Teams Norman Graham Hill
Among the list of greatest racing drivers of all-time there is one that has to occupy a very special place in that list. While maybe not considered of the same caliber of Aryton Senna, Juan Manuel Fangio, or even Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill occupies a place in racing history all his own. For out of the century long history of motor racing there still has only been one driver to achieve racing's Triple Crown.
Hill's story begins not with the success and adulation that he would gain later on in his life but in the dark and scary nights of the 'Blitz' in London where sirens and fire would continually engulf London. Born on the north side of London on February 15th, 1929, Norman Graham Hill would be just ten years old when the Second World War would begin and when Luftwaffe aircraft would fill the skies over London and the south of England.
The son of stock broker, Hill would become quite adept in business but would first attend a technical school and would become an apprentice for the Smith Instrument Company at the age of just 16. After working some time with Smith Instrument Company Hill would have to endure compulsory serve in the Royal Navy. Hill would absolutely hate this time of his life but would, nonetheless, carry out his duty. And although he would detest the time in the Royal Navy he would come to find something he very much enjoyed. After his time in the navy he would return to the Smith Instrument Company.
During his second go-around with the instrument company Hill would come to purchase a motorcycle. However, he would seem to be anything but the double world champion people would come to know him for as he would end up crashing the motorcycle breaking his thigh and forever having to deal with a left leg that was shorter than his right.
A little after his bad luck on a motorcycle Hill would take to thoughts of competing on the water before competing on the track. In 1952, just the third year of the Formula One World Championship's existence, Hill would return to something he came to enjoy while he was in the Royal Navy. He would join the London Rowing Club and would seem to be a natural with an oar in his hand. He would so enjoy this time that it would become his trademark for the rest of his racing career as he would place the club's trademark of eight vertical stripes or oars on his racing helmet. This would also be a very poignant time in Hill's life as it would be during these years that Graham would come to meet and get to know Bette, his future wife.
At the age of 24, Hill would finally pass his driving test and would come to own what he admitted was a 'wreck' of a car. His car was anything but what he would come to drive. His first car would be a 1934 Morris and he would use this car to teach himself how to drive. Hill would later admit that the car was perfect for his future racing career. This was due to the fact that he had to learn how to drive a car that was so fragile and prone to problems.
About the same time as when he finally got his driving license Hill would go to Brands Hatch. He had come as a result of seeing an ad in a magazine for a racing school offering laps of the circuit for a rather cheap price. And although he had only just got his license, Hill would go on to complete four laps of Brands Hatch and would later admit that it was then that, 'everything changed'.
It was at that moment an idea came into Hill's head. He would decide to would offer his services as a mechanic to the Universal Motor Racing Club, based at Brands Hatch, in exchange for the opportunity of racing their cars. An agreement was struck but Hill would come to find it unfulfilled as he would never actually be allowed to race their cars. Then, somewhat in an impulse of the moment, Hill would make another similar agreement with another he barely knew.
But this time it would pay off. Not only would Hill get the opportunity to race, but since he was really the only employee of this new racing school he would come to be the instructor as well, and this for a man that had only gotten his driver's license at the age of 24.
Life is full of providential moments whereby one's course in life is set and in the case of Hill's it would come with a meeting of a fellow racer by the name of Colin Chapman. The two would first come to know each other when Hill hitched a ride with Chapman back to London. As the two talked, which of course was a strong suit of Hill's, Chapman came to believe Hill was indispensable for his team's racing future. Therefore, Hill would persuade Chapman to hire him as a mechanic. But given Hill's wit and prowess, it would not be long before Hill would maneuver his way into the driver's seat.
Just one year after getting his driving license Hill would be competing in the amateur ranks and would be rather impressive. Having left Smith Instrument Company a while ago, Hill would make his living now entirely from his work as a mechanic and as a driver. This would motivate the already determined man from Hampstead.
The move to work with Chapman and his new Lotus car company would, at the time, be seen as a very tough and frustrating period, but it would not only be good for Hill, it would provide him with great opportunities he would not have gotten so early had he tried to find rides with the larger factory teams.
