A winning formula

David E Langford Continues his series on heroes who have inspired his work Oxfordshire motorsport

First & Last

My tribute to Damon Hills achievement as Formula 1 World Champion for the Oxfordshire-based Williams team in 1996 is this illustration entitled The First and Last, a painting completed for the International Motor Sport Painting Competition, based at Tetbuiy.

A previous study of Nigel Mansell driving a Williams had made it into the finals of the same competition a few years before, so it was the next logical step to represent Damon Hill, as the last British World Champion alongside the very first driver to hold that title - Mike Hawthorn, who was then driving for Ferrari.

This symbolic juxtaposition of two great British drivers who, in reality, were over 40 years apart in their career, was initially inspired by a chance meeting with Damon Hill at the Barbican exhibition centre in London during 1986. At the time I was working with Oxford Publishing Services, where a colleague and I had been assigned to a printing exhibition at the Barbican to assess the latest technology.

Damon Hill was in attendance to promote Ricoh Copiers, the company who were then sponsoring his campaign with Formula Ford racing cars. After enquiring about the Ricoh product, the conversation progressed to a motor sport theme and the difficulties involved in transferring from motorcycle to car racing, a move which Damon himself had recently made.

He experienced a few problems as everyone does in that position; even Hailwood and Surtees had found it a challenge, but we were assured that there was no going back to any serious competition on two wheels. There was a clear determination to succeed with car racing at the highest level, regardless of the armchair critics who were only too keen to dismiss his efforts.

We left with a personally signed photograph (illustrated here) and a heightened sense of optimism.

Following his steady progress through the ranks of Formula Ford, Formula 3000, and so on, right to the pinnacle of Formula 1, my wife and I tried to attend as many Fl test sessions at Silverstone as possible.

As a test driver for the Williams team, it was difficult to tell the difference between Damon Hill's own incisive performance to that of the more experienced contenders he shared the track with. It was evident that it was only a matter of time before his big chance came to actually race for the team. This chance would materialise in 1993.

Nigel Mansell had already won the world championship for Williams, and after failed negotiations with the team for the 1993 season he flew off to join he Newman-Haas 'Indycar' set-up in the USA.

Formula 1 politics immediately dictated that the vacancies within the Williams camp would be occupied by Alain Prost and Damon Hill. Hill's established position as test driver for the team made the move to full-time driver relatively straightforward. His team mate, Prost, was the ideal master to acquire skills from, with a cache of world championships already under his belt, and a wealth of tactical knowledge which was his trademark.

The Williams drivers also had a mutual adversary in McLaren's number one; the Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna, and the opening rounds of the 1993 season produced some interesting results. By the end of the season, Prost had gained 99 championship points, which gave him the world title. Damon Hill was third with 69 points but Prost had already announced his retirement from racing altogether, giving way to Ayrton Senna as the new team leader for Williams in 1994.

1994 was a year of extreme highs and lows for the Williams team with the tragedy of Ayrton Senna's death at Imola, a terrible loss, signified by the floral tributes which lined the roadside leading to the Williams headquarters in Oxfordshire.

Damon Hill had the huge responsibility to carry the team forward after this accident. Characteristically, he bore the burden with admirable courage to win the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and to end the season one point behind Michael Schumacher, after their very controversial incident during the last race in Australia which cost Damon the world championship.

It wasn't until 1996 that he and the Williams team would win the world title, which was decided during the last race of the season at the Japanese Grand Prix. Getting up at 4am to watch TV is not something I make a habit of doing, but the 1996 Japanese GP was an exceptional moment in televisual history not to be missed.

Murray Walker's emotional commentary was infectious. When Damon Hill crossed the finish line as world Fl champion there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Murray Walker lost for words? No one would have believed it possible!

For commissions and details of D E Langford's work tel: 01865 434359 September 2006 Oxfordshire Limited Edition 57