Monaco Grand Prix: The ‘gentleman’ racer who ruled on the French Riviera

Meet Mr Monaco
02:38 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Graham Hill won five times in Monaco

British racing star won Indy 500 in 1966

Monaco first hosted a grand prix in 1929

The 74th edition takes place on May 29

CNN  — 

It’s home to high rollers and royalty but few people have ruled Monaco’s ritzy streets quite like Graham Hill.

The British racing driver’s five wins all came during the Swinging Sixties, helping to establish the Monaco Grand Prix as the premier race on the Formula One calendar and earning Hill the nickname “Mr Monaco.”

Hill’s determination on the track and rakish charm off it proved a winning combination. Asked by a TV reporter for his thoughts on the race after taking the checkered flag one year, he offered the laconic reply: “Well, it was bloody hard!”

For the Briton, Monaco offered a purity that harked back to motor racing’s roots.

“You get everything that you meet on a public road – “Lamp posts, trees, nightclubs, houses, hotels, kerbs, gutters,” Hill said in a 1968 TV interview – the year of his fourth triumph.

“It’s a proper road race and in the true meaning of the word – when motor racing was first originated, it was on public roads.”

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The double F1 world champion and 1966 Indianapolis 500 winner, who tragically died in a plane crash in 1975, was at the top of his game on the streets of Monte Carlo, says Jackie Stewart.

“Graham was the man at that time and I learned a lot from him … it was a happy relationship,” Stewart, who partnered Hill at the BRM team in his rookie F1 year in 1965, told CNN.

“He was a gentleman on the race track. There was a period where you could have said not all (drivers) were well mannered. Graham Hill was very well mannered on the race track – he didn’t cut you off.”

Stewart, himself a three-time Monaco winner, credits Hill with teaching him how to avoid trouble around the principality’s unforgiving two-mile circuit.

“Don’t make mistakes, that’s the big issue – I learned that from Graham. Don’t overdrive in Monte Carlo. If you don’t make any mistakes and you drive reasonably well, there is a very good chance that you’re going to win the race.”

Even when Hill did miscalculate he still managed to find a way to win – famously pushing his car back onto the track and restarting it after taking avoiding action up an escape road in 1965.

Hill would rate that victory – his third in Monaco — as one of the greatest of his F1 career.

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The cars may be faster today than in Hill’s heyday, but back then it was much harder to drive.

“You had to be precise, you had to be consistent and you were just not allowed to make mistakes,” says Stewart. “When Graham was winning in Monte Carlo it was considerably more difficult.

“You had to be right in focus all of the time in those days. We had 2,800 gearshifts – that was pretty hard on the hands (and) it was a physical race – 100 laps at that time.”

Hill’s last win at Monaco in 1969 would also be the last of his F1 career — the same year, he broke both legs when he crashed out of the USA Grand Prix at Watkins Glen.

He returned to action the following season but failed to recapture the form that had brought him two world titles during the 1960s.

Hill’s famous sense of humor remained intact though – after the USA GP crash when asked if he had a message for his wife, he quipped: “Just tell her I won’t be dancing for two weeks.”

Oct 1969: An incapacitated Hill returns home to the UK from the U.S. alongside wife, Bette (C).

It’s this lighter side that endures most vividly in Stewart’s memory.

“His greatest asset was his humor, second was his driving. He was a great character. There were some great drivers around when Graham was racing – Jack Brabham, Innes Ireland, Jim Clark, at that time the crème de la crème – and he won the world championship.

“Graham Hill was one of the best drivers of his time, there’s no question about that.”

The 74th Monaco Grand Prix runs on Sunday May 29.

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The magic of the Monaco Grand Prix
01:04 - Source: CNN