Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Graham Hill "A Legend Remembered"

February 15, 1929 - November 29, 1975
Graham Hill

Born in Hampstead, London, England.
Hill served in the Royal Navy as an engine room artificer on the light cruiser HMS Swiftsure and attained the rank of petty officer. After leaving the Navy he re-joined Smiths Instruments as an apprentice engineer. Hill did not pass his driving test until he was 24 years old, and he himself described his first car as "A wreck. A budding racing driver should own such a car, as it teaches delicacy, poise and anticipation, mostly the latter I think!" He had been interested in motorcycles but in 1954 he saw an advertisement for the Universal Motor Racing Club at Brands Hatch offering laps for 5 shillings. He made his debut in a Cooper 500 Formula 3 car and was committed to racing thereafter. Hill joined Team Lotus as a mechanic soon after but quickly talked his way into the cockpit. The Lotus presence in Formula One allowed him to make his debut at the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix, retiring with a halfshaft failure.

In 1960, Hill joined BRM, and won the world championship with them in 1962. Hill was also part of the so-called 'British invasion' of drivers and cars in the Indianapolis 500 during the mid-1960s, triumphing there in 1966 in a Lola-Ford.

In 1967, back at Lotus, Hill helped to develop the Lotus 49 with the new Cosworth-V8 engine. After team mates Jim Clark and Mike Spence were killed in early 1968, Hill led the team, and won his second world championship in 1968. The Lotus had a reputation of being very fragile and dangerous at that time, especially with the new aerodynamic aids which caused similar crashes of Hill and Jochen Rindt at the 1969 Spanish Grand Prix. A crash at the 1969 United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen broke both his legs and interrupted his career. Typically, when asked soon after the crash if he wanted to pass on a message to his wife, Hill known for his wit replied "Just tell her that I won't be dancing for two weeks."

Upon recovery Hill continued to race in F1 for several more years, but never again with the same level of success. Colin Chapman, believing Hill was a spent force, placed him in Rob Walker's team for 1970, sweetening the deal with one of the brand-new Lotus 72 cars. Although Hill scored points in 1970 he started the season far from fully fit and the 72 was not fully developed until late in the season. Hill moved to Brabham for 1971-2; his last win in Formula One was in the non-Championship International Trophy at Silverstone in 1971 with the "lobster claw" Brabham BT34. But the team was in flux after the retirements of Sir Jack Brabham and then Ron Tauranac's sale to Bernie Ecclestone; Hill did not settle there.

Although Hill had concentrated on F1 he also maintained a presence in sports car racing throughout his career. As his F1 career drew to a close he became part of the Matra sports car team, taking a victory in the 1972 24 Hours of Le Mans with Henri Pescarolo.
(photo credit: Dave Hamster via)
This victory completed the so-called Triple Crown of motorsport which is alternatively defined as winning either: the Indianapolis 500 (won by Hill in 1966), the 24 Hours of Le Mans (1972) and the Monaco Grand Prix (1963–65, 1968, 1969), or the Indianapolis 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Formula One World Championship (1962, 1968). Using either definition, Hill is still the only person ever to have accomplished this feat.

With works drives becoming hard to find, Hill set up his own team in 1973, Embassy Hill with sponsorship from Imperial Tobacco.

(photo credit: Del Adams via photopin cc)
The team used chassis from Shadow and Lola before evolving the Lola into its own design in 1975. After failing to qualify for the 1975 Monaco Grand Prix, where he had won five times, Hill retired from driving to concentrate on running the team and supporting his protege Tony Brise. 

On the night of November 29, 1975, tragedy rocked the Embassy Hill team and the motor-sport world. Hill was killed when the Piper PA 23-250 Turbo-Aztec, that he was piloting on return from the Paul Ricard circuit, France, crashed in North London while attempting to land in freezing, foggy conditions at night. The crash also resulted in the deaths of team manager Ray Brimble, mechanics Tony Alcock and Terry Richards, up-and-coming driver Tony Brise and designer Andy Smallman.

His funeral was at St Albans Abbey, and he is buried at St Botolphs church in Shenley. After his death, Silverstone village, home to the track of the same name, named a road, Graham Hill, after him and there is a "Graham Hill Road" on The Shires estate in nearby Towcester. Graham Hill Bend at Brands Hatch is also named in his honour.

1969 BRM type 139 nosecone
(photo credit: Glen Bowman via photopin cc)
 signed by some of those taking part in the 1976 Innternational Trophy race at Silverstone, in memory of Graham Hill, on display at the Haynes International Motor Museum.

A blue plaque commemorates Hill at 32 Parkside, in Mill Hill, London. 
(photo credit: sleepymyf via photopin cc)
Hill was survived by wife Bette. They had two daughters, Brigitte and Samantha, and a son, Damon. They are the only father and son pair both to have won the Formula One World Championship. Hill's grandson Josh, Damon's son, also raced his way through the ranks till he retired from Formula 3 in 2013 at the age of 22.

Embassy Hill GH2 driven by Damon Hill
(photo credit: sparetomato via photopin cc)
 1996 Formula One World Drivers Champion Damon Hill puts his father's team car the GH2 through its paces up the Goodwood hill during the 2005 Festival of Speed.

In his personal life, before taking up motor racing, Hill spent several years actively involved in rowing. Initially, he rowed at Southsea Rowing Club, while stationed in Portsmouth with the Royal Navy and at Auriol Rowing Club in Hammersmith. He met Bette at a Boxing Day party at Auriol and, while courting her, he also coached her clubmates at Stuart Ladies' Rowing Club on the River Lea.

In 1952 he joined London Rowing Club, then as now one of the largest and most successful clubs in Great Britain. From 1952 to 1954, Hill rowed in twenty finals with London, usually as stroke of the crew, eight of which resulted in wins. He also stroked the London eight in the highly prestigious Grand Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta, losing a semi-final to Union Sportif Metropolitaine des Transports, France by a length.

Through his racing career he continued to support rowing and London. In 1968 when the club began a financial appeal to modernise its clubhouse, Hill launched proceedings by driving an old Morris Oxford, which had been obtained for £5, head-on into a boundary wall. Hill made three runs to reduce the wall to rubble, and the car was subsequently sold for £15.

Hill felt that the experience gained in rowing helped him in his motor-racing. He wrote in his autobiography: "I really enjoyed my rowing. It really taught me a lot about myself, and I also think it is a great character-building sport...The self discipline required for rowing and the 'never say die' attitude obviously helped me through the difficult years that lay ahead."

Famously, Hill adopted the colours and cap design of London Rowing Club for his racing helmet - dark blue with white oar-shaped tabs. His son Damon and his grandson Josh later adopted the same colours.

Hill was known during the latter part of his career for his wit and became a popular personality, he was a regular guest on television and wrote a notably frank and witty autobiography, Life at the Limit, when recovering from his 1969 accident. Hill was also irreverently immortalized on a Monty Python episode ("It's the Arts (or: Intermission)" sketch called "Historical Impersonations"), in which a Gumby appears asking to "see John the Baptist's impersonation of Graham Hill." The head of St. John the Baptist appears on a silver platter, which runs around the floor making putt-putt noises of a race car engine.

Hill was involved with four films between 1966 and 1974, including appearances in Grand Prix and Caravan to Vaccarès, in which he appeared as a helicopter pilot.

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