14 Oct 2013

Damon Hill - The Best Driver of my Generation

The first F1 race I watched in full was the 1994 Brazilian Grand Prix. I didn’t know a whole lot about F1 but my university house-mate was mad-keen on it, so I watched with him.

That race was won by Michael Schumacher and was largely remembered for Senna’s Williams debut (he spun out on lap 56) and Irvine shoving Verstappen onto the grass, and the massive crash that followed.

In second place was a quiet, unassuming Englishman called Damon Hill. Damon was in his third season in F1. He was old for an F1 driver, having made his debut two years earlier at the age of 32.

Watching the interviews and press coverage after the race I knew I liked Damon Hill. Son of a World Champion, Graham Hill, who died when Damon was only 15, brought up without the money that so many F1 drivers need to make it to the top. Damon was a self made F1 driver who got his seat through sheer talent and determination.

I watched every race of Damon’s F1 career. I shouted at the TV in Adelaide when Schumacher crashed into him and won the World Championship. I jumped for joy when he won the second and third races of the 1995 season, then gritted my teeth and bit my nails as Schumacher went on to win most of the remaining races and the championship.

In 1996 Damon won in style as Schumacher learned the ropes at Ferrari and Villeneuve failed to challenge him. Murray Walker’s “…and now I’ve got to stop, because I’ve got a lump in my throat,” rang true.

I cursed Frank Williams when Damon was dropped for 1997, but was on the edge of my seat as he nearly won the Hungarian Grand Prix in a woeful Arrows.

Thereafter were the Jordan victories, Spa being a highlight, and, ultimately, the disappointment of the final season. Damon’s shoulders had dropped and the spirit wasn’t in him in 1999. He was 39.

Damon Hill, like his father, has never been considered one of the greats. Critics say he was a journeyman elevated to a World Champion by virtue of being in the dominant Williams FW18.

That description riles. Hill was a brilliant test and development driver who helped create the championship winning FW14B and FW15C. He is one of those drivers, like Jenson Button, who didn’t achieve much prior to F1 but who found his ouvre in the most challenging of racing series.

Damon was a smooth, smart driver who spoke to the fans and press intelligently and never lost the modesty bred in him by his mother, Bette, and by starting with nothing.

Hill was also brave. He witnessed the death of his team-mate and continued to race as hard as he could, missing the championship by a whisker.

Damon Hill is one of the greatest British F1 drivers of all time. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Article by Matt Hubbard

This article is one of a series written by various bloggers in support of the Autosport International Show, which takes place from 9-12 January 2014 at the Birmingham NEC, UK