Rosberg follows in Hill’s footsteps as famous son crowned world champion

Formula One Japanese Grand Prix winner Damon Hill  and runner-up Michael Schumacher exchange some words on the podium.
Formula One Japanese Grand Prix winner Damon Hill and runner-up Michael Schumacher exchange some words on the podium.
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Damon Hill knows only too well how Nico Rosberg will feel this morning after the German emulated his Finnish father Keke’s feat of winning the Formula 1 crown in 1982.

It is 20 years since Hill brought his car to a halt at the Japanese Grand Prix to match the success of his father and stand on top of the F1 world.

In fact, he is the only one who knew this but, as he reveals in his autobiography, it was not always a simple feeling with which to cope.

He pinpointed the moment US television host David Letterman brought out a large picture of his father on the world-famous Late Show days after winning in Suzuka. “What about this guy?” were the words of the American TV host, “isn’t that as good as it gets?”

At the biggest moment of a fledgling career, it was a startling reminder to Hill that he would always be in the shadow of his legendary father, who had died at the age of 46 in a plane crash.

“Graham Hill was a massive star and I was just doing what he had done, but he had done it better and before me,” the 56-year-old recalls. “There was no getting around that, even for a newly crowned world champion.”

Hill’s rivalry with Michael Schumacher mirrors that of Lewis Hamilton’s with Rosberg.

Hill had been denied a maiden world championship so famously by a crash with Michael Schumacher two years earlier. But 1996 had been a different year on the circuit. It had more turbulence off the road than on it, with Hill unceremoniously dropped by his Williams team for the following 1997 season despite his dominance at the front of the grid.

Hill had started the year in imperious fashion with a win at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix soon followed by further glory in Brazil and Argentina.

Schumacher was lagging behind at new team Ferrari, having retired from two of the opening three races. Hill’s Williams teammate Jacques Villeneuve was the one keeping sight of his rear wing – but predominantly playing second fiddle.

Despite four retirements, including in the British Grand Prix that year, Hill’s seven wins meant he went into the final race at Suzuka knowing a points finish would clinch the title – Rosberg required, and took, a podium finish yesterday to lift the title from Hamilton.

Having qualified second behind Villeneuve, thoughts were only on what fate would serve up as he aimed to join the great names of British motor sport. It served him well, too, as his teammate dropped down the field after a tardy start and retired on lap 37 from a wheel-bearing failure.

“Now that’s the kind of news you like to hear on the radio,” said Hill. “It was a very nice feeling driving that car. After going through an enormous number of twists and turns, I had achieved what I had set out to achieve.”

It was not just motor-racing fans who had warmed to then Williams driver as Hill went on to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year for a second time.

Watching the Wheels by Damon Hill (published by Macmillan, £20).