Archive for August, 2008

Phil Hill (1927-2008)

August 28, 2008

The first, and only American Formula 1 world champion to date, Phil Hill died today at age 81 from complications caused by Parkinson’s disease.

History

The first American to become World Champion had a love/hate relationship with the sport. Profoundly intelligent and deeply sensitive, he was also remarkably candid about personal demons that caused inner turmoil and made his racing life a bittersweet experience. He was always fearful and throughout his career he struggled to find a balance between the perils and pleasures of his profession. Yet driving became a way of expressing himself and racing took him on a journey to places he never expected to go.

Philip Toll Hill, Jr was born into a prominent family in Santa Monica, California, on April 20, 1927. Not particularly close to his parents, he became an introverted child with an inferiority complex and few friends. Not good at sports, he feared failure and ridicule and was consumed by feelings of inadequacy. Music became an outlet and he learned to play the piano, then became fascinated by cars. When he was 12 his favourite aunt bought him a Model T Ford, which he took apart many times to understand how it worked, and his aunt’s chauffeur taught him how to drive. His burgeoning automotive skills gave him increasing self-confidence, though he still felt aimless and socially awkward.

Bored after two years of business administration studies at the University of California he dropped out to become a mechanic’s helper in a Los Angeles garage, whose proprietor was an amateur racer. In 1947 Phil acquired an MG-TC two-seater, which he modified himself and began racing. In 1951, after both his parents died and left him money, he bought a 2.6-litre Ferrari and raced it with increasing success. Though he was a regular winner he was still so full of self-doubt that he always credited the car. His constant worry about the dangers of racing led to stomach ulcers so severe that he had to stop racing for ten months. With the help of heavy doses of tranquilisers he resumed racing and winning in a succession of Ferraris entered by wealthy owners, and by the mid 1950s he had become America’s best sportscar racer.

In 1955 he was invited to join Ferrari’s endurance racing roster at Le Mans, where the death of over 80 people in motorsport’s worst disaster was deeply troubling for the sensitive Californian. He would eventually win Le Mans three times (all with Olivier Gendebien) but despite his speed in sportscars Hill’s goal of Formula One racing was slow to come because Enzo Ferrari thought him temperamentally unsuited for single seaters. In 1958, after both Luigi Musso and Peter Collins were killed, Hill was promoted to Ferrari’s Formula One team where he helped Mike Hawthorn to win the 1958 drivers’ title. Two years later Hill won his first Formula One championship race, the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

As a Formula One driver Hill left his inferiority complex behind, but his tendency for deep introspection continued to cause him inner turmoil. Racing had become a means of self-expression but he wasn’t sure he liked what he saw. “Racing brings out the worst in me,” he said. “Without it, I don’t know what kind of person I might have become. But I’m not sure I like the person I am now. Racing makes me selfish, irritable, defensive. If I could get out of this sport with any ego left I would.”

He also worried about getting out alive – “I became hypersensitive to the danger and wasn’t sure that I wasn’t going to kill myself.” – and was especially nervous and apprehensive before a race. On the starting grid he paced to and fro, endlessly polishing his goggles, chain-smoking cigarettes or feverishly chewing a wad of gum.

At the start he immediately relaxed and began racing with notable composure. He was a careful driver, mechanically sympathetic and easy on his cars, in which, given his admitted phobias, he was remarkably courageous. Indeed, he drove best on the worst circuits, particularly distinguishing himself at Spa and the Nurburgring, and in the worst conditions. “I always felt secure in the rain,” he said, “even as a little boy looking out the window.”

Though at ease speaking publicly about his insecurities, he remained a loner in Europe. He stayed near the Ferrari factory in a hotel, where he played records of his favourite composers Beethoven and Vivaldi. He learned to speak competent Italian and became an opera buff, attending performances at La Scala in Milan. He was careful about his diet and kept fit by cycling and hiking, often on exploration trips to ancient monuments and ruined castles. In the off-season when he returned to California he busied himself restoring vintage automobiles and antique player pianos. Yet these distractions did not lay his mind at rest. “The strain of inactivity was worse than the strain of driving,” he said. “I was compelled to race again.”

In 1961, when the new 1.5-litre formula began, the V6 ‘sharknose’ Ferrari 156s were the cars to beat and by the end of the season the championship had boiled down to a battle between Hill and his aristocratic German team mate Count Wolfgang von Trips. Their title showdown took place in an ill-fated Italian Grand Prix at Monza. On the second lap the von Trips Ferrari touched wheels with the Lotus of Jim Clark and cartwheeled into the crowd, killing von Trips and 14 spectators. Hill won the race, and the Championship by a single point over his dead team mate. But there was no joy for the sad victor, who was a pallbearer at von Trips’ funeral. Hill: “I never in my life experienced anything so profoundly mournful.”

Thereafter Hill’s Formula One career went progressively downhill. After another season at Ferrari he moved to ATS, then Cooper, before retiring from single seaters in 1964. He continued racing sportscars for a while, then retired to California, where his car restoration hobby became a lucrative business and Hill happily settled into a life of quiet domesticity. In 1971 he married his long-time girlfriend Alma and began raising a new family. And the first American champion had no regrets.

“In retrospect it was worth it,” Phil Hill said. “I had a very exciting life and learned an awful lot about myself and others that I might never have learned. Racing sort of forced a confrontation with reality. Lots of people spend their lives in a state that is never really destined to go anywhere.”

