Ayrton Senna vs Damon Hill

Champion of Champions

Champion of Champions: Ayrton Senna vs Damon Hill

Ayrton Senna and Damon Hill’s F1 careers overlapped as Hill’s was beginning and Senna’s was coming to its sadly premature end.

They started just three races as team mates at Williams in 1994 before Senna was killed at Imola.

Senna made his F1 debut in 1984 with the Toleman team. He swiftly made an impression by taking second place at Monaco in the rain – he was catching leader Alain Prost as the race was halted.

He moved to Lotus and scored his maiden win in similar conditions in Portugal. Senna made the team his own, staying there for three years before deciding his best chances of winning the championship would come with a move to McLaren.

That meant sharing a team with Prost and so began one of the most notorious rivalries the sport has ever seen.

Senna claimed the crown in 1988 as the pair won 15 of the 16 races. But unreliability knocked his title defence off-course in 1989 and Prost took the title after controversially colliding with Senna in at Suzuka.

Their feud continued in 1990 after Prost left to join Ferrari. This time the title went to Senna, who returned Prost’s favour from 1989 by crashing into him in Japan.

Senna and McLaren were under attack from a different direction in 1991 – Nigel Mansell and the increasingly formidable Williams-Renault combination. While Senna retained his crown that year he was powerless to stop Mansell dominating the 1992 championship.

Prost took over from Mansell at Williams the following year and the result was much the same – though Senna managed to take five wins.

Prost’s team mate in 1993 was Hill, who landed the seat after a few outings for Brabham the previous year. He made a halting start in the first races of his debut season, but rebounded to win three races in a row later in the year.

Senna’s time with Williams was over all too soon and it was left to Hill to carry the team’s championship chances in a car which was not the dominant force its predecessors had been.

He came close to getting the job done. But at Adelaide it was Hill’s turn to be taken out by a rival in a championship-deciding race – at the hands of Michael Schumacher.

Schumacher defeated Hill even more emphatically in 1995. But in 1996 Hill rebounded, winning the championship after a season-long battle with new team mate Jacques Villeneuve.

Even so Williams decided not to retain his services. Hill joined Arrows for a largely joyless 1997, but after changing teams he gave Jordan their first race win in 1998. He retired after one more season with them.

Which of these drivers should go through to the next round of the Champion of Champions? Vote for which you think was best below and explain who you voted for and why in the comments.

Ayrton Senna Damon Hill
Ayrton Senna, Williams, 1994 Damon Hill, Williams, 1994
Titles 1988, 1990, 1991 1996
Second in title year/s Alain Prost, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell Jacques Villeneuve
Teams Toleman, Lotus, McLaren, Williams Brabham, Williams, Arrows, Jordan
Notable team mates Alain Prost, Gerhard Berger, Mika Hakkinen Alain Prost, David Coulthard, Jacques Villeneuve
Starts 161 115
Wins 41 (25.47%) 22 (19.13%)
Poles 65 (40.37%) 20 (17.39%)
Modern points per start1 11.68 9.49
% car failures2 20.50 14.78
Modern points per finish3 14.70 11.13
Notes Won three titles in four years with McLaren Narrowly missed 1994 title after collision with Schumacher
Controversial clash with Prost sealed second title Clinched championship in 1996 after year-long battle with Jacques Villeneuve
Killed in third race for Williams in 1994 Nearly gave Arrows their first win at Hungary in 1997, did give Jordan their first win at Belgium the following year
Bio Ayrton Senna Damon Hill

1 How many points they scored in their career, adjusted to the 2010 points system, divided by the number of races they started
2 The percentage of races in which they were not classified due to a mechanical failure
3 How many points they scored in their career, adjusted to the 2010 points system, divided by the number of starts in which they did not suffer a race-ending mechanical failure

Which was the better world champion driver?

