Methods of retiring from Formula One races are many and varied. Most commonly, a driver will suffer some sort of mechanical, electronic or hydraulic failure on a highly-stressed part of the car, or will be involved in a collision. Sometimes both happen, or one causes the other. But occasionally, there are bizarre incidents that cause drivers to exit F1 races prematurely. One such incident happened to Johnny Herbert in the 1998 Italian Grand Prix.
Herbert was driving for Sauber in 1998. He wasn’t having a particularly competitive Italian Grand Prix weekend when he spun off and into retirement. He had qualified 15th for the race and was running 14th after a reasonable start. But on lap 13, he lost the back end of his Sauber and spun off at the second Lesmo corner, ending up stuck in the gravel trap.
The spin did not appear particularly unusual. At first glance it looked like Herbert had simply made an error. But the cause of the spin turned out to be rather strange. A Sauber mechanic had left a spanner in Herbert’s Sauber before the start of the race – which in itself is odd, considering the usual precision of Formula One mechanics – and on lap 13 the spanner worked its way to the foot well of the Sauber and became lodged behind the pedals. As a result, when Herbert tried to brake for the second Lesmo corner, his pedals did not move as they were supposed to and he lost control of the car.
In the other Sauber, Jean Alesi finished fifth, which provides an indication of the pace that was available in the Sauber during that race. A silly error by a Sauber mechanic cost Johnny Herbert the chance to finish the Italian Grand Prix and perhaps score points as well.
In recent years, a number of Formula One drivers have turned to TV commentary in their retirement. Michael Schumacher does not look set to join them.
Martin Brundle, David Coulthard, Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill are among the well-known names of Formula One racing who will feature in British Formula One coverage this season. Their expertise will certainly add to the experience of watching the BBC and Sky English language feeds throughout the world. Perhaps German broadcasters would like to have a similar offering in their home language.
Schumacher retired from Formula One for the second time at the end of 2012, which makes him an obvious target for any broadcaster looking to improve its offering by adding a driver expert to its panel of experts. As the most successful driver in Formula One history, Schumacher would have invaluable insights into what goes on in the cockpit and, perhaps more importantly, could provide detailed understanding of race strategy – after all, he and technical genius Ross Brawn used brilliant strategies to their advantage during Ferrari’s dominant period from 2000 to 2004.
But the seven-time champion is not interested in joining the media. In an interview with German newspaper Bild, he said he would rather spend time at home with his family, which he was unable to do as much as he might have liked during his long racing career. And, as he himself has said, why would he go into commentating if he were following the Formula One circus around the world? Driving would be more fun.
Schumacher has spent his time since retiring assisting his wife Corinna, who breeds horses and markets her own range of horse blankets. But while he is not maintaining any active involvement in Formula One, his interest in the sport remains. He will be watching the opening race on Sunday from his home in Switzerland. He thinks “the season’s going to be really tight.” Let’s hope he’s right.