Hill puts his demons to rest

> For­mer world cham­pion opens up in frank au­to­bi­og­ra­phy

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

THE FIRST time Da­mon Hill vis­ited Suzuka for the Ja­panese For­mula One Grand Prix, the cir­cuit ho­tel reg­is­tered him as “De­mon”. The 1996 world cham­pion could laugh that one off, at least.

Other demons – grief, anger, self-doubt and deep de­pres­sion among them – have been harder to brush aside over the years, as he re­veals in a frank au­to­bi­og­ra­phy Watch­ing the Wheels pub­lished this month.

It is a book Hill could not have writ­ten when he re­tired in 1999 and that has re­quired the pass­ing of time, and some years of ther­apy, to over­come the in­ner con­flict and reach an un­der­stand­ing of who he re­ally is.

“For­mula One is about not need­ing help,” the 55-year-old told Reuters be­fore head­ing to Singapore for Sun­day’s grand prix.

“It’s about ev­ery­one be­ing so good that they’ve not got a crack in their ar­mour at all, any­where. That’s why you keep try­ing to carry that load. And even­tu­ally you just can’t get it off the ground.”

For Hill, whose dou­ble world cham­pion fa­ther Gra­ham died in a 1975 plane crash that had cat­a­clysmic con­se­quences for the fam­ily for­tunes, the full re­al­i­sa­tion that he needed help came only after he hung up his hel­met.

“It be­came too much by the end of my ca­reer and I needed to sort my­self out. When I stopped, I thought the prob­lem was be­ing in F1. But it wasn’t,” he said. “It was to do with more is­sues than that.”

Even­tu­ally, he rang a fam­ily friend who had trained as a ther­a­pist after los­ing her par­ents in a he­li­copter crash and asked for help.

The only son of a world cham­pion to also win the For­mula One ti­tle, al­though Nico Ros­berg could change that this sea­son, Hill took on Ger­many’s Michael Schu­macher in some of the great du­els of the 1990s.

At his peak, and in the best car, Hill was a for­mi­da­ble if some­times un­der-rated op­po­nent – a “tough b**tard” in team boss Frank Wil­liams’ words. But, un­like the supremely con­fi­dent Schu­macher, he was plagued by un­cer­tainty.

“For most of my life I needed an an­swer to the big ques­tion: am I just a Gra­ham Hill re­peat; Gra­ham Hill, Part II? Or am I Da­mon Hill, Part I?,” he says in the book.

With Ger­man driver HeinzHar­ald Frentzen lined up as his re­place­ment at Wil­liams for 1997 even be­fore he had won the ti­tle, Hill moved to un­com­pet­i­tive Ar­rows – where he al­most won in Hungary – be­fore two sea­sons at Jor­dan.

The book casts a fresh light on Hill’s state of mind dur­ing those years, and what was go­ing on be­hind the scenes, with­out seek­ing to make ex­cuses or em­bel­lish.

“I make it clear. I am not in the same cat­e­gory as (Ayr­ton) Senna and (Alain) Prost and (Michael) Schu­macher and (Lewis) Hamil­ton,” said Hill, who started out rac­ing mo­tor­cy­cles.

“I didn’t start at an early age al­ways want­ing to be a For­mula One driver... I hes­i­tate to say I don’t have the nat­u­ral abil­ity. I think I do. I just don’t think I had the train­ing at an early age to get to that level.”

Two fa­tal ac­ci­dents de­fined Hill’s ca­reer; that of an adored but of­ten ab­sent fa­ther and of Wil­liams team­mate Senna at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

On both oc­ca­sions, Hill felt he was step­ping into big shoes with big re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. He has lit­tle doubt he would have been a bet­ter rac­ing driver had he been a hap­pier per­son.

The cham­pion is now in a hap­pier place, en­joy­ing life as a tele­vi­sion pun­dit and with a first class Open Univer­sity lit­er­a­ture de­gree to his credit. – Reuters

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