In a speech at the Autosport International Show, Damon Hill has answered David Coulthard’s recent comments about Lewis Hamilton being thrown into F1 too quickly. He thinks Coulthard’s doubts are caused mainly by the approaching end of the Scot’s career.
Even more interesting than Damon’s speech is the way his own status has changed gradually since he left F1. As a driver, he was always regarded with suspicion, even after he won his world championship. Everyone tended to credit the car rather than the driver and Damon remained the “son of Graham” no matter how well he performed.
Since his retirement, Damon has been asked for his opinion more often and what he says is taken much more seriously. These days he has emerged from his father’s shadow and his championship counts for more than it did when he first won it.
It’s an interesting phenomenon. Guys like Jackie Stewart and Stirling Moss have always had an air of authority about them and even James Hunt was listened to respectfully, but only lately has Damon reached that sort of stature. Perhaps it’s because the fact remains that he did win the championship and was the last Brit to do so. In the end, who cares whether he had the best car or not?
I think Damon is a little hard on Coulthard, however. David may not have won the championship yet but he is a consistent points scorer, often in an uncompetitive car. His motivation seems as strong as ever and he could still win races, given the right machinery.
Okay, he didn’t have that immediate impact that the really gifted drivers had on entering F1 – Schumacher, Prost and Senna, to quote the speech – but neither did Damon. Not all future champions give notice of their potential in so spectacular a fashion, after all. Who rated Fernando Alonso when he was driving for Minardi? Very few, I suspect.
Jackie Stewart pointed out recently that there are usually only one or two supremely talented drivers in any generation. If that is so, then Raikkonen and Alonso would have to claim that status at the moment. But that doesn’t mean that all the other drivers might as well pack their bags and go home; with hard work and perseverance, they can overcome the gap in sheer talent and win championships too.
Damon ought to know that, since his father had to fight against Jim Clark and then Stewart himself, both the supreme drivers of their day, and still he managed to steal races from them. David Coulthard has many of the qualities that brought Graham Hill his triumphs and, when it comes to hard work and determination, no-one beats David.