I was saddened to learn today of the death of Phil Hill. Hill, 81, was America’s first world champion in 1961, for Ferrari.
Hill, from Santa Monica in California, was the only native-born American to win the Formula 1 world championship. (Mario Andretti, champion 17 years later, was an Italian emigree).
He joined Enzo Ferrari’s F1 team in 1958 – the year Mike Hawthorn became champion – having previously driven for Maserati.
In only his third race, at Monza, he set fastest lap and finished on the podium. Two years later he won his first Grand Prix at the circuit, starting from pole position and setting fastest lap on the way.
The following year Hill was champion but not in the sort of circumstances he would have wished. Team mate Wolfgang von Trips, a talented German driver and Hill’s closest contender for the title, lost his life when his Ferrari crashed into the crowd, in an accident that also killed 13 spectators.
Over the following seasons Ferrari fell into one of its periodic lapses. After that fateful day in Monza he never won another Grand Prix – in fact, he only finished eight out of 24.
Hill achieved success in other motor racing disciplines and was the first American to win the Le Mans 24 Hours. He took a total of three victories in the French sports car race.
Hill continued to visit Grands Prix long after his retirement. However in his later years he developed Parkins’ disease, medical complication from which eventually claimed his life.
He is survived by his wife Alma, three children Derek, Vanessa and Jennifer, and four grandchildren.
Read more about Phil Hill: Phil Hill biography