Damon - Is he Really Over The Hill?
by Julie GatesArticle is written by and copyright © 1999-2001 Julie Gates and The F1 Rumors Site
As the sun ascended over the fast and flowing Hockenheim circuit, yet more darkness loomed over the uncertain career of ex-world champ, Damon Hill.
His drive in the German Grand Prix, all fourteen laps that witnessed his presence, were somewhat reminiscent of his weekend at Magny-Cours only a short time ago. Even though the Brit topped the timesheets during practise on Saturday morning, he lagged behind in qualifying and upset his team when he retired to the garage after being told to stay out on track.
This has sparked even more controversy in the "Will he? Won't he?" saga and his performance would have inevitably carved yet another slice out of his already dented self-confidence.
From the outset, he has been unhappy with the 1999 specification tyres, as his inch-perfect style is of little benefit with the farce of grooved tyres. With the four-grooves, today's driving style requires aggression rather than smoothness, and the ability to drive fast in an imprecise environment, as the cars cannot be setup to run "on rails." Damon's acknowledged skills are his setup talent, and smooth driving…
Hill announced his retirement after crashing into the wall at turn thirteen of the Canadian Grand Prix; initial plans were to support Jordan in their bid to claim third in the constructors' championship by racing until the end of the year. An appalling show at France drained his will to continue in the sport. After a successful test at Silverstone, along with the thought he'd be leaving Jordan high and dry, and angering his loyal army of fans by not attending the British Grand Prix, he pledged to race there on July 11th, albeit making it his career swansong. The plot then took yet another twist when he stunned the world by finishing fifth… and announcing he would continue in Formula One until the end of the season. Now, after yet another demoralising drive, contemplation of retirement is again under speculation.
Recent months have seen down-turns in his attitude as well as his abilities. He obviously has mixed feelings about racing, and his uncertainty in his own life is undoubtedly changing his character as a person. For example, after the German Grand Prix, a BBC journalist found himself being shoved out of the way when trying to talk to him. He later apologised, but there really is no excuse for his behaviour, for all it's uncharacteristic nature.
Fans have also suffered. Those seeking that all-important photograph or signed scribble have often gone home with grim faces. Damon rarely signs autographs in the paddock these days, and even though I will be the first to agree that the paddock is a place of work, dealing with his fans is also, to a certain extent, part of the job.
Motor sport has been an important part of his life for many years. It stretches further back than his Formula One debut, or his days in motor cycling - it dates to his father's career. Many underestimate the importance the sport holds to those involved, and to him it would mean a whole new life. No longer will he have to travel the world every fortnight, to risk his life every time he jumps into his confined cockpit. No longer will he have to hold a super-abundance of press conferences and pose for tedious photographs. No longer will he be required to test week-in and week-out - he will be classed as 'normal.'
He has won twenty two grand prix and a world championship - feats that are by no means something only luck can achieve. He worked bloody hard to get where he is today and has had to establish himself as Damon Hill in his own right and not as 'that bloke - the son of Graham'. To turn his back on world-wide dominance and the thrill of racing at speeds in excess of 200mph will not be easy for him.
However, when he has doubts in his mind, he is a danger to himself and others on the track. Formula One certainly isn't for the faint-hearted, and at this moment in time, Damon is far from his psychological peak. It is reported that his beloved wife, Georgie, is eager for him to hang up his helmet, and maybe she has good reason to want this. She wants her husband alive to be able to look after her and their four kids, not six feet under because he decided to race 'just one more time.'
None of us can know what Damon is thinking and none of us know what he truly wants. But we do know that he is doing himself no justice at the moment - the Damon we are seeing today is a mere shadow of that wonderful world champion we knew three years ago.
The choice is all yours, Damon - but remember your pride and gracefulness for the sake of you, your family and the sport.
Julie Gates is happiest watching F1 and writing. Also interested in singing, cars, cinema, reading and going to concerts, she has little spare time to relax, but this is the way she likes it - rather being busy than idle as she can't stand still for five minutes! Totally committed to her career as a Formula One journalist, she is determined to succeed.