Silverstone class of ‘95
Britain’s likely lads reunited: Hill, Herbert, DC, Blundell, Brundle
“You never stop wanting to race, so it’s very difficult to look at any car going round a corner now without thinking: ‘I’d like to have a go at that!’ But looking at what the conditions are like now for the drivers, I do think that we had a lot more freedom to enjoy what we were doing” Damon Hill
David Coulthard responded first to the group email. F1 Racing had got in touch with all ve drivers who had raced with a British licence at the 1995 British GP to invite them to meet up and share their memories of that weekend – 20 years on.
“I will t in with the others who work for a living, as my schedule is almost certainly more open,” wrote Coulthard, a race winner for Williams that year. His former team-mate Damon Hill then waded in, happy to cancel a round of golf to t in with DC’s non-schedule.
Once it became clear that Mark Blundell was to be one of the ‘FIA magistrates’ at this year’s Chinese GP, both Martin Brundle and Johnny Herbert announced they were also happy to meet for breakfast at the Pirelli motorhome in the Shanghai paddock.
As ever, these things never run to plan. A last-minute Sky TV production meeting delayed proceedings, and then Herbert was further delayed because he hadn’t been able to work the interactive Sky Pad during the channel’s live broadcast of qualifying the day before, and had to go for extra tuition.
But the show must go on. So along with experienced F1 writer David Tremayne, we sat down with Blundell and Coulthard to ask them about their rst visits to Silverstone. But not before DC – now with the BBC, of course – vents his spleen about the missing Sky members. “It’s very unprofessional! And no one watches it anyway…”
David Coulthard: The rst time I ever went to Silverstone was when I was karting as a kid. I drove a car around the inner perimeter roads of the circuit. My mum had an automatic BMW – something like that – and I was probably ten. I went to Silverstone, Donington Park, Brands, Cadwell – long before I started racing. Then, as a car racer, I used to sleep in the truck. But I’ve always been sensitive about my hair, so I used to go and wash my hair at the Silverstone toilet block, in the sink with cold water and then go and get breakfast while David Leslie’s father took the kart out of the back of the truck and young David would re it up. A few years later, I would be too scared to stand next to Mark [Blundell] in the toilets.
Mark Blundell: Silverstone was my rst ever race in a Formula Ford. It was a Formula Libre race. DC: Really? On the National Circuit, or…?
Blundell: On the National Circuit in 1984. I was 17 and the very rst time I turned a wheel was in that Libre race. It was wet and I was up against Formula 5000 cars and a million other things that were quick in a straight line, and I was a menace around the corners as it was quite nimble. We had zero motorsport history in our family; did anyone have links in yours David?
DC: Yes, my father had won the Scottish karting championship when he was a teenager, so he always had a passion for it. His old man died when he was 14, so that’s why he had to stop. He sponsored other karters, because he couldn’t do it himself as he was running a business.
Blundell: On my side there was zero. The only association was the fact that my dad was a car dealer, so I was always used to driving cars as a kid. I had a brainwave where if I could drive around a forecourt at 10mph and get quicker at it, I must be able to drive around a circuit. I think the idea was driven more by me than my dad.
DC: You were a real man! [Coulthard is addressing Carlos Sainz Sr, the rally legend who has just stepped into the Pirelli motorhome]. You probably came back from partying all night, washed your balls in the sink and then jumped in the car!
Blundell: No, no. Not the sink, the bath! DC: [laughs]
F1 Racing’s James Roberts: Did both of you dream of being in F1?
DC: I’m not a dreamer. Dreaming, my grandmother told me, is what you do when you sleep. Achieving is what you do when you work.
Blundell: I used to dream because I came from nothing. To be honest with you, when you start in the early levels of the sport, you don’t often think about Formula 1 because you are so consumed with what you are doing. You sometimes look up there – but it is such a distance away. I look back now and I started in 1984 and by 1989 I was testing a Williams F1 car. DC: That’s incredible.
David Tremayne: Do you remember the point where you thought: ‘Actually, I could get into F1?’
Blundell: Mine was the reality of sitting in the car to do straightline testing, because I was the rst generation of test driver. And then it dawned on me that, actually, there is an opening here.
Tremayne: So it wasn’t until you were sitting in a Formula 1 car?
Blundell: Yes, because we’re talking about a very exclusive club. Maybe today there is more of a channel of getting there because you can open a chequebook and know where you’re going. When you go by merit, it’s different. I remember sitting with DC and Martin at dinner and DC was the up-and-coming guy ready to take over from me and do a much better job. But his rst entry into the club was that he had to pay for dinner.
