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.”