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Hill, Damon

Category: Sportsman

Damon with his wife Georgie at the Morgan Stanley Great Briton Awards

Damon Graham Devereux Hill, OBE (born 17 September 1960) was a championship British Formula One racing driver.

He is now a writer and broadcaster, with a very absorbing autobiography to his credit; and is a contributor to F1 Racing magazine.  He is also a major contributor and helper to a charity he helped found with his wife, and friends for young people with learning difficulties.

 

He won the championship in 1996, driving a Williams car, winning the title ahead of his teammate Jacques Villeneuve, becoming the first son of a Formula One champion to win the championship himself.

Near the end of the season, Villeneuve began to mount a title challenge and took pole in the Japanese Grand Prix, the final race of the year. However, Hill took the lead at the start and won both the race and the championship after the Canadian retired. 

Hill equalled the record for starting all 16 races of the season from the front row, matching Ayrton Senna in 1989 and Alain Prost in 1993.

Hill retired from racing after the 1999 season and has since involved himself in many other ventures.   

From 2006-2011, he was president of the British Racing Drivers' Club, succeeding Jackie Stewart.  He has appeared on many British television programmes, including Top Gear, This is Your Life, TFI Friday, and Shooting Stars.  He has twice appeared in ITV F1's commentary box, covering for Martin Brundle at the 2007 and 2008 Hungarian Grands Prix. And in January 2012, British Sky Broadcasting announced that they had signed Hill to join their F1 presentation team on Sky Sports F1; he currently works as part of the Sky Sports F1 broadcasting team.

He has also pursued his interest in music, playing the guitar with celebrity bands. Hill was interested in music from an early age and formed a punk band with some friends while at school. He has played guitar with his friend George Harrison; appeared on "Demolition Man", the opening track of Def Leppard's album Euphoria; and played with celebrity bands including Spike Edney's SAS band, and Pat Cash's Wild Colonial Boys. Hill also formed his own band, The Conrods, which was active between 1999 and 2003.

But his life in reality revolves around his charity work, and this is where his heart is.

Damon , Betty Hill his Mum and Formula One racing legend Sir Jackie Stewart

Damon’s daemon

Damon is not dissimilar to Ayrton Senna in that he drives, as Senna used to, in a dissociated state, in a sense his body is driven by the muse – his daemon/higher spirit; he has also had an out of body experience described extremely well in his autobiography. 

These states are derived from the total immersion he achieves/achieved during a race.  Racing driving combines the perfect set of [overload] activities needed to achieve a spiritual experience and ‘get help’, as there is no time to intellectualise and the emotions are very high – a mixture of concentration, terror and exhilaration.  In 1986, Hill planned to move up to the British Formula Three Championship with title-winning team West Surrey Racing. The death of his proposed team-mate Bertrand Fabi in a testing accident, ended Hill's proposed drive, but Hill said at the time:

"When Bert was killed, I took the conscious decision that I wasn't going to stop doing that sort of thing. It's not just competing, it's doing something more exciting. I'm at my fullest skiing, racing or whatever. And I'm more frightened of letting it all slip and reaching 60 and finding I've done nothing."

Life and charity work

Graham Hill with Damon and his sister

Damon was born in Hampstead, London and is the son of Graham Hill, the Formula One world champion. 

Graham Hill won the world drivers' championship in 1962 and 1968 and became a well-known personality in the United Kingdom.

By 1975 the family lived in a "25-room country mansion" in Hertfordshire and Damon attended the independent The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School. The death of his father in an aeroplane crash in 1975, however, left the 15-year-old Hill, his mother, and sisters Samantha and Brigitte in drastically reduced circumstances. Hill worked as a labourer and a motorcycle courier to support his further education.

