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Phil Hill
November 06, 1961
Phil Hill, 34, one of the most gifted yet least recognized of U.S. sports figures, has brought home the world automobile racing title. Turn the page for his candid self-portrait
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November 06, 1961

A Champion's Secret Thoughts

Phil Hill, 34, one of the most gifted yet least recognized of U.S. sports figures, has brought home the world automobile racing title. Turn the page for his candid self-portrait

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The next two seasons brought well-deserved victory to John Cooper of Britain and his rear-engined Grand Prix car, which was to persuade every other builder to switch to rear engines. Driving the Cooper, Jack Brabham of Australia was twice the world champion. We at Ferrari in those seasons had to be content with applying pressure from behind.

But England slept as time approached for the beginning of a new Grand Prix formula, calling for an engine of 1� liters rather than 2� liters. In the meantime, Ferrari and his immensely capable chief engineer, Chiti, were refining a V-6 model that was to overpower all its competition. There would also be a new chassis of the latest rear-engined design.

By now I had learned to live with and cope with the tensions of racing, if not to disregard them completely—no driver is ever perfectly free of tension—but I had a disturbing premonition. If it was true that the Ferrari was superior, then there would be an intense struggle for the championship within the team, and I braced myself for it.

As it turned out, the Ferrari was superior. And as I had feared, Trips and I became involved in an increasingly bitter competition for championship points. Because the championship was at stake, I was not able to be reasonable and sensible about every race. After all these years I should have been, automatically, but there was this continual counting of points. By midseason my concentration was suffering.

Nevertheless, when we lined up for the fourth race, the French Grand Prix at Rheims, I was feeling darned good. I had set fastest lap in practice. I just did lead Trips on points, 19 to 18. Toward the end of the race Trips went out with mechanical trouble, and I was way out in front. So what did I do but spin out on a dumb little 40-mph corner. By the time I restarted I was in ninth place. One tiny lapse in my usual concentration, and the victory was gone, and with it the psychological lift and substantial lead that winning would have given me. Trips won the next race; I was second. And though at the N�rburgring in Germany I became the first driver to better nine minutes for a lap, lowering the record all the way down to 8:55.2, I was never ahead again on points until I won the seventh race, at Monza, and the championship itself.

It is obvious to everyone that Trips drove extremely well during this championship year. My testimony on that point would be superfluous; the record speaks for itself. Nor can I shed light on the question of which of us might have won the title had Trips survived and gone on to finish the season at Watkins Glen, N.Y. We both wanted the championship very badly.

My defenses, as I have said, were equal to the shock of his death. They were strained to the utmost, however, by the ordeal of his funeral. There were three separate services. The first was held in the Trips castle, Burg Hemmersbach, an impressive, moated structure at Horrem near Cologne. My California friend and fellow Ferrari driver, Richie Ginther, and I had traveled up from Modena to serve as pallbearers. A funeral Mass was said at the castle, and then a procession formed outside. It was raining, yet none of us wore raincoats or carried umbrellas. We walked a mile to the Trips's church. The pace was set by an old, old woman, all dressed in black and carrying a symbolic brass lantern, who seemed to have some ceremonial position in the town. There was a band, also dressed in black, which played Chopin's funeral march. The casket was carried on Trips's personal Ferrari sports car, an open model painted a dark green, which, of course, had to be driven very slowly. An amazingly large crowd lined the streets. School seemed to have been let out.

At the church an interminable Mass was sung. Then the procession re-formed to go to the cemetery, perhaps another mile away. It was raining harder than ever. The Trips family chapel is situated on a knoll in the cemetery. The procession stopped at the foot of the knoll, and eight of us clambered up the rise, slipping and sliding on the muddy earth, with the very heavy casket. The last service was held, and poor Trips was finally entombed.

Peace at last

I have never experienced anything so profoundly mournful as that day. It was a nightmare acted out in daytime. Afterward I went to the house of a friend of Trips's and took a boiling hot bath. It was wonderful to be there, out in the peaceful countryside, after the noises and stresses of the racing season and the gloomy events of the day.

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