Damon Hill was one of the most underrated Formula One drivers of his time. The former Williams test driver and 1996 F1 World Champion was handed a prime drive with the Williams F1 team in 1993. The 1990s was Williams’ most dominant period in Formula One. When Ayrton Senna was killed at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, Damon Hill was suddenly elevated as the number one driver. He nearly went on to win the 1994 drivers title, but Michael Schumacher denied him the accolade in Australia.
Hill’s 1995 season was an up and down affair, 5 retirements in addition to two over-optimistic overtakes on his rival, again, Michael Schumacher. Both attempts ended in the gravel trap and retirement. It is fair to say, the heroics Hill displayed in 1994 were sporadic in 1995. Michael Schumacher would go on to have many rivals, but Damon Hill was his first, and probably most important.
For the 1996 season, Schumacher had left Benetton to join the struggling Ferrari team. Williams had the best car on the grid by a big margin and Hill would go on to win the 1996 championship with 8 wins. Williams rewarded Hill by dropping him from the team for the next season.
Yet after all these years, Damon Hill remains underrated. Many point out he had at his disposal the best car on the grid during his time at Williams. That is very much true, but at the end of the day, Hill still had to do the job and still deliver. Which he did.
Hill’s F1 career started late and it ended early. His victory against Schumacher at Suzuka in 1994 must be seen as one of the top 10 greatest drives in F1. On his day Hill was fast and unbeatable.
The main difference between Hill and Schumacher was, that Schumacher had the ability to drive on the edge every lap. Hill had no option to raise his game in order to compete. As did every other driver who went against Schumacher.
That is the marginal difference between a great driver like Hill and an exceptional talent like Schumacher.
Schumacher was a once-in-a-generation driver and in all fairness, Hill did an excellent job against an exceptional talent that often goes unnoticed.