Phil Hill, 1927-2008

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

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9 comments on Phil Hill, 1927-2008

  1. He was a fantastic driver and a fantastic man. He will be sorely missed. RIP

  2. This just brought my day down today. I never meet the man but heard and saw him a few times both in person, read some of his occasional writings, and on TV.

    If I could encapsulate the guy, he was a plain but well spoken gent who loved racing and automobiles in general. He had a very pleasant “American” way about him; confident but not cocky, always warm to anyone who recognized him, know who he was or what he accomplished in his amazing career.

    On a personal note, I always wanted to do a book or wish someone would do a book on the American drivers like Hill, Shelby, and Dan Gurney who were prevalent in F1 and international racing in the 1960′s. Sadly, with Hill’s passing; one of those figures have left us and their stories, antidotes, jokes, and personality are now gone to the ages.

    Prayers around to all that had the honor of knowing him and being in his family.

  3. Wesley said on 30th August 2008, 0:42

    According to Wikipedia he was the first driver to lap the old Nurburgring in under nine minutes.

    He was returning from an antique car race when he passed…..passion for racing till the end.

    RIP Mr. Hill,you made your country proud.

  4. Steve K said on 30th August 2008, 3:08

    Thank you for the post. Connecting a sport to the past makes the present more meaningful. His teammate dies in a race while he lives to be 81. Those guys were truly daredevils.

  5. the limit said on 30th August 2008, 3:19

    I remember reading many years ago about Phil Hill, and how he used to get so nervous at the start of a grand prix, that is teeth would chatter like crazy. I was struck at the time by just how humble a man he was in the way he came across, a real gentleman.
    To race when death was commonplace, in those fragil cars, at the speeds they did, took nothing more than courage and passion of the highest order. Thankyou Phil Hill, for everything you gave our sport. x.

  6. Ninad said on 30th August 2008, 7:39

    We will miss him………

  7. Probably the legendary Phil Hill winned the most dramatic and mythic championship in history.

  8. Gman said on 31st August 2008, 5:27

    Indeed a sad day for the international racing community- Phil Hill was someone who will always be rembered as being a tremendous representative of the motor racing world for the duration of his life. My prayers go out to he and his family, and may his spirit live on in the Formula 1 world for many more years.

  9. rob cochran said on 3rd September 2008, 7:46

    As a little boy, I attended Phil Hill’s first Grand Prix. This was Monza 1958 when he was drafted in to support Mike Hawthorn’s title challenge. I was surprised to see this driver with his extra pair of goggles on his helmet appear in a Dino 246 but recognised his as Phil Hill – especially after his epic Le Mans win in the rain earlier that summer. I spent Saturday evening in the paddock ( as one did in those days ) next to my campsite and got very excited as I watched Ferrari change to Dunlop disc brakes for the first time. I watched the race at the Parabolica pressed up (lucky me) against a small but very knowledgeable Italian lady who was much enthused by the arrival of Phil Hill ( a “comingman” as she said.) What a race! Moss and Tony Brooks in their Vans, Fangio and Jean Behra (the latter in an oversteering V12 Maserati.)
    Thanks for the memory, Phil. You were a true champion.

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