Backstage With Damon Hill at the British Grand Prix

July 15, 2011


Guest of Damon Hill. The coolest pass to have around your neck. AAA. Access all areas.

I couldn’t believe my luck. OK, so I’m bragging a little. But can you blame me? Damon, as you may know, was the F1 World Champion in 1996. He’s also a great guy, an excellent skier, president of the BRDC (that’s British Racing Drivers Club to you and me) and the man who secured the British Grand Prix deal in Silverstone for 17 years in this country. The BRDC is the proud owner of Silverstone, and its clubhouse is a seriously comfortable place to spend a day at the races. Especially when the Formula 1 circus is in town for the British Grand Prix, as it was last week.

When I say comfortable, I mean it. Imagine watching the cars pass as you lounge in an armchair, or grab a drink on the roof terrace. It’s an invitation that money can’t buy, mixing with legends such as Sir Stirling Moss, Sir Jackie Stewart as well as Royalty.

Even a Red Bull, McLaren or Ferrari VIP pass won’t get you through the door on Grand Prix day. Although a face as scary as Bernie’s probably would.

Last time I met Bernie was on a Madonna di Campiglio ski holiday, for the annual jolly for the Ferrari team (by the way, if you haven’t been there you must go).

I think I’ve adequately set the scene. Back to the story.

So these tickets land on my desk, as a personal thank you from Damon. For the last two years, we’ve helped raised some sizeable sums for a charity that he is the Patron of Halow as part of the Momentum City Ski Championships, where Damon is a regular racer and party goer.

(If you want to have a ski weekend with Damon, next years City Ski Championships weekend dates are 16-18 March in Crans-Montana.)

First problem: what car does one drive to the Grand Prix? My Volvo Estate wasn’t going to cut it; I didn’t want to embarrass an F1 champion. There was a time when I’d head to Silverstone, to avoid the traffic, on my Vespa, but with the company I’d be keeping, that didn’t seem like a good idea either. Luckily, my friend Dave was joining me (I had a pair of tickets, after all). His Toyota Prius is even less cool then my Vespa, but at least we were able to take the moral high ground as we rolled into the paddock next to a collection of super cars.

Soon enough, we saw some familiar faces, like Rachel, a City Ski Champs regular in the Red Bull Garage, with Alistair Watkins, ex- FIA Press Officer, and Kenneth Clark MP. I never guessed he would be into F1. I wonder if he skis?

Kenneth used to be on the board of British American Tobacco who used to own the BAR F1 Team, which became Honda, then Brawn and now Mercedes. Confused?

Then we settled down to watch the race with Damon’s son Josh. Josh has announced that he wants to get into F1 and is in his second season of racing. He certainly has the pedigree!

A rising star and a hell of a nice guy. Look out for his name in a few years. This is an ideal time for any potential sponsor to strike a deal with him.

It was a great race, even if Prince Harry was upset to see a Spanish driver win rather than British. I was hoping to have an espresso in the Ferrari Motorhome and say hello to my friends there, who we’ve previously run events for. But race day isn’t the time to bother them. The Paddock area is where all the work goes on.

The best part of the day?

As the race ended, Damon came to pick us up and take us to the post-race party. Silverstone is a festival in all but name, with over 300,000 people who come to watch the race and party. Inevitably, our car got mobbed en route – something I have never been on the receiving end of.

Boy, do F1 fans love Damon. I’m not talking screaming teenagers surrounding the Beatles either, but full-blown grown-ups desperate for his signature and to shake his hand. Eventually, we got through and Damon headed for the stage as I filmed. The applause he got compared to anyone else (and that includes Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton) was incredible.

I get a message on my phone. It’s the wife: “When will you be home?”

”Could be a while,” I text back, “I’m backstage with Damon Hill and Lewis Hamilton.”

And our day ends here, enjoying the Eddie Jordan band (whom I am thinking of inviting to next years Momentum Ski Festival weekend, if it doesn’t clash with the first GP of the season), mixing with F1 aristocracy and soaking up the atmosphere. We slip into our Prius and begin the journey back to London, only to get cut off by Nigel Mansel in his six-litre Mercedes. Some things never change.

Amin Momen

Amin Momen