Graham Hill (BRM P261) being cheered on by a radio commentator, followed by John Surtees (Ferrari 1512) at Silverstone, 1965 British Grand Prix

Damon is married to Susan George ('Georgie' – born 29 April 1961) and they have four children: Oliver (born 4 March 1989), Joshua (born 9 January 1991), Tabitha (born 19 July 1995) and Rosie (born 1 February 1998). Oliver was born with Down's syndrome and Hill and Georgie are both patrons of the Down's Syndrome Association.

with Josh

In 2008, Hill also became the first patron of St. Joseph's Specialist School and College, a school for children with severe learning disabilities and autism in Cranleigh, Surrey.  Between 18 and 19 May 2012, Hill along with Mark Blundell, Perry McCarthy, Martin Donnelly and Julian Bailey participated in the first round of the VW Scirocco R-Cup at Brands Hatch to raise funds for the Halow Charity, a charity he helped found.

The inspiration for halow came from Harriet, Amber, Laura, Oliver and William, each having a learning disability.  Their parents, all friends, came together at the beginning of 2006 concerned with the prospect for their children's future and others like them. Passionate that these young people should lead positive and happy lives, near their own friends and families in Surrey, the parents established the halow project.

 

From one room and one person in 2006, halow has grown to employ 15 people, with 45 Buddies and 55 volunteers.  They support over 150 young people in their quest to lead meaningful, independent lives.

Overall, halow aims to ensure that every person with a learning disability has the same life choices and chances as any other person.  The young people they work with are helped to:

  • Build relationships 
  • Become part of the community 
  • Find meaningful employment 
  • Have a home of their own

“halow project is a registered charity providing opportunities and support for young people to access social activities, community based learning and work like experiences. Our work is funded through a mixed model of fees, fundraising and enterprise.
Our social enterprise, halow care, is a not-for-profit community interest company which runs alongside the halow project. halow care provides 1:1 support for young people through our halow Buddy Service and Supported Living Service. We aim that any surplus from these services should support our charitable activities.

 Career

Damon Hill started racing on motorbikes in 1981, and after minor success moved on to single-seater racing cars. His mother, Bette, who was concerned about the dangers of racing motorcycles, persuaded him to take a racing car course at the Winfield Racing School in France in 1983.

 

He graduated through British Formula Ford, winning six races driving a Van Diemen for Manadient Racing in 1985.  He had a steady first season for Murray Taylor Racing in 1986 before taking a brace of wins in each of the following years for Intersport. He finished third in the 1988 championship.  He had progressed to the International Formula 3000 championship by 1989. 

Hill became a test driver for the Formula One title-winning Williams team in 1992. He was promoted to the Williams race team the following year.  Traditionally, the reigning driver's world champion carries the number "1" on his car and his team-mate takes the number "2". Because Nigel Mansell, the 1992 champion, was not racing in Formula One in 1993, his Williams team were given numbers "0" and "2". As the junior partner to Prost, Hill took "0", the second man in Formula One history to do so, after Jody Scheckter in 1973.

After strong podiums in Monaco and Canada, Hill took his first career pole in France, finishing second to Prost after team orders prevented him from challenging for the win.  After a succession of engine failures and punctures, Hill took his first career win at the 1993 Hungarian Grand Prix, after leading from start to finish. This was the first of his 22 victories.

He followed it with two more wins, first at Spa, and then at the Italian Grand Prix. This third consecutive win clinched the constructors' championship for Williams and moved him temporarily to second in the drivers' standings.  In the end, Prost finished the season as champion, but Hill ended the season in Australia by setting the lap record for the Adelaide Street Circuit. Hill's lap record of 1:15.381 for the 3.780 km (2.349 mi) long track still stands.

 

In 1994, Ayrton Senna joined Hill at Williams. At the San Marino Grand Prix on 1 May, Senna died after his car went off the road. Hill found himself team leader with only one season's experience in the top flight. Hill represented Williams alone at the next race, the Monaco Grand Prix. For the following race, the Spanish Grand Prix, Williams' test driver David Coulthard was promoted to the race team alongside Hill, who won the race just four weeks after Senna's death. Twenty-six years earlier his father Graham Hill, had won in Spain under similar circumstances for Lotus after the death of his team-mate Jim Clark.