  • Ayrton Senna (94%)
  • Damon Hill (7%)

Total Voters: 686

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188 comments on Ayrton Senna vs Damon Hill

  1. skodarap (@skodarap) said on 13th January 2011, 9:51

    Was afraid of this combination… Hill unfortunately doesn’t stand a chance.

    Btw, why they don’t have each other as notable teammates?

  2. zabelchip (@zabelchip) said on 13th January 2011, 9:53

    The stats actually show that Damon did rather well. He has around the same percentage of wins and poles as Lewis Hamilton. Yes, he had a great car most of the time, but not always the best. The Hungary race in 1997 in an Arrows was brilliant.

    But up against Senna there can only be one conclusion. My vote goes to Senna. Even though he drove rather noughty at times, he is one of the all time greats. I started watching F1 in 1993, and after playing Senna GP he was my selected driver. That he managed five wins in that season really impressed me.

  3. jimscreechy said on 13th January 2011, 9:58

    To be honest I don’t really understand this compraison. Why has Ayrton gone up against Damon Hill. I would have paired Hill against Vilnurve (he always got on my last one)

    Surely Ayrton Senna Vs Alain Prost would have been a better comparison.

  4. DavidS (@davids) said on 13th January 2011, 10:07

    As much as I like Damon, theres no doubt about this one.

  5. amt2nd (@amt2nd) said on 13th January 2011, 10:08

    In his day, Hill was reckoned to be the best developement driver around. In fact it was a combination of his testing and Mancell’s driveing that won Mancell his championship. Typically, when people started talking about the man rather than the machine, Frank williams got rid of them.

    Still, Senna was the better racer.

  6. GeeMac (@geemac) said on 13th January 2011, 10:15

    I had to vote for Damon, just to give him a vote!

    Senna was obviously my boyhood hero (see the avatar) but I really did support Damon in his duels with MSC.

  7. Icthyes said on 13th January 2011, 10:16

    Oh dear, oh dear. I had little hope Hill would get through but this is it for him. So I might as well go down fighting.

    Yeh, Hill was nowhere near as good as Senna. However, I’m basing this one purely on the name itself: champion of champions. And purely in this regard, I genuinely believe Hill to be the better champion.

    Why? Let’s take Hill himself. Son of a world champion, his life was thrown into chaos when Graham died and suddenly, not yet a teenager, he was man of the house in a period of British social history when that sort of thing still mattered. His mother held the family together, but Damon knew that when he was old enough it would have to be him; a huge responsibility.

    Damon also didn’t grow up in the world of cars; bikes have always been his first love. He didn’t do Formula Ford until he was 24 and quite late to the game. He finally caught the eye of Frank Williams, whose eye for talent (when he doesn’t have to secure sources of funding) is one of the best in the business. As Williams test driver, he also drove for Brabham on weekends in the team’s dying days and though there were no Vettel-like results, he did more with that car than should have been done (see later the 1997 Hungarian Grand Prix for proof of this ability).

    In 1993 he finished third behind Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. The car was dominant, but only the very top drivers could have managed a better result in their first full year of F1.

    Then in 1994, he actually started to beat Senna. It probably wouldn’t have lasted, but I didn’t see Hill making a rookie mistake to spin himself out of the Brazilian Grand Prix. When Senna was killed, suddenly he became the team’s only hope of championship victory; yet another burden placed on his shoulders. Yes, he was aided by Benetton’s numerous penalties, but when everyone suspected their car was illegal I think that rather balances the equation. His win at the Japanese Grand Prix was one of the best of the decade, which is partially the reason it’s my gravatar. In the end he lost to the only man who could be as ruthless as Senna in winning. I’ve never believed Schumacher moved on purpose, but few others would have tried to defend their position in that situation.

    His 1995 season was poor and he made a bit of a hash of his 1996 season, but he was facing a better Schumacher in an equal Benetton and at times it seemed like the Williams team were against him. Let’s not forget Hill probably guessed he was racing for his seat at the time, only to find out that nothing he did would have mattered. In 1996 he also had few genuinely scrappy races; his starts were often the thing that let him down, mostly because he was still using a three-pedal system with a foot clutch.

