Brought to you by TJ13 contributor Charlie White
On this day… August 28th 2008
On this day in 2008, Phil Hill, the only American-born Formula-1 World Champion died at his home in California.
Phil earned the title in 1961 for the factory Ferrari team driving one of the lovely Ferrari shark-nose race cars. However, the American was deprived from racing before his countrymen in the USGP at Watkins Glen that year.
Ferrari withdrew from the race in America following the tragedy at the Italian Grand Prix that year, which saw Wolfgang (taffy) von Trips lose control of his Ferrari and crash into a stand of spectators – killing 15 and himself.
Perhaps even more unfortunate is that the name Phil Hill is even lesser known now to American race fans, except for the devout few who know their F1 history.
An American, I was born after 1961, so I never saw the man race in person but I have seen many photographs and fading colour film of Phil racing when F1 was truly dangerous – both for drivers and spectators
It’s also unfortunate that Hill did not live long enough to see the USGP’s return to the Circuit Of The Americas. The tradition of naming portions of a race track has been lost during the era of building ‘Tilke dromes’, which is unfortunate as this adds to the allure and atmosphere of a race venue.
Some of the more modern race circuits may be more palatable for F1 fans were they to name corners or portions of the circuit even if only on a local landmark, local linguistic idiosyncrasy or famed native racer. We all remember the track names at Spa, Silverstone and Monza.
The first turn at the Circuit Of The Americas is simply named Turn 1. This is the iconic section of the circuit that Tavo Helmund dreamed about for years and insisted Tilke included in the final design. There’s a pillar there to let everyone know it is called ‘Turn 1’. However, unofficially, it’s been called Phil Hill since the first race in 2012.
‘Phil Hill’ at COTA is much like the angled hillside just past the Rivazza turn at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari at Imola, Italy. On race day, it is a mass of humanity with fans numbering in the thousands to sit the grass on the hill side. There, you can see other parts of the track.
Ten years have passed since Hill’s death, his country now has a Grand Prix race on its schedule and even an American-based team on the grid, but it is lacking a participating driver.
Alexander Rossi was the closest to an F1 driver as reserve driver for the now defunct Manor Racing team, but has since spent far more time in the IndyCar series these days.
Surely Rossi was worthy of a seat in Formula One? After all, he did win the 100th Indianapolis 500 in May 2016.
There is no rising star American driver to replace Rossi, and any hope of an American driver winning the F1 Drivers’ World Championship in the future – is indeed forlorn.
We’re now well past the 40th anniversary of Mario Andretti’s World Championship season as the last American (Mario became a naturalised citizen in 1964) to win the title or win a Formula-1 race. And that’s far too long if Formula-1 want American fans to embrace it again.
Perhaps Liberty Media ought to look into this and push at a grass roots level for new talent to have a shot at F1 again.