Damon Graham Devereux Hill
|Damon Hill: A Royal Heir|
|by Jeremy McMullen|
| Raised up in the home of a World Champion and growing up in a world that would be surrounded by many others, the bloodlines of champions would flow thick and heavy. Whether captured in iconic photos or being the son of a father that would birth his own racing team, Damon Hill's life would be motor racing, and especially Formula One. It would only make sense the son of the ‘King of Monaco' and the only Triple Crown winner would don the crown of the famous London Rowing Club and would take his place beside his father as king of Formula One.|
In spite of being born into Formula One royalty, the death of Graham in his airplane at the end of November in 1975, meant Damon and the rest of his family would find their circumstances drastically changed.
On the 17th of September in 1960 Damon Graham Devereux Hill would be born into the world, a world that would be flooded with such names as Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart and many others of Formula One royalty. By the time Damon turned two years of age his father would be World Champion for the very first time. Then, just six years later, the Hill household would celebrate yet another World Championship.
But while the crowns of World Champion would adorn the household proving the Hill family was some kind of Formula One royalty, there would be one place in particular the Hill family ruled like no other.
The year following his triumph to become World Champion, Graham would score his first of five victories on the streets of Monaco. It would be no exaggeration that throughout the 1960s Hill ruled the tiny principality. Actually, the rule would last much longer than just during the 1960s.
Scoring victories in the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans it seemed certain racing flowed through the Hill bloodlines and it would be just a matter of time before Damon ascended to the throne his father enjoyed. However, life would put such thoughts into some doubt.
By the 1970s, Graham was still racing but was facing the hard reality his racing days were coming to an end. Not wanting to abdicate his throne, he would begin laying the groundwork of his own Formula One team. But then there would be the sudden death in a plane accident in November of 1975. The sudden events would cause the royal family to find itself in an exile of sorts.
At the time of his father's death, Damon would be just 15 years of age and would find his life of relative comfort turned upside-down. Damon and the rest of his family would be forced to provide for themselves. Prior to his father's death, Damon would show some interest in motor racing but it would be of the two-wheel variety. This would prove advantageous after his father's death as he would manage to use his skill on motorbikes to land a job as a motorcycle courier.
Gaining more and more experience sitting atop motorbikes due to his occupation, it would be almost natural the natural bloodlines would lead Damon to begin racing bikes. However, Damon would not start racing until he was 21 years of age. While in the world of motor racing this would be considered rather late, it would prove to be an interesting connection to his father who would not begin his motor racing career until his mid-twenties.
Damon would enjoy the racing on motorcycles. His mother, on the other hand, would not. Knowing all too well the dangers of motor racing on four wheels, the prospect of racing on two would be too much for her to handle and she would encourage her son to enter the Winfield Racing School, which was based in France. This would mark Damon's switch from two to four wheels. Interestingly, it would be yet another connection to his father as Graham had also been initially interested in motorcycle racing but would switch to racing on four wheels.
Racing for Damon would be sporadic as he would continue to have to earn the money to go racing. Then, finally, Hill would garner together enough sponsorship money to take part in Formula Ford. The first season in which he would compete in the series would be 1985.
While Graham would always be remembered for his sharp wit and playful view of life, he would also be remembered as a hard-working and committed individual. This ethic, despite Damon's young age, would be passed down. Though lacking the profuse wit of his father, Damon would be just a focused and hard-working. This deliberate, determination would lead Damon to score no less than six victories in Van Diemen.
Hill would move on to Formula Three and then Formula 3000 display great resolve and improvement in each series. However, his last name would do little to convince people of his ties to the throne in Formula One. If Damon was to make it to the pinnacle it would have to come through hard work and the intervention of providence.
To be overlooked either had the potential of killing a person from within or forging them into iron. In the case of Damon it would be the latter and it would lead to Frank Williams, the founder of the Williams Formula One team, to give the son of a double World Champion a test driver seat in 1991. Williams would put it very bluntly saying he was 'a tough bastard'. This compliment would say everything about Hill and his approach to his career in Formula One. While his father was fun-loving and never took much very serious, his son would be dedicated, ultra-focused and exacting of himself. As Patrick Head would say of Hill, he had a 'fierce inner determination'. And this would be just what Hill needed to be able to get a ride in Formula One and stay there to reach the top.
In 1991, Hill would still be competing in Formula 3000 while also taking part in testing duties with Williams. Though he was earning time behind the wheel of a Formula One car he had not broken through to the pinnacle of motorsport just yet. That would come the following year.
In 1992, Hill would continue to test for Williams. That year, the Grove-based team would dominate. But while the team he would test for would dominate, the team Damon would break into Formula One with would be on the other end of the spectrum.