    Compare this to Senna. He had talent, but few hard times. He was born to a wealthy family and was preparing for a racing career from early on. Those aren’t reasons to vote against him. But reading Malcolm Folley’s book shocked me; I knew Senna had been a controversial driver, but the things I read he did astounded me. I had no real idea how dangerous his many stunts were. He was out for nothing less than the world championship and to mentally destroy Alain Prost’s career. Yet when a young Mansell showed him as little respect as he had shown Prost, that was somehow less okay. I’m sure quite a few people would like to punch Eddie Irvine, but from a fellow competitor that kind of thing is inexcusable. And then there’s the famous 1990 Japanese Grand Prix. The way he actually justified it to himself was appalling and what’s more he was actually quite lucky Balestre – if we believe the caricature – didn’t manage to disqualify him somehow and make him lose anyway.

    So Hill may have not been the faster, more talented or the more successful champion. But at least he wasn’t prepared to put other people in danger for the sake of being one. I reckon a few Senna voters here will be of the “Schumacher’s titles are tainted” camp. Well I’m sorry, but your idol’s the same if you want to play by those rules. Jackie Stewart spoke on this very site about champions being good ambassadors so in that sense Hill was far more of a champion than Ayrton ever was. The one thing I fell sorry about is that after Prost’s retirement Senna seemed to have calmed down and we could have seen him be that kind of champion. Alas, the thing that secured his legendary status forever has also cemented the villainous side of his nature too.

    • I felt I should take the time to reply to his comment but after reading all you’ve said I’ve got nothing left to type! :P

      I completely agree about Hill being the better ambassador and rep for the sport than Senna was.

      Senna did seem to lose that sense of desperation he had when Alain disappeared and maybe he would have endeared himself a lot more to people like Schumi has done this year.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 14th January 2011, 16:38

      A very good pledge for Hill.

      That shows all of those who talk about undeserving champions to look a bit closer before showing their ill judgement.

  8. Tango (@tango) said on 13th January 2011, 10:18

    At least the site won’t get accused of english bias with this pairing. A shame, Hill was my second F1 idol (after Prost).

  9. BaKano (@bakano) said on 13th January 2011, 10:23

    The only surprise is that Damon still managed to get 9 votes so far!

  10. Incidentally, on a side note, watch out for Damon’s son Josh, I watched him destroy the rest of the Formula Ford field at Brands Hatch in November, I was very impressed by him. He’s still young as well!

    • Hamish said on 13th January 2011, 11:18

      It seems talent is evident every 2nd generation then huh?

      Damon Hill, the Jenson Button of the 90’s. Right car, right time. If he wasn’t British, talk of him would have disappeared a long time ago like a fart in the wind.

    • skodarap (@skodarap) said on 13th January 2011, 12:41

      I really hope to see him one day in F1.

    • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 13th January 2011, 13:29

      Imagine, three consecutive generations of F1 champ, it would be remarkable.

      • It really would be remarkable to have 3 generations of WDC and then there would be 4 men with the surname of Hill to have won a championship! Best of luck to him.

  11. vermaden (@vermaden) said on 13th January 2011, 10:41

    That one was easy, who would put Damon Hill in front of Ayrton Senna da Silva? ;p

  12. melkurion (@melkurion) said on 13th January 2011, 10:49

    Damon was good, but not great, senna was senna, enough said

  13. Michael Griffin said on 13th January 2011, 10:50

    Probably the most stupid pairing yet. Best driver ever, vs. Damon Hill.

    Nice.

    I voted for Damon, somebody had to.

  14. Cyclops_PL (@cyclops_pl) said on 13th January 2011, 10:53

    Senna, no contest. Although Damon always was one of my favorites. Simply like the guy.

  15. Marco said on 13th January 2011, 11:30

    It has to be Senna but one very small point on Hill.

