If like me, you are in your late twenties (ok…early thirties), you probably think of Ayrton Senna as the master of Monaco. I remember as a young child having a video game called ‘Ayrton Senna’s Super Monaco GP’, and that young age, the Senna name to me was synonymous with the Monaco Grand Prix. I wasn’t sure why, I just knew the two were intrinsically linked.
Many years before my interest in motor racing was sparked, before I was even born, another driver was rewriting the record books and earning recognition for his prowess around the streets of Monaco. To his generation, he had become synonymous with the Monaco Grand Prix, just like Ayrton Senna had become during mine.
His name was Graham Hill. You might have heard of him.
On November 29, 1975, Graham Hill passed away when the light aircraft he was piloting crashed while attempting to land at night in foggy conditions. Hill was on his way back from a test session at Paul Ricard and was killed instantly in the incident, along with up-and-coming F1 star Tony Brise and four other members of the Embassy Hill team.
What makes Graham Hill’s story so remarkable, is how he came from relatively humble beginnings to become known to millions worldwide as ‘Mr. Monaco’.
A fact that many are unaware of is that Hill initially got his break in Formula One, not as a driver, but as a mechanic. Hill’s first taste of motor racing came when he saw an advertisement in a magazine for a racing school, with the chance to drive an F3 car at Brands Hatch for just five shillings per lap.
Hill drove a few laps and immediately caught the motorsport bug. Having previously worked as an apprentice engineer, Hill managed to bag a job as a mechanic with the Lotus Team after a chance meeting with their legendary founder Colin Chapman.
Fast forward a few years and Hill had managed to convince his new boss that his talents were being wasted and that he should be put in the car instead. Chapman agreed, and at the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix, Graham Hill made his Grand Prix debut.
His first Monaco win came in 1963 at the wheel of a BRM. After qualifying on the front row, Hill took the lead of the race late on after Jim Clark had retired with a gearbox issue. Despite not leading the race until Clark’s demise, Hill’s average speed was the quickest ever seen at Monaco; he was only marginally beaten to the lap record by the Ferrari of John Surtees.
A year later, Hill became only the second driver at that time to win back-to-back races in Monaco, following on from Stirling Moss who had achieved the feat a few years prior. This time, Hill qualified third and passed Dan Gurney for second place, before taking the lead at around half-distance. With second place man Jim Clark retiring with engine trouble, Hill took the flag a lap clear of everyone else.
By the time of the 1965 Monaco Grand Prix, Hill was already acquiring a reputation as somewhat of an ace around the streets of Monte Carlo, but despite this, he had never started the race from pole position. With Jim Clark and Dan Gurney competing in the Indianapolis 500 – which was being held on that same weekend – Hill duly took his first Monaco pole and went on to claim his third Monaco Grand Prix win, despite running as low as fifth at one point due to an incident earlier in the race.
Hill was made to wait until 1968 for this fourth Monaco win, and now back at Lotus, he took pole by over half a second from Frenchman Johnny Servoz-Gavin. At the start, Servoz-Gavin jumped Hill to take the lead before cruelly suffering car trouble just a few laps later. Hill retook the lead and enjoyed a race-long scrap with fellow Brit Richard Attwood, eventually taking the flag by just two seconds with nobody else within four laps.
A fifth and final win at Monaco came a year later in 1969, which also turned out to be Hill’s last ever Grand Prix victory. In an uncompetitive car and past his prime, Hill produced his best performance of the year. Starting third behind Jackie Stewart and Chris Amon, Hill let the front two run off into the distance, certain they were pushing their cars too fast to complete the race. Sure enough, by quarter distance both cars were out and from there on Hill controlled the race to take his fifth Monaco Grand Prix win.
During the peak of his career, Hill won five times around the narrow streets of the Principality in a glorious seven-year streak, a record that would remain intact until 1993.
At the time of his retirement, his record of 176 Grand Prix starts remained in place for over a decade, and he still is the only driver in history to achieve the coveted ‘triple crown’ of motorsport – winning the Indy 500, Le Mans and either the Monaco Grand Prix or the Formula One Drivers’ Championship. Hill won both.
His Monaco Grand Prix record may already have been eclipsed, but there is no doubting Graham Hill’s place in Formula One history, and his deserved title as ‘Mr. Monaco’.
Graham Hill’s Monaco Grand Prix Results
1958 – Qualified 15th and briefly lead on his debut before retiring on lap 69.
1959 – Qualified 14th before retiring on lap 21.
1960 – Qualified 6th and classified seventh, despite not finishing the race.
1961 – Qualified 4th before retired on lap 11 .
1962 – Qualified 2nd and finished 6th.
1963 – Qualified 2nd and won the race. His 1st Monaco Grand Prix victory.
1964 – Qualified 3rd and won the race. His 2nd Monaco Grand Prix victory.
1965 – Qualified 1st and won the race. His 3rd Monaco Grand Prix victory.
1966 – Qualified 4th and finished 3rd.
1967 – Qualified 8th and finished 2nd.
1968 – Qualified 1st and won the race. His 4th Monaco Grand Prix victory.
1969 – Qualified 4th and won the race. His 5th Monaco Grand Prix victory.
1970 – Qualified 16th and finished 5th.
1971 – Qualified 9th before retiring on the first lap.
1972 – Qualified 20th and finished 12th.
1973 – Qualified 24th before retiring on lap 62.
1974 – Qualified 21st and finished 7th.
1975 – Failed to qualify. His last ever Grand Prix appearance.