HindustanTimes Fri,19 Dec 2014
Damon of the past delves into present
Vinayak Pande, Hindustan Times
Greater Noida, October 27, 2012
First Published: 00:43 IST(27/10/2012)
Last Updated: 12:11 IST(27/10/2012)
Former Formula 1 champion Damon Hill

That silver-haired, goateed man in a bright pink shirt and jeans looks familiar. It's not until he attracts the attention of some journalists that you identify him as Michael Schumacher's first great championship rival, Damon Hill.

The 1996 world champion (whose late father, Graham, was the 1962 champion) is in India to see a new chapter in what he calls "the story" that is the F1 world championship.

"When you sit and watch a Grand Prix for the first time, it can seem that there is not much to it," Hill told HT when asked about whether the Indian Grand Prix could be popular enough to attract sustained interest.

"It's a complex sport and it's difficult to immediately feel like it has any relevance," he continued, "But once you understand all the little details about it, like so many do in Europe, you find that it has its own storyline and you realise what a great show it is, a bit like a soap opera.

"Race results produce plots for different drivers and other team members and there's always some kind of (laughs) crisis, so it's very entertaining!"

When the "soap opera" was first broadcast regularly in India, Hill was one of the leading characters. As Williams F1's lead driver, he battled hard for the world championship against Schumacher and the two were involved in one of the sport's most controversial collisions at the 1994 season-ending Australian GP.

The German went off the fast street circuit at Adelaide, damaging his right side wheels against a concrete barrier before pulling across to the other side of the track colliding with Hill. The Briton's car suffered terminal damage and, as both drivers retired, Schumacher won the title by a single point.

So, what went through Hill's mind during that particular episode? "I didn't know that he had crashed at first," said Hill, "I just thought that I tried an overtaking move that didn't work and we both crashed, which was a sad way to end a championship.

"The outcry against Michael at the time was a lot and people still hold it against him," Hill continued. "But all throughout the history of motor racing, you've had decisive moments settled by a collision of two protagonists, which is not a good way to decide a championship, but it happens.”

‘Greedy me’

Did Hill himself ever feel that he overstepped the boundary between hard racing and foul play? “I admit there have been times when I have been a bit gree-dy,” said Hill. “But that’s the thing about these incidents where one side feels like there has been justice but the other doesn’t and it’s up to the rule makers to police it.”

Hill, however, doesn't feel any ill will against Schumacher and relates to his current plight of uncompetitiveness. Hill himself was outscored 54 points to seven by Jordan teammate Heinz-Harald Frentzen in his final season in 1999.

"I've always thought it's impossible to be in F1 into your 40s," said Hill. "Michael is an exception, so he's gone beyond that but beyond 35 to 36, it's very difficult to be competitive as you have so much more on your mind than when you were younger."

One of the things on Hill's mind now is guiding the career of his 20-year-old son Josh, who has also taken up racing. And so the story continues.

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