Tuesday, April 6, 2010
The 1961 French GP: Phil Hill Spins at Thillois
Spectators saw a broad smile of vindication under the black visor of Phil Hill’s helmet as he took the lead late in the 1961 French Grand Prix. The race was now his to lose. With a sixteen second lead he could afford to slow down and avoid risk. It looked as if he could coast home without incident. Ginther, in second, wouldn’t challenge him. Moss was laps behind, having returned to the pits for brake repairs and to have a lump of tarmac and gravel removed from his rear right wheel.
He was now all but assured of extending his lead in the Grand Prix tally and removing much of the pressure that had come with the ongoing duel.
The race appeared locked up until Hill came out of a long straight descent at 160 mph and swung into the Thillois hairpin expecting to drift his car around. Maybe he was too relaxed. Or perhaps his instincts had wilted in the heat. Whatever the cause, Hill committed a rare miscue and skidded clockwise 180 degrees directly under the gaze of a grandstand. He might have recovered if Moss, still struggling with his brakes, had not plowed into his hood, spinning him another half turn. Hill then stood mid track, cars whizzing on either side, push starting his car. He shoved the car into motion with one hand and threw it into gear with other. In the process he ran over his foot. By the time the engine shook to life and he jumped into the cockpit he had dropped to ninth place, which is how he finished.