Englishman Mike Hawthorn was one of the most original and eccentric drivers in motor racing history. Flamboyant in lifestyle and dress, he always wore a green waist-length jacket, white shirt and bow tie when he raced. His other trademark was a distinctive green helmet with a white rain shield and a large transparent visor which he occasionally replaced with a pair of goggles. Tall and slim with boyish face topped by a shock of blonde hair, Hawthorn was more Juan Manuel Fangio’s equal than any other driver when it came to pure speed. Only he could match the Argentinian’s spectacular manoeuvres – which included driving flat out through the Gueux bend at Reims.
Hawthorn was crowned World Champion with the Scuderia Ferrari in 1958, andcontributed to its Sportscar titles in ’53, ’54, ’57 and’58. Paired with Farina, he won the 24 Hours of Spa in 1953 and took the Tourist Trophy in 1954 at Dundrod amongst others. Hawthorn was the first British driver to win the world title. He made his F1 debut in 1952 in a Cooper-Bristol, and his race results soon caught the eye of Enzo Ferrari who always had a nose for talent. Hawthorn’s father was also a Ferrari dealer in England and the local importer pushed for him to be taken on as a factory driver. In 1953, the 24-year-old took his first Grand Prix victory at Reims, after a thrilling sparring match with Fangio, and went on to finish the season fourth in the standings. The following year, he won in Spain and ended up third in the standings. Hawthorn raced for Vanwall, Maserati and BRM before returning to Italy in 1957 after sending Enzo Ferrari his famous, “I’m ready if you are” telegram. He finished that season in fourth position once again. 1958 was to be his year, however. He won again at Reims and took five second-place finishes which earned him the World Champion title, just a point ahead of Stirling Moss and his Vanwall.
In Morocco, the Englishman was helped by Phil Hill who gave way to allow him secure a second place, pivotal to the title win. Hawthorn had a perfect season: he took pole and the race’s fastest lap at both Reims and Spa-Francorchamps, was on pole in Germany and Morocco, and clocked the fastest laps at Monaco, Silverstone and Oporto. The Englishman took the world title even though he won just a single race – a feat equalled only by Keke Rosberg in 1982.Hawthorn was the last driver to win the Championship in a front-engined car. His Ferrari also sported disc brakes for the first time in the 1958 Italian Grand Prix at Monza. The 246 F1 was quick and reliable, powered by the 2.4-litre 6-cylinder engine derived from the F2 Dino.
Hawthorn had a kidney removed in 1955 and had problems with his remaining one, something he hid from most people at a time when kidney failure was an incurable condition. Shaken to the core by the death of his friend Peter Collins at the Nürburgring, he retired from competition once he won the Drivers’ title. Tragically, however, Hawthorn was killed in a road accident just three months later. Although the exact cause of the
accident remains a mystery, he was most certainly driving fast on a wet road, perhaps trying to best the car of team manager Rob Walker which he had just overtaken. His death was a cruel twist of fate, however, as Hawthorn’s own father had been killed in a car accident in 1954.