Tremayne: You actually got him to pay? DC: That was at Imola… Ah! Glad you could make it boys [Martin and Damon appear].
Martin Brundle: Johnny’s still at the Sky Pad trying to learn how to work it.
DC: That’s ironic. The guy who wins the race [the 1995 British GP] can’t f**king make it!
Damon Hill: [pointing to Tremayne’s drink] Is that a pint of Guinness or a cappuccino?
Tremayne: It’s a pint of cappuccino. We’re discussing the rst time we went to Silverstone, Damon, and I’m sure you can trump everyone? Hill: I must have gone there in 1961 I suppose. DC: What?! What f**king year were you born? Hill: 1960. I was born September 1960, so I probably went the following year.
Tremayne: I’m sure you told me once you were born in 1962?
Hill: I did and I lied! You will not believe the aggravation I had trying to get my driving licence re-jigged to the right date.
Brundle: Have you just admitted to some creative accounting on your age?
Hill: Yes, I lost two years somewhere but Stirling Moss came to my christening – so it’s not really difcult to work out, is it?
Tremayne: When did you go to Silverstone for the rst time, Martin?
Brundle: Late 1960s. I saw Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart. I went with my uncle and we used to take cardboard boxes and stand at Copse when there used to be temporary structures.
Tremayne: You all raced in a pretty good era, but would you rather have raced then or now?
Hill: I think the trouble is that you never stop wanting to race, so it’s very difcult to look at any car going round a corner now without thinking: ‘I’d like to have a go at that!’ But looking at what the conditions are like now for the drivers, I do think that we had a lot more freedom to enjoy what we were doing.
DC: I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on all that testing. That was the thing I enjoyed the most. I thought that Friday practice was a waste of time after we had got rid of qualifying on a Friday. There had to be an end point for me. I read Maurice Hamilton’s lunch with Allan McNish [ F1 Racing, April] where he said he didn’t enjoy the driving, he enjoyed the competition and I think I come from that category of driver. The competition of developing the car as a test driver… I remember thinking that life didn’t get much better and I was perfectly happy just to be a test driver.
Brundle: Picking up on what David said, but coming at it from a different angle, when I’ve been lucky enough to drive the cars now, they are so good. We spent a huge proportion of our lives trying to make a car go 0.1, 0.2 seconds faster. I jump into something from today and realise what an old shed I was driving then. We were always looking to try to get as close to perfection as we could with the cars we had. When you turn a car’s wheel today, it goes into a corner and that’s not something I remember from my career.
Tremayne: You don’t tend to get gear-linkage failures any more…
Brundle: At Brabham in 1989, I non-pre-qualied because a bleed nipple broke and all the brake uid was leaking out. I’d gone all the way to Australia to do a grand prix and I didn’t even pre-qualify. That was rubbish. Hill: Sticky throttle cables… DC: Now that got your attention!
Blundell: I remember going down the pitlane at Silverstone and there was a Snap-on screwdriver in the footwell of the car. Martin, you didn’t have a test driver role before you raced did you? Brundle: I tested for Williams. Blundell: Not in a test-driver capacity, because DC, Damon and I went in via the test-driver route. Brundle: What are you trying to say? Blundell: No, I’m just saying that it’s the way things turned out.
Hill: [Pointing at Martin] He went in as a proper driver, we were just apprentices.
“Silverstone was my first ever race in a Formula Ford on the National Circuit in 1984. I was 17 and it was the very first time I turned a wheel in that Libre race. It was wet and I was a menace around the corners as it was quite nimble”
Tremayne: An old gentleman looked upon him benignly.
Brundle: Yeah, I was just a charity case, wasn’t I? Let’s be honest.
Roberts: You all raced for big teams then, but they would be small by today’s standards…
Hill: At Williams there were 150 people – and they were a big team. You could just about remember everyone’s name if you really tried.
Brundle: The rst time I raced for Tyrrell, in my rst grand prix – there were 12 people and that included Ken [Tyrrell] and Nora [Ken’s wife] and me and Stefan Bellof. So there were eight people in the team at a race. My wife Liz and Nora made the food for the team for the weekend. It’s moved on a bit, hasn’t it?
Tremayne: Has science taken away a lot of the romance of racing?
Hill: The thing I wonder about is what a driver does and his contribution to performance. I don’t know if it’s as much as it used to be, because without so much telemetry and engineering, you used to rely a lot on what the driver said to make the car work.
Brundle: It was much more rewarding. Hill: You’d put Prost into a car because he’d be able to sense something another driver couldn’t. Back then, a driver would be a data-acquisition device. Now, it seems to me, even watching my son, Josh, come up through the ranks, it was the engineer that told him how to drive the car. I have to say I found that really difcult to take.
