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Axed Sky Sports pundit Johnny Herbert mingled with scantily-clad samba dancers before finishing fourth on his F1 debut – just months after fearing he’d lost his legs in a horror smash.
Herbert’s rise to F1, where he competed for more than a decade winning three Grand Prix, is one of the most inspirational in the history of motorsport.
The popular pundit, who has been let go by Sky ahead of the 2023 season, was a rising star in the junior racing categories in the 1980s, with numerous F1 teams keeping tabs on his progress. A move to big league looked inevitable until he suffered a massive, career-threatening crash in 1988.
READ MORE: F1 fans in uproar as Sky Sports axe popular stars like Johnny Herbert in huge shake-up
After being tipped off the track on the opening lap of a F3000 race at Brands Hatch, Herbert’s car made heavy front-on impacts with barriers on both sides of the track.
He suffered badly broken feet and dislocated ankles. Distressing footage of the aftermath of the crash shows his feet dangling out of the front of the smashed-up car. Herbert, conscience throughout, feared he would never walk again.
“I could see there was a big hole in the front of the car,” he said in an interview with Autosport.
“My first impression was I'd lost my legs from the knee down, because all I could see from the way I was sitting were my knees but nothing else below that. Of course, they were there hanging down below. I remember saying: 'knock me out, knock me out, knock me out!' because I didn't really want to know at that stage. But I do remember everything – I was conscious through the whole thing.”
Incredibly, that smash wasn’t the end of his F1 dream, and just a few months later he was in Brazil after being signed up for the Benetton team. In the build-up to the race in Rio, Herbert posed for publicity pictures with scantily clad Samba dancers and on Rio's Copacabana beach, in full racing attire, with a bikini-wearing woman.
Still feeling the effects of the crash, Herbert could barely walk but was still passed fit for the race. If that wasn’t enough, he went on to finish fourth as Nigel Mansell took victory on his Ferrari debut.
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"I was in pain," said Herbert of the race. "I always remember when I first went out qualifying that there was a particularly big bump at the hairpin before the back straight, which really hurt my left foot when I hit it.
“I learned to let my foot just flop around and, when I hit the bump, it would hit the side of the cockpit. It would hurt like hell but sort of kill the pain after that.
“Once I'd crossed the threshold of pain, I didn't have a problem. During the race, I didn't have any particular problems but I was fortunate that the circuit didn't require any hard braking.”
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