The name Hill is synonymous with racing. The family tradition started with Phil, 1961 Formula 1 world champion with Ferrari, and continues with his son Derek, also a professional racing driver. We interviewed him at the Museo Storico Alfa Romeo, where he had his first "meeting" with the 1900 Sport Spider he will be driving in the Mille Miglia in alternation with Coldplay bass player Guy Berryman.
A love of cars may be inherited or may be a personal matter.
In the case of Derek Hill it is a passion born in his preschool years, when he was no more than four or five years old. Like a lot of fathers, his also drove him to school every morning, in his Alfa Romeo GTV. One day Phil Hill - first American to win the Formula 1 world championship - asked his son to take hold of the gear lever and help him to drive.
"I could only just see over the dashboard; I remember I used to watch the pedals. I started to change gears with no idea where we were. I concentrated on the numbers on the gear lever and the sound of the engine. It was an amazing thrill and it made going to school great fun."
The bond between the Hill family and Alfa Romeo has been consolidated through many other episodes, some of them also involving the brand's vintage cars.
One of the first sports cars Phil Hill bought himself was an Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B, a car that had taken part in the Mille Miglia before the War. "It was a fantastic car," Derek recalls. "One of Alfa Romeo's greatest icons, and it's now part of the Ralph Lauren Collection."
After his successful racing career, Phil Hill met Alfa Romeo again in 1979 on the set of the advertising campaign for a Sprint Veloce special series.Built in an edition of just 500 and constructed only for the United States market, this version was called the Mille Miglia. In one of fate's coincidences that brings the wheel full circle, Alfa Romeo, the Mille Miglia and the Hill family are together once more thanks to Derek.
For Hill junior, this is not his first time at the wheel of an Alfa Romeo. In 1996, after a good first season in the Ferrari Challenge in the USA, he was invited to Mugello to test drive the official 155 DTM. "There were drivers of the calibre of Andrea De Cesaris, Ralph Schumacher and Dino Morelli. I couldn't believe my eyes." A one-off opportunity, to be experienced to the full. "The car was powerful and the gear shift was very fast. All I wanted to do was to be as quick as possible. By the end of the race I'd written off the tyres. I was very young and inexperienced, but that is still one of the most thrilling experiences in my whole career."
1954, Alfa Romeo, Italy and Guy Berryman: many ingredients make this edition of the Mille Miglia, the first in his career, very special for Derek Hill. A competition with a vintage flavour that embodies the real spirit of racing.
Derek has always cultivated a passion for classic cars, and in fact he is currently Master of Ceremonies at Pebble Beach, the world's most famous concours d'elegance for automotive classics.
These events provide the opportunity for contact with the most authentic, coveted icons in motoring history, and the chance to admire their daring, aerodynamic forms and thrilling performances.
"I'm always driving cars, both current and past models. People think that modern cars are more enjoyable and responsive to drive. But that's not the case. You build up a more genuine feeling with models from the past; the driver is really in control of everything that happens, from gear shifting to choice of trajectories. There is certain to be plenty of enjoyment at the Mille Miglia, the competition that ideally combines Derek's two great passions classic cars and Italy.
"Italy has a special place in my heart. My father drove, and won in, some of the most beautiful models of all time - he was the first American to win at Monza. As I was growing up I was always hearing about this fantastic country, its good food, its art and its marvellous cars. For me the Mille Miglia is a kind of homecoming, and that makes me very happy."
1954. The year in which the 1900 Sport Spider Derek will be driving in the Mille Miglia was built also recorded one of Phil Hill's first major successes, when he finished second in the Carrera Panamericana at the wheel of a Ferrari 375 MM Vignale. "Driving a car of that period is very special for me. I know I'll find a powerful engine, agile handling, great driving fun and good brakes. This is much more than a race for me - it's a kind of rebirth."
Derek will be partnered in the race by Guy Berryman, the bass player of Coldplay. An odd couple brought together by a shared passion: classic cars.
"I met Guy last year at the Villa D’Este Concours d'Elegance, and he's another greater lover of this world. When he was invited to the Mille Miglia by Alfa Romeo and thought of me as his co-driver, I was very honoured and I accepted at the drop of a hat!"
Before leaving him to his technical test in the run-up to the Mille Miglia there's time for a final comment on the work of FCA Heritage: "Real collectors need to conserve their passion. Organisations like this play an educational and inspirational role with regard to a timeless culture."
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