Hill was on his was to a shock win for the Arrows team in Hungary when a throttle linkage failure denied him an incredible victory
Although he won the World Championship in 1996, Damon Hill had been fired by Williams at the end of the year and he ended up driving for the unfancied Arrows team in 1997. Having just been bought by Tom Walkinshaw Racing things were looking a bit more promising for Arrows than they had done in previous seasons, but it seemed fairly obvious that Hill would not successfully defend his title.
The chassis was alright but the Yamaha engine was unreliable and underpowered, and it wasn’t until the seventh race of the season in Canada that Hill actually finished a race, and it wasn’t until round nine at Silverstone that he even scored a point.
If Arrows did have one big trump card it was that it was running with Bridgestone tyres. At some races that season the Japanese manufacturer ended up being the tyre to be on and that allowed the Bridgestone-shod cars - particularly Olivier Panis in the Prost - to challenge at the front on occasion. It’s one of the many reasons why 1997 was such a good season.
At the Hungaroring it was the turn of Hill and Arrows to benefit. His car worked brilliantly on the twisty circuit and the hot weather allowed the Bridgestones to work better than the Goodyears. In qualifying Hill stuck his Arrows a remarkable third on the grid, but it wasn’t just down the the tyres, as he was the only Bridgestone car in the top 10 and teammate Pedro Diniz was down in 18th, two seconds off Hill’s pace. Damon always was pretty good at the Hungararoring, too.
At the start Hill moved into second place and when Michael Schumacher’s tyres started to blister, he slipped ahead at turn one and shot off into a lead he never once looked like losing.
With a few laps to go his lead over second-placed Villeneuve was almost 40 seconds. It looked a certainty - Damon Hill was going to win a race in an Arrows. Surely nothing could stop it happening now?
Suddenly, his car started to go slower - probably because he was just taking it easy to make sure of the win, right? Then it started to go even slower. Then hearts started to sink as it quickly became obvious: he had a problem.
A hydraulic fault left his car stuck in gear and gave him only intermittent throttle. On lap 75 he lost nine seconds; on lap 76 he lost 20 seconds. On the 77th and final lap he was still in the lead, but heading up to turn four Villeneuve went past with an overly-dramatic overtake which saw him go on the grass as Hill tried everything to keep his car going.
Hill managed to coax his broken Arrows home to finish a still-impressive second, but for many the likeable Brit had deserved the win and to see him lose it in such a way somehow didn’t seem fair.
The failure was eventually traced back to a broken washer that cost just 50p, making it even more devastating. It was gutting for the Arrows team too, as despite racing in F1 from 1977 to 2002 the team never managed a single victory, and that hot day in Hungary was the closest it ever came.
Even watching it back 20 years later, it’s still utterly heartbreaking.