Starting out with immense pressure to measure up to his illustrious father, Damon Hill, just like his father had a long struggle before attaining Formula One success. His fierce inner determination and passion for the sport even prompted Williams to hire Damon as their Formula One driver, despite his insignificant racing record. Born two years before his father, Graham Hill, won his first driving title, Damon grew up in a luxurious setting in London. He was surrounded by Formula One greats such as Jackie Stewart, Stirling Moss, John Surtees and Jim Clark, right from an early age. But Damon was more keen on motorbikes and found Formula One racing quite boring, and was gifted a miniature motorbike by his father at the age of 11. At the age of 15, Damon’s life was thrown off balance, when his father along with four members of his Formula One team died in a plane crash. After insurance claims depleted family savings to a huge extent, Bette Hill brought up Damon and his two sisters in severely reduced financial conditions.
Crediting his parents for instilling the qualities that took him a long way to achieve success, he particularly notes the dedication and persistence that both his parents possessed. The London Rowing Club was where his parents met, and he chose to use the club’s insignia on his helmet as a mark of respect for them.
Damon took up several jobs to finance his education, he studied history, economics, English and Business Administration. He worked as a laborer as well as a motorcycle courier, and in 1981 he began competing on bikes, which he prepared himself. He would tow his bike to the races and mostly slept in a tent at the location. In 1985, he finally managed to attain a sponsorship for a season in Formula Ford and though he showed promise, he was not ranked highly enough. A stint with Formula Three followed for another three years, producing little result, having won only three races in three years. This was followed by another three insignificant years in Formula 3000, but despite his lack of wins he managed to get into Williams as a test driver in the start of the 1991 season. His Formula One debut in the next year was a disappointment with demoralized Brabham team and a highly uncompetitive car, and Damon only managed to qualify twice in eight races. In the meantime, his testing role with Williams paid off, for both Nigel Mansell, who won the 1992 World Championship title in a car which Damon had helped develop, as well as for Damon himself when he was chosen to replace Mansell when he left Formula One to race IndyCars.
In the 1993 season, the 33 year old Damon made the most of this opportunity that was given to him, and went on to win three races and finished third overall, conceding the title to his title winning team mate Alain Prost, who retired from Formula One racing after the win. The next year, Alain Prost’s replacement, Ayrton Senna was killed in his third race for Williams, and the task to lead the team fell on Damon, who responded well and helped rebuild team morale. He managed to exceed all expectations, except his own and during the 1994 championship battle with Michael Schumacher, driving for Benetton, he had a controversial collision with Schumacher, who was later accused of deliberately trying to take his rival out. Michael Schumacher went on to win the title from Hill by a single point.
In the 1995 season, Damon once again finished second to Schumacher, and this caused criticism to increase against him. Many within the Williams team itself though that Damon should have favored better, considering he had the best car, Schumacher himself went ahead and suggested that Damon was a second rate driver. Many media members also believed this, though Damon managed to conduct himself with dignity and decency throughout this period. He played guitar for a punk rock band titled Sex Hitler and the Hormones, and had a very articulate manner of speaking.
“Some people might think I got here because of a famous name, but it wasn’t like that. I was written off a lot during my career. The point I am making is that the fact I am at Williams is a measure of my determination to succeed”, Hill said.
In 1996, Damon finally managed to win the championship title, with 8 wins in 16 races and scoring more points than his rookie team mate Jacques Villeneuve. Despite the win, the team lost faith in him and later in the season Damon was informed that Williams no longer required him. Though stunned by his unceremonious removal, Damon still maintained the dignity that was required of a champion. His wife Georgie Hill was more indignant, saying “Damon has proved himself to have more integrity in his little finger than most people have got in their whole body”.
This was followed by a disappointing season in 1997 at Arrows, and Damon shifted to Jordan, and scored the team’s first Formula One victory at the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix. In his final season with Jordan, Damon seemed noticeably demotivated and at the end of the 1999 season he retired from Formula One racing for good. Damon Hill’s 22 victories and a World Championship title are definitely a proud addition to father Graham Hill’s 14 wins and two titles.