Brabham had once been one of the great teams of Formula One. Founded by the Australian great Jack Brabham, Brabham would continue to win championships right up through the 1980s. However, by the 1992 season, Brabham was in dire financial straights and struggled just to qualify for races.
The 1992 season would see Eric van de Poele teamed up with Giovanna Amati. Amati would attempt to take part in the first three races of the season. However, she would fail to qualify for either one of the three and would be forced out of the series when her financial backing dried up. This left a seat open, and Damon Hill was willing to jump into the difficult situation to get his first experience in Formula One.
The time at Brabham was similar to the 1980s when he was overlooked. Just to qualify for a race was no small achievement. Hill would struggle, failing to qualify in his first five races with the team. However, at his home grand prix he would dig just that little bit deeper and would manage to make it into the race.
The British Grand Prix in 1992 would be memorable for Nigel Mansell's incredible victory. However, the race would be memorable for Hill as it would not only prove to be his first grand prix, but also his first race finish. Though finishing all the way down in 16th place, dead-last, Hill would still prove his worth nursing the underachieving and fragile Brabham home to the finish.
Then there was the Hungarian Grand Prix. The Hungaroring would prove to be a very special place in Hill's career and it would start in 1992. Though he would qualify for the race all the way down in 25th place, he would survive the carnage, the heat and the Brabham itself to come through in 11th place. While seemingly a rather uninspiring result; in the Brabham it would be remarkable.
Damon's tenacity and approach as a driver, no matter whether it was in testing or behind the wheel of the Brabham, would reward him in 1993. Mansell would depart Williams for Indycar racing. Riccardo Patrese would also be leaving the team for Benetton. This meant there were a couple of seats available at Williams. One would be quickly filled. The French World Champion Alain Prost would quickly fill one of the slots. Because of his drive and determination, Williams and Head would both realize Damon had earned his opportunity at a top drive within the series.
The obvious number two driver, Hill would fulfill that role very aptly through the first half of the season scoring no less than four 2nd place finishes and a 3rd through the first nine races of the 1993 season. However, the British Grand Prix would see a turning-point.
Alain Prost had scored five victories through the first nine races of the season. Aryton Senna had scored three. But the ability of Hill to come through and score 2nd places meant the advantage Prost held over Senna was rather comfortable. Prost would still push past the halfway mark of the season but there would be an obvious shift.
Hill would delight his home crowd leading the British Grand Prix for the majority of the distance. Unfortunately, it would all come to naught just when it seemed victory was within his grasp. This series of unfortunate events would then repeat itself in the German Grand Prix. Prost had taken victory in both races, but it seemed very obvious Hill was rising to the occasion. He just needed providence to see him through to victory.
Then there was the Hungarian Grand Prix. Hill would step up in qualifying and would start on the second row beside Prost. However, Prost would stall on the parade lap and would be forced to the back of the grid. Starting, effectively, from pole, Hill would get away well and would dominate earning his first-ever Formula One victory by the sizable margin of nearly a minute and 12 seconds.
At the end of the 1993 season Prost would depart. Hill seemed ripe for a run at a championship. Williams had a championship in mind, but with a slightly more famous driver. Aryton Senna was the man to have and Frank Williams would sign him to a contract for the '94 season.
Williams believed they had a superior duo. However, the early struggles of the season would only turn tragically worse when Senna died in a crash at Imola. Suddenly, Hill was thrust into the role of team leader having just one full year of experience. Damon's determination and focus would see him do just that scoring his first win of the season at the Spanish Grand Prix about a month after Senna's death. Ironically, Damon would again follow in his father's footsteps as Graham would be forced to carry on as Lotus' number one when Jim Clark died at the Nurburgring.
Damon's relentlessness would see him mount a challenge of Michael Schumacher over the last half of the season. It would then culminate in the controversial collision between the two at the Australian Grand Prix, the very last round of the season.
Hill would decry Schumacher's tactics saying he turned down purposely on Hill in the Williams prompting a collision that would take both men out of the race and ensuring Schumacher would win the World Championship.
In spite of how events transpired, and the near miss of the championship, Williams and all of Britain believed they had a World Champion in the making. Suddenly, the notion of a place in Formula One history started to be thought of as a real possibility. Damon had positioned himself, it was believed, to rise to the throne upon which his father once sat and many believed 1995 would be the year in which he would take the authority back for his family.
Williams and Benetton would combine to ensure that only one race would be won by another team. Unfortunately for Hill, Schumacher would win the majority of the 17 rounds scoring 9 wins to Hill's 4. Hill would again finish in 2nd place but more than 30 points behind the German.