Brundle: You three – and Johnny when he arrives, if he ever will – I bet you guys could compare gear ratios on a Formula Ford on the Silverstone grand prix circuit – could you remember your ratios?
DC: I wouldn’t be able to remember ratios, but I always took the view that’s what the engineer was there to do. I was there to remember the gear and the line and all that sort of thing. So I believe in delegation. The engineer is not driving the car, he never told me how to drive the car and I never told him how to engineer.
Blundell: Don’t you think there are different sorts of drivers? DC: I think there are.
Blundell: There are guys who call the shots and there are those who absorb the information and relay it back.
Hill: Jim Clark denitely got in the car and drove it, and Colin Chapman engineered it. Whereas I think my dad wanted to be an engineer as well and he liked playing with the car.
Blundell: But to get back to your point, Damon, I’m sitting in the FIA Race Control and listening to all the audio information between the engineers and the drivers… Hill: Information overload?
Blundell: It’s all coming one way. There is a limited amount of information from the driver that goes back.
Hill: That’s my point. You have a situation where a guy gets upset because he was sent out of the garage at the wrong time. The question is: why didn’t he make that decision? That was down to us in our day. We’d call the shots.
Blundell: Now they go out in relation to where everyone else is on the track, thanks to the screen in front of them.
Roberts: Is that why a 17-year-old can jump into an F1 car now, but couldn’t have done so easily 20 years ago?
Hill: I don’t know. I’m sure a 17-year-old probably could have done. DC: I don’t think they would have had the strength for the steering. In the early Williams, I couldn’t steer it on full tanks.
Brundle: Mike Thackwell was a teenager and he handled them. You can say they are not strong enough, but to be fair to them, they as drivers haven’t developed that way because they need to be lightweight so the car can carry more moveable ballast. You can’t criticise them, but I look at Daniil Kvyat and Seb [Vettel] when he rst came in, and I think to myself: there’s no way you can drive an F1 car. My speed around Barcelona in a 1992 Benetton was limited by the strength in my shoulders.
Blundell: When I was doing the active suspension development work, at the last corner at Estoril my right foot was a limiting factor because I couldn’t press down hard enough with the G-forces I was experiencing at such high speed. If I could get more gas on I could go quicker, but physically it wasn’t possible.
DC: Estoril was a great test track. In the morning with a new set of tyres, it was fantastic. One mistake and you knew it was going to be a barrier moment. Hill: I loved Estoril.
Brundle: That sharp right up the hill with the barrier right on the outside. That was quick.
DC: I think [Alex] Caf crashed there in a Dallara or Minardi or something like that…
Blundell: You journos would have seen the shape of drivers change. Tremayne: Well, we’ve seen your shape change. Brundle: Now I know why they call you a **** [raucous laughter].
Tremayne: Has Formula 1 become too complex now for the driver?
Hill: For me, the driver has become – and Mark’s just conrmed this – a recipient for information and a reactor to what the teams are saying. What people want, from a sporting point of view, is to know that the driver is conducting affairs
“I wouldn’t remember gear ratios, but I always took the view that’s what the engineer was there to do. The engineer never told me how to drive the car and I never told him how to engineer” David Coulthard
according to their preferences and that’s what determines their performance. So it seems to me you can’t complain if you’re constantly being spoon fed stuff.
Blundell: If you look at the current line-up, I don’t think any of them have got the database that those of us sitting here have built up. Think about all the testing we used to do. We’d have a car each side of the garage and do fuel testing and jump from one to the other. We’d do underoor testing and run four different congurations in a day. You’d pick one out and that would be the one sent to the grand prix at the weekend. These guys don’t get to do that any more. They sit in the simulator. DC: It’s all correlation.
Brundle: Look, we’ve driven Fangio’s car and Moss’s car, and DC and I have driven Lewis’s 2008 title-winning McLaren and they are just different challenges. And the great drivers rose to the challenges that were required in their day. I’m about to drive the Force India [see page 56] and I’ve got a crib sheet on my desk at home to learn all the buttons on the steering wheel. There are so many things to do and that’s a cerebral challenge we just didn’t have.
Blundell: But what we were talking about is the way the cars are developed. In our day, they were developed with human input in collaboration with the engineering and design, whereas cars today are designed by human input at a keyboard. The driver plugs in and off he goes.
DC: I agree with Marty in that whatever era it was, the best drivers are still the best drivers – but we live for our time. The demands on your career and the job you have has changed from ten years ago and my experience with all those knobs and buttons is that if a driver had to sing the national anthem backwards while juggling and steering, if it made you go quicker you would learn how to do it. Anything that involves performance, drivers will nd a way of exploiting: If someone gives you a Samsung, you’ll say: “How does that work, I’m only used to Apple?” but if that’s what you needed to do your job, you’d be able to manage it instinctively.
