F1 classics are always a sight to behold, especially when there is a title race at stake, heading into the last race of the season. One of the many stunning events from the sport’s archives was when Williams’ Damon Hill lifted the 1996 World Championship.
Hill was a serious contender for the drivers’ championship in the 1994 season, only to lose out to Benetton’s Michael Schumacher by a point. However, he made amends by securing the trophy two years later.
His teammate Jacques Villeneuve posed a serious threat to Hill in the 1996 season, stretching the title fight into the final race at Japan. But the sequence of events that followed was absolutely amazing.
Damon Hill had qualified in P2 for the 1996 F1 Japanese Grand Prix
The underlying narrative was so exciting because Villeneuve had qualified ahead of his teammate to snatch pole position. Storming through Saturday’s shootout, the Canadian had set a best lap time which was 0.4 seconds superior to that of Hill’s.
In the race, Villeneuve failed to make a quick getaway, with Hill claiming the impetus and surging out in front. With different drivers attempting to gain track positions, it seemed like Villeneuve’s challenge kept fading with every forthcoming lap.
However, the final nail in the coffin landed when the Canadian’s right rear wheel came off on Lap 37, ending in a retirement from the race for him. It gave Hill, who was nine points clear of his teammate heading into the race, a clear run at the world championship.
Walker’s iconic commentary captured the moment of Hill’s victory
The ‘Voice of F1’ that is the legendary Murray Walker delivered the golden words en route Hill winning the title. He enunciated, “Jacques Villeneuve is out of the race! Damon Hill is the world champion of 1996!”
“We’ll see what happened, but whatever it was has denied him the World Championship. Frank Williams looking his normally impassive self. But Damon Hill is the world champion of 1996!”
The race and indeed the season proved to be eventful until the very end, with congratulations later going out to Hill on the splendid achievement. It strived to show what F1 was all about, and how the tides could shift in a matter of just a few seconds.