Lights Out, Full Throttle

Johnny Herbert | 22 mins



Johnny: I’ll start this one. Probably the most anticipated race of the year – globally – is also the most boring. Discuss.

Damon: No it’s not? OK. I’ll colour this one in for you, Herbert. Let’s hype it up a bit at least. It’s basically the most expensive film set on the planet. Monaco transcends motor racing. It’s a carnival of excess. A celebration of massive amounts of wonga and bling. And one of the trickiest challenges a racing driver is ever going to have. I love it.

Johnny: OK. Good challenge. So if we’re going to have a chapter about Monaco we really have to start with your old man, who used to be known as Mr Monaco, of course.

Damon: Indeed he did. Dad’s reign in Monaco wasn’t quite as long as Prince Rainier’s, but during the 1960s, which is considered to be a halcyon era for so many things, he won it five times – half the years in that decade. So he was ‘The Man’. Somehow he managed to fit in winning the Indianapolis 500 in 1966 as well, which was a week after Monaco. He must have had to qualify the car in the USA for the Indy, then fly back to do the Monaco GP, finishing a modest third, then fly back out to Indy to win that. Busy man.

Fascinating fact is that when Dad first went to Monaco, while doing his National Service in charge of the engine room of HMS Swiftsure, he’d never even heard of the Monaco Grand Prix and knew nothing at all about motor racing. He even went to the Casino and won a few quid. Maybe a portent of things to come? Just five years later, in 1958, he was in his first ever Grand Prix, the Monte Carlo, racing for Lotus. He tells a very funny story in his book where, about forty laps in, he’s sitting there in third place thinking, This motor racing lark’s a piece of cake! when his left rear wheel promptly fell off.

One question that gets asked a lot is why my old man was so successful at Monaco. One of my theories is that the track appealed to his mind in a way that other circuits did not. There’s no time to think at Monaco and no time to relax. You cannot take your eye off the ball for a split second. I think Dad’s biggest talent was his power of concentration, and his stamina from years of rowing, and a modicum of skill, of course – all things in high demand at Monaco. That’s my theory anyway. The motor racing historian Doug Nye put it well: ‘When it comes to Monaco,’ he said, ‘Graham Hill strode that stage like a Colossus!’ Quite a good quote, but he didn’t just mean his racing performances. He meant Monaco was a stage in every respect and that Dad somehow bagged the leading role. An amalgam of David Niven, Errol Flynn and Terry Thomas, Dad had that thing that made everyone feel he was doing it for them as much as for himself. He had the famous Kipling ‘common touch’, could hang with the Rainiers, yet mix on the level with everyone else. He was as comfortable standing in the terraces watching Arsenal (wearing a Savile Row suit, mind!) as he was golfing with Sean Connery or shooting with the Queen. He was a guy who’d come from humble beginnings and risen to the top without becoming a snob about it. The previous Prince Rainier said something nice about him. He described him as ‘Mediterranean’, meaning British but without the chilliness. That’s class, that is. Know what I mean, Herbert?

Johnny: Class. It’s my middle name. Did you ever go to watch him race there?

Damon: No, I never went, which is a bit of a shame. But I remember seeing him win in 1969. The Monaco Grand Prix was hardly ever on television in those days but it happened to be that year. We were at a friend’s house somewhere in Kent and I was playing in the garden with Major Matt Mason, which was a kind of bendy rubber toy astronaut, not a friend of the family!

Johnny: I thought it was the family dog.

