The driver to lead the way to British dominance
- Mattijs Diepraam, Felix Muelas
- 8W November 1998 issue
- Vanwall - Vanwall's inconspicuous entry to the GP world, by Felix Muelas/Don Capps
- Vanwall - The Green Comet: the brief history of the Vanwall, by Don Capps
Mike Hawthorn (Alberto Ascari, Luigi Villoresi)
Ferrari 500 (Ferrari 500, Ferrari 500)
1953 French GP
While Stirling Moss undoubtedly stands out as the best British driver of his era it was Mike Hawthorn who on many occasions led the way towards British domination of F1.
In 1952 he scored the first podium finish for a British car, finishing 3rd at his home Grand Prix in the nimble Cooper-Bristol T20, trailing the Ferraris of Ascari and Taruffi. His consistent points finishes in the Cooper entered by his father turned Mike into the find of the year. His achievements were acknowledged by Enzo Ferrari who signed on the mercurial young Brit for his 1953 campaign, alongside his trusted Italian troika of Ascari, Farina and Villoresi. In the fourth race of the season, the French GP at Reims, we saw Hawthorn truly coming of age, battling it out with Fangio to score a famous first British win - albeit in an Italian car. Although the honour of scoring the first victory by a British car went to Moss - sharing the Vanwall with Brooks to a much awaited win in the 1957 British GP - it was Hawthorn who celebrated another British first, claiming the first world title for a British driver, just pipping Moss in the final Grand Prix in Morocco.
Of his three career wins - he took the 1958 crown with just one win, again at Reims, ending a two-year drought for Ferrari - his first at the 1953 French GP stands out as his best. And one of the best for the spectators, for that matter! The picture shows three Ferraris in line astern chasing the Maserati of Froilan Gonzalez in the early part of this thriller of a race. After the low-on-fuel Pampas Bull had led the opening 29 laps it needed a stirring battle between Hawthorn's Ferrari and Fangio's Maserati to decide the winner. Mike had come up through the field from 7th on the grid and started challenging new leader Fangio from lap 31 on. The next lap he found a way by, but the lead changed four more times before Hawthorn made the decisive pass three laps from the end. With Gonzalez and Ascari trailing by just two and five seconds, it was the closest finish of the year, ending Ascari's long run of victories.
Hawthorn's win for Ferrari at Pedralbes in 1954 ended his first association with the Scuderia, for family matters directed him home to take over his deceased father's garage business. His stay with Vanwall was not a happy one, however, Tony Vandervell's operation not nearly up to the standard which won the team the 1958 Constructors Championship. So after two miserable races Hawthorn was back at Ferrari. The next year he signed for the BRM sportscar team, which obliged him to do F1 as well for the Owen Racing Organization. But the BRM P25 was late and Mike had to make do with an interim 250F. The result was that Hawthorn went back to Ferrari for a third term, this time joining up with his dear friend Peter Collins. After a year in the Lancia-Ferrari, knocking on the door of success occasionally, the new Dino proved Ferrari's and Hawthorn's wonder toy for 1958.
Mike's Championship - gained through sheer consistency - was clouded by tragedy, however. First, his third and final win at Reims left no room for celebration as team mate Luigi Musso was killed in the race, while in Germany fate struck again when Peter Collins lost his life. This prompted the first British Formula 1 World Champion (and the first champion of the post-war generation of drivers) not to defend his title. Then, as if fate hadn't dealt a big enough blow to the Hawthorn family Mike ironically followed in his father's footsteps by being killed in a road accident in January 1959. He was just 29 years old.