Spotlight: Graham Hill – A Racing Legend Unlike Any Others (video)

October 16, 2012

It’s a bit of an old cliche to say that ‘things were different back in the old days of F1’, but in the case of top-level/F1 motorsport and, more particularily, the drivers themselves and the people directly involved, nothing could be further from the truth.

The 1960s (and to some extent, the early ’70s) are often regarded as the golden age of motorsport and Formula One for many unique reasons. Most companies and manufacturers involved at the time were small independents and some survived race-to-race in the hopes of winning some prize money to further their livelihood and passion over the coming season.

Jackie Stewart and his earliest mentor, Graham Hill, at Monza in ’67

Comraderie between drivers was commonplace – everyone hung out with one another and most drivers became the best of friends. They all shared a common passion that few people could relate to. It was family, pure and simple as that. Families vacationed together, the wives of the drivers and team-owners assisted by time-keeping and keeping various things in line… It was people helping people that also cared about one another.

Graham and his son, Damon, playing around with reigning F1 world-champion Jim Clark at his home in ’66. Bette Hill threw Graham a party to celebrate his homecoming from America where he won the Indianapolis 500 in a Ford-Lola.

Whether you drove for Ferrari or Tyrrell or Lotus or Brabham, it didn’t matter… You were family. You looked out for one another… and also grieved together whenever there was a loss of life from an accident which, sadly, happened all too often.

Graham in his Lotus 49B during the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort in ’69

One man from that era of Motorsport that seemed to shine in his own irrefutably unique way though, was Graham Hill. If there ever was a man to be labelled ‘a true gentleman’ of the sport, then Graham would easily claim that designation. He was a charismatic, charming, highly-knowledgeable, caring and incredibly talented driver that won the World Championship twice (in ’62 and ’68) and earned the unofficial title as ‘Mr. Monaco’ after winning that Grand Prix 5 times.

Graham ‘Mr. Monaco’ on the cover of Motor Racing magazine in ’68

Last night I was watching a documentary DVD called ‘Jackie Stewart: The Flying Scot’ and during a section of the interview, Jackie took a moment to talk about Graham, and how Graham was his earliest mentor during his formative F1 years in the early ’60s when Jackie was driving 2nd-string below Graham for the BRM team. What struck me was when Jackie said that in all of his years/decades of racing and being involved in Motorsport, never had he known a more intriguing, intelligent, handsome, witty, talented, ruthlessly skillful (he was also a phenomenal mechanic) and charming personality than Hill. He was one of a kind… And, as they say, they ‘broke the mould’ after Graham was born.

Graham, with his son Damon – the only father/son combo to be crowned F1 World Champions

It would be impossible for me to write about all of the amazing stories and various idiosyncrasies that made Graham Hill such a treasured, respected and sorely-missed man. It was such a sad and undeserving end for Graham when his private-plane crashed in ’75, killing himself and all his teammates onboard. Moreso, it saddens me that top-level Motorsport (especially F1) has gradually become the exact opposite of everything that Graham and the drivers/families/teams involved from that golden era represented and genuinely felt, experienced and discovered with one another…

Graham, enjoying one his several lifetime Grand Prix wins…

This well-made BBC Documentary on the life of Graham Hill offers a fine glimpse into the man himself – the sort of man that we’ll probably never see the likes of ever again. Enjoy…

-Blake J.
AutoInjected.com


The Legendary Monza High-Speed Oval: Then and Now

December 30, 2011

Very few racetracks invoke genuine fear within racecar drivers and the high-speed Autodromo Nazionale Monza circuit (located near the town of Monza, Italy) is one such track with a lucrative history of legendary speeds and spectacular crashes resulting in many high-profile and unfortunate deaths. From its inception in 1922, 9 drivers and 27 spectators lost their lives within the first 10 years of its existence – the sheer number of crashes alone, was extraordinary.

The high speeds attained on the original design of the track (with little to zero run-off area, mind) pushed both car and driver to the limits of their capabilities, with any major mechanical (or driver) failure linking with road-holding manageability often resulting in a life-threatening crash of an extremely violent nature. Over the decades though, safety concerns were addressed and many revisions to the circuit were added and improved upon with various chicanes and extended run-off areas being added.

Monza - then

After extensive damage to the track occured during World War II, the Monza circuit was repaired for the 1948 season and then revamped, yet again, in 1954 – this time with a newly-built, steeply-banked 2.64 mile re-introduction of a section of the original oval track that was used from 1922 to 1933. The ‘new’ high-speed oval section was incorporated into the existing circuit design and saw truly incredible speeds… along with growing concerns.

Various manufacturers (and drivers) deemed the new banking section unsafe, especially as the tires used in the day simply weren’t capable of providing adequate enough performance to withstand such conditions and were usually prone to disintegrating along the bumpy, rough surface of the oval. The controversial banked oval-section only saw F1 action in 1955, 1956, 1960 and 1961 along with various other races such as the ’57/’58 ‘Race Of Two Worlds’ series – a race-series utilising the oval circuit alone and saw pole-position speeds of 177 mph… Astonishing when you consider the pole-position speed for the Indy 500 in the same year was 144 mph.

Start of the 1958 'Race of Two Worlds'

The end for the oval came in 1961 after the horrific crash and subsequent death of Wolfgang von Trips along with 15 spectators when Trips’ Ferrari collided with Jim Clark’s Lotus and hurled the car airborne into the crowd. Although the crash happened just prior to the Parabolica curve section (and nowhere near the oval itself), it was enough of a shock and blow to the circuit owners who then took precautions of further reducing speeds on the legendary track and eliminating competitive F1 usage of the high-speed banked oval section outright.

Sections of the oval were altered throughout the 1960’s and remained in use (albeit, in a slightly neutered/shortened/chicaned state) until 1969, yet the original high-speed circuit was captured on film one last time in the 1966 film ‘Grand Prix’….

The famously daunting (and slowly disintegrating) oval section barely escaped complete destruction in the 1990s and (thankfully) remains a cherished, historical view of a dangerously frightening time in motor racing negotiated by incredibly brave drivers achieving speeds that must have been beyond the realms of ‘unbelievably scary’.

-Blake J.
AutoInjected.com


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