Damon Hill Q&A: Sky F1 analyst and 1994 British GP victor on Hamilton, Button & more
Why Lewis may now pose a greater threat than ever to Nico and who might get closest to Mercedes around the sweeps of Silverstone
By James Galloway. Last Updated: 02/07/14 10:03am
Sky F1's Damon Hill and Johnny Herbert
As one of only 12 Britons to have won his country's own race, Sky Sports F1's Damon Hill knows a thing or two about the unique challenges - and pressures - that come with driving in front of an expectant home Silverstone crowd.
Ahead of a weekend in which Britain's most recent home victor, Lewis Hamilton, goes in search of a victory that would reignite his championship challenge, Damon assess the state of play in the all-Mercedes title duel. The former BRDC President also talks McLaren, Williams and the future of British motorsport in our exclusive Q&A.
Eight races down heading Silverstone Damon, how do you see the balance of power in the championship between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton?
Damon Hill: “It clearly is all going Nico’s way at the moment – and all credit to him. He’s done a fantastic job, bringing it home, doing the business and competing against Lewis, who is no slouch. From a championship point of view, Lewis has had some bad luck and that’s hurt his championship position.
“It can’t always be like that and so I think eventually things will change – it always does. In some senses Lewis is released from a protected position. He knows he’s almost certainly going to come second, so he’s got nothing to lose.
“So in some senses he’s more dangerous now to Nico than he has been in the past.”
Hamilton obviously heads into his home race this weekend and he seems like the sort of driver who thrives on the kind of widespread fan support he’s likely to receive this weekend…
DH: “He likes his popularity, he knows he’s going to get massive support in his home grand prix. With the best will in the world, Jenson [Button] can win but it would have to be extraordinary circumstances. The same goes for Max [Chilton].
“So Lewis is our man coming into the British Grand Prix and let’s see whether he can find that extra second like Nigel Mansell said he could!"
Lewis won at Silverstone in 2008 of course, as you yourself did in 1994. Once you’ve won your home race, does the result give your season – and championship challenge - any extra momentum?
DH: "I suppose the example I can think of is Andy Murray and Wimbledon. Every year a British contender has to deal with the weight of expectation – and now at least Andy’s won Wimbledon.
“The British GP’s a similar thing. You come in and a lot will be made of who you are, how much you earn, who your girlfriend is, what you do in your spare time. So there will be a lot of media pressure and so in some senses it can be a trial.
“But Lewis is experienced now at all this. He’s grown up a lot and I hope he can enjoy himself. If you can find a way to enjoy it, it helps a lot."
You touched on Jenson Button, he’s never even finished on the podium at Silverstone has he?
DH: “Unbelievable isn’t it? That is quite an incredible statistic because he’s got quite a CV.
“McLaren just aren’t making the progress that they need. In some senses they are in a difficult situation with Honda coming next year. I don’t know what the deal is with Mercedes, they’ve got the power unit, but potentially they’re not seeing all the benefits of that relationship.
“But it can’t always be jam tomorrow with a team. Sooner or later you’re going to have to deliver, so the pressure’s on McLaren definitely.”
But what about the podium chances of your old team, Williams, after their impressive showing in Austria?
DH: “The problem they think they’ll have is their downforce, they don’t have enough downforce to compete against Mercedes. They have good speed but you have to stick the car on the road at Silverstone, it has such high-speed corners.
“So that means that you might see a bit of an opportunity for Red Bull. You can never discount Alonso in the Ferrari and in fact Ferrari have had an incredible record at Silverstone if you look back historically. Considering they don’t base themselves in the UK, they have done very well at Silverstone.
“But maybe Red Bull is able to get a bit closer because their car is good aerodynamically.”
Looking at the British GP event as a whole, Austria obviously won a lot of plaudits for the atmosphere the race weekend generated there, but that’s something Silverstone has long been famous for isn’t it?
DH: “Silverstone has been there for a long time with tremendous support from fans who make it an annual pilgrimage. It’s a social event in the UK calendar and, this year, the 50th grand prix at Silverstone.
“So it’s a pretty exceptional performance and exceptional record and heritage and history that we’ve got at Silverstone that no one else has got. So it’s an important historical venue for the sport, but the sport is always putting pressure on. It’s difficult to make a business out of a marginal event like this. We only need the occasional thing, a bit of bad luck, and particularly if we don’t get a British contender, that can make a huge difference.
“So looking down the line, who’s going to come on behind our current contenders? Who’s going to take us through in the next ten years from now – where are those drivers? We need to start looking now and finding out where the best talent is from this country to continue to have a force and a bargaining chip in the future for keeping the British Grand Prix.”
Watch the 2014 British GP live on Sky Sports F1. Extensive coverage of the Silverstone race weekend begins with Friday Practice from 9.45am on July 4.