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Exclusive: Ex-F1 winner gives high praise to young British racer

Speaking on the red carpet of December's Autosport Awards, ex-F1 driver Johnny Herbert was quick to highlight his British talent to watch for the coming season, as well as reaffirming the quality of British drivers already on the F1 grid

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F1 pundit and former driver Johnny Herbert believes it’s just a matter of time before the next British champion is crowned.

Herbert F1 Autosport Browning
Johnny Herbert zeroed in on Macau Grand Prix winner Luke Browning when accessing where future British racing talent lay at the 2023 Autosport Awards (Image Credit: @LukeBrown1ng on X)

The 2023 F1 season was the first time since 1952 that a British driver failed to take a grand prix victory over the course of the year.

With Mercedes faltering in the latest ground effect era, Williams in the midfield, and McLaren only recently looking like a race-winning outfit, opportunities for a British winner have been scarce.

Just a blip, or a sign of things to come?

However, this isn’t a matter of concern to Herbert, who won three races during a Formula 1 career that spanned over a decade, during which he also won the 24 hours of Le Mans.

Chatting to FormulaNerds at last month’s Autosport Awards, the 59-year-old spoke highly of the current crop of F1 drivers.

“Absolutely. Yes,” he began when asked if it’s just a matter of time before a British driver wins the F1 title again.

“As you know, it’s all being in the right place at the right time, having the car underneath you that gives you that ability to actually win the races. That hasn’t been there.”

In terms of victories, Herbert highlighted the US Grand Prix, where Lewis Hamilton came close before ultimately being disqualified. He added:

“The signs are there from Lewis, we’ve seen the performances of George [Russell] as well, showing very, very good.”

Addressing McLaren’s Lando Norris, Herbert was quick to point out how well he’d dealt with the emergence of teammate Oscar Piastri.

“Lando has done a fantastic job – a lot of pressure, obviously, with Oscar doing such a good, strong job in his first season,” the former teammate of both Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen pointed out.

Moving on to Alex Albon, who races under the Thai flag, Herbert remained complimentary, underscoring the strength of the group currently racing at the pinnacle of motorsport:

“I think Alex has done a brilliant job – the wonderful story of Williams sort of getting themselves in a position where they’re getting points more often, where rather they were fighting at the back of the grid.

So, there’s a very good, positive vibe, I think, for the drivers in the crop we’ve got in Formula 1.”

Emerging talent

Looking further down the pyramid, Herbert sees a lot to be excited by.

“But then you go outside it and go to Macau with Luke [Browning] and how well he did there as well,” immediately identifying the F3 driver and winner of 2022’s Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year Award.

“So again, we’ve got some drivers outside [F1]. [Ollie] Bearman, as well, has done very well, so there are some good signs that there is going to be another generation…”

With Browning’s award came a test in a previous generation Aston Martin F1 car.

“Luke’s done a brilliant job, he had a bit of a tough year in F3, but when he did the Aston [Martin F1 test] it was very, very impressive,” Herbert revealed.

“I see a lot of modern drivers and they get in the [F1] car and they go: ‘It’s so quick, unbelievable, I couldn’t believe how quick it was’ – but with Luke, it was like ‘the faster I went, the more at home I was with it.’ It was so refreshing. And he did an incredible job, and he impressed the engineers massively.”

Browning, himself a member of the Williams Driver Academy, told FormulaNerds earlier that evening that the experience in an F1 car made reverting back to F3 machinery “easier”, with the race in Macau coming only a couple of weeks after:

“[The] Aston Martin test was huge for my development and it’s probably what ultimately helped me in Macau. Once you’ve tried faster machinery, stepping back almost feels easier.”

As the conversation moved on with Herbert, he spoke to the importance of having a natural aptitude to be immediately quick, and immediately precise under braking, invoking past greats in comparison to Browning – high praise in itself:

“Luke seems to have that ability – to jump in it and deal with it naturally, deal with it very, very well. It’s quite a rare thing.”

It’s a quality that Herbert feels the Hitech F3 driver shares with the likes of Michael Schumacher, Hakkinen, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Hamilton and Ayrton Senna.

To be mentioned in the same breath as those drivers, by someone who raced against most of them, is some compliment. It remains to be seen if Browning can emulate those names, but he’s set himself up well for his second FIA F3 campaign – can he insert himself into the championship conversation?

Featured Image Credit: @F1RetroOldie on X

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