Struck down by Parkinson’s disease later in life, Hill died from complications relating to the condition in 2008, aged 81.

Text – Gerald Donaldson

courtesy of formula1.com

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Red means stop

August 24, 2008

Today’s inagural European Grand Prix at the Valencia Street Circuit proved to be one that makes me wish it was still being held at Hockenheim. But there was a little incident in the pits involving Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.

During his 2nd and final pitstop things seemed to be going normally until it was time for Kimi to leave, this is where things get interesting, you see, other teams use a lollipop sign to release thier drivers from pitstops while Ferrari use an innovative lighting system (that supposedly saves 3 tenths of a second per pit stop) that is in sequence with the fueling rig. Anyway, when Raikkonen appeared to have left his pit stall, the fueler Pietro Timpini was struck by the hose and fell directly on to the concrete.

At first, it was speculated that the team had shut off the lighting system after Felipe Massa was penalized for

credits to FIA & Formula 1 administration ltd.

making a dangerous exit from the pit lane, nearly crashing Adrian Sutil. But replays showed that the lighting system was still on and you could clearly tell that the green light (which signals the drivers to leave) was not lit.

What actually happened was when Raikkonen went to shift the car from neutral to first preparing to leave the pits, it suddenly lurched forward causing the incident with the fueler.

Sorry ladies, Adrian isn’t interested

August 10, 2008

Not right now anyway.

Adrian Sutil, the 25-year-old race driver for Force India, says he has chosen to not have a girlfriend during the early phase of his Formula One career.

The German, who made his debut for the outfit’s previous incarnation Spyker in 2007, wrote in a column for Formule 1 Race Report that – in frequenting the paddock as a Grand Prix star – it would not be difficult to end his spell as a bachelor.

“Is it easier to get girls if you race in F1? The simple answer is ‘yes’. But I don’t have a girlfriend at the moment,” he admitted.

In contrast, Sutil’s closest friend among his F1 rivals, Lewis Hamilton, is a regular in the gossip pages in his native Britain.

Sutil said: “I want to concentrate completely on my job, because I’m at a phase of my career when a relationship, particularly at the beginning, would be too distracting.”

Sutil, a talented concert pianist himself, is accompanied to Grand Prix by his Uruguayan father Jorge, who was a professional musician.

WHAT? This is coming from a man who comes from a country where women like this and this come from. Something isn’t right with him; does he need help getting girls? Is he scared to talk to them? Or is he just embrassed to tell them “Yes, I’m a Formula 1 driver, but I drive the worst car on the grid. But enough about me, let’s hear about you.”

Honestly, I couldn’t give a you know what about what car I drove in F1. Hell, I’d probably get girls even if I only drove the safety car!

Adrian, if you need help, you can always consult this book:

(click the image for a full size cover shot)

Century Mark

August 3, 2008

Today’s Hungarian Grand Prix made a little history. Not for the 3 pit lane fires of Kaz Nakajima, Sebatien Bourdais and Rubens Barrichello, but it was the winner who made history. Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren) won the race after passing Felipe Massa with 2 laps to go after the engine in Massa’s Ferrari blew up. Massa was pushing the car very hard in the early going and it came back to bit him as he had to limp the car home with an overheating problem. Now, why Kova’s victory historical? Well, Heikki became the 100th different driver to win a Formula 1 Grand Prix.

Things NASCAR should do: Part 1 – Rain Races

August 2, 2008

For the few people that probably read this blog already know that we shift all of our focus towards Formula 1 racing. Well, today (as well as July 28th) our focus will be on NASCAR. Today was a pretty big day in NASCAR history, as it was the first time ever that a race that was run in the rain. I kid you not, the NASCAR Nationwide Series (NASCAR’s equivalent of GP2) raced a wet race, on wet tires at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Quebec. There were many road-course specialists (Scott Pruett, Max Papis) and native Canadians (Jacques Villeneuve, Patrick Carpentier and race winner Ron Fellows) battling for the lead.

As for the race itself, things started dry, but the skies were very ominous and it went about 8 laps before the rain started to fall and all the cars dove into the pits to put on winshield wipers, rain tires and to adjust the cars for the wet. The race was dominated early by car #59 of Marcos Ambrose (2-time Australian V8 Supercar champion) but he had to make a pit stop around lap 40, and also got caught speeding (no speed limiters on stock cars like our beloved open wheel autos) on the very soaked pit lane and would have to settle for 3rd. But this is where things started to get wacky. Ron Fellows, who pitted under an early yellow flag (Safety Car) found himself with 12 more laps of fuel than the rest of the field and had a 50 second lead before the heavens opened up and it began to rain heavily (like Spa 1998 rain) which caused the SC to be brought out again and Fellows looked to be in the worst positions

BUT, things got even weirder when Jacques Villeneuve, driving the #32 car ran right up the rear end of another car causing severe damage to his front end. And Joey Lagano, driving the #20 car was aqua-plaining in turns 13 and 14 and hit the inside wall (not the wall of champions). NASCAR decided to bring the cars into the pit lane and the race was eventually stopped due to rain and Ron Fellows was victorious.

NASCAR, while getting heat for bringing some tires worse than Michelin did in 2005 to Indy last weekend semmed to have redeemed themselves by putting on probably one of the best races this year in the wet.

Fin-tastic Volume II

August 1, 2008

New edition that includes Ferrari, Force India & Honda!