During the 1990s, Hill was Michael Schumacher's main rival for the Formula One Drivers' Championship, and the two clashed several times on and off the track. When Hill won the British Grand Prix, a race his father had never won, Schumacher was disqualified from that race and banned for two further races for overtaking Hill during the formation lap and ignoring the subsequent black flag.  Four more victories for Hill, included three in which Schumacher was excluded or disqualified.  At Schumacher's first race since his ban, the European Grand Prix, he suggested that Hill was not a world-class driver. During the penultimate race at the Japanese Grand Prix, Hill took victory ahead of Schumacher in a rain-soaked event.

It is clear that Schumacher’s approach was changing the whole approach to Formula One, and Hill has said since that it was this change from one of sportsmanship and ‘playing by the rules’ to one where there was a constant push to see whether rules could be bent, along with the relentless ruthless drive to win at all costs, that decided him to leave the ‘sport’ that was no longer a sport.

Their collision at the 1994 Australian Grand Prix gave Schumacher his first title by a single point.  Williams’ F1 co-owner Patrick Head said that at the time of the incident "Williams were already 100% certain that Michael was guilty of foul play" but did not protest Schumacher's title because the team was still dealing with the death of Ayrton Senna.

 

In 1995, Schumacher and Hill had several on-track incidents during the season, two of which led to suspended one-race bans. Schumacher's penalty was for blocking and forcing Hill off the road at the Belgian Grand Prix.

It is interesting to note that Schumacher’s was not a personal vendetta.  On lap 38 of the Canadian Grand Prix, in later years, Schumacher, was given a stop-and-go penalty after he forced Frentzen's Williams off the track.

Hill became champion in 1996 with eight wins, but it proved to be his last at Williams.  Hill left Williams as the team's second most successful driver in terms of race victories, with 21, second only to Mansell. Hill's 1996 world championship earned him his second BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, making him one of only three people to receive the award twice.  Hill was also awarded the Segrave Trophy by the Royal Automobile Club. The trophy is awarded to the British national who accomplishes the most outstanding demonstration of the possibilities of transport by land, sea, air, or water.

In 1997, Hill opted to sign for Arrows, a team which had never won a race in its 20-year history and had scored only a single point the previous year. The Arrows car, which used tyres from Bridgestone and an unproven Yamaha engine, was generally uncompetitive, but maybe this was not the point.  Hill had won his title, now one suspects he was keen to help an ‘underdog’ and prove a point.   Hill did not score his first point for the team until the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in July. His best result for the year then came at the Hungarian Grand Prix, when he had the supreme satisfaction of passing Michael Schumacher.  Hill finished second and achieved the team's first podium since the 1995 Australian Grand Prix.

Hill also drove for Jordan, another struggling team.  At the German Grand Prix, Hill scored his first point of the year and at the Belgian Grand Prix, in very wet conditions, he took the Jordan team's first ever win. At that race, Hill was leading late in the race, with teammate Ralf Schumacher closing rapidly, when he suggested that team principal Eddie Jordan order Ralf Schumacher to hold position instead of risking losing a 1–2 finish. Jordan followed the suggestion, ordering Schumacher not to overtake. In all, only eight drivers finished the race.  Jordan gained fourth position in that year's constructors' championship.

Overall, by going with smaller struggling constructors, Hill won a moral victory.  Schumacher may have been able to win using top cars and bully-boy tactics, but this did not actually mean he was a good driver.  Hill set out to prove who was, and from what one can see did so. 

In Hill’s mind, it would seem that from that point on, there was no need to continue.  In 1999, Hill did not enjoy a good season. He seemed to have lost concentration and after a crash at the Canadian Grand Prix, he announced plans to retire from the sport.  Jordan persuaded Hill to at least stay for the British Grand Prix. Going into that race weekend, Hill announced he would retire after the Grand Prix.  In the end, he stayed to the end of the season.  In so doing, both Hill and Frentzen his team mate, helped Jordan to achieve its best-ever finish with a third position in the constructor's championship.

Hill served as the driver representative on the Stewards' Panel at the 2010 Monaco Grand Prix where he and the rest of the panel decided to relegate Michael Schumacher for overtaking under yellow flag conditions.

References

Watching the Wheels: My Autobiography - 8 Sep 2016 by Damon Hill

Observations

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