DRIVERS: DAMON HILL
Name: Damon Hill
Nationality: Great Britain
Date of birth: September 17, 1960 - Hampstead, England
Very much a man who raced to prove something to himself, Damon Hill is the first son of a World Champion to win the title himself, after his fabulous season with Williams in 1996.
Like his father Graham, Hill was a relatively late starter, spending his early years racing bikes before switching to cars amid a wave of publicity in 1983. He was in his mid-twenties by then, and his initial performances were not promising. But gradually he found his feet in Formula Ford, and graduated to F3 by 1986. In 1987 he was a genuine leading runner, but the following year was disappointing until he switched to F3000. Despite his name, money was always a problem, and it was not until 1990 that he really began to show his mettle. By 1991 he was a pacesetter, but mechanical unreliability undermined his campaign. Hill was fortunate, however, to have a backstop. His race performances had encouraged Frank Williams to sign Hill as a test driver, and like Nigel Mansell before him Hill applied himself diligently. His performances showed that he had the speed, but when he graduated to F1 in 1992, the year in which Mansell ran away with the world title, it was with the failing Brabham team. The BT60B was so poor that Hill did well on the few occasions that he was able to qualify.
The breakthrough came when Mansell had a disagreement with Williams at the end of 1992, and headed off for a season racing Indycars. Hill persuaded Frank Williams and Patrick Head to give him a chance as teammate to Alain Prost, and quickly showed himself to be mature enough to shadow the Frenchman. He was leading the British GP when his engine broke, and then suffered a puncture while leading again in Germany, but his first win finally came in Hungary. He followed it immediately with two more, in Belgium and Italy. By the end of his first pukka season of F1, he was third in the World Championship.
When Prost retired, Hill found himself with Ayrton Senna as his teammate, but their partnership ended brutally at the third race when Senna was killed at Imola. Suddenly, Hill was thrust into the limelight as Williams team leader. His battle with Michael Schumacher for that season's title was fraught with controversy, and eventually he lost out by a point after Schumacher pushed him off the road in the final race, in Adelaide.
Hill was a favorite for the 1995 title and began the year well, but as Schumacher gained pace Hill fell prey to a series of embarrassing incidents which would, unbeknown to him, persuade Williams to opt for Heinz-Harald Frentzen when Hill's contract expired at the end of 1996. By then, however, Hill had taken a long, hard look at himself and rebuilt his shattered ego. After dominating the 1995 Australian GP, he came back to win half of the 16 races in 1996 and win the title. But it was too late to stay at Williams, and he transferred to the unfancied Arrows team in a big-buck deal. It was almost a disaster. Only in Hungary did he show his real speed, only losing what would have been the surprise win of the decade when a small part on his car slowed him and allowed Jacques Villeneuve to overtake.
His final two seasons of F1 were spent with Jordan, and after a shaky start in 1998 the team turned its fortunes around and Hill swept to a splendid and historic first win for the team at Spa. It was his 22nd, and last, triumph. In 1999 he was clearly demotivated, and talked many times of retirement. But sponsor Benson & Hedges wanted him to continue, and he did so until the season was over, a pale shadow of the man who had triumphed so emotionally in Suzuka three years earlier.
Always an honorable man and a sportsman, Hill had come perilously close to damaging that reputation in his final, lackluster season.