Driving as an amateur in 1954, in just four short years Hill would find himself taking part in his first Formula One World Championship grand prix. On the 18th of May, at the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix, at a time when Stirling Moss, Mike Hawthorn and Wolfgang von Trips made up a portion of the starting grid, Graham Hill would make his Formula One debut driving a Lotus-Climax.
Despite starting the race toward the back of the starting grid, Hill would carry on and would be a strong position until his Lotus' halfshaft broke after 69 laps forcing him to retire from his first grand prix.
Hill would remain with Lotus throughout the rest of the 1958 and '59 season. However, it was Lotus' first couple of years of competition in the Formula One World Championship and its cars would prove to be unreliable, and also, a bit slow compared to the rest of the competition. This would be proven by the fact Hill would start no better than the fourth row of the grid at any of the races in which he competed throughout the 1958 season.
When 1959 would see very little in the way of improvement, Hill would be forced to be weigh his options. After consideration, Hill would decide to leave the team, and instead, would move on to drive for BRM.
British Racing Motors had its start all the way back to just after the end of World War II. However, BRM wouldn't be first seen until 1950. At the time of its debut, BRM would brandish a 16-cylinder Type 15 chassis. Over time, the P15 chassis, with its 16-cylinder monster of an engine, would prove incredibly unreliable and temperamental.
In 1960, Hill would leave a Lotus team suffering from unreliability and a lack of pace. Instead, he would head to a team that, at one point in time, would have a reputation that would be a joke and an embarrassment amongst the British citizenry. It would seem as though he had made a mistake. Thankfully for BRM, Hill would make the move.
Known for his determination and self-drive, Hill would look upon the move as an incredible opportunity. Graham would throw himself into the team and would proceed to help usher in a renaissance of what the BRM should have been from the very beginning. While the results would not come immediately, the team would steadily improve thereby boosting the team's confidence and opportunity for success.
In his first season with the team, Hill would come to not only earn his first World Championship points but would finish the 1960 season in 15th place with 4 points. The following season would be worse for Hill and BRM. His best result over the course of the season would be a 5th place at the United States Grand Prix. By the end of the season, Hill would have earned just 3 points and would end up 16th in the championship standings.
Yet, despite two years of struggle, all of the hard work and persistence would pay off in ways almost beyond belief. By 1952, BRM had come to be an embarrassment throughout England. However, after Hill scored victories at the Dutch, German, Italian and South African grand prix, BRM would go from underachieving joke to World Champion. And for Graham Hill, and all that he did to bring BRM to that point, it would be a well-deserved World Championship. Of course, what made the story all the more special was the simple fact that less than ten years prior Hill only got his driving license.
Seemingly from that moment on, the other side of Hill, the side full of carelessness, humor and questionably outrageous moral antics would be born. From streaking naked to endlessly flirting with women despite being married to Bette, Hill's life would seem to take on an entirely different persona. Yet, the dashing and witty driver would seem to get an endless pass with the public and, in fact, would actually become quite famous for his behavior away from the circuit.
In spite of his antics away from the circuit, Graham would continue to have success while at the track. Throughout the years between 1963 and 1965, Hill would finish as runner-up in the driver's championship three straight years. During his tenure with BRM, Hill would earn ten victories. But by 1966, BRM's string of success was dwindling and Hill was forced with another important decision to make.
At the same time that Hill was going through his streak of runner-up finishes in the driver's championship, his former employer Colin Chapman was enjoying seeing his team take the World Championship title for two of those three years.
Throughout those three years, the Scot, Jim Clark, had been absolutely dominant. 1966 would see Lotus struggle. However, the team was still in a rather strong position. Therefore, Hill believed it was time to come back to his old team.
Hill would be coming back to a Lotus team already possessing a powerhouse driver in Jim Clark. However, in 1968, just one year after joining the team, Hill would be called on again to help pull a team out of its darkest days and set it on its winning ways once again.
In 1966, before Hill rejoined Team Lotus in the World Championship, Hill would be behind the wheel of a Lotus racing car but in an entirely different race. For on the 30th of May, Graham would prepare to take part in his first Indianapolis 500.
