Herbert: Briatore should be banned for life
Johnny Herbert believes the FIA should go easy on Nelson Piquet but ban Flavio Briatore from F1 "for life"
Also In The News
By Lewis Bazley.
Sunday, 20, Sep 2009 09:34
Interview by Adam Leveridge.
Renault and Flavio Briatore face the prospect of a severe punishment at the hands of the FIA's World Motor Sport Council on Monday.
Accused of race-fixing in the 'crashgate' affair, which saw team principal Briatore and chief engineer Pat Symonds ask young driver Nelson Piquet to deliberately crash his car at the Singapore grand prix last year, all the parties involved could be banned from the sport.
With the Paris hearing quickly approaching, inthenews.co.uk had a word with former Benetton driver Johnny Herbert - who experienced the workings of Briatore's team first hand in the early 1990s.
Hi Johnny, thanks for speaking to us.
Q: Ok, to start off with - you raced for Benetton under Flavio Briatore at the end of the 1994 season and then you completed a full season of racing with the team in 1995. Could you tell us a bit about your experiences with Benetton and with Briatore and also, could you tell us whether there was any favouritism while you raced with Benetton?
A: Flavio is not one for his word, he will tell you one thing one day and then change it a couple of weeks down the line, which is exactly what I had.
When I went to Benetton and I first sat in his office, I was told it was a team effort, we work together because we want to win the constructors' championship and we need to get all the results we can to enable us to do that.
Then, after my second race with the team, Michael Schumacher asked the team to keep his data under wraps and away from me.
He went to Flavio and he said yes, which, to me, was completely wrong because he was able to access my data on the other side of the table, but I wasn't allowed to look at his.
What Schumacher said to me beforehand was, I have a certain driving style and there's thing I do and I don't want you to see and I'm sure you have a style and there are things you don't want me to see.
To me it wasn't a problem.
Flavio should have really said to Michael, 'no, this is a team thing, you go head-to-head and the best man will win', but for him to allow Michael to keep his data secret was not very clever to me.
It made my job much harder, mentally it was tough as well, because Michael was seeing everything I was doing ad I wasn't seeing anything he was doing.
It made my performances go down a bit, because it hit me quite hard.
So, what has happened now, with Fernando Alonso being Flavio's main man while, strangely enough, managing Nelson Piquet, to put Nelson in that position is not very fair.
It's a difficult enough job as it is and when you have all those pressures on you and you get this [referring to Briatore and Symonds' request to crash deliberately] thrown at you. I think it's something that is typical Flavio at the end of the day.
He's always got his one driver out of the two that is his favourite.
It's always been the way, it's not just me and Nelson, other drivers too, it's always been difficult and it normally comes out in the press and he will have a real go at the driver at the same time or he will use the media to try and stir up issues.
So it wasn't a surprise what happened. It's a shame, but I'm glad it got stamped on and I'm glad we've found out who the culprits really were.
Q: So you weren't shocked when you heard the allegations?
A: No, not really.
Again, at the time it was always a bit strange that it happened when it did, but it's racing and the incident you see with Nelson was actually executed very, very well, he did a very good job.
To me, it looked like a spin because it was executed very well.
The race went on and obviously it changed around with Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton and then of course Alonso went through to win.
Then obviously, we get further down the line to when this was first heard about, there was always that opportunity to fix the race.
Initially I didn't believe it, but after analyzing it a little bit more you can see why it was done that way and the outcome of the race obviously changed and, more importantly, it probably changed the outcome of the championship.
If there hadn't have been any of the pit-stops and the penalties that went out to the likes of Kubica, who pitted when the pits weren't open, Massa probably would have won the race, which would have won him the world championship.
So it impacted on a lot of additional things, not just that race weekend.
Q: Did you ever experience anything like this in your career?
A: The only time I remember seeing something similar was when Schumacher parked his Ferrari in the 2006 Monaco grand prix, although drivers have always let their team-mates past.
That happened with Rubens Barrichello and Schumacher and with Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard, but that Schumacher incident is the only thing I can really remember.
Actually crashing to bring the pace car out - I've never come across that, it is extraordinary.
Q: Would you have put such tactics past Flavio and Symonds? Is every formula one team capable of race-fixing?
A: It seems to be exclusive to Flavio and Symonds. The opportunity has always been there.
Q: Eddie Irvine has said that, when he raced in F1, teams would have done anything to win. Do you think that's true?
A: I don't remember anybody crashing into concrete walls to help their team-mate win.
You have the rules and there are cars which come out and are right on the edge of the regulations, the teams push them to the limit and some in the past have been issued with penalties.
It normally gets straightened out or the teams are just very shrewd and clever with the rules, like this year with the double diffuser.
There was a lot of complaining from Flavio, strangely enough, where he was saying the double diffusers were wrong, but of course it was just a very clever way of interpreting the rules.
There are a lot of interpretations that become an issue, but I can't think of any incident that is comparable with the Renault race-fixing controversy, other than the one involving Schumacher in Monaco.
