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Mike Hawthorn

Full Name:
John Michael Hawthorn
10th April 1929
Mexborough, Yorkshire
22nd January 1959 (Aged 29)
Guildford, Surrey, road accident
Most recent race (in database):

Mike Hawthorn became the first Englishman to win the Formula 1 World Championship in 1958 but it is easy to overlook that achievement. He clinched that by a single point from compatriot Stirling Moss but his rival scored four Grand Prix wins to one during the season. While Moss continued to be the country’s most famous racing driver of the time, Hawthorn decided to retire with plans to continue in the administration of the sport. However, the dashing and popular “Farnham Flyer” was killed in a road accident barely three months after his greatest triumph.

His father had moved the family from Yorkshire to Surrey in 1931 so he could be close to Brooklands where he raced motorcycles. Leslie Hawthorn, who ran the TT Garage in Farnham, bought a pair of Riley sports cars in 1950 and Mike made his racing debut that year. A back injury saw Leslie stop driving and he entered his son with growing success.

In 1951, the younger Hawthorn’s Riley Sprite won both the Ulster handicap and Leinster Trophy in Ireland. Consistent success in that year’s Goodwood Members Meetings was rewarded with the Motor Sport Brooklands Memorial Trophy.

Family friend Bob Chase acquired a Formula 2 Cooper-Bristol for Hawthorn to switch to single-seaters in 1952. His first appearance with the car was during Goodwood’s Easter Monday meeting and it proved impressive indeed. Hawthorn won the F2 Lavant Cup and Formule Libre Chichester Cup before finishing second in the F1 Richmond Trophy, only beaten by Jose Froilan Gonzalez’s 4.5-litreFerrari 375. Further success at Ibsley and in the opening heat of the International Trophy at Silverstone was followed with Hawthorn’s World Championship debut at Spa-Francorchamps. Fourth that day despite a fuel leak, the arrival of a new star was confirmed with third place in the British GP and fourth at Zandvoort. Equal fourth in the 1952 World Championship, Hawthorn was injured while testing his Cooper-Bristol at Modena but he signed for Ferrari while recuperating in hospital.

The World Championship opened in Argentina for the first time in 1953. Now fully recovered, Hawthorn suffered a poor start that day but drove through the field to finish fourth before winning non-championship races at Silverstone (International Trophy) and Dundrod (Ulster Trophy). Fourth again in the Dutch GP, team leader Alberto Ascari had won nine GPs in a row when the circus visited Reims in July. The 1953 French GP was a slipstreaming classic at which that record run finally came to an end. With Ascari trailing in fourth, Hawthorn battled Juan Manuel Fangio’s Maserati for the lead – consistently swapping positions at the head of the field. At the end of one of the best GPs so far, the Englishman passed Fangio into the final corner and accelerated away to win by a second. Fifth at Silverstone despite a wild spin at Woodcote, third both in Germany and Switzerland, and fourth at the Monza finale, Hawthorn was fourth in the standings once more. He also won the Spa 24 hours when sharing a Ferrari 340MM with Giuseppe Farina and 1953 ended with Hawthorn receiving the prestigious Gold Star from the British Racing Drivers’ Club.

If 1953 represented a most promising campaign then much of the following season was in stark contrast. Hawthorn was disqualified for a push start in Argentina and his car caught fire after crashing during the non-championship Syracuse GP. With legs badly burnt as a result, it was two months before he returned in the Belgian GP with those injuries barely healed and heavily bandaged. He was then declared exempt from National Service due to a lifelong kidney condition, prompting questions in the Houses of Parliament. Furthermore, his father was killed in a road accident at Hindhead while returning from Goodwood’s Whit Monday meeting. However, he finished second in the British, German (having taken over Gonzalez’s car at the Nurburgring) and Italian GPs before completing the F1 season by winning the final race in Spain to clinch third overall.

The death of his father forced Hawthorn to leave Ferrari so he could spend time managing the family business. An altogether less carefree Hawthorn joined Tony Vandervell’s F1 Vanwall team at the start of 1955 but he returned to Ferrari after retiring from two unhappy events. That proved no better and his only F1 win of the year came in a non-championship race at Crystal Palace when guesting in Stirling Moss’s Maserati 250F. He also drove for Jaguar’s sports car team during 1955 and he won at both Sebring and Le Mans. However, the latter success was overshadowed by the tragic accident that befell the Mercedes-Benz of “Pierre Levegh”. Having disputed the lead with Fangio for the first couple of hours, Hawthorn’s Jaguar D-type swerved for the pits as he entered lap 36, forcing Lance Macklin to take avoiding action. “Levegh” collided with Macklin’s Austin Healey and was launched into destruction at approximately 130 mph. Hawthorn and co-driver continued on to a joyless victory.

He joined BRM in 1956 and finished a distant third in Argentina when driving a Maserati 250F before the new P25 was ready. Progress was initially faltering and the team missed a couple of races while the car was developed. They returned at the British GP and Hawthorn qualified third and led the opening 15 laps (with team-mate Tony Brooks initially second) before retiring. Despite that promise, BRM did not appear again that season.

Following two frustrating seasons, Hawthorn returned to Ferrari in 1957 with his great friend (“Mon Ami Mate”) Peter Collins among his team-mates. Collins led Hawthorn in a 1-2 at Naples but they crashed together with Moss’s Vanwall during the opening laps at Monaco – the two Lancia-Ferrari D50s coming to rest by the side of the harbour. Hawthorn finished fourth in France, third in Britain and second in Germany (when beaten by Fangio on the Argentinean’s greatest day) as he came fourth in the World Championship.

With Fangio only entering a limited number of GPs, the 1958 F1 World Championship was fought out between the Vanwall of perennial runner-up Moss and Hawthorn’s Ferrari Dino 246. Moss may have won four times but it was Hawthorn – winner of the French GP once more – who prevailed by a single point thanks to his second-place finish in the Moroccan GP at Casablanca. There was also bitter sadness however, for team-mates Luigi Musso and Collins were killed during the French and German GPs respectively. That weighed heavy on Hawthorn and, amidst celebrations that included lunch with HRH Queen Elizabeth II, the 29-year-old announced his retirement from the sport in December. Recently engaged to a fashion model, Hawthorn would not savour his achievement for long for he was killed in January after losing control of his 3.4-litre Jaguar on the outskirts of Guildford.