In that race, Hill would achieve the second leg of motor racing's Triple Crown as he would take the victory and the famous winner's wreath and Borg Warner Trophy. What was more, Hill would end up being the last rookie for more than thirty years to win the 500 mile race in his first try.
Back with Lotus at the start of the 1967 season, Hill would struggle, but it would be the team that would be suffering the most the following year. Hill's move back to Lotus was somewhat surprising considering the presence of Clark. However, after a Formula 2 race at Hockenheimring in 1968, the reason for Hill's presence would be all the more clear.
Jim Clark had originally meant to drive in a sportscar race at Brands Hatch, but instead would choose to drive in a Formula 2 race for Lotus at the Hockenheimring. The race would be run in two heats, and in the first heat, Clark's Lotus would leave the track striking some trees. He would suffer a broken neck and a skull fracture that would end up taking his life even before he could reach the hospital. In what had been characterized over time as a 'minor race', to have lost someone so valuable as Clark was to Lotus was absolutely devastating to the team. It would be in that moment of darkness and despair that Hill would once again help carry a team get back on its feet and continue to move on.
After Clark's death, Hill would focus intently on the rest of the season and would help the team through its grief by taking victory at the Spanish Grand Prix about a month later. Hill would then follow up the victory in Spain with his third victory at Monaco. After a couple of 2nd place results in Germany and the United States, Hill would cap the season off with a victory at the Grand Prix of Mexico. When combined, Hill's results throughout the tumultuous season would be good enough to earn himself his second World Driver's Championship and Lotus the Constructors' Championship. And with that, Lotus would carry on.
By the time of his second world championship Hill was nearly 40 years of age. And unlike the 1950s when many drivers pushing 40, or more, years of age were still to be seen careening around grand prix circuits throughout the world, the Formula One World Championship was becoming a young man's career. As speeds increased, reaction times also needed to increase. However, over time, reaction times generally slow. Therefore, it would not be at all that surprising when Hill did reach the top of the 40 year old mountaintop and began the downward run that his career also took a downward turn.
One thing about heading downhill, it allows one to conserve energy. And Hill would need all the energy he had as in 1972 he would make his final appearance in the greatest endurance race in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Le Mans was the remaining jewel missing in Hill's Triple Crown. He had participated in the race some nine times between 1958 and 1966. Over the course of those numerous appearances Hill would only manage to finish the race three times. The best result would come in 1964 when he came home, after battling with Ford GT40s, in 2nd place with his co-driver Jo Bonnier.
In spite of the 2nd place in 1964, Hill's record at Le Mans was certainly nothing to be proud of as it would be filled with early retirements and only two classified finishes. Nonetheless, in 1972, at the age of 43, Hill would make one last attempt at the famous endurance classic.
Hill would drive for the Equipe Matra-Simca Shell team and would be partnered with Henri Pescarolo in a Matra-Simca MS670. The main competition for the Matras would come in the form of three Alfa Romeos, a couple of Lolas and a privately-entered Porsche 908.
The lead would change hands a number of times. Hill would be in the lead around midnight but would find himself in 2nd place behind his sister-car driven by Francois Cevert and Howden Ganley.
Once the threat from the other competitors waned in the early morning light it was Hill and Pescarolo trailing Cevert and Ganley. However, after contact with a Corvette, Hill and Pescarolo would find themselves in the lead and would not look back from then on.
At a point in time when his grand prix career had certainly dwindled to almost nothing, Hill would reach an entirely different and elite level. In fact, even as of today, Hill remains alone. For he is the only one to have won the Formula One World Championship, earned victory in the Indianapolis 500, and, won the 24 Hours of Le Mans overall.
For many, having reached such a level of achievement would be a good moment in which to walk away and enjoy the rest of one's life. And indeed, that is what many wished Hill had done. But he would not.
Ever since his second, and last, World Championship in 1968, the points-paying finishers were becoming harder and harder to come by. Scoring his final victory at the 1969 Monaco Grand Prix, Graham would only manage a 4th place as his best result over the next six seasons. Many believed this was no way for a double World Champion, Indy 500 and Le Mans champion to end their career. But as Hill exclaimed about his first foray into racing, 'everything changed'.