Damon: Funny name for a dog? No, Herbert, it was a kind of Buzz Lightyear toy and it was bloody lethal. Inside each of the rubber arms and legs was a wire and if you bent them round too much the wire would poke out. Anyway, as I was busy impaling myself on Major Matt Mason my mother came out and said, ‘Come inside, Damon! Now! Quick! Dad’s winning the Monaco Grand Prix!’ I’m not sure what kind of reaction she was expecting but I sort of lazily got up, reluctantly dropped Major Matt Mason and dragged my grumpy little arse indoors. The TV reception in remote Kentish villages was almost non-existent in those days so all I remember seeing was a foggy black and white picture of my dad waving to the crowd as he drove through the gasworks hairpin on his last lap. I wasn’t too impressed with the picture, but I do remember getting a shot of something like pride to see the old man at work. Maybe that planted a bit of a seed? I wonder. I was too stupid to know what I thought about anything back then. But I knew if you bent Major Matt Mason’s leg too many times you’d get stabbed in the finger. Ah, happy days!

So what was your first experience of the Principality, Johnny?

Johnny: The first time I went was in 1987 for a Formula Three race. It was a support race for the Grand Prix and I remember being absolutely wowed by the place. You were there too, I think, weren’t you?

Damon: In ’87? I was, but I didn’t qualify, damn it!

Johnny: I’d never been anywhere like it before in my life. It was just so different to everywhere else. Can you recall the first time you ever walked the track? I do. Or at least I remember the first time I attempted to walk the track. You couldn’t really do a full track walk in those days, but thanks to the people at Benetton, whom I already had a connection with, I managed to do about half of it. My first thought was, this isn’t a bloody racetrack, it’s just a concrete den of iniquity. How fabulous! There were empty bottles of beer absolutely everywhere and even the odd body. Not dead bodies, of course. Bodies that had been soaked in rather too much alcohol and for rather too long. It was absolute carnage from start to finish. What I remember most, though, were those turbo V6 engines knocking out 1,200 bhp at 12,000 rpm – experiencing that was genuinely life changing for me. The hemmed-in track also made everything – the sounds, the speed, the smells, the mistakes and the danger – very, very real. There was no get-out clause at Monaco. Or at least that’s how it felt when I walked part of the track. You were either on it or in the wall. Until I first raced at Monaco the most dangerous track I’d ever raced at was probably Oulton Park. This place, though, was just ridiculous.

Damon: The only track you could compare it to back then was Pau. Did you ever race there?

Johnny: Nope. I should have when I was racing F3000, but I crashed the race before in Vallelunga in Italy and had concussion so was not allowed to drive. I do remember driving F3 at Monaco, though, for a one-off race. The F1 paddock was where it always is but we were based by the tennis courts, which is about a mile away. That meant we had to drive our cars to the track, so basically on the open road. We did so at about six o’clock in the morning prior to qualifying, so while all the residents were trying to get some sleep, a parade of F3 cars would take to the roads – which were not closed like the ones that made up the track, by the way – and basically cause mayhem.

That 1987 F3 race was genuinely the highlight of my life up until that point. The only run-off was at Sainte Devote, and I remember experiencing this mixture of intense terror and intense pleasure. I’d obviously experienced that before many times but not to such an extent. Death or a serious accident wasn’t just close going around Monaco, it was sitting on your bloody shoulder, going, Won’t be long now, Johnny. One tiny little mistake and I’ve got you!

Damon: What about the first time you raced there in F1?

Johnny: That would have been in 1989. At the time, Monaco was the third race of the season. Despite finishing fourth at the first race in Brazil, I’d struggled with braking, and at race two in San Marino I qualified twenty-third (one behind Martin Brundle!) and finished eleventh. My feet, one of which had been almost severed in an accident at Brands the previous year, were in absolute agony and I’d had to be lowered into the car in Brazil. In hindsight, it was too soon for me to be racing. After finishing fourth in Brazil (behind Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost and Maurício Gugelmin) I naturally gained a bit of confidence but ultimately it was a false dawn. There are nineteen corners at Monaco and you spend 21 per cent of the lap braking. If ever a track was going to highlight my problem, this was it.

