As the British Winners Of The British Grand Prix series draws to a close (three drivers remain) we enter a time that I am more familiar with; the mid-nineties onwards. Following Nigel Mansell’s superb victory in 1992, home fans would only have to wait two years to witness another Brit winning on home soil, this time being championship contender Damon Hill. The event was one that Damon’s father never managed to win, but in 1994 the Hill name was finally placed in the record books as victor of a British Grand Prix.
The 1994 season was particularly emotional and stressful following the untimely death of Williams driver and team mate to Damon, Ayrton Senna. The passing of the team’s lead driver meant Hill was promoted to the leader’s role and Damon took on Michael Schumacher for the world championship. However, by the time the British round of the championship was upon the drivers, Hill was massively behind his rival in the title race, Schumacher accruing more than twice as many points as Hill at the time. However, Hill’s fortunes in Britain would change this by the final race of the season Damon was still mathematically able to take the crown.
Hill lined up alongside Schumacher on Silverstone’s grid, the Britain taking pole position the day previous day by just 0.003s. The first start of the race was aborted due to David Coulthard stalling on the grid. However, during the parade lap Michael Schumacher passed Hill temporarily, and although he let the Britain back through when they took to their grid slots, the incident would not be overlooked and an investigation ensued at race control.
For the second start, Hill got away well and the top three drivers maintained position with Gerhard Berger in a close third. However, while it was status quo at the top for the first part of the race, the stewards would soon throw a curve-ball into the mix that would spice the event up; Schumacher had been given a five-second stop-go penalty for infringing the rules on the parade lap. The Benetton team though, whom Schumacher drove for, refused to call their driver in exclaiming that they had not been properly notified of the issue. Schumacher continued to pound around the circuit following the rear wing of Damon’s Williams.
As the first round of pit stops ensued, Schumacher was able to get ahead of Hill and left his box in the lead of the race. Hearts sank all around the Northamptonshire circuit but the race was far from over. Seven laps after the Benetton team had been told to stop Schumacher for his penalty, a black flag was waved for Michael, indicating that he must enter the pits on the following lap to serve his penalty. But still the German race winner continued to lap the circuit, citing later on after the race that he did not see the flags being waved.
After a further seven laps and only after the race director visited the Benetton team and ordered them to call their driver in, Schumacher peeled off into the pitlane and paused his car outside the garage. Benetton would go on to appeal the decision only to then feel the full wrath of the FIA; the punishment was increased to a two-race ban and a $25,000 fine.
After Schumacher left the pits he was in fourth but was promoted to second following the pit stops of Jean Alesi and Mika Hakkinen; Gerhard Berger retired on lap 32 with engine trouble. For the remaining 28 laps, Schumacher was unable to dent Hill’s lead and came in second, although later disqualified for failing to adhere to the steward’s flags following his parade lap misdemeanor.
After the event, Hill was fairly emotional, particularly as his late father, a master of many racing circuits, had never won the British Grand Prix.
It’s the best day of my life. I think I was destined to win this race although I can’t quite believe it. It means so much, not least because my father never won it… it is like a dream. Damon Hill.
The win, combined with Schumacher’s added penalties, would allow Hill to close down the championship lead and a string of victories in the last few races of the season meant Damon was within one point of Schumacher as they headed into the final grand prix in Australia. The race would prove to be very controversial with the pair colliding. The crash meant Hill was forced to retire and Schumacher took the title. It is still not 100% known if Michael turned across Hill with the intention of taking him out, but Williams chose to not dispute the incident as they were still dealing with loss of Ayrton Senna from earlier in the year.
Damon Hill would go on to have a difficult 1995 campaign, with added incidents with his rival in the Benetton, but after Schumacher moved to Ferrari for 1996, Hill fought off a season-long battle with new team mate Jacques Villeneuve to take the title. Hill would never win the British Grand Prix again, but did manage to collect the Arrows team’s first points in 1997 with a great sixth place finish at Silverstone. In Hill’s final year of Formula One competition, he managed a fifth-place finish at home, this time in a Mugen-Honda-powered Jordan.
Now retired from Formula One, Damon Hill is president of the BRDC, an organistion that owns the Silverstone circuit and in charge of hosting the British Grand Prix. Recently the track has come under fire from Bernie Ecclestone for being below-standard, and as I type, Hill has stated that it is still 50:50 if the circuit will get an extension to its contract. However, under Hill’s direction the circuit is planned to receive various upgrades in the coming years.
To read more in this series of articles, click the tag ‘British Winners’.