It was certainly hard for Hill to walk away from something he came to love so dearly. He had managed to outlive many of his fellow competitors and teammates. He had lived on the edge for so many years and still managed to live to tell about it. He certainly still got a thrill from it, but it was also certain that he didn't have the edge, the competitiveness it took not merely to win a World Championship, but even a race.
Much of the drive and the desire had been taken away after he broke his two legs in a crash at Watkins Glen in 1969. In that race, he had spun on some oil and stalled. In an attempt to restart the car he would get out and push-start the car. He would then hop in and signaled to the pits to prepare for him the next time around. However, at the end of the straight a tire would blow causing the car to cartwheel throwing Hill out of the car. When it was over it was realized that Hill had broken bones in both legs and would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of the season. Yet, despite the wheelchair and the doctor's prognosis, Hill would be determined to start the first round of the 1970 season, which would be South Africa in early March. To many, just the fact he escaped with his life was a real achievement, but it would not be enough for Hill. He would make it back into the car by South Africa and would score points as well. But, while Hill would continue to get into a car to go racing, he would seem to have lost that edge, that drive for which he had become famous.
Besides his own physical limitations, which were growing, the Brabham team, of which Hill was a part at the time, was an absolute mess. Good finishes were excruciatingly hard to achieve and the constant strain of such tough conditions were slowly eroding the Englishman's desire.
Not wanting to leave racing, Graham needed to find the next best thing. He needed something that could keep him around racing, and engaged, but that wouldn't call for his aged body to do the driving. Always the keen business man that had a history of being able to talk his way into anything, Hill took and went the direction of being a team owner.
Hill had had a good deal of experience helping to pull teams up by their bootstraps and getting them to work like well-oiled machines. He had done it and it worked. So he knew it was possible. Therefore, in 1973 Hill would form the Embassy-Hill Racing Team.
But before Hill would surrender driving duties, he would go on to endure three final seasons of grand prix racing. For a man of Hill's achievements and ability these were, perhaps, the most embarrassing years of his career. And it would say something when people were actually pleased he had finally left racing in 1975.
Of course, out of those three terrible years, the most forgettable moment would take place at a track for which he had become famous. Graham Hill had become known as 'Mr. Monaco' after scoring five victories at the circuit in 1963, 1964, 1965, 1968 and 1969. However, the 1975 edition of the race would be far from similar to those moments of triumph.
Hill's team would come to the 1975 Monaco Grand Prix with two cars. The main competitors would include Ferrari, Shadow-Ford, Lotus-Ford and McLaren-Ford. Unfortunately for Hill, both of his Ford-powered chassis were unable to match the pace of the front runners. And nothing would be more tear-jerking than the site of seeing 'Mr. Monaco' being unable to qualify either one of the cars for the race that had dominated for so many years, including three-straight between 1963 and 1965.
It was obvious that his driving career had come to an end. Then, at the British Grand Prix, in July of that year, Hill's retirement would be made official. He would go out and make one final farewell lap accepting the applause and praise from an appreciative crowd. Little would anyone known, that it would be just four months later that the Triple Crown champion would be dead.
Although the year was headed into autumn, Hill had a sense of new life about him. He had handed the driving duties over to a promising Tony Brise who had shown himself to be a very promising and naturally-talented racing driver. The team would leave England and would head to the Paul Ricard Circuit in the south of France for testing of its new car. Aboard the place with Hill were, Brise, team manager Ray Brimble, mechanics Tony Alcock and Terry Richards and designer Andy Smallman.
After a few days of testing, all things seemed bright for the future. Hill had a good driver and had also attracted some very talent in Brimble and Smallman. The crew then boarded Hill's Piper Aztec to return home. They had left France with nothing but hope for the future. However, the end would come just hours later.
As usual, the weather around the Elstree airfield that night was foggy. But while Hill had grown a reputation of being somewhat reckless as a pilot, this flight was different, or at least it was to be different.