Tremayne: You’ve also seen from your era a massive change in safety following Ayrton Senna’s accident in 1994. Is that the biggest change in the last 20 years?
Brundle: I think F1 is too sanitised now. The tracks, the cars. There needs to be an element of risk. The fans need to see the drivers are doing something that is barely believable and isn’t something they could do themselves. I’m not saying we should… I’m so sad about Jules Bianchi, I love that kid, but the tracks we all love – Suzuka, Monza – are places where there is peril and a challenge.
DC: Monaco is largely unchanged. They’ve opened up the Swimming Pool, but it remains as it has done for years. Is it any more dangerous than any other circuit we go to? I think it might be the lack of consequence now. If we made a mistake then we were stuck in the gravel, so that was factored into any manoeuvre we tried, whereas now, with the Tarmac run-off, you get the place back. It’s a different way of racing.
Hill: Mark, you’ve done IndyCar. Hats off to anyone who’s gone round Indianapolis. DC: Yeah, I would never do that… Hill: One of the most thrilling things I’ve ever done in a race car is Le Mans. Going down Mulsanne, you don’t do anything as you’re on a straight, there’s a corner at the end, but it’s an adventure. Formula 1 used to have that and there is a certain satisfaction in overcoming your fears as you go around Suzuka. I’m not detracting from what David was saying and I’m not detracting from the drivers of today, they have just been delivered a set of criteria that the sport has chosen to impose on itself. I don’t think the drivers have been given an opportunity to put their case forward. Drivers, ultimately, with the exception of the risk to spectators, are the people at risk and they should choose how much risk they want to take.
Brundle: Good point. Hill: No one wants to see anyone get hurt, but the point is that part of the challenge is the fear and the danger. You used to see that. Look at the Isle of Man TT races – it’s absolutely insane but they still do it and you have to admire that.
Tremayne: If you’re jaded you only have to stand at the Swimming Pool section of Monaco and watch the change of direction and the closeness of the barriers.
DC: They’ve taken away the wall there, so now it’s just a barrier, which is a shame.
Ferrari means and what it might have been to experience being a Ferrari driver. But when you’re driving it’s about winning and being with the best team to achieve that. Most of the time then, Ferrari were a complete nightmare.
Brundle: I would love to have driven for Ferrari. When I got the chance to drive a Ferrari at Fiorano for TV I nearly cried, to be honest. Utterly brilliant.
DC: I think I’m from a different generation because I was groomed from karting to cars, and I didn’t have the emotion attached to Ferrari. I did actually visit Jean Todt in Paris to discuss driving for Ferrari and he offered me a contract, but I don’t think I would have got on well with a foreign team for some reason.
Blundell: I think from the early days there was a desire to sit inside a red car, but that was more of a childhood dream than anything else. I think the reality is different. If I’m honest, I was more inclined to be sitting in a McLaren. Tremayne: And that dream came true. Blundell: It did when I tested for them in ’92 alongside Senna and Berger. That was a great car and it showed what a bad decision it was to go to Brabham the year before. When I went there in ’95 it was at a time when they had their worst car ever… but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Hill: Could be worse – could be now.
Brundle: I had the ’94 car and that was no better.
Herbert: The week before I crashed in Formula 3000 in 1988 I was at Monza and I was invited to meet Enzo Ferrari. After the accident I never got the chance. Just to have met him would have been an amazing experience. Brundle: Yeah, I agree. Herbert: Following up on what DC said, it wasn’t about Ferrari and
having a desire to go there, it was about trying to get into the best team.
Brundle: I wrote a letter to Ferrari when I was in F3 and I asked them if they would consider me. I got a very nice letter back, which was a long way of saying no. Hill: The rest of us can’t write…
Roberts: Looking back, was Michael Schumacher truly the best of your era?
Herbert: Both Martin and I will know what he was like better than the others [Both were teammates to Schumacher: Brundle in 1992; Herbert in 1994-5], and his drive was amazing. His ability to gather people around him was second to none and once he got people to think in his way, he was very good at producing the goods on track. In my experience, Flavio Briatore [Benetton team boss] was not helpful in any way on my side, but would always agree to whatever Michael asked him for. Flavio said to me the constructors’ championship was very important and we had to work together, but when I did okay in practice in Argentina, that changed. Michael asked Flavio to stop me from looking at his telemetry and he agreed. Looking back, I didn’t handle it well.
