When the ghost of Ayrton Senna’s ‘casual comment’ ruined F1 champ Damon Hill’s career


Ayrton Senna was a volatile figure in F1 and his words carried weight. Whatever he said was valued, and every judgment he made was treated with respect. It was that respect and authority that ruined Damon Hill’s career.


What happened to Damon Hill?

Damon Hill took over as team leader at Williams following the tragic death of Ayrton Senna in 1994. In 1996 Hill was able to capitalize on reigning F1 champion Michael Schumacher in a struggling Ferrari and win the title. However, the jubilation and euphoria were short-lived as he was replaced by Heinz Herald Frentzen for the next season.

An excellent afternoon of storytelling with Jonny Williams and @glennfreeman39 for the @wearetherace “Bring Back V10s Podcast”. Looking back on one of my all time favorite seasons – 1997! Some excellent insights from JW on Jacques, deals and the post-Jerez vibe https://t.co/Egg9lsb9y8

The young German drove for Sauber at the time and was a teammate of Michael Schumacher in the 1990 Mercedes Sports Car World Championship team. Frank Williams was impressed by Frentzen and started rumors that he was faster than Schumacher in the Mercedes sports car. He then signed the German to replace Hill.


What role did Ayrton Senna play in William’s decision?

With all of this Ayrton Senna had a big part to play. The Brazilian made a casual remark two years earlier that heavily influenced Frank Williams.

In a recent appearance at the Bring back V10s Podcast, Frank Williams’ son Jonathan, revealed Senna’s comment, which left a lasting impression on his dad. On Heinz Herald Frentzen’s first F1 weekend, the German was chased around the track by Senna during a practice session. After returning to the pits, the Brazilian asked who the new Sauber driver was.

Upon learning that it was Frentzen, Senna praised the German and said that he was a very strong driver. This left a mark on William’s mind when he signed Frentzen to replace Hill for the 1997 F1 season. The move was the ultimate disaster for Damon Hills career. After this season he would never drive for a top team again.

Especially his teammate Jacques Villeneuve, the driver he beat for the title in 1996 would go on to win the 1997 F1 drivers’ title. Had Hill not been replaced, he would most likely have been world champion in 1997 as well and most likely would have spent the rest of his career on a top team.

This was not to be, however, as Hill would spend the remainder of his career playing in midfield teams before finally retiring from the sport in 1999.

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