a problem for the German is age. “He’s 41 years-old,” Herbert said, “but physically I don’t think that’s an issue for Michael because he’s definitely one of the fittest out there.”
Ultimately, Herbert believes that, regardless of whether Schumacher’s comeback will be good for Schumacher, it’s bound to be good for Formula 1, and Herbert thinks it will improve the show. “I hope there is a bit of dust up because it will spice it up,” he said. “It will show that it’s not as it used to be with Michael giving it out, at least he’ll be given it. Lewis has always commented that it’s a shame he never came up against Michael, now he’s got the opportunity and I think it will be a cracking year.”
(Image source: AUTOSPORTdotcom)