Test driver is no longer a “dead-end job thanks to me” says Formula 1 legend and World Champion Damon Hill who believes the way he landed a prized seat on the grid in the top flight became the catalyst for others to step up to the top flight.
Hill replaced Mark Blundell as Williams’ understudy in 1992 and got his rewards a year later when he was promoted to the full race team following Nigel Mansell’s decision to retire.
The 1996 world champion feels his transition has inspired a host of other reserves, including George Russell and Sebastian Vettel, to follow a similar path in order to carve out their own success stories.
“In one mighty leap I went from no job, mortgage, handicapped child and married to being a test driver for Williams,” Hill said on the Fuelling Around podcast.
“Then all it took was for Nigel Mansell to suddenly decide he didn’t want to race for Williams and suddenly I’m in the bloody seat with Alain Prost.
“You’re a bit of a vulture (as a test driver), you’re sitting there on a branch hoping that someone slips on a banana skin. Obviously, you don’t wish that, but if someone gets Covid and they can’t drive, you’re in. That’s it, in you go.”
Hill: I was one of the very, very few people who had the experience of these strange beasts
“At that time it was seen as a dead-end job,” recalled Hill. “Basically, if you were a test driver you were a failed racing driver. I really was the first guy to convert, I think, and I’m sure historians will pick me up on this.
“It became, after that, a sought-after job to be a test driver or reserve. You weren’t the reserve (back then), you literally just were the test driver,” explained Hill.
A couple of F1 appearances for Brabham in the 1992 season aside, Hill ensured that his big break at 33 wasn’t a wasted one finishing two places behind title-winning team-mate Alain Prost.
Two runner-up finishes followed before he finally got his hands on motorsport’s biggest prize – 1996 F1 World Champion – just like his father Graham had in 1962 and 1968.
“The thing that was slightly odd in my case was that I worked on the active car so I was one of the very, very few people who had the experience of these strange beasts,” added Hill during the latest episode of the award-winning motoring podcast.
“I think that’s why I got the gig because I was familiar, I knew the engineers and I knew how it worked and other people kind of had to get used to it,” revealed the 62-year-old.
On the podcast, Hill also discusses a host of other topics including his love of cars, motorbikes, music and the story of his early-career financial and sponsorship struggles. (Report provided by Adrian Flux)