Blundell: Did you feel the team was built around Michael and that was it? Herbert: Yes, exactly. Blundell: Because that’s how I felt with Mika Häkkinen at McLaren. When I outqualied him at Estoril, I got zero recognition.
Brundle: The team was built around them – and I know, because I was team-mate to both Häkkinen and Schumacher – and that’s because they were both ****ers.
Herbert: Absolutely. Hill: DC would probably agree with me, but at Williams we both got the fair crack. There was no number one.
DC: Frank’s attitude was that he wanted you to race. Perhaps he wouldn’t mind if you shunted while you were having a go, I’m sure he liked the fact you crashed into Michael at Silverstone…
“The one thing about Michael is that he would do anything to win” Johnny Herbert
Hill: As much as you think that it’s tactically better to have a one-driver team, if you were battling against another team, they didn’t do it. And I think that’s fair – it would be great if everyone did that.
DC: I agree with Martin’s point. At the time those guys were tough and I remember writing lengthy emails to Martin explaining about the psychological damage I felt I was suffering at McLaren from Ron, but at the end of the day Mika was just quicker. And if you were running the team, why would you not do that? You need to win, so you’d support the guy who was more likely to succeed.
Herbert: The one thing about Michael is that he would do anything to win.
DC: Can I say one nal thing: that’s something I don’t respect. I believe very much in sporting
ethics. There are rules and regulations and if you’re not prepared to follow those rules you’re not a sportsman. I remember Jacques Villeneuve arguing about his driver weight and God had made him smaller, or whatever he believed, and so he thought he should have an advantage, and I thought wouldn’t you rather beat him because you were a better driver rather than being beaten because you’re so short. Hill: No offence Johnny!
Tremayne: Who was the best driver then, from your era? DC: I think Mika. Hill: I’m sorry but it was Michael Schumacher. I was team-mate to Prost and he’s up there with Ayrton obviously. But for a pure, complete racing driver Michael was amazing.
DC: I’d agree with that. As an all-rounder, I’m not sure he was the fastest… Herbert: His pole record is not great…
Tremayne: But you’ve just said Mika. DC: Yes, I think there were guys who were quicker. Mika didn’t have the work ethic of Michael but he had an incredible natural talent to go out and turn the lap times in, maybe without realising how he did it.
Blundell: Best racing driver come Sunday afternoon that I’ve ever competed against in F1? It has to be Senna.
Brundle: Er… Enrique Bernoldi. Was that the guy who held DC up at Monaco? DC: Enrique Bernoldi, yeah.
Brundle: For me the greatest driver of all time who I raced against was Ayrton Senna – for his God-given gift.
Herbert: For God-given gift, I agree. And he was a racer who wanted to race against the best.
Brundle: He’d have taken you off the road in a heartbeat as well.
Herbert: You say that, but there was a difference; he wouldn’t put you in the wall as such. I can say I only remember the Prost incident, am I wrong?
Tremayne: He was always taking people off. Brundle: Ayrton could cross the line a bit. Hill: But I think that all Ayrton wanted was equal equipment to prove to everyone he was the best.
DC: A bit like the Jacques thing. Michael, I sense, would be quite happy to have an advantage by having more horsepower or whatever and just taking the win, whereas I was embarrassed if I won races by default because it wasn’t a proper win. If I won because I did a good job in that small moment of history, I felt good about it.
Brundle: But let’s not forget a lot of great people wanted to follow Michael out of Benetton and into Ferrari, like Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne. Also, he apologised to me in later years for some of things he did when we were team-mates. Herbert: When are you going to apologise to me? Brundle: I was much quicker than you! Roberts: Who is the quickest among you all? Hill: I’m easily the quickest… with the answer. There we are, I beat them all. All: [laughter] DC: Can’t argue with that.
Roberts: And 20 years later, here you are all still in Formula 1.
DC: And we’re all earning more than I did in my rst year in F1.
Hill: It’s like Hotel California: you can check out, but you can never leave… With that sentiment, the ve of them get up and pose together for a group photograph at the back of the Pirelli motorhome. Despite the additional grey hair, the quintet are still laughing and enjoying life as much as they did when they were racing on the limit together. And it’s great to see that 20 years on they’re still every bit as competitive as they once were…
F1 journalist David Tremayne kicks off proceedings, while the group await the arrival of a late-running Johnny Herbert
Top: Herbert’s memory is jogged by a selection of photos from Silverstone ’95. Bottom: A fresh-faced Herbert clutches the trophy after winning the race
Above: Schumacher congratulates Herbert on his maiden win. He would go on to claim his second victory that year, at Monza, on the way to finishing fourth in the championship - Herbert’s most succesful campaign in F1.