Saying no to Jackie Stewart as he felt it was “a big risk” to drive for a newly-formed team in 1997, Damon Hill says that decision “broke” his heart.
Saying farewell to Williams after winning the 1996 World title, dropped by the team in favour of signing Heinz-Harold Frentzen, Jackie Stewart made a play for Hill’s signature.
He put together an offer, a “very good” one, in the hope of signing his friend Graham Hill’s son.
Hill, however, turned him down as it would have meant joining a brand new Formula 1 team, which he felt at the time was too big a risk.
“He made me a very good offer,” Autosport reports Hill has having said during The Mindset of Champions event hosted by Ignition Human Performance in partnership with Motorsport Tickets.
“I’ve got to say, it broke my heart to turn Jackie down, because I knew it would have been like a dream thing.
“I just thought career-wise, it would have been a big risk. They’d never run a Formula 1 team before. I think Jackie would let me off that one.
“To jump out of a winning team into a team that has never raced before was a little bit too much of a leap of faith for me – not that I ever doubted that Jackie and Paul would pull it off.”
Stewart, who created the team with his son Paul, was disappointed.
“The son of a bitch said no!” Stewart joked.
“We wanted him desperately. We went over to Ireland, he was staying in Ireland at the time, and we flew to see ‘the’ Damon Hill.
“Of course he wasn’t there at the time, should have been, but when they finally arrived, he wouldn’t drive the bloody car. So he went for somebody else.
“I’ve forgiven him!”
Hill instead joined the Arrows team in what wasn’t a particularly successful season with the Brit claiming just one podium finish.
Disappointed with his results, Hill recalled a conversation he had with a fan ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix.
“I was driving for Arrows, she said ‘are you a driver?’, and I said yes, and she said, ‘oh, are you going to win the race?'” Hill recalled.
“We’re in the lift going down in the hotel, and she’s a fan and doesn’t know anything about motor racing, and she doesn’t know who I am.
“She was going, ‘are you going to win the race?’ And I was thinking, you obviously don’t know much, I’m in an Arrows, what a ridiculous question.
“She said, ‘yeah, but you’re in the race, right? Well you’ve got a chance, haven’t you?’ I thought, I like that attitude. That’s great. But realistically, I haven’t got a chance.
“Anyway, a few races later, I was leading the Hungarian Grand Prix in an Arrows! So she was right and I was wrong.”