Teaming up with Jacques Villeneuve at Williams in 1996, Damon Hill has recalled the one time he was forced to set out boundaries with his rookie team-mate – and it had nothing to do with their on-track battle.
Hill and rookie driver Villeneuve were fierce competitors back in 1996 with their FW18 the pick of the field. The team-mates won 11 of that year’s 16 races with Hill taking the World title with 97 points, 19 ahead of the Canadian.
That both drivers had fathers who had been F1 drivers added to the story line in what was an interesting tussle between a driver wanting that elusive first World title after back-to-back runner-up results, and the newcomer looking to make a name for himself.
It was, however, largely unconfrontational barring one moment. One that involved a piece of chicken.
Speaking on the F1 Nation podcast where they discussed today’s Red Bull rivalry, Tom Clarkson told Hill: “I’m sure you’ve told me in the past that you used to steal the chicken off Jacques’ plate or something like that? Is that true?”
The 1996 World Champion was quick to clear that one up.
“This,” he said, “is how stories get twisted over time. You do wonder about the whole of human history that by the time it gets to about 2000 years from now, I will have attacked Jacques with a chicken or something like that.”
Explaining what did happen, he said. “They used to bring our lunches into the engineers’ room, which is a tiny little room, and Jacques leant over with his fork and tried to nick my chicken.
“I thought, ‘well listen, I don’t mind you trying to beat me out on the track and whatever you get up to behind my back, but you’re not having my chicken okay?’
“And that was a point where we came to a good understanding between us, you can race me on the track, but you’re not taking the food out of my mouth, okay, that’s enough.”
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The 62-year-old has in the past spoken about his relationship with Villeneuve noting the Canadian’s “tremendous sporting attitude” when the Briton beat him to the title.
“He was great afterwards, absolutely brilliant,” he told Motorsport Magazine, “a tremendous sporting attitude, no hard feelings at all. We went out to dinner and he was great about it.
“There was a good spirit within the team that year. There were two camps, yes, but we both knew that what will be, will be. I know the traditional relationship between team-mates is one of wishing to see the other guy not only defeated, but also crushed.
“But that’s just not necessary. It’s enough to beat him on the track and Jacques had the same attitude – you want to command respect for your driving among your rivals and then you can say, look, I did it, I won. That is important to me.
“F1 is like boxing, that rivalry between two guys, and sometimes – like Alonso and Hamilton – it boils over. For me, sport is all about watching that dynamic unfold. I’d never make rules about how drivers should behave but there are those who can lose their dignity, and those who keep it.”
Hill left Williams after his title-winning season with Villeneuve going onto to win the 1997 title with the team.