Over the course of the season the Williams FW17 and FW17B would prove to be the fastest car in the field earning no less than 12 pole positions out of 17 races. However, during the races, some poor reliability and mistakes would cost Hill his chance of earning the World Championship and join his father in the Formula One record books.
Hill had been tipped for the championship. However, as a result of the lack of results and the feisty on-track issues with Schumacher that seemed to serve as a distraction more than motivation, Frank Williams began to question whether Hill was really the heir-apparent. Thankfully for Hill, he was under contract with Williams for one more season.
In 1996, Hill would be pushed with the hiring of Indianapolis 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve. In what would be his last season with Williams, Hill would still have the best car on the grid. It was really now or possibly never for the son of Formula One royalty. The crown was there for him to claim. He just needed to do it.
To say Hill had the best car on the whole of the grid would be something of an understatement as he would start all 16 races of the season from the front row equaling Senna's record from 1989 and Prost's record from 1993. However, Hill would do what he could over the course of the season to ensure this qualifying pace was matched by reliability and level-headed performance during the races.
Hill would emphatically state his intentions of ascending to the throne as he would start out his last year with Williams with three-straight victories. This was impressive considering the strained relationship between himself and Williams. Following a 4th place at the European Grand Prix, Damon would take his fourth victory of the season with a victory at the San Marino Grand Prix. Four victories in the first five races; it seemed obvious Hill wasn't going to let his chance slip through his fingers.
Three more victories would follow but his teammate Jacques Villeneuve would begin to mount a charge late into the season. The championship would come down to the final race of the season, the Japanese Grand Prix.
A late charge in qualifying would see Hill make it onto the front row of the grid, but Villeneuve started from on pole. Hill wasn't going to be denied. Making a great start, Damon would take the lead and would never relinquish it from that point on. When Villeneuve retired later in the race, Damon wasn't about to let the victory go. Determined to end his time at Williams with a victory he would press on and would achieve the victory and the World Championship.
History had finally been made. For the first time in Formula One history a father and son would be World Champion. But though there would be many similarities between father and son, it seemed an innate part of Damon to show his father respect. Damon would wait until he was 36 years of age before he would earn his World Championship. His father would be 33. Nevertheless, the prince had ascended to the throne. He was World Champion.
Even though he was World Champion, he was without a kingdom. Leaving Williams, Hill would be in demand. There would be too many similarities between father and son to deny. However, from the time Damon had made it to Formula One he had certainly set his own course within the sport. This would never be more obvious than with his choice of team for 1997.
Believing to be underappreciated by McLaren, Hill would make the stunning choice to join Arrows, a team that had never won a grand prix in its entire existence and that had only managed to score a single championship point the season prior. The move seemed to be suicidal for Hill and this was apparently true following his failure to start the Australian Grand Prix. He had barely made it into the race in the first place, but then when the car stalled on the parade lap the embarrassment seemed complete.
Then there was the Hungarian Grand Prix. The Hungaroring had proven to be a magical place for Hill in the past and it would offer up one more incredible memory for the Brit. Arrows had entered the season using the trouble Yamaha engine. In addition, the team would also be using Bridgestone tires. It would be the tire-maker's first year in Formula One and it had shown to be a steep learning curve.
At the Hungaroring however, everything clicked. At no other point in the season had Hill qualified better than 9th. When qualifying came to an end, Damon would be mystifying 3rd. This seemed a possible fluke. However, during the early part of the race Hill would make a pass on Schumacher and would be in the lead. An Arrows would be in the lead of a race and would look dominant while doing so! Suddenly, the career move, while certainly risky, didn't seem to be as suicidal as once thought. And on this day Hill was proving his quality.
The laps continued to tick by and the likelihood of an Arrows became tantalizing more and more real. The crowd would ascend into a crescendo hoping and willing the reigning champion to victory. It seemed a done deal when suddenly the Arrows stuttered coming out of some of the turns. He was still going but obviously slower. The victory was within hand but there was still enough time for the lead to be lost. Hill would give it everything he had. Unfortunately, he would be less than two laps from the checkered flag when Villeneuve would sweep pass on the grass to take the lead and the victory. Still, it would be a tremendous performance for Arrows and for Hill, putting aside many who may have questioned his abilities as a drive. That day, though the records showed Villeneuve to have won, Hill would end up the race winner.
The time at Arrows nobody believed would last long and it wouldn't as Hill would join Jordan for 1998. Driving for Jordan would be something of a homecoming for Hill as he had driven for Jordan in 1991 in Formula 3000.
Jordan had been improving, but it was still a little ways away from the top step of the podium. However, once again, providence would be with Hill and Jordan would reap the benefits.