I don’t want to turn this into some kind of moan-fest, but because of everything I’d been through I was seen as being damaged goods and the only person apart from myself who had any faith in me was Peter Collins. Not only was I desperate to repay Peter’s belief in me but I also wanted to prove all the naysayers wrong. What was I supposed to do, though? Ask Peter to wait until my feet didn’t hurt anymore? They still give me jip today so I’d still be waiting. I had to give it a go. At Monaco, as with San Marino before that, I had to brake with my heel and unfortunately it only really worked once every seven or eight laps. Then, at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, which is somewhere you have to brake hard and often, I was well and truly found out – and that was the end of my first stint with Benetton.

Damon: Binned off by Briatore?

Johnny: Yes. Which was fair enough. A driver who can’t brake isn’t much use really.

Damon: My feet have been neither crushed nor amputated but the first time I raced in Canada I couldn’t walk when I got out. My right foot was burning from having to be hard on either the throttle or the brakes all the time. Seriously, you have my sympathy, Johnny. Like, ouch!

Johnny: Thank you, Champ. Anyway, sod Canada. Let’s get back to Monaco.

Damon: Agreed. Leaving the pits at Monaco and driving up the hill is certainly one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever experienced. It’s even better when you have to pass another car. Every race has its fair share of squeaky-bum moments, but going up that hill always used to evoke a round of profanities from me, which was rare. You remember in Star Wars when the Millennium Falcon goes into hyperdrive and all the stars start whizzing past? Well, that’s what it’s like when you drive an F1 car out of the paddock and up the hill at Monaco. It’s like doing the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs (one for the geeks there). Once again, it’s because everything’s in such close proximity to the car. On a motorway, you often don’t notice how fast you’re going until you hit a slip road. Why? Because everything narrows down and your speed becomes more relatable. At Monaco, you can tell how close you are to the barriers by the noise. The louder it becomes, the closer you are. There are times when you can hear, better than see, how close you are to the barrier. It’s a good sphincter test that one. All rather wee-inducing.

Johnny: All rather wee-inducing? You’re like something from another century!

Damon: I’ll take that as a compliment, Johnny, but I’m not quite Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Johnny: Qualifying at Monaco was, in my mind, the biggest single challenge there was in F1. That’s how I used to regard it. These days the track’s quite flat but that wasn’t always the case. I think it’s the madness of being able to drive a car with that amount of power around such narrow streets that makes it so enthralling. It’s difficult to conjure up an everyday equivalent, but I suppose it would be like the government removing the speed limits on every road, street and motorway and then handing out Ferraris to everyone and saying, ‘Here you are boys and girls. Go and fill your boots!’ The people of Great Britain would be like, Really? Can I? That’s fantastic! Which is basically what we were like when we first began to grasp what Monaco was all about.

Damon: You’ve hit the nail on the head there, Johnny. One of my biggest fears when I first went around Monaco was whether my car was going to fit on the track. That’s completely absurd, of course, as the cars clearly do fit on the track. Just. To drive an F1 car around Monaco is to enter the Twilight Zone. Take your lap times, for instance. The first lap out always seems to take about thirty seconds, but it’s really closer to two minutes! But as the weekend goes on a lap seems to take longer and longer. The track is actually expanding your mind and time is slowing down in an Einsteinian time-warp paradigm. Are you writing this down, Johnny?

Johnny: Making mental notes. Yes. (Aside: He’s blooming mad!) I love that bit when you drive up over Avenue d’Ostende and then down towards Massenet. I always used to think to myself, whatever you do, do not understeer going into this corner! The relief I used to feel when the car turned was immense.

Damon: Going back to that F3 race in 1987 for a moment, do you remember where you finished?

Johnny: Yes, I finished third behind a French driver called Didier Artzet, who didn’t progress, and my fellow short-arse and former teammate, Jean Alesi. I was behind Nicola Larini for most of the race but managed to overtake him right at the last minute. By the time we actually got to Monaco, I’d won four of the first seven races of the 1987 British Formula Three Championship, so I was on a roll. Subsequently, I was keen to impress the bigwigs from F1, and they were all there – Enzo Ferrari, Frank Williams, Ken Tyrell, Ron Dennis. The only man in F1 who makes me look like a giant was there too – Bernie Ecclestone. Before the race an idiot from our team (I was driving for Eddie Jordan at the time, who became my mentor) went and put a spool differential on my car and it turned out to be a complete disaster.

