The day the dukes of Formula One turned up at future world champion Damon Hill’s christening in 1961… but behind the smiles lies a tragic story as THREE of them would die racing, before his father Graham lost his life in a plane crash in 1975
- Nearly 60-years-ago, future F1 driver Damon Hill was christened in London
- Hill won the world championship in 1996, emulating his father Graham’s success
- There for the christening were the likes of Sir Stirling Moss and Bruce McLaren
- Looking back at a photograph of the day, Hill remembers some F1 icons
This picture was taken nearly 60 years ago and the little boy in his christening gown is future Formula One world champion Damon Hill.
The scene, from July 1961, is set at the Hill family home at 32 Parkside, Mill Hill, London NW7, and in attendance are the dukes of motor racing.
From left to right: Bruce McLaren, Sir Stirling Moss, Tony Brooks, Graham Hill, Jo Bonnier, Huschke von Hanstein and Wolfgang von Trips.
Damon Hill surrounded by F1 royalty at his christening – left to right: Bruce McLaren, Sir Stirling Moss, Tony Brooks, Graham Hill, Jo Bonnier, Huschke von Hanstein and Wolfgang von Trips
Hill’s father, Graham Hill, won two world championships before his son won the title in 1996
For Damon’s father was Graham Hill, a driver of legend, winner of the Formula One world championship (twice), Indianapolis and Le Mans — a feat that remains unique.
Yet behind the happy picture of Damon, aged 10 months, is the tragic story of that era.
Three of the group died racing and Graham Hill after crashing his plane in fog at Arkley golf course, Hertfordshire, in 1975.
Damon lost his hero, but honoured him by becoming the first son of a world champion to emulate the triumph, in 1996.
‘It is a poignant photo,’ said Damon, now an F1 pundit on Sky. ‘The guy right behind me is Jo Bonnier, my godfather. My father won Le Mans in 1972 and the bittersweet part of it is that Jo was killed in that race.
Graham Hill tragically died in a plane accident after confirming himself as a legend of F1
‘To my right is Tony Brooks. He is one of the few people who got out relatively unscathed. He decided to stop racing literally because he wanted to survive. He made a rational decision.
‘Next to Tony is Stirling Moss. It was in 1962 at Goodwood that he had his big shunt. He was unlapping himself passing my dad. We will never know exactly what happened.
‘There is an astonishing shot of my father looking over his shoulder at Stirling going past him at an unabated pace straight into the barriers. Stirling’s career ended.’
Hill Snr rated Moss, as many did, the greatest of all. And years later as Damon pressed on with his career by his own initiative, the family finances having been impacted badly by his father’s death, Moss watched on.
Sir Stirling Moss is regarded by many as the greatest of all time, particularly by Hill Senior
‘He obviously passed comment on me as a driver and what he said was very much reported because of his standing,’ said Damon.
‘You had to get the tick in the box from Stirling or else you hadn’t got the right stuff. I think his generation thought the sport had lost some of its derring-do. Stirling called it the spice, or the danger, I suppose.
‘Looking at the picture again, the guy looking at my dad leaning over the back is Huschke von Hanstein, famously part of the Porsche team, and they all drove sports cars then.
‘Von Hanstein was an SS officer at one time. It was only 16 years after the war but it was forgive and forget in those days.
New Zealand racer and engineer Bruce McLaren’s name lives on with the famous F1 team
‘He repositioned himself in motorsport and was a big backer of Michael Schumacher later on. He lived to a grand old age (85, dying in 1996).
‘As for Bruce McLaren, he was sadly killed at Goodwood testing his own car in 1970.’
The New Zealander’s name endures through the eponymous, Woking-based team that has won 12 drivers’ and eight constructors’ titles in F1.
‘The most tragic of all is the German ‘Taffy’ von Trips. He was killed at Monza a few months later in the terrible accident in which 15 spectators died. The car went out of control into the Parabolica. So he didn’t have much longer to live.
Hill took plenty from the F1 heroes who had befriended his father in his successful career
‘They were the senior drivers of the day. My father was newer on the scene. But they still all went to GH’s son’s christening. That’s quite generous, isn’t it? That shows the bond all those drivers shared with each other. They knew they were in a unique club.
‘The immediacy of danger is what made drivers stand out in the public mind, more than necessarily their skill. People were in awe of these individuals who were prepared to risk their lives.
‘It is now thankfully less of an accolade to show how stupidly brave you can be.’ Hill lived in the house for 12 years with his father, mother Bette, sisters Brigitte and Samantha, playing conkers on the road and climbing trees in the park next door.
Tony Brooks is still alive, aged 88, the last surviving race winner from the Fifties. The rest of the men who huddled around Damon’s little car, including the great Moss, who died on Easter Day this year, have gone.