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Wednesday, June 16, 1999 Published at 15:08 GMT 16:08 UK

Grand Prix's favourite son

Hill on his way to the 1996 world title at Suzuka

Damon Hill spun off on his last Grand Prix race on Sunday, in a low-key farewell to an up and down career which peaked with a world championship triumph at the same track three years ago.

Hill's early exit was a far cry from his victory at the season-ending 1996 Japanese Grand Prix, which earned him the world title against Canadian prodigy Jacques Villeneuve.

"I am very sad to be leaving Formula One and I would have loved to have finished on a higher note," HIll said.

"I have to acknowledge that Formula One for me is a thing of the past and that I have made the right decision to retire."

Hill, whose 16 races this season with Jordan have mostly ended with retirements, posted the 12th best time in qualifying for the season's final race but spun off on the 21st lap when he prepared for his pit stop.

"I had to change the nose cone which lost me lots of time. After that I decided there was too little to gain and too much to lose in carrying on," the eight-year F1 veteran said.

Born to drive

Hill was born into motor racing, yet the former world champion disliked the world of F1 during his youth.

His father Graham was world champion twice, but Damon was never in awe of a father who died when he was 15, and was frequently away from home even before his fatal 1975 plane crash.

The younger Hill grew up with an attitude of 'two wheels are better than four' and started his career on a motorbike.

[ image: Graham Hill: Twice world champion]
Graham Hill: Twice world champion
"I didn't want to follow dad," he later admitted.

"The only two things anyone said were 'haven't you grown?' and 'are you going to be a racing driver?'

"No, I'm bloody not, I thought - it was not for me. I was 'Graham Hill's son.'

"That motivated me to establish myself more strongly than if dad had been a bank clerk."

After the plane crash, family life - and finance - would never be the same again.

Five other people who died in Graham Hill's private jet sued his widow because the plane was not properly insured.

Full-time biker

When Hill started his career he was also forced to ride a motorbike during the week as a despatch rider to support his weekend racing.

[ image: Senna's crash left Hill leading the Williams team]
Senna's crash left Hill leading the Williams team
"I drove to tracks in my van and prepared the bikes myself. It was great fun," he said of a career which saw him win the Champion of Brands in 1984.

He was also reluctant to get into a car, until his mother paid for him to attend a racing school in France at the age of 23.

Hill's initial four-wheeled impact was modest until Williams appointed him test driver, in 1991.

He made his debut in a Brabham the following year before he was signed as Alain Prost's partner for Williams for the 1993 season.

The first victory came that year in Hungary and he retained the seat for 1994 when he was joined by another world champion in Ayrton Senna.

Senna tragedy

But the partnership ended in tragedy just three races later when the Brazilian died at the San Marino race.

[ image: Celebrating the title with wife Georgie]
Celebrating the title with wife Georgie
The inexperienced Hill was now asked to lead a team reeling from this loss.

He performed well, losing out on the title to Michael Schumacher by just a point after a controversial collision in Australia.

But improvement did not follow and he again lost out to the German in 1995, despite superior machinery.

"The enjoyment went out of it for me," said Hill of a year which tempted him to quit.

He decided to continue and embarked on a vigorous winter training regime.

Victory at Suzuka in Japan sealed the title, before he was given the BBC Sports Personality of the Year and the OBE.

Yet this success had already been tarnished by Williams dropping him for German Heinz-Harald Frentzen.

[ image: TWR in 1997 was a struggle]
TWR in 1997 was a struggle
For 1997 Hill signed for the TWR Arrows team, but it was a massive drop in status and the results would not come in the inferior car.

Eddie Jordan came to the rescue, but things did not click until the second half of 1998 when Hill won the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa.

"Our position gives a clear indication to those working within F1 that Jordan is going places," he confidently predicted, as others tipped him as an outside bet for the 1999 title.

But that dream of emulating his father's second championship faded as he managed just two finishes in this season's first six races, while new team-mate Frentzen - of all people - led the Jordan charge.

[ image: Eddie Jordan gave Hill his final Grand Prix drive]
Eddie Jordan gave Hill his final Grand Prix drive
This season's crashes have often been the 38-year-old's own fault - enough to convince him that his time was up.

He has never been given the credit offered to other former champions, including his extrovert and popular father, with critics saying the 1996 title came courtesy of superior machinery.

Yet his 22 race wins and one championship, plus two runners-up places make him Britain's best driver of this decade.

Damon Hill Factfile

1960: Born September 17, Hampstead, London.
1982-85: Worked as motorcycle despatch rider to fund his racing career.
1984: Wins in Formula Ford 1600 at Brands Hatch.
1985: Finished third in Esso Formula Ford 1600 Championship.
1986: Ninth in Formula Three Championship.
1987: Fifth in Formula Three Championship, scoring two wins.
1988: Third in Formula Three Championship, with two wins.
1990: Comes second at Brands Hatch in Formula 3000 Championship.
1991: Becomes official test driver for Williams Grand Prix team.
1992: Made Grand Prix debut for Brabham at British Grand Prix, finishing 16th.
1993: Joined Alain Prost in Williams Grand Prix team. Won for first time in Hungary, then added victories in Belgium and Italy. Finished third overall in championship in first full season. 1994: Becomes unofficial number one at Williams after Ayrton Senna died. Loses championship to Michael Schumacher by one point.
1995: Again finished second to Schumacher in championship. 1996: Wins World Championship and agrees to join Arrows team for next season. He is awarded the OBE and named BBC sports personality of the year.
1997: Hill scores seven points all season for Arrows and joins Jordan in a two-year deal.
1998: Wins the Belgian Grand Prix.
1999: Announces his retirement days after crashing out of the Canadian Grand Prix.

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