Damon: Don’t tell me. That idiot was you?

Johnny: How did you guess? The reason I put it on (I’d used it in previous races, by the way, and to great effect) was because I hadn’t experienced any understeer with it and I was convinced that it would work around Monaco. My engineer, Dave Bambo, thought I was bonkers but as opposed to pooh-poohing my suggestion he allowed it for first qualifying. The moment I went out I thought, Shit, what the hell have I done?! I could hardly manoeuvre the bloody car. Dave was obviously teaching me a lesson and the spool came straight off. I still go red thinking about it. By the way, my podium finish at the 1987 Monaco Grand Prix Formula Three was the best result by a Brit since 1984, so all in all my first experiences of Monaco were good. Apart from that bloody differential.

Damon: I wish I could say the same. I was driving for a team called Intersport in 1987, alongside Martin Donnelly, but the Toyota engine we had was just too heavy up top for that particular race. Neither of us qualified, so it wasn’t exactly a success. I did still win a couple of races in the 1987 British Formula Three Championship, though – at Zandvoort and Spa – and I believe I finished a meritorious fifth in the standings.

Johnny: Fifth, eh? What an amazing effort. Just out of interest, who won the Championship?

Damon: Now you’ve got me. Some forgettable cove. Diminutive in stature and bereft of character and personality. Johnny . . . something or another. Anyway, back to F1, which is fortunately where the two of us ended up.

While I agree with you when you say that qualifying at Monaco is probably the biggest single task a Formula One driver faces in a season, I’d probably expand on that slightly and say that, front to back, it’s the hardest race of all. It demands an entirely different approach at every juncture, so getting yourself into the ‘zone’, as it were, with everything that’s going on, is nigh on impossible. It even starts a day earlier than the other races, so instead of arriving on the Thursday you have to arrive on the Wednesday. You do get a break on the Friday, but that’s kind of detrimental in a way, as you just want to get on with it. The trick is to keep busy and fortunately that’s not difficult over there. That said, even the simplest of pursuits, such as going out for a meal, have to be planned like a military campaign. First of all you have to try and get a table, which isn’t always easy on race weekend, regardless of who you are. Should you manage to book one, you then have to try and get yourself and your guest or guests to the restaurant itself. As we’ve already said, things can get a little bit hectic in the Principality during the fifth month of the year. Even a short walk can be fraught with danger and every route seems to be barriered off.

Should you succeed in reaching your eatery of choice, you then have to try and make sure that you don’t get bombarded by autograph hunters for the duration of your meal. Some people, such as Johnny, absolutely love being set upon by hordes of adoring people (who are usually quite refreshed in Monaco), whereas I prefer them to take a ticket and form an orderly queue. Even getting from the hotel to the paddock is a nightmare. Or at least, it used to be. The track closes at 6 a.m., so regardless of where you were staying you’d have to work out how to get to the paddock via an alternative route. It was like something out of the Krypton Factor. In the late 1980s and early ’90s, which is when you, me and Brundle burst onto the scene, some of the smaller teams such as Ligier, Lola and Minardi would be based way up in the multi-storey car park, which is almost in France. To be fair, the amount of cars we had in those days was almost double the amount we have now, but you didn’t want to be in an ‘overspill team’. You end up walking miles and climbing mountains. In 1989, for instance, which is when laddo here arrived, thirty-nine cars were entered for the Monaco Grand Prix and twelve of them failed to qualify or pre-qualify. That must have been complete and utter madness. The above certainly isn’t a complaint, by the way. It’s obviously an honour, a pleasure and a privilege racing at Monaco. I’m merely trying to describe the myriad differences a driver faces at Monaco, and how we go about dealing with them. The issues we face are obviously what you’d call first-world problems, but unless you’re properly prepared you can be exhausted before you even do a lap.

