This is a bit of a niche choice I appreciate and I realise that many of you may never have heard of Damon Hill. He was a Formula 1 Grand Prix driver from the 1980s and 90s and was the son of Graham Hill, also a Formula 1 driver. Graham was the only driver ever to win the Indianapolis 500, the Le Mans 24-hour race and the Formula 1 World Championship, which he won twice.
Graham Hill was piloting his own plane when he was killed in 1975, along with five other members of the Embassy Hill Racing team; Damon Hill was fifteen years old at the time. In fact Graham and Damon Hill were the first father/combination to win the F1 Championship.
This autobiography is the story of Hill’s struggle with coping with the loss of his father, whose death meant his family went from relative wealth living in a 25-room mansion, to much reduced circumstances. He worked as a motorcycle courier and also as a labourer to pay for his education. The book charts his entry into motorcycle racing, at which he had modest success, and his subsequent move into single-seater cars.
The thread that runs throughout the book is his painful self-awareness and yet his inability, until he retired from Grand Prix racing in 1999, to come to terms fully with his father’s death and how it had impacted on his life. Damon Hill is very honest with himself and his self-limiting beliefs and also about the depths of depression to which he sunk at times but from which he was able to build the resilience to achieve his ultimate goal.
Damon Hill won the Formula 1 World Championship in 1996 when he was driving for the Williams team who, at that time, had what was considered to be the best car on the grid. That fact does not, however, detract from the incredible amount of dedication and belief, together with the talent that is required to reach the pinnacle of Formula 1. Other drivers have had the best car on the grid and not won the World Championship.
Hill emerges from this book as a thoroughly decent guy who sometimes makes some less than high-quality choices but always retains your respect. His first child was born suffering from Down’s syndrome and he and his wife are both patrons of the Down’s Syndrome Association and in 2008, Hill became the first patron of St. Joseph’s Specialist School and College which is a dedicated school for children with severe learning disabilities and autism in Cranleigh, Surrey.
There’s a great deal of Winning Edge-type stuff in this book so despite the fact that there is a lot of F1-nerd detail, it is well worth a read by non-believers, I recommend it.