Format: Hardback, ARC
Links: Goodreads | Amazon
Blurb: 2016 marks the twentieth anniversary of Damon Hill’s coronation as Formula One World Champion. For the first time ever he tells the story of his journey through the last golden era of the sport when he took on the greats including Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher and emerged victorious as World Champion in 1996, stepping out of the shadow of his legendary father Graham Hill.
Away from the grid, Watching the Wheels: The Autobiography is an astonishingly candid account of what it was like to grow up as the son of one of the country’s most famous racing drivers. It also tells the unflinching story of dealing with the grief and chaos that followed his father’s tragically early death in an aircraft accident in 1975, when Damon was 15 years old.
Formula One drivers have always been aware of their mortality, and the rush that comes with the danger of racing was as intoxicating for Hill as it had been for his father’s generation, until he came face-to-face with catastrophe when his team-mate, Ayrton Senna, was killed in 1994. The swirling emotions that Hill was faced with in light of the death of Senna was a defining moment for his generation of drivers and for the first time ever Hill talks candidly about the impact that Senna had on his life, even as he watched his own son step into motor racing.
Courageously honest, and hugely rewarding, Watching the Wheels is a return to the last golden era of F1 racing, whose image still burns ferociously for those who love the sport for what it reveals about human skill in the face or near certain death.
Review: Y’all know I’m a huge Formula 1 fan. Last year, I reviewed Mark Webber’s autobiography, ‘Aussie Grit’ and thoroughly enjoyed it and the personal insight into the Formula 1 world from the men in the spotlight: the drivers. It was all very insightful and eye-opening so I was super excited to read Damon Hill’s long-awaited book, Watching the Wheels (oh, and I also love the reasoning behind why it’s called what it is). I’d like to thank Katie from Pan Macmillan for sending me a gorgeous copy of this book to read and review. Published in 2016, Watching the Wheels marks the twentieth anniversary of Damon Hill’s World Championship year. It was time to put pen to paper and for Damon to finally share his story; from a little boy, growing up with one of the most famous and charismatic Formula 1 drivers as a father, to the trials and tribulations of getting into Formula 1, the championship year and everything in-between.
The book starts heavily on Damon’s father, Graham. And why not. We all know the man, the myth, the legend. The charismatic, funny and talented driver with the devilish moustache from ‘back in the day’ but Damon’s recount of actually growing up with such a legend was certainly eye-opening to say the least. As we go through the happy (and sometimes frustrating) childhood memories we come to the day that changed everything for Damon forever; the day of his father’s death. I think this is the point where Damon’s book really becomes ‘Damon’s book’. And he often ponders the impact his father’s death and legend had on his own life and career. It certainly was something to think about.
The book in itself was just exceptionally entertaining, interesting – a page-turner. If we’re going to be cliché about it. I applaud Damon for writing this book himself; not that because I think someone who can drive really fast can’t write as well but the amount of gruelling and emotional hours it must have taken to look back over your life, especially the tragedies that happened throughout well, let’s just say he must have been exhausted afterwards. This book is so very ‘Damon’. If you follow F1 and are aware of what Damon’s sense of humour and way of speaking is like, you will see and feel this ooze out of the pages. I also love the intensely simple cover. It almost tells you how real, open and honest this book is going to be before you even open it. And it was; all of those things.
Damon is like fine wine; he gets better with age. And I think (I hope, at least) this is the purest Damon we have ever seen. He really does lay all of his cards on the table in this book and reveals some of the painstakingly annoying things that happened ‘behind the scenes’ of his F1 career that we, as mere fans, don’t really know anything about. All I can say is, that if you’re a Formula 1 fan, you will love this book. The only downside is that the editing process needed a lot more work. Obviously this isn’t Damon’s fault but it’s a shame the editor wasn’t more thorough with this and made an already amazing book sparkle that little bit more.
One of the parts I loved most was Damon’s recount of what happened in May, 1994 at the infamous Imola. Every Formula 1 fan knows the story and has without a doubt, heard it, seen it and spoke about it multiple times over. But it never gets old, it never gets boring and it never gets any less devastating or shocking. Hearing it from yet another person’s point of view has only piqued my interest even more and the whole section was written beautifully, respectfully but also very true to Damon’s own feelings. It will make you see the incident in yet another, different light. As if we didn’t have enough.
He may be able to drive exceptionally quick but boy, the man can write, too. An outstanding autobiography from an outstandingly talented, funny and entertaining man. He lets you in to the dark and demanding world of Formula 1: past and present and doesn’t try to sugar coat the morbidity of it. It’s quite the read and I enjoyed every single second of it. Quite a feat, Mr Hill. Quite a feat.
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I loved this book. When I wrote an F1 column for Girlracer.co.uk I once commented that Williams losing Adrian Newey was partly down to his not being consulted when Damon’s contract wasn’t renewed. The chief reporter told me I was wrong – publicly, in the comment section, which I felt was unprofessional. When I read DHL’s book and saw I had been right all along I said, ‘Ha! See! I was right!’ aloud. Petty, but true. 🙂