Graham Hill (1929–1975)

Graham Hill was educated at a technical college in Hendon, where he and the property millionaire Harry Hyams were picked out as the two boys least likely to succeed. Undeterred, Hill left at sixteen for a five-year apprenticeship with Smiths, the instrument makers. In the early 1950s rowing was his main sporting interest and he would later carry the London Rowing Club’s dark blue and white colours round the world on his racing helmet. He served in the Royal Navy in 1950–52.

Hill was launched on his unique motor racing career by pure chance. In 1953, with no idea what he was going to do with his life, his eye was caught by a magazine offer of laps in a racing car at the Brands Hatch circuit for 5s. a time. The most important pound he ever spent enabled him to have four laps and a chance meeting with Colin Chapman, who was starting the Lotus Car Company at Hornsey. Hill became a mechanic there for £1 a day. In 1957 Hill was taken on as a driver and the following year Lotus and Hill entered their first formula 1 grand prix at Monaco. Disappointed with two unsuccessful years, Hill told Chapman he was joining BRM for the 1960 season. He had a little more success with the Bourne team, scoring seven points in two seasons. But 1962 was the first of his momentous years and was mainly spent duelling with Jim Clark, a rising star with the Lotus–Climax team which Hill had left. Hill won his first grand prix in the Netherlands with the BRM P57 and was also first in Germany and Italy. As Clark had won the Belgian, British, and American races, everything depended on that in South Africa. Hill won and became world champion, the first British driver to do so in an all-British car.

For the next three years Hill had to be content with being runner-up: to Jim Clark in 1963; to John Surtees (Ferrari) in 1964, by one point; and to Clark again in 1965. The 1966 formula 1 season caught most teams, apart from Brabham, unprepared for the change from 1.5 litre to 3 litre engines. BRM was no exception, and for a former world champion Hill had a mediocre year, with seventeen championship points. This included a win at Indianapolis, later to be an element in his triple crown. It was a controversial race, which began with a sixteen-car crash in the opening seconds, but eventually Hill was confirmed as the winner, the first ‘rookie’ in forty years. Tired of waiting for the fast but erratic H-16 BRM engine to achieve its potential, Hill rejoined Lotus for the 1967 grand prix season as equal number one driver with Jim Clark. It was a wise move because this was the year of the Lotus 49, the first car to use the Ford–Cosworth DFV V-8 engine that was to win 155 grandes épreuves by 1984. Hill led for the first ten laps of the Dutch grand prix but his race ended when the timing gear failed on the brand new engine. Clark went on to win but Denis Hulme took the title that year with his Brabham–Repco. The 1968 season tested Hill’s strength of character to the full following the death of Jim Clark during a formula 2 race at Hockenheim in April. By the last race in Mexico, Hill, Stewart (Matra–Ford), or Hulme (McLaren–Ford) could have become the champion. Both his rivals had mechanical misfortunes; Hill won the race and became world champion for the second time.

Hill won his last grand prix in 1969, inevitably at Monaco. His luck ran out that autumn in the American grand prix at Watkins Glen. A crash, caused by a puncture, shattered his legs so badly that surgeons feared he would never walk again without a stick. Despite intense pain, Hill finished in sixth place the following January in the South African race, driving a Rob Walker Lotus–Ford 49c. His many admirers throughout the world felt that he had made his point and should now retire, a veteran of forty. Hill scored seven points that season and although he was driving Brabham–Fords in 1971 and 1972, Shadow–Fords in 1973, and Lola–Fords in 1974 and 1975 before forming his own Embassy Hill team, his grand prix racing career was in sad decline. But in 1972 he shared the winning Matra–Simca MS670 with Henri Pescarolo at Le Mans. Hill’s tenth attempt at the twenty-four hour endurance classic made him the only driver to achieve the triple crown of the formula 1 world championship, Indianapolis, and Le Mans. He retired as a driver in 1975, the most experienced in grand prix history, having competed in 176 races, of which he won fourteen; he was also second fifteen times and took thirteen pole positions. He then embarked on a second career as a team manager and elder statesman of motor racing.

[caption id="attachment_54" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Graham Hill at the wheel of his Lotus"]Graham Hill at the wheel of his Lotus[/caption]

Every inch the popular conception of the racing driver, with an engaging buccaneering manner, Hill was at ease in any walk of life and a superb ambassador for motor racing. As the prince of Wales wrote in the foreword to Graham, his zest for life was ‘intoxicating and with it went a memorable sense of humour’. He was appointed OBE in 1968 and made a freeman of the City of London in 1974. An accomplished after-dinner speaker, he was given the Guild of Professional Toastmasters’ award in 1971. He married in 1955 Bette Pauline, daughter of Bertie Shubrook, a compositor’s assistant on The Times. They had two daughters and a son. Hill was killed with other members of his team on 29 November 1975 in a flying accident at Arkley, Hertfordshire, when returning to Elstree from testing in France. He was a highly experienced pilot and the cause of the crash was not established.