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Phil Hill

2021-03-05 23:00

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Phil Hill

Philip Toll Hill Jr was born in Miami on April 20, 1927, although the young American spent his childhood years in Santa Monica. Phil had a passion for

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Philip Toll Hill Jr was born in Miami on April 20, 1927, although the young American spent his childhood years in Santa Monica. Phil had a passion for motoring from an early age, and at the age of nine he drove his father's Oldsmobile for the first time. Phil enrolled at the University of Southern California, where he studied economics from 1945 to 1947, and in the meantime became a member of the Kappa Sigma, a rather famous fraternity in American universities. Hill leaves it soon, as he intends to continue his dream of becoming a racing driver.

 

To do this, the family allows him to go to England, where he signs a contract with Jaguar to play the role of test driver. In 1954 Phil shines by winning second place in the Carrera Panamericana, one of the most prestigious races in the American continent, aboard a Ferrari 375 MM Vignale. This peremptory statement attracted the attention of Enzo Ferrari, who signed him for the 1955 season with the aim of winning at Le Mans and in the Carrera Panamericana. 1955, however, is the year of the tragedy in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the organizers of the Carrera, frightened by what had happened in France, decide to cancel the race. Hill made his debut at Le Mans in the disastrous edition of 1955, paired with Umberto Maglioli at the wheel of a Ferrari 735 LM, but the debut ended with a retirement.

 

Even in the following two years, luck will not be on his side, as Hill will collect as many withdrawals. 1958, on the other hand, was the year of his first triumph at the 12 Hours of Sebring, of his first success at Le Mans at the wheel of the Ferrari 250 Testarossa, paired with the Belgian Olivier Gendebien, and also of his debut in Formula 1, on the occasion of the Grand Prize of France, with a Maserati 250 F, in which he places seventh.

 

The victory in the 24 Hours and his brilliant debut convinced Ferrari to take him to the official Formula 1 team already during the season. The American joins the future World Champion Mike Hawthorn, and proves decisive in convincing the Englishman not to leave Formula 1 after the tragedies of Peter Collins and Luigi Musso. After missing the Portuguese Grand Prix, in Monza he is third and also gets the assignment of the fastest lap. He will still be third in Morocco, in the race in which Mike Hawthorn wins the Formula 1 World Championship. The American remains in Ferrari also the following year, and with the team from Maranello he wins again at Sebring while in the Formula 1 world championship he gets 20 points, finishing fourth in the world championship thanks to the two second places in France and Monza, where he marks for the second consecutive lap fastest in the race, and third place in Germany.

 

In 1960, after a good start to the season in which he obtained the third place in Monaco, Hill collects his first world championship success in Italy, in Monza, then finishing fifth in the world championship. The rest of the season is somewhat disappointing, and thanks to fourth place in Belgium, Hill ends the championship with sixteen points and fifth place in the standings. In 1961 got off to a great start with the third success at Sebring and with an encore at Le Mans, always paired with Gendebien, at the wheel of the Ferrari 250 TRI/61. At the same time, in Formula 1 it looks like a good year to take the world title, as Hill wins in Belgium and achieves numerous podium finishes, including third place in Monaco and Germany, and second place in the Netherlands and Great Britain. Nonetheless, after six Grands Prix Hill is second in the standings, four points behind his direct rival for the championship title, teammate von Trips, who has 33 points to the American's 29.

 

We arrive at Monza, it is Saturday 9 September 1961 and in qualifying the German gets pole while Hill, in the grip of anxiety and nervousness, is only fourth. Those who knew him could describe the American as a simple and courteous person, rather reserved and introverted, who, however, was always nervous and agitated before each competition, so much so that he listened to classical music to relax. Ferrari wants to win the world championship but the Commander, perhaps for commercial reasons, would like Phil Hill to win the title. But von Trips is in great shape, he is in the best moment of his career, and he snatches pole from Phil Hill, the specialist who had lined up as many as five. It is the first time that Trips has managed to start in front of everyone. Hill, on the other hand, is demoralized and starts from fourth position. After qualifying, Romolo Tavoni, sporting director, talks to the German driver that perhaps he has a hunch about what is about to be told:

 

"Baron, I would like you to consider the possibility of favoring Phil Hill in the race for the World Championship".

 

At Ferrari they want to win with Phil Hill, if possible, but above all to win. The 156 is clearly superior to the competition, but in Monza Engineer Chiti fears the valve pressure springs that have given some problems, and that on the very fast circuit that also includes the high-speed ring they will be very stressed. The 156, Chiti knows, has a margin, but the drivers are asked to run at 500 rpm less. Shortly before the start of the race, Hill talks to Tavoni, to whom he confesses that he doesn't feel like racing, preferring to leave the victory to Trips.