Approaching what Hill thought was to be Elstree, Graham would soon find his Piper striking trees that weren't supposed to be where they were. He would strike the trees hard and would com crashing to the ground. In mere moments, every one aboard the plane would be dead.
By the time the sun rose the next morning the truth had become more than evident. Apparently confused by the lights from nearby Arkley golf course, Hill had brought his Piper right down through some trees. Instead of the morning dawning with nothing but promise for the Embassy-Hill Racing Team, in one solitary moment, the team would cease to exist.
Ironically, at the time of his death, Hill had been in the process of writing his second autobiography. The last event he recorded in his autobiography would be a dinner of the National Sporting Club in which he had been the guest of honor. And at that dinner, as would be the case in his autobiography, Hill would end with these words:'While I had been a racing driver I had often said to audiences during speechess and talks: ‘You know the risks, you accept them. If a man can't look at danger and still go on, man has stopped living. If the worst ever happens—then it means simply that I've been asked to pay the bill for the happiness of my life—without a moment's regret.''
On that foggy night of the 29th of November more than the racing community had lost a tremendous personality. Throughout his career, Hill's charm, looks, easy wit and ability to hang in there with the best comedians of the world would lead him to become more than a racing driver. Moviegoers would be introduced to Hill as GrandPrix's Bob Turner. But he would also be seen on numerous TV shows like Call My Bluff, Keepsakes, and the BBC Sports Review of the Year in which he would partner with Jackie Stewart. This show, in particular, would become wildly popular with the British audiences. After suffering his broken legs at Watkins Glen, Hill would be involved in various charities for the disabled and would increase his already prominent role in campaigning for improved safety for motor racing.
Those that hadn't even met the Englishman would weep for the loss of such a champion on the circuit and as media personality. He would leave behind his wife Bette, two girls Brigitte and Samantha and a son Damon.
It would be rather fitting that this huge personality would have a son able to carry the familiar dark blue helmet with the oars on in motor racing. Damon would do more than just that. Following in his father's footsteps, Damon would become the Formula One World Champion in 1996, barely missing out on the crown in 1994 and finishing runner-up in 1995. This would make Graham and Damon the only father-son duo to win the World Championship in its entire history.
For what had been a record 176 World Championship races, three entries in the Indianapolis 500s, and 10 entries in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, along with numerous other minor races, Graham Hill seemed to escape what, at the time, seemed to be nothing but a certainty in motor racing. However, as it says in Hebrews 9:27, 'it is appointed unto men once to die…', and Graham Hill would still lose his life doing exactly what gave him joy and happiness. In fact, it would seem almost perfect that he would lose his life just when it seemed the clouds were parting after a number of years of frustration and disappointment.
Starting his motor racing career at what consider an advanced age, Hill would be blessed and protected in order to provide motor racing fans with something very special. And while Hill's name may be well down on a list for what many consider to be the greatest driver of all time, neither of those considered before him have the honor, at least as of this day, of being able to say they achieved motor racing's Triple Crown. And for that, Hill continues to live on in a level all his own.Sources:
'Drivers: Graham Hill', (http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/drv-hilgra.html). GrandPrix.com. http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/drv-hilgra.html. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
'Graham Hill', (http://www.ddavid.com/formula1/hill_bio.htm). Dennis David and Family. http://www.ddavid.com/formula1/hill_bio.htm. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
Armstrong, Richard. 'The Champions/ More than Mister Monaco: Graham Hill—All-Rounder Extraordinary', (http://8w.forix.com/ghill.html). 8W: The Stories Behind Motor Racing Facts and Fiction. http://8w.forix.com/ghill.html. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
'From the Vault: Motor Racing Legend Graham Hill Killed in Plane Crash', (http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2008/dec/02/from-the-vault-graham-hill-formula-one). TheSportBlog: Opinion. Conjecture. Other Stuff. http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2008/dec/02/from-the-vault-graham-hill-formula-one. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Graham Hill', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 21 January 2012, 20:17 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Graham_Hill&oldid=472488804 accessed 30 January 2012