Johnny: A lot of it is obviously down to the individual. It’s non-stop from the moment you arrive until the moment you leave, so if you’re gregarious it’s manna from heaven and if you’re shy it’s manna from hell. I could never sleep because of all the bloody fireworks.

Damon: One year I was there lying in my hotel room trying desperately to get to sleep and there was a couple having sex in the next room. And then the bloody fireworks started going off at the same time! I don’t think the two were meant to be synchronized. Bloody impressive if they were! It seemed to go on almost as long as the flipping race, too. I remember thinking to myself, One day I’m going to come back here as a spectator and see what I’ve been missing. Experience it as a fan. Not necessarily like the couple next door did! But it is one of the frustrations about Monaco that, for the entire weekend, you’re surrounded by tens of thousands of people who are, for want of a better phrase, on the lash. So if you are lucky enough to go to Monaco one day, spare a thought for all the poor racing drivers trying to get some sleep, would you? ‘Turn that bloody racket down!’ Can’t see that happening somehow. Some drivers claimed they could party all night and still be on top form the next day, though. People like Eddie Irvine and a few others. Maybe they could?

Johnny: The same as James Hunt, I suppose. They just threw caution to the wind and joined the throng! So what’s the worst experiences you’ve had at Monaco? As a driver, that is.

Damon: Well, the worst experience I’ve had was in 1994. Monaco was the first race after the funerals of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger and F1 was in a very dark place. We all felt very down, and the atmosphere in the grandstands and on the streets was similar. The sky may have been blue but there was a dark cloud hanging over all of us. I remember I went into the changing room on the Thursday and opened a cupboard and there was Ayrton’s T-shirt still hanging up. That really took my breath away. For the first time ever, I think, nobody really wanted to race or even be in Monaco. Do you remember it, Johnny?

Johnny: Yes, of course I do. We almost lost Rubens Barrichello at Imola too. I wasn’t as close to Ayrton as you were, Champ, but we’d always had a laugh together and he’d been an inspiration to me. Do you know, he used to pinch my bum as we were leaving the drivers’ meetings? I was probably closer to Roland really. Thanks to Gerhard Berger giving me a lift in his plane, I was able to attend both funerals. As Ayrton’s teammate, though, it must have been incredibly difficult for you.

Damon: I guess it was. I had to try and keep the team’s hopes up and I’d be lying if I said I was up to the challenge. I watched a report on the race some years later and the presenter made the very valid point that during the minute’s silence that was held shortly before the race the countenances of some of the younger drivers displayed fear and confusion. F1 was being accused of being a barbaric sport at the time and, in hindsight, remembering two deceased drivers like that before such a challenging race probably wasn’t a good idea. Then there was Karl Wendlinger’s accident, of course. He was driving for Sauber and during first practice he exited the tunnel and lost control of the car under braking for the Nouvelle Chicane. After hitting the wall sideways his head struck a barrier. He was in a coma for several weeks and didn’t drive again for the rest of the year.

If anything good came out of Imola, maybe it was the reformation of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (GPDA). I forget how long the association had been disbanded for but after a meeting at the Automobile Club de Monaco on the Friday, between the current drivers and some former drivers such as Niki Lauda, a request was made for the FIA to recognize the existence of the newly formed association and to work with us to improve safety in F1. We elected Martin Brundle as chairman and Gerhard Berger and Michael Schumacher as directors. Almost to honour the reformation, it was those three who ended up on the podium! It worked for them, then!

Come on then, Johnny. Let’s hear your worst Monaco experience before moving onto more uplifting stuff.

