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Observations placeholder

Hill, Damon – Watching the Wheels – Out of body and possessed by the spirit of Ayrton Senna. ‘ It gave me an insight into a dimension I never knew existed ‘



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Hill, Damon – Watching the Wheels – Out of body and possessed by the spirit of Ayrton Senna. ‘ It gave me an insight into a dimension I never knew existed ‘

As the race progressed the conditions got worse: so bad, in fact, that one or two drivers spun off and the race had to be stopped. By this time Michael [Schumacher] was 6.8 seconds ahead of me, which would be crucial because the race would be split in two with the result being determined by the aggregate times from both parts. The first few laps of the restart were run behind the safety car but, when we were released, I was back on Michael's tail. Then, to my surprise, he dived into the pits. He was going to stop twice whereas I would be stopping only once, which explained why he had been able to pull away.

This was a similar situation to that which Senna had been in at Imola: I had the impression that I had to keep up with him, whereas in fact he was lighter so I didn't necessarily have to.

But this time, Williams' playing safe would actually work in our favour as Michael rejoined and was held up behind the midfield cars and their spray. I had the big advantage of clear vision and an empty track in front of me; everything was going as well as could be hoped. Then came my one and only stop.

The conditions remained wet enough for another set of rain tyres, but the mechanics had trouble getting the nut off the right-rear wheel which meant it was never changed, except I didn't know that. I rejoined in second place with only three new tyres but aware that Michael, now leading, would have to come in one more time. When he eventually made his final stop, I was back in the lead, but Michael would have fresher tyres and the 14.5 second gap between us was certain to come down. The leading question was: by how much? I had to be at least 6.9 seconds ahead at the finish in order to make up for his advantage at the end of the first part of the race. There were ten laps remaining.

I wasn't receiving much information on the radio and I remember glancing at a giant trackside screen while trying to learn more about our relative positions. I could see Nigel sitting right on Alesi's gearbox as they fought for third place and, even though I was driving the race of my life, I remember thinking, 'Blimey that looks like a good fight! They're having fun.'

Eventually I caught a brief glimpse of Michael on the screen, so I knew where he was on the track, but I had no way of knowing how the aggregate time was panning out. I simply had to push as hard as I could on worn tyres. I dug deeper and deeper until, going into the last lap, I knew Michael would have me unless I could find some extra something from somewhere.

The inner voice that usually urged me on admitted it was out of ideas: 'I'm completely spent. I simply can't give any more,' it told me.

So I said to myself, Ayrton, if you're up there, I could do with a bit of a hand here.'

All I can say is that, from the moment I exited Turn 1, I did not drive the car in any normal sense until I reached the hair-pin, halfway around the lap. I was possessed. I watched my hands moving the wheel, completely free to do whatever they wanted in response to the car moving around beneath me. I was removed, one step back from all this action going on.

I was just an observer of something phenomenal. It was quite unbelievable: what I suppose one could call an out-of-body experience in which I appeared to have totally surrendered trying to control the car myself. Everything seemed to be happening completely by instinct. There had been flashes in the junior formulae when something happened in front of me and I reacted without even thinking about it, just like when I had fallen from the climbing frame as a child back in Mill Hill. But this lasted all through the Esses, up the hill, round the terrifying Dunlop corner, through Degner until I reached the hairpin, where I must have returned to my normal in-body state and I took back control.

I would never come close to driving like that again.

All the other experiences had been poor imitations.

But had it been enough to beat Michael? I took the chequered flag but then had an agonizing wait until Michael crossed the line and we could tell whether or not the gap between us was less than 6.8 seconds. I had 3.3 seconds in hand. I'd overdone it! The championship was down to one point.

I had just driven the race and the lap of my life: the most pressure and drama I had ever experienced; the most difficult conditions; racing against one of the best drivers, arguably, in the history of F1. 

I hadn't conceded; I had won in what I considered to be a completely straight and fair fight.

When I got out of the car, I had to hide in the stairwell before going onto the podium because I broke down with the emotion of it all.

It was a huge pressure release to have won, but it had taken everything out of me and then this thing had happened on the last lap that I had no explanation for. I kept it to myself for years, trying to understand what had happened. It had given me an insight into another dimension I never knew existed.

But for now, this result was all that I ever wanted: to know if I could do it when it really counted.

The source of the experience

Hill, Damon

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