The 2008 Formula 1 season was the most exciting for 'many, many years' and 2009 will be 'as intense as it always is', reckons Johnny Herbert – who nevertheless lamented the string of controversial penalties meted out to new world champion Lewis Hamilton over the course of last year.
Former British, Italian and European Grand Prix winner Herbert was a keen observer of the action as it unfolded over the duration of the campaign, and the see-saw title battle that developed between McLaren-Mercedes' Hamilton and Ferrari star Felipe Massa. It was, he admitted, a thrilling clash – with some exceptions.
“I thought it was very good,” Herbert told Crash.net Radio
. “I thought the whole year was interesting. Some of it I didn't like – all the penalties that were dealt out I felt were a little bit excessive and unnecessary, but it made the championship go to the last race and the last lap and the last corner. You couldn't have actually asked for anything more – I don't think it would have been possible to have stuck it in a computer and come out with the same result; it just worked very, very well.
“As I say, I didn't agree with everything that happened – Spa for example, where I don't think Lewis did anything wrong – but things have changed since my day. When I raced there used to be a little bit of grass and then a gravel trap, and when you went in the gravel, if you got out again you'd lose maybe five places, and if you didn't get out again that was it.
“That was always in the back of your mind, but what's different for the guys who are doing it now – and it isn't really their fault – is that because they have this extra tarmac run-off area, they know it's there as a safety thing, and that if they go off they can come back on again.
“Even when I last raced in 2000 there was always a gentleman's agreement that if you got an advantage, you backed off and let the other guy through again. That's exactly what Lewis did; yeah, he passed Raikkonen again, but he was quicker than him anyway. He didn't have the momentum, because he had eased off to let Kimi back past. He lost momentum; he didn't gain momentum.”
That, though, was Herbert's sole downside of what he acknowledged was in general a classic campaign – one that surpassed anything he had seen, he contended, since back when he made his own debut in the top flight, at the height of the fierce Ayrton Senna/Alain Prost rivalry some two decades ago.
“Overall, the racing between Lewis and Felipe was good,” the 44-year-old stated, “and there was a lot of the momentum swinging backwards and forwards. There was also [Robert] Kubica at the beginning giving a big push, even if BMW didn't quite do it in the end. We had [Fernando] Alonso and Renault come back at the end of the season too, which added a little bit of excitement as well, because he was taking points away from both Felipe and Lewis.
“It was just a good mixture – the best year I've seen in many, many years. The last time I saw a championship like that was probably the Senna and Prost era. It was always very interesting what was happening in the garages, where I remember Ayrton was trying to wait a little later than Alain before going back to the hotel so he could have a look through Alain's notes, and Alain was waiting as well. They used to stay there until 10 o'clock, and there were all these sorts of games going on. That was the last time I remember it being so exciting.”