As a youngster, Damon Hill was more interested in becoming the next Barry Sheene than he was racing cars. Under pressure from those around him, including his mother, he first gave racing cars a bash at the age of 23, competing in Formula Ford under the glare of the media, unsurprisingly keen to find out whether he was a chip of the old block.
Two seasons in FF1600 in 1984 & ’85 gave Damon the chance to develop his confidence and his racecraft, and the once distant ambition of becoming a full time racing driver suddenly became a possibility.
Moving up to British Formula 3 for 1986, he had a steady debut season before winning a race in each of his next two, with a highest championship placing of 3rd in 1988.
Three full seasons of Formula 3000 followed but despite having the speed to win races, he was plagued by unreliability, and two podiums was the scant reward for his efforts.
Despite his poor results in F3000, he was signed by Williams as test driver where he helped develop the revolutionary FW14 alongside his F3000 participation.
Damon Hill makes his Formula 1 debut
Damon was approached by the Brabham Formula 1 team, for whom his father Graham once raced, now in serious financial difficulty to replace the painfully slow Giovanna Amati who had reneged on her sponsorship commitments.
All the testing miles paid off for Damon and he was quickly up to speed with his team-mate Eric Van Der Poele, but qualifying for just two races from the eight he entered, and seeing Nigel Mansell in the Williams Damon was used to driving winning one and finishing second in the other, Damon would be forgiven for thinking his F1 career might be in jeopardy before it had really begun.
But Williams weren’t finished with Damon.
Damon Hill given Williams F1 seat
So far ahead of the field was the Williams that Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna both publicly declared an interest in driving the Williams FW15 in 1993.
Riccardo Patrese, Nigel Mansell‘s team-mate in 1992 assumed he was out of a job and jumped ship to Benetton unaware that Prost; Williams’ favourite for the gig refused to partner Senna, and World Champion Mansell wasn’t prepared to partner Prost. So off Mansell went to the US, Senna reluctantly stayed at McLaren and Williams were left with a teammate for Prost to find.
In a surprise move, and with their options limited, Williams turned to Hill: veteran of two Grands Prix, but who had driven countless thousands of miles in developing the 1993 car.
In a season where Hill was often struck by misfortune he ably played the support role in Prost’s title campaign. When he finished, he invariably finished on the podium until mid-season where not only did he win his first Grand Prix, but he won his second and third consecutively. By which time Prost’s championship was all but assured of a fourth title, and on finding out Williams wanted to sign Senna for 1994, Prost promptly retired.
1994 proved to be one of the most testing seasons of his short F1 career. Ayrton Senna, keen to be part of the winning Williams formula joined as team-leader with Hill again there to support. In the close season however, the electronic aids that had made the FW14 & FW15 so dominant were outlawed, and being the greatest proponent of these aids, the Williams suffered the most when they were removed. This made the 1994 FW15C unstable and a far cry from the previous season’s car. It was clear Williams would no longer enjoy the dominance they once had.
A second place for Hill in the season opener in Brazil, and a double Williams retirement in Aida acted as pre-cursor to one of the worst weekends in Formula 1 history, during which first Austrian Roland Ratzenberger, and the Senna were killed. In his second full season in Formula 1, Hill now had the responsibility of leading the World Championship team, reeling from the death of their star driver.
A controversial season followed, with main rival and eventual Michael Schumacher and his Benetton team being accused of, and found guilty of a number of indiscretions for which he received a mid-season two race ban. This allowed Hill to pull level going into the last race, where Schumacher again had to resort to underhand tactics to take the championship from the Williams driver.
For 1995, Williams and Adrian Newey produced a world beater, but Hill and his team-mate David Coulthard were unable to beat the Schumacher/Benetton combo, and Schumacher took his second title.
1996 saw the arrival of the much hyped Jacques Villeneuve to partner Hill, and many people thought that after a sub-par 1995 Hill might again find himself as number 2. But a composed campaign saw Hill take the title, pipping his young team-mate at the final Grand Prix of the season, and the Hills became the first Father/Son duo to each win the World Drivers Championship.
Despite his success, Williams dispensed with the services of Damon at the end of 1996, and Hill accepted an offer from Tom Walkinshaw to drive for Formula 1 minnows Arrows.
Here, he almost pulled off one of the greatest upsets in Formula 1 history when leading the 1997 Hungarian Grand Prix his car failed two laps before the flag and he eventually finished second.
Hill went to Jordan for 1998, where he was again a race winner. Another season at the Silverstone based team followed, but by now, Damon was questioning his motivation to continue and he retired at the end of the season.
He’s now a pundit for SkyTV and a cracking job of it he does too.