Financial demands led to Hill exit from Williams – Head
Williams co-founder Patrick Head says that Damon Hill’s surprise departure from the British outfit at the end of 1996 was triggered by the F1 world champion’s massive financial demands.
Hill had secured the world title with Williams in 1996 and was looking to cash in the achievement, advised by his manager who conducted the contract negotiations with Frank Williams for 1997.
But the cavalier attitude of Hill’s representative at a meeting at Grove and the driver’s colossal financial demands put a swift end to the talks.
“He [Damon] had a habit of taking on some fairly unusual characters and he took on a sort of manager called Michael Breen,” recalled Head, reminiscing on the past on F1’s latest Beyond the Grid podcast.
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“Instead of Damon coming in himself, Michael came in and he wasn’t the most charming of characters.
“He put his briefcase on Frank’s desk, and he was the sort of character that if he could have put his boots up on Frank’s desk he would have done so.
“He was an arrogant piece of work and he said to Frank, ‘Damon will not consider driving for you for anything less than a figure that was five times his 1995 salary’.
“Frank thought, and there was an awkward silence, it must have been one or two minutes of complete silence, and said, ‘Michael, I suggest you take your briefcase off my desk, the door is there. Please go away’.
“It’s a great pity that Damon couldn’t come in himself because we could have actually talked to him.
“Frank said, ‘We better start thinking about other drivers’, and Frentzen was one of the other drivers. They had this idea that Frank had signed Frentzen well before that, but it wasn’t the case.”
Read also: Head confident Williams has the right leadership in place
In hindsight, Head reckons that Williams and Hill were wrong to part ways, regardless of the money issue.
“It was a major error and maybe egos and things got in the way,” Head added. “In ’95 he probably should have won the World Championship.
“Various things got in the way of him winning the title, but when Damon came back in 1996 he was as fit or fitter than Michael. Damon had put right any possible things.
“I think in ’95 Damon felt inferior to Michael but in the winter of 95/96 he had put all that right, whether it was fitness or being gurued by somebody.
“He came back thinking I am as good as Schumacher and I can beat him. I think it’s very important for a driver to feel psychologically as strong as any other competitor.”
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