World Champion in 1996, Damon Hill observes that despite its current unpredictability, F1 appears to lack drivers with the complexity and depth of Ayrton Senna — still revered for his romantic intensity and brilliant driving — and his predecessors.
“It’s an interesting comment and I think people feel that. Maybe we have to ask why there is not so much admiration and respect today. There’s a lot of talent and experience but drivers are being cloaked by the sport in this media-mad world. When you talk about the philosophical, layered characters of Senna, [Niki] Lauda and [James] Hunt I don’t think we’ve got anyone like that today. It comes back to the life-and-death question.”
Without the existential threat of danger and death, have drivers become bland in a sponsor-driven business? “I think so. I watched this fascinating documentary about Peter Revson [who died before the South African GP in 1974]. Part of the reason they raced then was because it was so dangerous. I say ‘they’ because I’m not sure I would’ve wanted to be a racing driver in the 1970s. It was grim. But that risk kicked something into life that’s not there today.”
Hill’s comments are persuasive for they are framed by his certainty that, after Imola, racing had to change. He is also quietly emphatic that he would not have won the drivers’ title had Senna lived. “I was uncomfortable when I won the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year [in 1994 and 1996]. As a racing driver I wanted to be at the front but I was thrown into that situation. It was highly unlikely I would’ve held Ayrton at bay.”