Father-Son Formula One pairs: Graham and Damon Hill
As part of a father-son special, we chronicle famous Father-Son duos in Formula 1. The first in our 5 part series are British father-son pair Graham and Damon Hill.
The British father-son pair are known for being the most successful father-son pair in Formula One history. Father Graham started off as an apprentice engineer, working for a private firm before enlisting in the Royal Navy.
Graham was known for being a ‘late bloomer’. Unlike most modern day Formula One drivers, who started karting at a very young age (Lewis Hamilton began at the age of four!), he did not even start driving a regular car until he was 24-years-old, which is when he passed his driving test.
Hill Sr. started officially ‘racing’ when he saw a promotional event at the erstwhile British track at Brands Hatch, following which he joined Lotus as a team mechanic. He quickly went from being under the engine to behind the wheel, though, and he made his debut with the team at the 1958 Grand Prix in Monaco.
His biggest success came with British Racing Motors team, or BRM, with whom he won the World Championship of 1960. He would repeat that feat years later, back at his old team Lotus in 1968, a year he lost two of his teammates in separate crashes at Hockenheimring and Indianapolis. Hill won his second World Championship that year.
After an accident at the U.S Grand Prix in 1969, Graham broke both his legs, and although he recovered never tasted the same success he had previously had.
The older Hill is one of the few drivers to have achieved the Triple Crown of motorsport, which is when a driver has been World Champion, and won the Indy 500 championship (which Hill won in 1966), the Formula One world Championship, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world endurance race.
Sadly, he died in 1975, when he crashed the single seater plane he was piloting crashed when he attempted to land it near London in foggy conditions.
Son Damon, who was living a comfortable life with his parents and siblings, was deeply affected by his father’s death, both emotionally and financially. He took on work as a daily wage labourer and a delivery courier in his youth. The 1960-born Hill Jr. started his racing career with motorcycles at the age of 21, and moved to cars at the behest of his mother, who thought motorcycles were far too dangerous.
Damon intended to move to Formula Three, a move circumstances prevented. However, he became a Formula One test driver for Williams in 1991, while still in competition at the F3000. He was unable, however, to participate at the Grand Prix level until the following year, when he signed to Brabham.
He was very unlucky, however, as the financially embattled Brabham was on the verge of folding, and did not complete that season.
Although his performances had been steadily stronger, Hill lost out on 2nd place in the World Championships to Ayrton Senna. 1994 was his breakout year, however, and Hill won the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year that year.
Hill Jr. was favourite to win the title the following year, but did not. He won it in 1996, and thus became the only son of a Formula One World Champion to win the title himself. He had the most successful Formula One season that year. Funnily enough, second behind Hill was the son of another F1 icon – Jacques Villeneuve, the son of Canadian driver Gilles, after whom the circuit in Montreal has been named.
Although he won the World Championship with them, Hill left Williams for Arrows the next year, and this move was not largely successful at all.
Hill never had the same success again, and retired in 1999, but is still active in motorsport, albeit in a different role this time. He was the president of the British Racing Drivers’ Association for 5 years, from 2006-2011, and was part of BSkyB’s reporting team for a number of years.
Damon’s son Joshua also had a motor racing career, which sadly did not reach the levels that his famous father’s and grandfather’s did. Joshua competed in the Formula E championships in 2011, and announced his retirement from motorsport in 2013.
Damon Hill is also a musician, and was friends with late Beatles guitarist George Harrison.