On April 20, 1927 the only American Formula 1 World Champion was born. Phil Hill's multi-faceted talent spanned from single-seaters to sportscars, gifting Ferrari of three Le Mans Wins and one F1 title in the process. We celebrate this incredible racer in what would have been his 93rd birthday.
A tragic start
Like many of the success stories in old-school motor racing, that of Phil Hill's was marked by unfortunate circumstances. Enzo Ferrari initially scouted him while he was still racing in America, calling him in the Scuderia's sportscar program. Hill was entered into the disastrous 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans (incidentally, won by Mike Hawthorn), which he failed to finish.
His results in the biggest race in the world, which he entered for 14 consecutive years, were incredibly polarised: he either won, or didn't finish. Success came in 1958 and 1961 with the two iterations of the iconic 250 Testa Rossa and in 1962 with the 330 LM.
His first full season in Formula 1 with Ferrari came around in 1959, when he finished on the podium three times. The following year, he scored the first F1 victory for an American driver in 40 years. His peak only came a year later, when Ferrari dominated the Championship with the iconic Ferrari 156, making history with a "shark nose" and a new mid-engine configuration.
His victory in the Championship was anything but happy. At the 1961 Italian Grand Prix, Hill and teammate Wolfgang Von Trips were the only two drivers able to fight for the title. While Hill eventually won the race, Von Trips was involved in a fatal accident which also killed 14 spectators. The newly crowned champion was deeply scarred by the events, and Ferrari did not contest in the final round of the Championship.
The following year was his last with Scuderia Ferrari, and the guys in Maranello definitely saw it coming. These were his words to the press before starting the season: "I am in the wrong business [...] I no longer have as much need to race, to win. I don't have as much hunger anymore. I am no longer willing to risk killing myself." His kind demeanour and sportsmanship are still cherished by die-hard fans all over the world, despite his retirement from racing came in 1967.
Written by Aurora Dell'Agli