Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has ensured that the Scuderia was among the first to pay tribute to Phil Hill, who took the 1961 world championship to Maranello in tragic circumstances.

Having proved his ability in the Prancing Horse's sportscar programme, the American finally persuaded Enzo Ferrari to let him run grands prix - but only after hiring Jo Bonnier's Maserati to highlight the fact that he was capable of running in the top flight.

Ferrari responded by giving him its F2 car for the 1958 German Grand Prix, and then the full works F1 machine to bolster the team's effort on home soil. He rewarded the gesture by taking the 246 to third place and fastest lap, and then proved his devotion to the team by backing off at the end of the Moroccan GP to allow Mike Hawthorn to move into second place and gain sufficient points to take the championship.

That was enough to convince Ferrari that he was worthy of a full-time place in the line-up and, after spending the 1959 campaign learning the ropes before finishing fourth in points, Hill gave the front-engined era one last hurrah by winning the 1960 Italian GP at Monza.

Now fully up to speed with grand prix racing, and armed with the 'shark nose' Ferrari 156, Hill claimed the Belgian round at Spa to put himself in contention for the title as the series concluded on the Scuderia's home ground. A second victory - and the crown - came in tragic circumstances, however, as team-mate and title rival Wolfgang von Trips perished - along with 14 spectators - following contact with Jim Clark's Lotus on Monza's infamous banking.

After that high point, however, Hill's F1 career waned rapidly, although he continued to prove a force in sportscar racing, both with the Scuderia and the Ford and Chaparral teams before eventually retiring in 1967.

Despite carrying out media work and appearing in historic racing events, Hill's health has not been good, with the onset of Parkinson's disease and another, recently diagnosed, degenerative neurological disorder. Having been taken ill at Laguna Seca at the weekend, he passed away at Salinas-Monterey Hospital early on Thursday [28 August].

"I, as well as all employees of Ferrari, are extremely saddened by the news of the passing of Phil Hill, a man and a champion who gave so much to Ferrari and who has always greatly represented the company's values inside and outside the racing track," di Montezemolo said in a statement.

"Phil Hill raced, and won, many competitions, both with prototype cars, like the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 12 Hours of Sebring, [which he] won three times each, as well as with F1 single-seaters. With our car, Phil won the Formula One championship title in 1961 as the first American-born to reach this result.

"Phil and I have always kept in touch throughout the years and I know I will miss his passion and love for Ferrari very much. My deepest sympathies are with his wife Alma and son Derek in this sad moment."


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