There has been Schumacher driving into Damon Hill or when he tried to take Jacques Villeneuve out for the world championship.
There was Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in 1989 and 1990, but that was on-track for the world championship. I think Alain took Ayrton out to take the world championship one year and then the opposite happened the following season.
So for me, there are issues with rules and they way teams interpret them, but that is very different from someone being told to crash their car into a wall.
I think a similar situation was with Hamilton when he and the McLaren team were handed the penalty for withholding evidence from the FIA in Australia.
Although, for me, that was very different because, firstly, it was a silly lie and they didn't have to do it, but it didn't actually affect the race result at all.
The difference between the two is that the Renault 'crashgate' affair affected the race result and possibly the world championship, whereas with Lewis and McLaren there was no change.
Q: The Renault race-fixing case is just far more extreme than anything that has occurred in the past isn't it?
A: Yes, I think so.
Letting the driver past so they get extra points to ensure they get the world championship isn't, in my opinion, as it should be, but of course it happens and it only changes the race result within the team, because it would have been a one-two either way around.
But this is very different because it changed everything. Alonso wouldn't have won the race.
Q: What impact has this had on the sport? Do you think it has damaged the credibility of F1?
A: I don't know. There's something that's not right, but it has been found out and the culprits have been found out because of Piquet's actions.
I feel sorry for Piquet because he was put in a horrible position, he did what he was told to do and it's going to make it very hard for him to get back into F1, which I think is unfair because it wasn't his idea to crash out of the race.
I'm sure he was pressured into doing it, but now it has come to light and the culprits have been identified. It's a shame for him, but it's also a shame for Renault.
Obviously Flavio was running the team for Renault, but he has dragged their name through the dirt so even for them it's not a nice situation. But, at least it has been all been uncovered and taken care of.
That's the good thing about having a strong governing body in the FIA, though.
You get it in other sports with drugs abuse in athletics or in horse racing and in football when they pretend to be injured by falling over in an attempt to get a penalty, to help win a match.
It never seems to be a big issue if you fall over during a football match when you're not injured, which I think is completely ridiculous and it's completely obvious when someone does fall over - but that doesn't affect the outcome as much as it does in F1.
It should do, because it's still cheating, it's just that it seems to happen every weekend in football.
So, from that perspective, the Renault incident shouldn't matter, because it's a one-off. as far as I'm aware.
Q: But do you think every young driver would go through with it if they were asked by their team boss to do such a thing?
A: It's a very difficult thing when you're young, because obviously you're in a tricky position.
You're driving for yourself for one, you're driving to improve your standing in the sport and to improve your race results by getting as many points as you can and if it's not quite going to plan, there is going to be more pressure on you.
People usually give you a much harder time, the media are never very complimentary.
And I guess it carries on until you get to the position when, if somebody says, 'if you crash out of the race for us, we will give you a contract for next year', you might do it.
That's possibly the line Flavio and Symonds went down, as it was around the time contracts were being sorted out and obviously they did sign him for this season.
It's a horrible position to put someone in and Piquet has said he was in a very fragile state of mind at the time because things had been very difficult for him.
It's not the right way to go about things, but it's obviously a weakness on his part and he did agree to do it. If it would have happened to me, I don't think I would have done it - but it's very difficult to know when you're not in that situation.
And I've never been asked to either.
Q: Now the culprits have been identified, do you think the FIA's World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) should go easy on Renault?
A: Well, the WMSC has got to deal a harsher punishment than they did with McLaren at the beginning of the year.
In my opinion Flavio should be banned from the sport for life - he shouldn't be allowed to run a team or manage drivers.
But you have to weigh it up against the McLaren lying scandal from Australia and the punishment they received, which I believe was a fine.
This has put Renault in a very difficult situation and nothing has come to light, which indicates the orders haven't come from the Renault board in any shape or form.
Unfortunately it's just their name that has been dragged into it, so I think to throw them out of the world championship would be very unfair. It's a very difficult thing and it seems the guilt made Flavio and Pat Symonds resign.
Q: Do you think the FIA has to be seen to be doing something to restore public confidence?
They have, to a certain extent, because they have done all their interviewing and their investigation.
From what I've seen Symonds wasn't very forthcoming during the interview with the FIA in Belgium, which demonstrates his guilt. That was the most damning piece of evidence really.
Q: Do you think it would be disastrous for the world championship if Renault is expelled?
A: Knowing what we know, it would be very unfair for them to receive a ban from F1. It wouldn't be wise in the current economic situation to ban them and they add something to F1.
They have been very successful in the past and they have been in the sport for quite a few years now and I hope they do stay in one form or another.
When I raced with Benetton we had a Renault engine and they were a very clever company. It would be a shame to lose them because I think they've added a lot of excitement to racing over the years.
Thanks for your time, Johnny - much appreciated.
That's fine, good to speak to you. Bye.