The Jordan 198 would prove troublesome early on in the season as Hill would suffer more than a couple retirements and mid-pack results. However, in the later-half of the season the car began to come on. A fourth place for Hill at the German Grand Prix would be followed with another 4th at the Hungarian Grand Prix. But while in the past it was the Hungaroring that provided landmark experiences for Damon, in 1998 it would be Spa-Francorchamps.
In typical Ardennes fashion, the Spa circuit would be awash in rain and the start of the race would see a wild pile-up that would take out a good portion of the field. Hill and his Jordan teammate Ralf Schumacher would make it through the carnage. Still, the two Jordan drivers would find themselves unable to reel in the leading Ferrari of Michael Schumacher. But Hill wouldn't have to, a former teammate would help.
Schumacher would be closing up on David Coulthard in his McLaren. Coulthard was well back in the order and was actually moving over for Schumacher to go by. However, the spray from out the back of Coulthard's car would be such that Michael could not see the exact position of the McLaren until it was too late. Tearing off the right-front of the car, Schumacher would be out of the race. Steam could be seen rising in the cool rain because of his anger toward the Scotsman.
Hill would be thankful to his fellow countryman as he would inherit the lead of the race and would just need to keep his car pointed straight over the course of the remaining laps. But not all was quite well. Ralf Schumacher would prove quicker than Hill in the closing stages of the race. In a series of diplomatic radio exchanges, Damon would plead with Eddie Jordan to consider the potentials. Jordan would listen and consider. The result would be that Ralf would not challenge Damon. Hill would be free to bring home Jordan's first victory and what would prove to be his last in Formula One.
In 1999, Hill would be back with Jordan and looking forward to a strong year. By this time, Damon was pushing 39 years of age. After a difficult first part of the season it seemed as though that dogged determination had left Hill. More than a couple of times he was ready to quit. In fact, he would only take part in the British Grand Prix as a result of Jordan's beseeching. Hill would oblige determined to still retire following the race.
Hill had only won his home grand prix once. It was likely he wouldn't earn a second victory in 1999 either. He would not win the race, but he would come away with a solid 5th place result. Suddenly, the man that had been ready to quit on the spot would be reinvigorated to see the season through. And though the results would be difficult to come by throughout the remainder of the season he would help the team to finish an incredible 3rd in the Constructors' Championship.
Though a second World Championship would not be in the offing, Hill knew it was time to step away from Formula One. Though he would leave the cockpit, he would not leave the world of Formula One and motorsports.
In 2000, Hill would partner with Michael Breen to start P1 International which was a supercar club furnishing all kinds of supercars to those that were a part of the club. Hill would also pour some time and effort into a music career. During his school days, Damon had been a part of a band. He would form a new band known as ‘The Conrods'. However, the band idea would dissolve when, in April 2006, Hill succeeded Jackie Stewart as the President of the British Racing Drivers' Club.
In addition to his time with the BRDC, Hill would contribute many articles to F1 Racing magazine and would even make more than a couple of appearances as a commentator for ITV's Formula One coverage.
During his tenure as president of the British Racing Drivers' Club, Hill would be an integral part of negotiations that would result in Silverstone earning a long-term contract to host the British Grand Prix.
Not long after the negotiations would be concluded Hill would make the determination to step down from his role. In 2011, Hill would hand over the role of the presidency over to Derek Warwick. One year later, Sky Sports would sign Hill to a role as a presenter for its Formula One coverage.
More than 15 years on from his World Championship, Hill remains a popular figure within the Formula One paddock and amongst British Formula One fans. A part of many memorable moments and an heir of Formula One royalty, Damon would be a popular figurehead and, by his mere presence within the sport, offers a connection to the series' past, a time of larger-than-life characters, many of whom Damon greeted passing through the halls of his home. As a result of his success on the track, and without a doubt because of who he knew and pushed around in the yard of boyhood home, Damon Hill will forever remain Formula One royalty.'Driver Profile: Damon Hill', (http://www.formula1.com/teams_and_drivers/hall_of_fame/71/). Formula One. http://www.formula1.com/teams_and_drivers/hall_of_fame/71/. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
'Damon Hill: Expert Analyst', (http://www1.skysports.com/formula1/presenters/damon-hill/profile). SkySports. http://www1.skysports.com/formula1/presenters/damon-hill/profile. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
'Drivers: Damon Hill', (http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/drv-hildam.html). GrandPrix.com. http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/drv-hildam.html. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
'Drivers: Damon Hill', (http://en.espnf1.com/arrows/motorsport/driver/1155.html). ESPN F1. http://en.espnf1.com/arrows/motorsport/driver/1155.html. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Graham Hill', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 26 August 2013, 00:56 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Graham_Hill&oldid=570198395 accessed 11 September 2013
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