Johnny: Well, my worst personal experience as a driver – apart from aquaplaning off in 1998 after qualifying in seventh, which was a bugger – would have to be my last Monaco, which was in 2000. Twenty years ago! Bloody hell. Throughout my entire career Monaco had always been the highlight of my season and I knew I was going to miss it. For a working-class boy from Essex with two dodgy feet to even get in sniffing distance of the world’s most glamorous sporting event was incredible, but to race there ten times and bag a podium was the stuff dreams are made of. Or at least my dreams. Knowing that I’d never get that buzz again was an incredible wrench and afterwards is probably the closest I’ve ever come to having withdrawal symptoms.

My name is Johnny Herbert and I am a Monaco-holic.

Damon: A Monaco-holic? You’re not on your own, Johnny. Certainly not in terms of that feeling when you have to stop racing. My dad should probably have retired several years before he did but the fact was he just couldn’t give it up. It’s like breaking up a marriage. Not many drivers have spoken publicly about it but I think it’s a very real problem. Rubens Barrichello’s solution was to keep racing! Since retiring from F1 in 2011 he’s spent eight consecutive seasons racing stock cars in Brazil. I’m assuming he doesn’t need the money so he must still be hooked. But there’s nothing worse than having to retire out of necessity rather than choice. My least favourite experience at Monaco in terms of racing was when my engine blew up in the tunnel in 1996.

Johnny: That was my best, because on that occasion I finished third!

Damon: That’s another fine podium you owe me, Stanley. But in all honesty, you finishing third did obviously alleviate some of my massive disappointment. Very considerate of you. After I retired from the race I stood by the barrier with my engine smoking, thinking, I do hope Johnny comes through and ends up on the podium – not! On a more positive note, I think my best Monaco experience was taking the pole lap in 1995. I beat Michael Schumacher by almost eight tenths of a second, and looking back it was probably the closest I ever came to producing a perfect lap. Timed to absolute perfection, even if I do say so myself. And as everyone knows, if you have pole at Monaco, you have to be a complete idiot not to convert that into a win. But I managed it. Michael Schumacher got ahead during my first pit stop and led for most of the race. You finished fourth, didn’t you, Johnny?

Johnny: I did, which, despite being lapped by you and Michael, was a big thrill for me. Not as thrilling as the podium, of course, which is my all-time favourite Monaco moment, but a thrill nonetheless. The podium at Monaco is totally different to anywhere else. Prince Rainier was still around when I made it up there, and that I found impressive. Working-class Essex boy, you see. It doesn’t take much.

Damon: You and Prince Albert are mates, though, aren’t you? You two used to go down the pub.

Johnny: Absolutely! I lived in Monaco for about fifteen years and Albert and I, or Bert, as he’s known to his mates on the dominos team, used to frequent the Monaco boozers quite often. ‘Get me a brown ale and some pork scratchings, would you, Johnny?’ he used to call out. ‘Yes, Your Royal Highness,’ I’d reply. ‘Have you got a euro for the jukebox, and a stool so I can reach?’ He’s actually a really nice chap and he loves his racing.

One of the most shocking off-track stories I’ve ever heard about Monaco involves the late, great Roy Salvadori, who was around in the 1950s and early ’60s. After a fabulous career racing for Ferrari, BRM, Lola and many others, Roy ended up living in Monaco and one day in the 1990s, who should move in underneath him but Jason Plato.

Damon: Really? Plato? Oh my God, that’s horrific! What happened?

Johnny: I read this in Jason’s autobiography – apparently after Roy came down to complain about Jason’s music one day they became friends. It’s still shocking, though. Fancy having to live above Plato. And in the 1990s!

Damon: In some ways it’s actually more difficult being a pundit at Monaco than it is being a driver. When I say difficult, I don’t mean in terms of hardship. When all’s said and done we’re treated like kings really, or at least dukes, but when you’re there as a pundit you’ll be up at seven every morning and you won’t finish until at least 9 p.m.

Johnny, I think I can hear violins?

Johnny: That’ll be the readers, Damon.

