Remembering the English racer 60 years after his death
Mike Hawthorn was Britain’s first Formula One World Champion. The flamboyant racer drove for Scuderia Ferrari almost his entire career, taking the World Championship title in 1958, then immediately announcing his retirement. Just three months later, he sadly died in a road car accident. 2019 marks the 60th year since his untimely passing.
A charismatic and cheery racer, Hawthorn was tall, blonde, handsome, and put as much effort into partying as he did racing. He always wore a smile and the great Juan Manuel Fangio described him as “a nice young fellow, always in a good mood”. Hawthorn also famously wore a spotted bow tie while racing, leading French enthusiasts to call him ‘Le Papillon’ – The Butterfly.
Enzo Ferrari was very fond of Hawthorn, who he considered exceptionally talented, with plenty of courage and ultra-fast reactions. He began watching him closely at the Englishman’s very first race at Goodwood in 1952: Hawthorn made an immediate impact, with pole position and a race win, despite the field including legends such as Juan Manuel Fangio. Less than a year later, the Englishman was a contracted Scuderia Ferrari racer, the first non-Italian to join in several years.
Hawthorn won in his first year driving for the Scuderia, driving a Ferrari 500 at Reims, France. He finished fourth in the Formula One World Championship; the following year, he finished third, after winning the Spanish Grand Prix. Hawthorn left the Scuderia in 1954, following the death of his father, to concentrate on the family business, but he later returned. In 1958, he raced the Ferrari 246 to the World Championship, the first Brit to do so.
The 1958 season included a famous one-two result at the British Grand Prix, with Hawthorn following home his victorious team-mate (and close friend) Peter Collins. The Scuderia was a serial winner at the Silverstone race and the team was determined to continue the record during a warm and sunny race weekend. After 225 miles and 75 laps, the red cars did just that.
Hawthorn memorably returned to the pits holding a pint of beer, which confused onlookers until he later explained in his autobiography. At the Becketts corner, he had watched his friends drinking; by the end of the hot race, he was thirsty himself. So, on the last lap, he signalled to them that he also wanted a drink, which he collected on the slowing down lap. They were different times back in the 1950s…
Enzo Ferrari tried to change the racer’s mind when he announced his retirement, but the decision was made. Hawthorn bowed out as a popular World Champion – and the racing world mourned when he died in January 1959. He was buried in his home town of Farnham, with his gravestone featuring a depiction of the Ferrari 246 in which he became World Champion. Sixty years on, he is still remembered with fondness as a great Ferrari pilota.