Currently reading: Damon Hill on Hamilton, Verstappen and the future of F1
The 1996 World Champion is now 60 but remains linked with the sport as a Sky TV pundit
Damien Smith
News
4 mins read
26 March 2021

Damon Hill was 36 when he became Formula 1 World Champion in 1996, the same age Lewis Hamilton is now and will still be in December if – or is it when? – he claims his record eighth crown. Now 60 and newly vaccinated against you-know-what, Hill reckons he understands where Hamilton’s head might be at, following his recent decision to only re- commit to the dominant Mercedes-AMG F1 team until the end of 2021. Whether he races on into next year and beyond is currently anyone’s guess – including, perhaps, his own.

“I totally get it,” says Damon, who will attend about a third of the record 23 races scheduled for this year in his role as pundit for Sky F1’s TV coverage. “Lewis is in this position where he can pick and choose. As he’s acknowledged, he’s coming up to the end-game. He knows he could race if he wanted to for a long time yet, but he’s not sure. Being bound to a contract that goes beyond a certain number of years, you don’t know how you are going to feel when it comes to the crunch.”

Hill’s fine F1 career – 21 GP wins for Williams, another for Jordan and that emotional 1996 world title – hobbled to a sad conclusion after a difficult season in 1999. He knew the time had come. “Everybody has this in the back of their mind: ‘when will I have to stop racing, and will I know when is the right time to stop?’” says Damon. “Keeping your options open is the right thing to do. The question is whether he’ll be in a stronger negotiating position later this year, and on past track record you’d say he probably will be.

“But we saw what happened with Michael [Schumacher] at Ferrari where you think ‘they’ll wait for me’,” he adds as a warning. “The trouble is Mercedes won’t and can’t. That’s the trap, and I’d be wary of it. Assuming you are indispensable is risky.”

As Hill says, “It’s more of a problem for Mercedes, isn’t it? They have to set up their ducks in a row for the future.” As Red Bull boss Christian Horner has openly admitted, his driver Max Verstappen will surely be high on the list if Mercedes has any doubt about Hamilton’s future intentions. “Yes, and I think Mercedes will be high on Max’s list as well,” says Damon. “He’s been very loyal to Red Bull, but if they can’t provide the competitiveness he needs… Time is ticking. He was the youngest F1 winner back in 2016, but he hasn’t been able to fight for a championship yet. That will be in his mind.”

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Just like last year, Red Bull is best placed to challenge Mercedes this season in its last campaign with factory Honda power, but Ferrari too should be a contender – if it has recovered the ground lost from the power-unit legality controversy that set it back before last term even began. “With the engine freeze [from 2022] and only one more upgrade to come they’d better have got it right this time, otherwise they will be stuck,” Hill points out, who relishes the prospect of Carlos Sainz Jr taking on Charles Leclerc, following the Spaniard’s switch from McLaren. Likewise, newly installed Daniel Ricciardo versus Lando Norris is a tantalising prospect in the papaya cars.

What about the entry of Aston Martin as the new face of what used to be Racing Point? “Intriguing, isn’t it?,” says Hill. “They are so wedded to Mercedes, linked so strongly through part-ownership and, it has to be said, from copying their design. But whether they will be a loyal subordinate is another question. The moment they start to depart from that, they won’t get so much assistance. If Mercedes is going to be beaten it probably won’t be by Aston Martin, but they wouldn’t mind putting Aston between them and Red Bull.”

At 39, Fernando Alonso is three years older than 1996-spec Damon and his return with Alpine (née Renault) will draw much attention in 2021. Will the two-time champion be the force of old? “In his mind I don’t think he has any doubts,” says Hill. “Alain Prost won his last championship [in 1993] when he was 38, Nigel Mansell won his title [in 1992] when he was 39. It’s continuous competition that’s the thing. If you’re out of it for a bit it takes ages to get back up again, and I’m sorry to say it gets harder the older you are.”

Twenty-five years after he became world champion and 22 years after he walked away from F1 as a driver, Hill remains hooked on the sport. “I still think it’s a fabulous show that’s easy to get excited by,” he says. That’s one thing that doesn’t change with age.

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Peter Cavellini 26 March 2021

Damon is spot on with his words, it's not a case of retire to let the next gen have their glory days, it's more, what if I get jaded with racing halfway through 2022?, and, you must remember Hamilton and Verstappen are to young to retire, you have to fill that future time with something.

Pietro Cavolonero 26 March 2021

Cavellini spouting sh!te again, to(o) young to retire? Hamilton doesn't need to work, he wants to work. He will have a career beyond F1.

What is inevitable is that younger, faster and hungrier drivers are snapping at his heels and WILL push him down the leaderboard over the next few years.

Hamilton has a gift, that is beyond doubt, probably one of the finest drivers ever. The problem is he competes in a sport where fractions of seconds per lap seperate winners from losers, his reaction times will lessen with age, it's inevitable.

Peter Cavellini 26 March 2021
Pietro Cavolonero wrote:

Cavellini spouting sh!te again, to(o) young to retire? Hamilton doesn't need to work, he wants to work. He will have a career beyond F1.

What is inevitable is that younger, faster and hungrier drivers are snapping at his heels and WILL push him down the leaderboard over the next few years.

Hamilton has a gift, that is beyond doubt, probably one of the finest drivers ever. The problem is he competes in a sport where fractions of seconds per lap seperate winners from losers, his reaction times will lessen with age, it's inevitable.

Nice to hear from you again, anyway, I don't know any F1 drivers personally,but, the media, for most , is there portal into their World whether they want it or not.