Damon: Bless them all. While we’re here, I want to add two favourite moments as a spectator at Monaco. We were talking earlier about the turbos, well in 1987 I watched Nigel’s pole lap at Monaco, which was incredible. At the time I used to be able to get a pass from Bernie and could just walk around the edge of the track. There was no catch fencing at all, so in hindsight it was ridiculously dangerous. I was quite lucky, really, because as I was standing by Massenet, Philippe Streiff in the Tyrell crashed right in front of me and I got covered in brake fluid and carbon fibre shards. That was interesting.

Best of all, though, was watching Nigel on qualifiers in that turbo Honda. He came up the hill and I had real trouble moving my head fast enough to keep up with him. His unfeasibly large testicles, which you mentioned earlier Johnny and to great effect, were obviously larger still that day. I remember thinking to myself as he flew past me, Shit, he’s not going to stop! I genuinely thought Nigel Mansell was going to die that day. He obviously didn’t, thank God, and made it round in one piece. You’d never know by talking to Nigel, who can sound a bit like a retired bank manager, that he must be one of the bravest human beings on the planet. Earlier in the weekend I’d been standing on the bank on the exit of Casino behind Eddie Jordan. You remember the pop-off valves that used to crack open when you changed gear? Well, they were sort of mini explosions. When one of the Ferraris went past the valve popped and I swear Eddie’s wig jumped off his head. I used to think that perhaps the Jordan syrup story was a bit of blarney, but it wasn’t. Eddie’s wig did a jig! I saw it wid me own eyes. That’s my generic cultural appropriation accent.

Johnny: I’m actually crying listening to that. You do know that he glues it on these days?

Damon: Really? I had no idea. How do you know?

Johnny: We were once on a plane to Jerez and me and my mechanic, Bruce Stewart, had a bet to see if we could find out how Eddie made his wig stay on. Fortunately Eddie fell asleep during the flight, so I took my chance and investigated. These days, whenever I’m alone with Eddie I always start looking quizzically at his hair, just to make sure it’s not moving. Whenever I do he immediately starts talking to me in a very schoolmasterly way. ‘Johnnyyyyyyyyy,’ he says. ‘Steady on, Johnnyyyyyyy.’ What an absolutely fabulous man, though. We only tease him because we love him.

Damon: Oh! I wouldn’t go that far! Just kidding, EJ! He’s our link, really. You drove for him at the very start of your career, Johnny, and I drove for him at the very end. I won him his first Grand Prix and you won him the Formula Three Championship and his first win in F3000. He’s a bit special, is our Eddie. Life would be a lot less colourful without him. And balder.

Johnny: I’ll second that. Speaking of links, before we leave the Principality we should give a mention to the film we made with Sky F1 in 2014. It was just a short film, but it was a heck of a lot of fun and is one of the most popular things we’ve ever done as pundits. Apart from putting down our microphones and going home.

A few weeks before the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix somebody suggested that I make a comeback as a driver. Although it was obviously a joke (although not that obviously), Sky thought there was mileage in the scenario and asked Champ and me if we’d like to go over there a bit earlier and make a film about me making a comeback.

Damon: Some would say you were never there in the first place.

Johnny: Be that as it may, I played myself, the excitable yet perhaps slightly over the hill racing driver, and you played my manager. For one shot in the hotel, the director wanted us to get in bed together, à la Morecambe and Wise. Damon was supposed to be wearing his dressing gown and reading Le Monde while I was supposed to be wearing my race suit and reading the Beano. It would have been fabulous, but one of us said no.

Damon: I know you were disappointed, Johnny, but I have my reputation to think of. What I found slightly unnerving was how naturally the whole thing fell into place; the excitable racing driver who has to be calmed down by his slightly po-faced but much more mature manager. It all felt oddly familiar. One of my favourite scenes, apart from us both impersonating Sir Jackie Stewart, is when the team went and asked the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Alain Prost, Daniel Ricciardo and the aforementioned Sir Jackie what they thought of the mighty atom making a comeback. Can you remember the verdict, Johnny?

Johnny: That I might just have been carrying a little bit too much weight.

Damon: I think we’ll leave it there, shall we?