The final race day of the 2015 season marks a 40 year anniversary that rocked the F1 world, resulting in not only deaths of key F1 personnel, but removing a team from the grid.
On 29th November 1975 Graham Hill, F1 double world champion, was killed when his plane crashed whilst coming in to land at the Elstree airfield in Hertfordshire, UK. In addition to himself, the crash killed 4 additional members of Hill’s F1 motor racing team, Embassy Hill Racing, as they returned from testing for the 1976 season at the French Paul Ricard circuit. Along with Graham, Team Manager Ray Brumble, driver Tony Brise, mechanics Tony Alcock and Terry Richards and Designer Andy Stallman all perished in the accident.
The air accident report concluded that the experienced pilot Hill probably was affected by the thick fog and so misjudged where his Piper Aztec plane was, clipped trees and subsequently crashed at Arkley Golf Club, 3 miles from the destination airfield. The investigation was not able to establish the exact cause of the accident, but could only assume that the thick fog was the major factor. Certainly, eyewitnesses from the time agree with the findings.
Ted Dickens, Golf Club Steward, told the BBC that the fog, ‘It was terrible, the ambulances couldn’t even see the bunkers as they were driving down.’
Graham Hill had retired from F1 racing himself that July, just four months earlier to concentrate on developing his team. He had established his own F1 team in 1973 and, much like today’s McLaren Honda, the team was embarrassingly off the pace. Having failed to even qualify the car at the 1975 Monaco weekend (a track that Hill was renowned for excelling at), he retired from driving the car himself in order to develop driver Tony Brise and take the team in hand for a successful 1976 season.
Charismatic Hill had found success outside of F1 too and to this day is the only holder of what is known as the ‘Triple Crown’. That is, he has won Indianapolis 500 and the prestigious Le Mans 24 hours in addition to the F1 World Championship.
The crash effectively killed the fledgling team with five key members, including its owner, wiped out at once. Had the accident not happened, who knows? The ‘Hill’ team could possibly have even been still on the grid giving Williams a run for their money.
Graham Hill’s son, Damon, followed his father into F1 – neither man had a conventional nor easy path into an F1 seat. Damon won the 1996 F1 world championship and since hanging up his overalls, has had a successful career as an F1 broadcaster. The last race of the season is inevitably going to feel more poignant for Damon, falling on the 40th anniversary of his father’s tragic passing.