Text and story by Diego Merino and Sergio Álvarez.
Abu Dhabi was not only the last F1 appearance for three great star drivers like Jenson Button, Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg. For us nostalgics, it also marked the end of an era with the retirement of Michael “Herbie” Blash from his position as FIA Deputy Race Director.
These days when our sport is still looking for its lost soul, you don’t come across many people like Herbie who, with 750 Grands Prix under his belt spanning six decades, have seen pretty much all. Few people have had the chance to witness the glory and dangers of the sport like Herbie has done. Thanks to the input of this charismatic and irreplaceable figure in the pit lane, the sport has stepped up its professionalism and safety standards.
Having begun his F1 career during the 60s, when he worked as a Team Lotus mechanic, he prepared Jochen Rindt’s car during the 1970 Championship campaign. Short time after the Austrian champion lost his life tragically in Monza, Herbie was invited by Bernie Ecclestone, who also happened to be the late Austrian’s manager, to join his recently purchased Brabham Team.
They enjoyed much glory during his period managing the Brabham team; the first successes came under the iconic colours of Martini, with Carlos Reutemann and Carlos Pace at the wheel of the sleek Gordon Murray designs. Niki Lauda became his driver too, that was before winning two World Championships in 1981 and 1983, with Nelson Piquet at the wheel.
Always seeking to stay ahead of the competition, during this period, his team innovated a lot and made huge technical contributions to the sport; strategic pit stops with refuelling and tyre heating are among the most remarkable. At the same time, Brabham displayed the most advanced aerodynamics. Engineering creativity at its best.
Herbie stayed loyal to Brabham, working for the outfit until 1988. After this, he became Sporting Director for Yamaha F1, who supplied the team’s loud 12-cylinder power plants. In 1996, Herbie came to his position in FIA Race Control Team as Deputy Race Director, a responsibility adjacent to FIA Race Director – Charlie Whiting (who also happened to be a former Brabham Chief Mechanic).
Having been FIA observer during the past twenty seasons, earlier this year, the FIA announced Herbie would be stepping down from his position at the end of 2016. It’s been a season of emotional thank you and memories from everybody in the sport.
During the Mexican Grand Prix weekend, we caught up with Herbie and asked him to sign a vintage Brabham F1 Team shirt. Once he had a glimpse of the shirt, he was kind to share his story about this garment: “Oh, it’s Hissing Sid!” – referring to the team’s iconic rearing cobra. Excited and smiling he continued: “It’s a great shirt, I still remember having these made for the guys. You should show this shirt to Bernie Ecclestone, who designed this logo.” Thanks for the memories Herbie, and no question about this… our next mission will be getting Hissing Sid signed by Mr. E!