america’s first world champion...and much more
The partnership was based on common
ground: both were intelligent and
educated polymaths champing at their
lack of Formula 1 opportunity at Ferrari.
But it thrived because of their differences.
Phil Hill tolerated the garrulous Olivier
Gendebien’s blithe tendency to talk himself
up to the detriment of others – Enzo, for
once, concurred: “One must only bear with
him and let him talk when he wins” –
because the Belgian, though lacking the
American’s understanding of engineering,
was adaptable and quick to learn.
At Le Mans in 1958, for example, both
spent many patient hours bedding in a front
drum brake. Hill, who drove brilliantly during
a stormy night, insisted that bad weather
had aided their task – but only those few
blessed with similar talent agreed.
Just three years separated them, but
Gendebien’s life experiences – a privileged
childhood and a wartime resistance fighter –
made him senior partner in all aspects bar
speed, and Hill was smart enough not to
labor that point. He was determined to avoid
the blame game prevalent at Ferrari –
although, of course, it would eventually
HILL AND GENDEBIEN: A FRUITFUL ALLIANCE
wear him down – while a natural warmth
leavened Gendebien’s one-upmanship.
They didn’t always see eye to eye, but
they had each other’s ear and respect.
They created a harmonious rhythm that
was strategic, rather than tactical. It
helped, too, that they won. A lot.
Their three shared Le Mans wins would
have been four, but for a burned copper
combustion ring in 1959 – they were ahead
by four laps with four hours to go. And it
could have been five, had they not been split
up in ’ 60. (Gendebien, who’d left Ferrari to
further his F1 career, partnered Paul Frère
to victory upon his return to the Scuderia.)
Restored, their Le Mans win of 1962
was the last for a front-engined car. They
won together at Sebring in 1959 and ’ 61,
too, and finished second in ’ 62.
After clicking immediately, taking second
in the ’ 56 Buenos Aires 1000km, rare was
the occasion that they weren’t contenders.
Gendebien’s decision to quit on a high
after their 1962 Le Mans win, aged just
38, meant that the duo’s record together
has been matched since, but ensured
that their style has not.
Enzo Ferrari’s decision to pair Phil Hill with Olivier Gendebien in sports car racing proved an inspired one.
Phil Hill gives Olivier Gendebien a
ride to the podium after winning
the 1958 24 Hours of Le Mans
in their Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa
– the first of three victories for
the U.S.-Belgian pairing.
Hill and Gendebien won Le Mans as a duo in
1958, ’ 61 and ’ 62 (ABOVE), and the Sebring
12 Hours in 1959 (BELOW) and ’ 61. Hill also
won Sebring in 1958 with Peter Collins.