Formula One does not lack remarkable stories. But Damon Hill’s is unique.
Being the son of a world champion who went on to win the championship himself, and doing so despite the shocking death of his father following his retirement from F1, Hill’s perspective on the sport is rather different from many of his rivals’. And his autobiography, published to coincide with the 20th anniversary of his 1996 triumph, tells a story which will surprise many.
The book has drawn much attention for Hill’s candid revelation in its opening pages about his struggle with depression after retiring from F1. He describes how he feared meeting the same end as his father in a plane accident and the creeping fear which led him to park a healthy car 21 laps into his final grand prix.
He draws other parallels with his father: their late start in racing and the perception they were grafters rather than naturally skilled racers. It’s rare and refreshing to read a book by a F1 driver who addresses popular views about his abilities.
From the unique position of being the only person beside Senna to have driven the same car in the same race, Hill attends to the subject in patient detail and offers a convincing, nuanced view while dismantling the claim a broken steering column could have been responsible.
Hill’s deadpan humour provides much-needed relief from sombre passages such as these which are dotted throughout his story. But “it was not all doom and gloom by a long chalk” he notes early on. Having lived a life almost entirely within the motor racing universe, he has a rich trove of anecdotes to mine.
Many driver biographies are little more than simple recollections of race after race. This is much more well-rounded, sometimes at the expense of detail about particular seasons. I could complain about that, the smattering of typos and the baffling omission of an index. But none of this detracts from Hill’s fascinating story, which is bravely and honestly told.
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Working the Wheel: My Autobiography
Author: Damon Hill
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
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