1960 Italian GP: Final front-engined win.
By 1960, with Brooks concentrating on his gas station near Brooklands – the money was better! – Hill was Ferrari's go-to guy for grands prix as well as sports car races. Unfortunately, Ferrari had yet to fully grasp the drivetrain nettle and so he fought a private Alamo in the glorious but doomed front-engined Dino-saur. He finished a superb third at a dry/wet/dry Monaco, battled hard but lost a sure second place because of a loose fuel union at Spa (he finished fourth after dousing the flames!), and gave it the gun versus Jack Brabham's pace-setting, rear-engined “Lowline” Cooper at Reims until his transmission lunched itself. In Portugal, Hill was chasing the leading Lotus of sensational newcomer John Surtees when a troublesome clutch caused him to miss a gear and not miss a straw bale. These defeats at so-called power tracks marked the end of the beginning – even Enzo Ferrari, wearing sunglasses in his moodily lit office, could see that.
Hill's first win, when it came, was a hollow one – the British teams boycotted the Italian GP because of its inclusion of Monza's buffeting bankings – but nobody could say that he didn't deserve it. Pole, fastest lap, never headed: you could ask for no more. Arguably, 1960 was perhaps Hill's best season of F1, though not, of course, his most successful or famous.
In Belgium in 1961, Hill leads Wolfgang von Trips.
That was 1961, when Ferrari's foundry forged a 1.5-liter edge from a V6 that at last pushed rather than pulled its cart. Hill scored five consecutive pole positions, including the first sub-nine-minute lap of the Nurburgring, and two victories: the Belgian and Italian GPs. The gap between the best – Moss – and the next best has never been greater than it was that year, but there is no reason to suggest that P. Hill was anything but that next best. A spin on melting tar when leading in France – he was too keen to lap Moss's underpowered Lotus – was the only major mistake of his campaign. True, teammate Wolfgang von Trips got the better of him in Holland and a saturated Britain, and jumped him in a late rainstorm for a very hairy second place in Germany, but the Cologne-born aristo was undoubtedly keener to take risks than the USC frat boy-turned-master mechanic.
Von Trips, a year younger than Hill, had been in F1 since Monza 1956 (he failed to start after wrecking his Lancia-Ferrari in practice) and became a Scuderia regular after a partial campaign in 1957. He broke his leg in a frightening tumble into the trees at Monza in 1958 – in contrast to Hill's smooth performance – and rammed the tail of Brooks at the Sebring title showdown of '59. Both incidents were products of dubious opening-lap maneuvers. Two seasons later, wound tighter than ever, "Taffy" von Trips came permanently unstuck…on the opening lap at Monza.
Hill, as he had at Spa, controlled proceedings that fateful day with a measured authority, despite fretting about fragile valve springs. He did not, however, take much – if any – pleasure from becoming World Champion. Von Trips' death hit him hard; he felt some responsibility, though he was blameless. Enzo's decision not to contest the U.S. GP at Watkins Glen was another kick in the teeth. Plus the harshly self-critical, Miami-born California resident felt that he had failed to extract the maximum from his situation: he had driven better in 1960 for poorer reward.
Third in the 1962 Dutch GP – about as good as it got that year.
The same would be true in 1962. Ferrari imploded and its "Sharknose" lost its bite. The tenacious Hill, however, finished third, second and third in the first three grands prix of the season. So bad did the situation become thereafter, he allowed himself to be persuaded to join Carlo Chiti's ATS splinter group in 1963, a scrambled decision that effectively ended his frontline F1 career.
Cooper rescued him in 1964, but he was no match for the incumbent Bruce McLaren and, after crashing twice in Austria, was dropped embarrassingly for the Italian GP. It was apt that he would end his F1 career driving the "camera car" for John Frankenheimer's 1966 film Grand Prix, for this cerebral champion, a passionate and skilled amateur photographer, had been on the outside looking in for a couple of seasons. "Cut!" was called after he failed to qualify one of Gurney's Eagles at Monza.