We didn’t have space for it in our October newsletter but we couldn’t not include a look back to 20 years ago and Renault Sport’s Formula 1 World title triumph with Williams and Damon Hill…
13 October 1996 was the date; Suzuka in Japan the circuit. After missing out in the previous three seasons, could Hill finally finish off the job and become the first son of a previous Champion (Graham) to now also hold the world crown?
Or would Williams-Renault team-mate Jacques Villeneuve – himself the son of an F1 legend (Gilles) – find something from somewhere to take the spoils in his debut F1 season?
It was in truth always going to be a tall order for Villeneuve for he needed to win the race and for Hill to non-score. Heading to Japan Hill had won seven races, Villeneuve four.
The Constructors’ championship was a foregone conclusion in favour of Williams-Renault – its RS8 3.0 V8 engine again proving the class of the field. In fact out of the season’s 16 races the Williams-Renault partnership would be beaten just four times…
To the race in Japan, however… Villeneuve qualified on pole position by close to half a second ahead of Hill but even then most people couldn’t envisage there being an upset. Less so when Villeneuve made a sluggish start and fell to sixth while Hill roared away in the lead.
There was a brief scare, though. As Villeneuve started to move back up the order Hill’s car was almost collected by Gerhard Berger’s Benetton-Renault in an ill-fated move at the chicane. But Hill’s car survived and continued in first place and when Villeneuve then retired when he lost a wheel it was all over.
Hill refused to let the excitement take over though and coolly reeled off the laps for his eighth win of the season to win the title his late and very famous father Graham had previously lifted in 1962 and again in 1968.
The final lap of the race will be remembered fondly by households all across the UK not only for Hill’s personal triumph but also for Murray Walker’s commentary and closing line as the British driver took the chequered flag: “And Damon Hill exits the chicane… and wins the Japanese Grand Prix… And I’ve got to stop because I’ve got a lump in my throat.”
Hill’s success marked the third F1 title in the Nineties for Renault Sport’s engines (Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost with Williams in 1992 and 1993 respectively and Michael Schumacher with Benetton in 1995). There would be a fourth the following year when Villeneuve, staying with Williams, took the crown.
Renault engines have since won a further six F1 titles – two with the manufacturer’s own team in 2005 and 2006.