|What Doesn’t Kill You… My Life in Motor Racing, by Johnny Herbert|
|© 2016 Bantam Press, ISBN 9780593078389 (Hardcover)|
The incredible story of Johnny Herbert’s journey to Formula 1 is one that is long overdue to be told, and it is truly worth the wait.
To start with, it reads exactly how you would expect it to – Johnny’s words pour off the pages in what is a truly compelling, often funny – and occasionally heartbreaking – read.
Younger generations will only really know of Johnny as the lighthearted co-presenter with a pronounced limp on SKY’s Formula 1 coverage. Those of us who grew up on motorsport through the 1980s and 1990s will know that he was one of the hottest prodigies in the junior ranks and considered by many to be a future star of Formula 1.
Then came a fateful Formula 3000 round at Brands Hatch in 1988, where a ridiculous move by rival driver (and later, fellow F1 graduate) Gregor Foitek triggered a terrifying accident that almost cost Johnny his feet and changed his racing career forever.
His recovery was lengthy and painful – the descriptions on the page could never adequately capture the agony he must have gone through – but incredibly he graduated to Formula 1 with Benetton in 1989.
Having to be carried into and out of the car, he sensationally scored points on debut at the Brazilian Grand Prix. Unable to match his performances at circuits that required more finesse on the brake pedal, his form faded quickly and he was dropped before the mid-season was out.
It would be the first of many run-ins he would have with team boss Flavio Briatore over two stints with the Benetton team, and the Italian (along, rightly, with Foitek) repeatedly and rightfully earns Herbert’s criticism throughout the book.
Aside from these two villains of the story, Herbert has only praise and humour for everyone else. There are fond recollections of his junior formulae days – including one season funded by a drug lord! – and his decade spent in Formula 1 with teams like Benetton, Lotus, Ligier, Sauber, Stewart and Jaguar until he retired at the end of 2000. There are remarkable anecdotes and incredible characters littered throughout this incredibly fun read.
Sure, the writing style isn’t ‘Queen’s English’ (why should it be?) and there are one or two factual errors that should have been picked up in the final editing process. The final years of his Grand Prix career and his time post-F1 could perhaps have been given a few more pages as well.
Fans of the time when Herbert was in F1 cannot give this a miss. This is an honest, heartfelt and often hilarious account of the time of one of the sport’s true ‘cheeky chappies’ who blessed the sport in spite of the enormous obstacles he faced.