    It is a shame that Keith has written ‘Hill joined Arrows for a largely joyless 1997′. It was indeed a poor season but I remember the Hungarian GP. Even though he had a Bridgestone advantage, Hill was the class of the field in a poor car. This was the day I considered Hill to be driver of note. Qualifying his woeful Arrows in 3rd, he passed Schumacher out on track into the first corner and only lost the lead when his hydraulics issue arose nursing his car to second behind JV.

    Damon was a true champion and it is shame he has been paired against one of the greats.

  16. Chalky (@chalky) said on 13th January 2011, 11:38

    I love Hill and I love Senna.
    But when you still have vivid memories of onboard footage of Senna’s qualifying laps years later, that’s something else.

  17. Dougie (@f1droid) said on 13th January 2011, 11:43

    No disrespect to Damon Hill, but I laughed when I saw the competition for Senna.

    Well that was easy.

    Next ;-)

  18. wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 13th January 2011, 12:03

    One of the most anticipated poll I was waiting for as who will Senna pair up with? Feels bad for Damon.As far I have seen F1 Senna have set the benchmark of Ruthless driving a feat that we see from current champions like Schumacher, Alonso & Hamilton & asked them where did they learned all this? There will be one answer.He was a legend,before I used to hear about him I thought that because his dead was so fatal people overrated him but for the last 2 years after seeing some old GP from the 90’s I have to eat my words.He was the best driver of his time alongside Prost,surely we will never know where would have been his F1 career would have ended if not he have died.For many people including me he is one of the Top 3 F1 drivers of all time.

    • Chotazas said on 13th January 2011, 22:43

      I was born in Spain in 1985, so i was a kid when Senna died. I remember the announcement of his dead perfectly. I knew nothing about F1 then and my family, friends, almost everybody in Spain knew nothing about F1 in 1994. But his death was a shock in a country with zero F1 tradition like Spain. The fact that a 9 years old spanish kid can remember that day in 2010 is the proof that he was a legend when he was still alive and become bigger then. And I am not not fan of Senna but I can´t deny he is one of the best racers ever. As i wrote down this post in my opinion he was the fastest even he was not the best racer. 65 poles. The record is 68. Woa! O_O

  19. Atticus (@atticus-2) said on 13th January 2011, 12:06

    Aww the Senna vs. Damon. I told you so. ;)

    • Atticus (@atticus-2) said on 13th January 2011, 12:12

      To contribute something to the actual question as well: Senna’s pole ratio is unbelievably impressive. 40% means he almost started every second race from pole position. Nobody was quicker than him on one lap. Often beat the opposition by a second or so. He somehow managed to concentrate so hard that every inch of those laps were perfect.

      Senna was aiming for perfection in every moment of his racing career – including his team changes – and personally I think he was one of the few (four?) who came closest.

      • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 13th January 2011, 13:18

        To be fair, a lot of the time Prost knew he would be at least second so concentrated on the race ahead, Senna wanted the glory of pole. It just so helped he was so bloody brilliant at getting it.

        • Atticus (@atticus-2) said on 13th January 2011, 14:07

          As far as I know at that time you could change setups after quali and before race therefore developing AND using individual setups for them. So I can’t even think Prost would set up his car for race during qualifying as a mean of ‘concentrating on the race’.

          Of course mental concentration is another thing…

          One thing I could say was probably Senna’s weak spot was actually setting up his car. At least in his early years. It stems from the mentioned setting up procedure: I read in Christopher Hilton’s book he often copied setups of Alain – and went quicker with them. He had an acute sense of getting the very best out of a given car (like Fangio, or Clark), but may have had problems finding that particular best car setup.

          Probably this argument would fit better into a Senna-Prost Champion of Champions final – they could only meet there – but whatever. Maybe they won’t.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 13th January 2011, 12:34

      Indeed you did! :-)

  20. tobinen said on 13th January 2011, 12:28

    Strange choice of comparison! Senna vs Anyone would be pretty one-sided, but to choose Hill?

    Oh well, it’s up to Keith!

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