Before the Austrian Grand Prix started, Johnny Herbert would have been happy to finish seventh. But with the way the events unfolded, it seemed like a good opportunity had gone begging. On paper it didn't appear that Johnny Herbert had much ...
Before the Austrian Grand Prix started, Johnny Herbert would have been happy to finish seventh. But with the way the events unfolded, it seemed like a good opportunity had gone begging.
On paper it didn't appear that Johnny Herbert had much chance of coming away from the A1-Ring with a good result, yet after around 10 seconds it seemed that Christmas had come early for the 36-year-old Brit. From 16th on the grid, he successfully negotiated the pile-up that involved or delayed half the field, and found himself up in sixth position. Within a lap another casualty pitted, and Johnny was up to an amazing fifth. Unfortunately he wasn't able to hold that position to the flag.
He dropped a spot when Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello passed him, but gained it back when the gearbox in Pedro de la Rosa Arrows packed in. Johnny found himself second in a queue behind Mika Salo and ahead of Jenson Button and Jacques Villeneuve. In such close racing, everything depends on the pit stops, and unfortunately Johnny lost out. He came in on lap 45, and by stopping on laps 47 and 49 respectively, Button and Villeneuve were able to take advantage of a clear track and leapfrogged the Jaguar, pushing it of the points. Despite stopping earlier than Johnny, Mika Salo was able to stay ahead in take sixth.
"Seventh place means no points, and you go away with nothing. We were very lucky at the start, and when we were running fifth, it was looking good,” Johnny said after the race. “Then we lost to Mika when he came out of the pits, and then we lost big time to Jenson. They seemed to do a lot more laps after we pitted.
"I thought we'd be okay. It was surprising how much difference it made for Jenson - I think he did three more than us. What Jacques did was amazing, to come from that far back. He made an absolute mile. He wasn't in my sight, and then he wasn't in my sight when he came back on - so he basically gained the whole straight. When you're the last to stop you gain a bit more of an advantage from it. "I was pretty pleased with the way I drove today, but it's frustrating finishing seventh when you are pushing so hard for the entire race, as it means no reward. I had a great chance to get the team more championship points - it's just a shame it didn't turn out that way."
Gary Anderson, the team's technical director, said: "Johnny made a terrific start, stayed out of the first turn mayhem and was running at a good pace. We were deprived of a points finish because he had to pit earlier than his close rivals. It meant we conceded time and points."
This weekend has been full of surprises for Luciano Burti, and the start to his first ever grand prix brought yet another twist to this extraordinary tale. A water leak was discovered in his race car on the grid and the decision was taken to put him in the spare. By then it was too late for him to start from his normal grid position, so Luciano had to start from the pitlane. In the light of what happened at the first corner, that was a blessing in disguise, as he not only avoided the accident but also gained places as others dug themselves out of the gravel.
Unfortunately, the spare car was set-up for Johnny Herbert, whose legs are somewhat shorter than Luciano's. While both men share a preference for right-foot braking, the cockpit was so cramped that Burti was forced to revert to left foot braking, something he had not tried before. As the race went on, he began to suffer brake problems, possibly because he was inadvertently pressing the pedal on the straights. To cap it all, one of his mirrors slipped out of position so he had trouble seeing behind! But he brought the car safely home, which is exactly what he wanted to do.
"Finishing was just the main goal, considering also the problems we had on the grid,” said Luciano. “I had to start in Johnny's spare car. The set-up wasn't as good as mine of course, and also because he's much shorter than I am the pedals were pretty close to me, so it was a bit painful for my legs. The first corner incident played into my hands. I saw all the dust flying around and thought, 'I can pick up a few places here!' But I started to have brake wear problem mid-way though the race. So considering all that, I think it was pretty good just to finish."
What impressed a lot of people was the way Luciano seemed barely to have broken into a sweat during the race, despite the obvious problems he was having in the cockpit. It was reminiscent of the way Michael Schumacher looks when he steps out of the car. You might have thought the Brazilian had been out for a drive in the country…
"I'm surprised because I didn't do a race run for the whole year,” said Luciano. “I've been training a lot and it’s just my right leg that is a bit painful because of the pedals. For some reason, I managed to keep calm for the whole weekend, and that definitely helped."
Gary Anderson, the team's technical director, was extremely impressed by the way Luciano has performed all weekend. He said: "Luciano has taken everything that has been thrown at him, shrugged it off and produced the goods. It has been a very steep learning curve, and to record a race finish on his debut, in a spare car with an alien set-up, on a track he had never seen before Saturday, was a tremendous effort."
With Eddie Irvine expected to return to the cockpit at Hockenheim, Luciano knows that it will be back to normal duty at the next race. But he’s enjoyed his moment of glory – and hopes for more in the future.
"I know that Eddie should be back for Hockenheim, and in any case I want my next race to be as a proper F1 race driver, not a replacement. Hopefully, I will get my chance…"