Formula One World Champion racing driver Damon Hill has been in Penarth today talking to enthusiasts at a special book launch organised by Griffin Books of Windsor Road and meeting local primary schoolchildren who’ve been working on a motor-racing project.
The event was an all ticket lunch held at the Glamorganshire Golf Club to launch Damon’s new autobiography “Watching the Wheels ” where the famous racing driver took part in a frank and revealing interview about the highs and lows of his colourful career, and in particular the on-track dramas and behind the scenes intrigues of F1.
Damon is – so far – the only son of a F1 World Champion to have become a World Champion in his own right. His famous father, Graham Hill, died in a private aircraft crash when Damon was just 15 years old.
In his talk and in his book Damon gave the audience a revealing insight into a working life which began delivering as a motor bike messenger to stepping onto the winners’ rostrum as World Champion and receiving the accolade of becoming BBC Sports Personality of the year .
He told the audience about generosity of the late Beatle (and motor-racing enthusiast) George Harrison who – in his early days – helped him financially to get started as a racing driver. When Damon had established himself- and wanted to repay the money – George Harrison wouldn’t accept it, and it was given instead to the charity “Halo” for children with Down’s Syndrome (Hills eldest son has Downs) .
There were frank insights into his now legendary on-track battles and collisions with champion Michael Schumacher whose team – Damon said – would do anything to win . But sportingly he admitted that the collision in the Adelaide Grand Prix – the championship decider in 1994 – was his own fault, not Schumacher’s.
He just saw what looked like an opportunity to overtake the German and then didn’t know Schumacher’s car was already mortally damaged and likely to fail at any minute. The crash meant neither driver finished, and the title – by default – went to Schumacher.
There was another crash with Schumacher in the British Grand Prix of 1995 and Hill won the World Chamionship in 1996 but then found himself ousted from his Williams team – forcing him to go to a new team, Arrows, for 1997.
Damon also took the audience into his confidence about the bouts of depression he suffered when his career came to what many consider was a premature end, and also explained – as he does in his book – how he dealt with it – in a way which may well help others who also find themselves in similar circumstances in whatever walk of life they may be.
A group of children from Albert School in Penarth, who have been building model racing cars as part of a school project, also had the opportunity of meeting Damon at the Penarth event.
The F1 Primary Schools scheme is run by Jaguar every year for primary school children to make model cars and race them as an extra-curricular activity.
Albert School pupils won a Jaguar award for their achievements so it’s just possible that perhaps the mantle might have been passed today to a future generation of Penarth F1 World Champions.