• Rewind to ... the 1997 Hungarian GP

The Broken Arrow

Chris Medland August 20, 2012

With Damon Hill (the horse) getting a silver medal at the London Olympics, we look at another time Hill (the driver) finished second

The race saw Hill and Schumacher battling on track once again © Getty Images
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Damon Hill's 1996 world championship had been a popular one as he followed in his father Graham's footsteps, but at the end of the season he had been unceremoniously dumped by Williams. The following year he was left unable to defend his title as he moved to the uncompetitive Arrows team which at the time held the record of 197 races without a grand prix victory.

As Formula One headed to the Hungaroring, Hill's battles with Michael Schumacher were a distant memory. The joy from his title-winning campaign too was fading fast, as after ten races Schumacher - on 53 points - led Jacques Villeneuve by ten points. In contrast, Hill was 17th in the standings with a solitary point to his name courtesy of a sixth place finish at Silverstone.

The Arrows had been tough to judge in the early part of the season due to its horrendous unreliability. Only once in the opening six races did the A18 see the chequered flag, with Pedro Diniz finishing tenth in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. The car was starting to show some potential, however, in the hands of Hill who had finished the previous four races prior to arriving in Hungary.

Schumacher was trying to win his first title with Ferrari - and the Scuderia's first for 18 years - while Villeneuve was aiming to build on his encouraging first season with Williams. It was a two-horse race, but there was a similarity to 2012 in one crucial factor; the tyres.

With a tyre war going on, the Bridgestone and Goodyear tyres operated best at different temperatures, and that in turn that was set to have a large bearing on the race weekend. With eyes on the championship leaders - both Ferrari and Williams were using Goodyears - there was a sign of things to come during a warm Friday practice when Trulli's Bridgestone-shod Prost was third quickest and Hill - also with Bridgestones on his Arrows - was fifth despite a gearbox problem minimising his track time.

"The first day at a Grand Prix never necessarily means a great deal," Hill said. "But I am certainly enthusiastic about our progress today."

The Hungaroring was a sparingly-used circuit, and the track surface was evolving throughout the weekend; making set-up a challenge for the drivers. Saturday morning's cooler conditions saw the Goodyears come back in to their own - of the Bridgestone runners only Trulli was in the top ten - but the temperature started to climb again ahead of qualifying.

A second-row grid slot was a surprise for Arrows © Sutton Images

Schumacher took pole - the Ferrari looking extremely settled around the tight and twisty circuit - while Villeneuve managed to wrestle his Williams on to the front row despite a late off. But it was Hill who surprised with third place. The track temperature had dropped - no other Bridgestone car made the top ten - but the reigning champion had used his experience to find the perfect set-up and get within 0.4s of pole.

"I am absolutely delighted," Hill said. "This result is a little unexpected because although I thought we might have a chance of getting into the top ten, or even the top six, to be in the first three is truly fantastic. I must also congratulate Bridgestone, whose tyres are racing here for the first time in a Grand Prix. They got the mixture right and the tyres perfect.

"I always thought it was possible to go quicker, so I put the hammer down and went for it. I was happy to see the time come up. This is not really a horsepower circuit, but I've always said that the car is quite nicely balanced and it can hardly be bad to be third on the grid here."

With Hill's team-mate Pedro Diniz qualifying over two seconds slower in 18th place, the overnight talk was all about who would be first in to turn one and whether Hill would remain competitive or tumble down the field from his lofty starting position. Regulations stated that tyres for the rest of the weekend must be chosen on Saturday morning, so the Bridgestone teams were joined by the likes of Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Giancarlo Fisichella and Ralf Schumacher in hoping for warm weather having picked the harder compound. And warm weather was what they got.

Sunday morning's warm-up gave the first glimpse of race competitiveness, with Diniz setting the fifth fastest time as he ran in new tyres for Hill. Schumacher was quickest, but his preparations were far from ideal; having damaged his Ferrari after launching the car over a kerb when running off-track he was forced to switch to the spare car for the race.

At lights out, Hill got a good start while Villeneuve went backwards. Having not beaten Schumacher into turn one, however, it appeared to those watching that his best chance had gone, but Hill was calm.

The Arrows team watches on nervously as Hill's car starts to fail him during the closing laps © Getty Images

"I got a good start and I was able to stay close to Michael. But I could see from early in the race that he had blistered his tyres and was going to have a problem. Because of that I was able to pass him quite easily into the first corner."

It was lap 11 when Hill took the lead and from then on he eased away from the rest. Schumacher struggled with his tyres and had to three-stop, while Mika Hakkinen retired from third place leaving Villeneuve locked in a battle with David Coulthard for second. When Coulthard retired with an electrical problem, Hill's lead was out to half a minute.

Having extended that to 35 seconds over Villeneuve with three laps to go, Hill admitted: "I was getting to the point where I thought I could count on winning the race, but whenever you think like that something crops up."

What cropped up was a hydraulic pump issue, which left Hill stuck in third gear with an intermittent throttle. Hill lost nine seconds to Villeneuve with three laps to go and a further twenty on the penultimate lap as he could only cruise round. Then on the climb up to turn four Villeneuve sped past - taking to the grass as Hill weaved to try and get the throttle to pick up - and 'neutral' Formula One fans everywhere let out a collective "Aaaah".

Villeneuve took the chequered flag, while Hill was able to nurse the car home in second ahead of Johnny Herbert's Sauber. It was still a fantastic result, as Hill pointed out in the post-race press conference: "It stopped about three times and I am frankly amazed that I was able to get to the finish because I thought it was going to leave me parked. But it picked up at the last second, so I have to say I am really pleased to have finished second."

It was as close as Arrows would come and proved to be its last podium. Hill left the team at the end of the season, and when the money ran out in 2002 Arrows had competed in 291 grands prix (or 368 if you include the Footwork years) without ever making the top step.

Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1

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Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1 Chris Medland, who in his youth even found the Pacific GPs entertaining, talked his way in to work at the British Grand Prix and was somehow retained for three years. He also worked on the BBC's F1 output prior to becoming assistant editor ahead of the 2011 season