Damon Hill: Formula for success

Since quitting the Grand Prix racing circuit, former champion Damon Hill has had to take a crash course in marketing after founding a luxury car business. Ian Burrell reports

The former world motor racing champion Damon Hill rather bizarrely likens his fledgling luxury car business to "Bjorn Borg's underpants".Hill is referring to the often disastrous attempts of retired sports stars to create a second career on the back of their personal brand, such as the former Swedish tennis star's flawed idea of reinventing himself as an underwear mogul. "I had this fear of the sportsman's first flop," says Hill, who says that observers were "absolutely, definitely" waiting for him to fall on his face.

He has had to weigh the benefits of exploiting his own name, ensuring it is not to the detriment of promoting the key selling points of his business, P1 International, which lends a pool of 40 prestige cars to its high-rolling clientele.

"If you labour [your name] too much it overshadows the concept itself," he says. "There was a role to play in terms of me being a spokesperson for the business, but I wanted P1 to have its own personality and brand."

Although much of the media interest is still in Damon Hill the racing driver, the man himself realises "I cannot go on doing this for ever" and that the business has to start speaking for itself. So when P1 places advertisements in high-end motoring publications it now chooses to highlight the cars that it has on offer, rather than selling the business with vintage shots of the company's co-founder standing on the victory podium and spraying the champagne.

"If I were selling driving experiences [with me] that would be a great seller, but that's not what the company is," he says. "It should not be 'do this because some ex-racing driver does it'."

Hill, who managed to emulate the achievements of his father, the Grand Prix legend Graham Hill, likens his own relationship with P1 to one of parent and child. "Ultimately it has to stand on its own two feet," he says.

Damon Hill grew up in a world immersed in advertising, and his father Graham was the first driver to carry the commercial sponsor's name on the side of his vehicle. The glamorous Formula One circuit around which Damon has spent much of his life is an environment in which advertisers and marketers compete furiously for the attentions of the sport's upscale patrons. He was conscious of marketing opportunities even when working as a young dispatch rider with ambitions of making a living from motor sport. "When I was a dispatch rider I was always looking for companies that could potentially sponsor me and one of the things that attracted me was their brand image. It had to be clean and sharp," he says.

Cellnet was a Hill sponsor in his racing days and he once - at the behest of the marketing manager - took a cellphone call from the company board while driving in a blizzard in Norfolk in order to demonstrate the value of the association between famous driver and phone company.

But not all the many marketing ruses he has been asked to participate in have met with his approval. "Part of your job as a racing driver is to be involved in all sorts of crazy ideas. I have felt very angry when I have had to do something I didn't think was right and I was the vehicle. I found myself really hating stuff that I felt wasn't morally right. There were so many occasions when I felt this is treating people disrespectfully."

Hill admires the way that entrepreneurs such as Stelios Haji-Ioannou and Richard Branson have positioned themselves as champions of the people.

"I would be appalled if any one of the members felt they had been duped or shortchanged in some way," he says of P1 customers, who are each week emailed with details of cars available, from Aston Martins and Ferraris to the rare Ford GT.

He has had to learn quickly the lessons of marketing in order to sustain a business that was starting to flounder, only two years after he co-founded it with partner Michael Breen in 2000. P1 was restructured, becoming less elitist though still requiring a high standard of driving from members (who must pass an advanced test and have a decade's experience behind the wheel). It was then that Hill - who had hoped the company would grow by word of mouth - began to see the value of good press and PR in developing and maintaining awareness of his brand.

"The idea itself only goes so far. It has a life span. People know about it and then they forget," he says. "There are peaks and troughs in awareness of P1 and that is where the hard work comes in, in dropping bits into the newspapers at the right points in time."

Hill was "inundated" with offers when he retired. He went with P1 International because he thought it was a unique idea. The name was chosen because it is the pitboard signal held up for the race leader. "We thought that was a good name," says Hill, who has subsequently added "P" terms such as "prestige" and "performance" to underline the P1 brand in company literature and on its website p1international.com.

Hill, tall and thin, greying and with a short goatee beard, is speaking after delivering a presentation to hundreds of marketers and PR people at the Marketing Society annual conference in London. The 1996 F1 world champion had told his audience of his willingness to "jump the tracks" in raising awareness of his business, refusing to stick to set-in-stone plans, relying on his instincts just as he did as a champion driver.

Although he is building up the P1 brand, he also recognises that his company is riding on the back of the already established brands such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche and Bentley, with which the business is associated through the cars in its pool, which is based in Leatherhead, Surrey.

Membership of P1 will be stopped at 250 (Hill says he is nearly at that figure), although a second club is set to open near Manchester next year. The company's USP is that members of the "club" can keep playing the field of luxury cars and do not have to commit themselves to buying a single vehicle. "Although you can buy these cars if you have an awful lot of money you are still generally [obliged to make] a choice," says Hill. "For us, the key thing is to make the choice available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."

Hill, brilliant driver though he is, still can't see the point of owning a string of luxury cars that mostly remain garaged and depreciating in value. It is "gluttonous" behaviour, he remarks, saying that it would not impress friends "unless you have the wrong friends".

P1 International gives car lovers the chance to experience a range of upscale cars without having to worry about purchase price, parking arrangements or insurance. That is provided they can pay the £2,500 membership fee and the £13,750 annual subscription for up to 6,000 miles of luxury driving.

Sport
sportGareth Bale, Carl Froch and Kelly Gallagher also in the mix for award
News
Japan's Suntory Beverage & Food has bought GlaxoSmithKline's Lucozade and Ribena
news
News
A tongue-eating louse (not the one Mr Poli found)
newsParasitic louse appeared inside unfilleted sea bass
Life and Style
Out and about: for 'Glee' character Bert Hummel, having a gay son was a learning curve
lifeEven 'cool' parents need help parenting gay teens
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Money
Anyone over the age of 40 seeking a loan with a standard term of 25 years will be borrowing beyond a normal retirement age of 65, and is liable to find their options restricted
propertyAnd it's even worse if you're 40
Arts and Entertainment
Perhaps longest awaited is the adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road with Brazil’s Walter Salles directing and Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen as the Beat-era outsiders
books
Arts and Entertainment
theatreSinger to join cast of his Broadway show after The Last Ship flounders at the box office
Life and Style
fashion'To start singing with Pharrell is not that bad, no?'
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncappd Comm: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager - Signs and Graphics

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The key requirements of the rol...

Sphere Digital Recruitment: Digital Performance Account Director – Performance & Data Driven Marketing Technology

£45k - £55k + amazing benefits: Sphere Digital Recruitment: Digital Performanc...

Sphere Digital Recruitment: Enterprise Sales Manager – SaaS based solutions – £50-60k

50,000- 60,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: Enterprise Sales Manager – SaaS ba...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible