Phil Hill – The Mechanic.
Phil Hill never truly accepted the danger of Grand Prix racing. It was his custom to throw up before every race. Much of what I am discussing here, I learned from Michael Cannell’s book “The Limit.” His father was the postmaster general of Santa Monica. But, his father was also an abusive drinker. Hill felt alienated from his parents. He did not have his father’s social skills and his mother was always distant.
In “The Limit,” Cannell notes, “When Hill was fourteen, his father came home drunk and hit his mother. Hill pushed between them and hit back.” Cannell goes on to note Hill’s own statement, “It was the first time I ever struck my father. I had this feeling of power over him, finally. I remember that it was a good feeling.”
Rejected from the Korean war draft, Hill went to college. Yet, all he wanted was to work on cars. His parents looked down on his pursuit. He was clumsy at sports; working on cars relaxed his tension. During college, he worked for a company called International Motors. In some sense, it seems as though he had found his calling. He worked both on the cars and on the sales floor. He even brushed shoulders with names like Bogart, Gable, and Cooper.
Soon enough, he purchased his own MG roadster. And what’s the first thing he did with it? The same thing all car enthusiasts want to do to our rides. He dropped it onto race-spec stiff suspension and bolted on some forced induction. He had lowered the compression ratio in order to adjust for the supercharger. But, he also opened up the inlet valves. Suffice it to say, this would have been one hot ride.
And from there, he found his way over to Europe for a series of internships with European car manufacturers. From there, he worked his way up to the pinnacle of motorsport. However, no matter how fast he went, he could not shake the feeling of being a misfit. And so, Phil Hill had made a splash, at the last race, in his debut as a driver.
1958 Morocco Grand Prix.
The Final Grand Prix of 1958 Gets Underway.
Coming into this race, Mike Hawthorn (Scuderia Ferrari) had 40 points and Stirling Moss had 32. However, six of Hawthorn’s points were saved by Moss when he persuaded the stewards that Hawthorn had not stepped afoul of the rules at the Portuguese Grand Prix. Thus, Moss’ incredible act of sportsmanship left him behind Hawthorn in the championship.
To win the championship, Moss needed to win, nail the extra point for fastest race lap. and have Hawthorn finish third or lower. Hawthorn needed only to finish third or lower. When the flag dropped, Moss set off in the lead. Hill chomped at his heels. Eventually, however, Hill was signaled to allow Hawthorn past. He complied. The race ran out in that order: Moss, Hawthorn, Hill. Accordingly, Hawthorn won the championship. However, the victory was bittersweet, as tragedy had stuck on the forty-first lap. (You’ll note, in the video below, the announcer makes no mention of the death).
Killed: Stewart Lewis-Evans.
At high speed, on lap 43, Stewart Lewis-Evans engine seized. This resulted in the drivetrain locking. With rear tires locked in place, he careened off the track. His car burst into flames. On fire, from head to toe, Lewis-Evans ran for help. However, he was blinded by the flames, and ran in the opposite direction of track marshals who could have helped him.
The Vanwall team-owner was distraught and had the badly burned Lewis-Evans airlifted back to the United Kingdom for medical treatment. However, the damage was already done. Lewis-Evans died six days later.
Fire will remain a threat in Formula 1 for decades.
Epilogue: World Champion Hawthorn Killed in Illegal Street Race.
Hawthorn was well aware of the danger of racing. When he won the championship, he dropped to proverbial mic and said, “I’m out.” He had retired with his life, or so he thought. However, he had to attend to a skeleton in his closet. Only recently, had Hawthorn acknowledged that he had fathered a child with a former lover. Many are quick to defend his character; yet, it is accepted that Hawthorn did not acknowledge the child until his mother brought him to a race. When he saw how similar he looked to the child, he could no longer deny that he was the father. In January, he planned to meet with several lawyers in Paris to, well, resolve this apparent loose end. There is no indication he had any desire to play a part in the child’s life.
He left in a tuned and modified Jag in the middle of winter. He took the back roads for some exciting driver. He turned a corner on a ridge and saw a gullwing Mercedes ahead of him. It was Rob Walker, heir to the Johnnie Walker whisky fortune. He could not resist a throw down. Hawthorn caught up with gullwing Merc and initiated a street race down a rainy, slick, set of corners and switchbacks. It was a veritable European touge. Ahead, Hawthorn came to close to the curb, clipped it. This spun his car around. The story goes that they locked eyes twice. Once when Hawthorn flipped 180 degrees, before being wrapped around a tree. They locked eyes again once again once Rob Walker came to the spot where Hawthorn was stuck. Allegedly, they locked eyes again just before Hawthorn’s eyes glazed over as he succumbed to his injuries.
- Mike Hawthorn – 42 (49)
- Stirling Moss – 41
- Tony Brooks – 24