I am an artist. The track is my canvas, and the car is my brush.
You would think that a double World Champion of Hill calibre would have been racing anything and anything from an early age. Graham however didn’t pass his driving test until he was 24!
Hill’s first taste of motor sport came in 1953 when he paid five shillings to drive some laps in a F3 cooper. Hill was bitten by the racing bug and was soon employed by Colin Chapman at Team Lotus working as a trainee mechanic, also earning himself the occasional drive for the team.
By 1958 Team Lotus and Hill made the step up to Formula 1, debuting at the Monaco Grand Prix, a race he would go on to win five times in his career. A drive shaft failure cut short his first race. Many more failures and an under performing car over the first two years left the ambitious Hill looking elsewhere for a drive.
The 1960 season saw hill switch to the Bourne based BRM team, unfortunately for Hill the first two years with his new team yielded as many retirements as he had with Team lotus. The one highlight came at the 1960 Dutch Grand Prix where he claimed his first Podium of his career. In 1962 things came together at BRM, their car wasn’t only reliable now but fast as well. Hill took four wins (Holland, Germany, Italy and South Africa) on his way to his first World Drivers Championship.
Hill’s performances on track had earned him the respect of his peers and his quick wit and charm also made him a huge hit with the Media, featuring regularly on the chat shows of the time. Hill was riding the crest of a wave but couldn’t quite replicate his title success finishing in the runners-up spot in the following three years.
1966 saw Hill first win less year since 1961 and after finishing a lowly fifth in the championship, Graham decided the only way forward was to go backwards, to Team Lotus. This was a brave move as he was joining Jim Clarke in ‘his team’ at the height of his powers. Although 1967 was a frustrating year for Hill on track. He and Clarke were busy developing the Lotus 49. After a one – two finish in its debut in South Africa the stage was set for a fascinating battle between the two Lotus team mates.
Two tragedies hit the team early in the season, first, Jim Clarke lost his life in a F2 race at Hockenheim, shortly followed by Mike Spence at Indianapolis. Colin Chapman was notorious for building cars on the edge of what was considered safe, always pushing for further developments to gain that crucial advantage over his rivals.
Hill showed his strength of character by leading the team through those dark days, going on to claim three wins on his way to his second World Drivers Title. Hill’s last win came in 1969 at the circuit that he made his own, Monaco. His record five wins earned him the nick name Mr. Monaco.
The beginning of the end of his career came at the ’69 USGP Hill spun off and Stalled the car, he jumped out to push start the car and rejoined the race, before he had chance to fasten his seatbelt, a puncture pitched the car into the banking, throwing him from the car breaking his right knee and dislocating his left knee. Although Hill recovered from the injuries, his F1 career didn’t Hill continued racing for six further years but couldn’t recapture his past glories.
Away from F1(even though at the same time) Graham was part of the British invasion at the Indy 500. Hill won the famous race in 1966 driving a Lola Ford. He started fifteenth and only lead ten laps out of the 200 lap race.
Golf and Tennis has the Major tournaments, the 3/4 championships that mean the most to the competitors. In the ’60s and 70’s drivers were looking to take the triple crown. Monaco GP, Indy 500 and Le Mans. With five Monaco victories under his belt and the 1966 Indy 500 win, only Le Mans remained.
In 1972 Hill teamed up with Henri Pescarolo in the Mantra sports team. They went on to win the race covering 344 laps of the circuit in the 24 hours. Graham Hill was the first and still to this day the only driver to win all three triple crown events. The only current driver who could join him is Juan Pablo Montoya (Indy 500, 2000 and Monaco GP 2003)
Graham was killed in 1975 when a plane he was piloting crashed in heavy fog returning from Paul Ricard in France, several members of Hill racing team were killed including his young driver Tony Brise.
Graham’s iconic London rowing club colours lived on through his son, Damon who went on to become the first second generation world Champion from the same family. It may not be to long before we once again see the Hill name back in Formula 1with Damon’s son, Josh climbing the single seater ladder.