 

"Romolo, I have no desire to race. Trips is good and faster than me. I'll do three laps and then I'll stop".

 

Trips, who sees him agitated, first talks to Tavoni, then to Hill, to whom he says:

 

"Phil, I'll stay behind you, I'll protect your back, don't worry: you'll win this race. I'm not your opponent here".

 

Hill, amazed, asks why he would have let him win:

 

"For me the man is worth more than all the rest. And then I already have the contract with Ferrari. The car is strong: we win this year, we will also win in 1962".

 

Trips has the young Mexican Ricardo Rodriguez next to them, behind them two other reds, those of Ginther and Phil Hill. In the fourth row is the Scottish Jim Clark. At the start the German starts badly and is overtaken by Rodriguez, Hill, Ginther, Brabham and Clark, as Chapman knows about the Ferrari problem, so he only half-fills the tank of the Scottish driver's car. At the end of the first lap Hill is leading but the group is still compact. But at the end of the second lap Trips brakes fifty meters earlier than the braking point, before entering the parabolic curve, so that Clark collides with the right rear tire of the German driver's car, which flies against the safety nets, mowing down numerous spectators. Trips is catapulted out of the car as soon as it starts spinning like a top; the German's body lies lifeless on the ground.

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Hill still does not know that Trips has passed away, so he runs like a damn and wins both the race and the world title. But back in the pits he learns that his friend and teammate is gone. And in an instant, his title takes a back seat to the tragedy that hit Ferrari and motor racing. Hill himself is shaken by this mournful event. In 1962 the new World Champion remains at Ferrari, but the car is not as competitive as in previous years; in addition, there was a profound restructuring inside with the entry of Mauro Forghieri into the team as technical director. Still shaken by what happened in Monza, Hill no longer has the same incentives even though he will still have time to win for the third time at Le Mans, paired with his friend Gendebien, and to prevail at the 1000 Kilometer of the Nurburgring. In Formula 1 he places sixth in the world championship, climbing on the podium in the Netherlands, Monaco and Belgium, although he gets the latter result because Rodríguez gives him the way on the last lap. Tired and now unmotivated, he leaves Ferrari at the end of the season, exclaiming:

 

"I no longer need to run, to win. I am no longer hungry for victories. I am no longer willing to risk killing myself".

 

In his book, Piloti che gente, Enzo Ferrari expresses a beautiful portrait of the American driver, stating that:

 

"Grand Prix drivers are generally European, but since the 1960s, North American drivers have also appeared on the World Championship tracks. In my team I had three: Dan Gurney, Phil Hill and Richie Ginther, not to mention Mario Andretti, which I consider Italian. Phil Hill, who was von Trips' teammate, was a solid, emotional driver who came from sports cars and who had a good experience as a mechanic in California. He was not the man of the highest class, but it was safe and profitable especially on high-speed circuits. He loved depth curves, long straights, and much less twisty courses, circuits considered demanding, where continuous driving precision is required. Phil Hill showed this precision there. where speed is the determining factor. He was a good driver on sports cars, because in long-distance racing he managed to harmonize his innate speed skills with regularity and respect. of mechanics: a winning combination. And he has won many races. His career is summed up in ten years of activity with our machines, which earned him the world title in 1961".

 

The following year Hill, together with Giancarlo Baghetti, follows Carlo Chiti at the Italian team ATS, and also disputes some races with Lotus, but both adventures will not be positive at all. In 1964 he will be at Cooper, but will only get a sixth place in Great Britain. With sports cars, however, Hill wins the 24 Hours of Daytona paired with Pedro Rodríguez, in a Ferrari 250 GTO. After these years without significant events, the American driver decides to devote himself solely to prototype sports cars, and accepts Ford's proposal and challenge to Ferrari.

 

With the American manufacturer, Hill wins the 1000 Kilometers of the Ring for the second time in his career. Excited by this success, the American driver decides to try again with Formula 1, but his return ends in a disaster: despite being signed by Dan Gurney's All American Racing, Hill fails to qualify. His last participation in a competition will be at Brands Hatch, imposing himself behind the wheel of the Ford. After his retirement, the American dedicates himself to classic cars by setting up a salon with his partner Ken Vaughn, which he will have to sell to the Jordanian tycoon Raja Gargour.

 

Hill was even a television commentator for the ABC channel for some time, and in 1991 he was first inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and shortly thereafter also into that of American drivers. Hill will pass away on August 28, 2008, in Salinas, California, due to complications from Parkinson's disease he was diagnosed with a few years earlier. That day we are left by a motorsport gentleman who, even if he might have seemed shy and reserved, had proved to be a determined and confident driver of his own means.

 

Simone Centonze

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