F1 in the Spotlight: The Battle of the British Champions, Hill Vs. Hamilton

Adam PooleAnalyst INovember 8, 2008

"F1 In the Spotlight" is a new idea I have had. Every month, I will look at an event from F1 history and compare it with the on-goings in today's F1 world. This month, with the success of Lewis Hamilton, I feel it only correct to compare his alongside a fellow Brit.

The World Drivers Championship was last won by a British driver way back in 1996, the driver, Damon Hill, the team, Williams, the engine was of Renault origin. Let's take a quick time warp back to 1996 and have a look at the way Damon Hill won his championship...


Damon Hill: World Drivers Champion 1996

Damon Hill came into motor racing at a relatively late age. He started racing motorcycles at 23 but didn't get in a Formula One car until 1992, when he was 32 years of age.

Hill became test driver at the highly successful Williams team in 1992, but following the retirement of Nigel Mansell, he was promoted, which would see him start the 1993 season as a member of the race team, he then went on to secure his first of 22 race wins at that year's Hungarian Grand-Prix.

Hill spent four seasons with Williams and went on to win the Driver's Championship in his final season with them, in 1996.

Hill's championship-winning season wasn't what you would call "the most clean-cut" of seasons. He sported four retirements, including one at his home race at Silverstone. However, when the reliability was there, the Williams was by far the quickest car in the paddock and never qualified off the front row of the grid.

Although battling with reliability issues, Hill did go on to secure 10 podium positions, with eight of these seeing him on the top step. Hill clinched the Championship title in the final race of the season but did finish with a 19-point lead over teammate Jacques Villeneuve, who was forced to retire in the final round.

The title success in 1996 made Damon Hill the only driver to be the son of a former World Champion, the title also earned him his second BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, making him one of only three people to receive the award twice, Nigel Mansell (1992 World Drivers' Champion) being one and Boxer Henry Cooper being the other.

Following his success in 1996, Williams and Hill parted ways and Hill moved to Arrows for the 1997 season: a team that had never won a race in its 20-year history and had only scored a single point in the previous season. Needless to say, Hill's title defence was awry, and he left Arrows at the end of the season.

Hill joined Jordan for the final two seasons of his career. Although the "yellow cars" were no serious competitor for either of the two titles, Hill did manage to secure his first points of the season in style as he crossed the line in first on a rain-soaked Belgian track.

The final year of Hill's racing career was nothing to speak of; he suffered man problems with the car and couldn't get to grips with the new four-groove tyres that had been introduced at the start of the 1999 season. Damon's final race finished drastically, as he spun off the track in Japan and then continued on to drive his Jordan into the pits and retired a perfectly healthy car.


Lewis Hamilton: World Drivers Champion 2008

Unlike Damon Hill, Lewis started his Formula One career at the relatively early age of 22. However, just like Hill had done 11 years previous, Hamilton started his career with one of the top teams in the sport, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.

Hamilton's first season in F1 was one that ended in heartbreak, as his title hopes got shut down as his gearbox failed for 32s in the Championship decider of Brazil 2007. Although the season ended poorly for Hamilton, he did show signs of World Championship quality and gave Britain a lot of hope in a season that included 12 podium finishes including four top-step appearances.

Also, in similar circumstances to Hill, Lewis didn't have the most clean-cut of seasons on the road to the title, with a retirement in Canada and finishes of 10th or lower in three races, including the Grand-Prix at Bahrain, France, and Japan.

The 2008 season couldn't have started better for the young Brit, as he finished first in Australia. After his win, things turned sour for a couple races when he finished fifth in Malaysia, after long battles with Mark Webber and Jarno Trulli and a penalty in qualifying for impeding Nick Heidfeld saw him start the race in ninth. 

Bahrain, the third race of the season, saw things get even worse for Hamilton, as an accident in practice saw him on a spare chassis and an accident involving Fernando Alonso saw him finish 13th.

Spain, Turkey, and Monaco saw him visit all three steps on the podium finishing third, second, and first, respectively.

Canada was another dull moment for the Stevenage-born driver, as he crashed into the back of Kimi Raikkonen as the Finn was waiting for the red light to go green at the end of the pit lane, Hamilton was forced to retire for only the second time in his career and Hamilton suffered a 10-place grid drop for the next race in France.

Hamilton managed to win the race at a rain-soaked Silverstone, something he described as "a dream come true." He was elated at winning his home Grand-Prix after only managing third in the previous season.

Hamilton went on to win the Grand-Prix at Germany and later, China. Bad judgement and driver error in Japan saw the soon-to-be World Champion finish the race in 12th.

Hamilton licked his wounds and went on to win the next Grand-Prix in China by a healthy 15 seconds over his only Championship rival, Ferrari's Felipe Massa.

Lewis went into the final race of the season with a seven point lead over Massa, a race at Massa's home circuit of Brazil. Massa went on to win the race from pole, which meant that Hamilton had to finish the race no lower than fifth position.

In a nail-biting final three laps, Hamilton was passed by Sebastian Vettel, which saw the Brit back in sixth, but a poor decision by Toyota and Timo Glock saw the German on dry tyres on a wet track and on the final lap, Glock's lap time had dropped by 15s, allowing Vettel and Hamilton (both on wet Bridgestones) to pass him, allowing Hamilton to go on and claim the championship.

Hamilton is now in a multi-million pound contract that will see him with McLaren until the end of 2012; however, Lewis has stated he would like to spend the remainder of his F1 career with the Woking-based team.


In Closing...

Both drivers had a rocky road on the way to their respective Championships, but if we compare the race results of Damon Hill and Lewis Hamilton, there couldn't be two Championship winning seasons with so many differences.

As mentioned above, Damon Hill retired four times, Lewis Hamilton, just the once. Race wins, Damon Hill managed to stand on the top-step of the podium eight times, Lewis Hamilton only managed it five times. Lewis Hamilton finished the 2008 Bahrain Grand-Prix in 13th, the French Grand-Prix in 10th, and the Japanese Grand-Prix in 12th, whereas Damon Hill didn't finish below fifth throughout the entire 1996 season.

So although both drivers are British and both are World Champions, their road to the title couldn't have been more different.

If you enjoyed this, let me know, so I can start researching for the next installment.