Mike Hawthorn  Great Britain

  • Full name John Michael Hawthorn
  • Nickname Le Papillon
  • Birth date April 10, 1929
  • Birthplace Mexborough, Yorkshire, Great Britain
  • Date of death January 22, 1959 (29 years 287 days)
  • Place of death Guildford, Surrey, Great Britain
  • Height 6 ft 2 in
  • Teams BRM, Cooper, Ferrari, Maserati, Vanwall
driver portrait
World Championship Career
Year Car Race Start Won Pod Class Best Pole Front Best Lap Hat Pts Pos
1952 Cooper 5 5 0 1 3 3 0 1 3 0 0 10 5
1953 Ferrari 8 8 1 3 8 1 0 2 3 0 0 27 4
1954 Ferrari 8 8 1 4 5 1 0 4 2 1 0 24.64 3
1955 Vanwall, Ferrari 5 5 0 0 2 6 0 0 5 0 0 0 -
1956 Maserati, Vanwall, BRM 5 3 0 1 2 3 0 1 3 0 0 4 12
1957 Ferrari 6 6 0 2 4 2 0 1 2 0 0 13 4
1958 Ferrari 10 10 1 7 8 1 4 8 1 5 1 49 1
Total 47 45 3 18 32 1 4 17 1 6 1 127.64
Race Circuit Date
First race Belgian Grand Prix Spa June 22, 1952 Race results
Last race Moroccan Grand Prix Ain Diab October 19, 1958 Race results

Mike Hawthorn was at the vanguard of British drivers who swept into Formula One in the mid 1950s and heralded an era of domination in terms of drivers and manufacturers.

On the surface, he was the epitome of the English playboy, a flamboyant character who drove hard, partied harder, and was instantly recognisable by his ever-present bow tie which he even wore during races.

His enthusiasm for racing was born watching pre-war events at Brooklands as a schoolboy, and aided by his father he started competing in 1950 with immediate success, winning the Brighton Speed Trials.

By 1952 he had switched to single-seaters and that year won his first race in a Formula Two Cooper-Bristol at Goodwood, and the further successes that followed brought him to the attention of Enzo Ferrari who offered him a place on his team. By the end of the season he had already secured his first podium - third at the British Grand Prix - and a brace of fourths driving a Cooper.

At Ferrari, Hawthorn immediately showed his worth with victory in what was only his ninth start, outthinking Juan Manuel Fangio in a gripping finish at the French Grand Prix. This and two more podium finishes helped him finish the season in fourth. He also won the International Trophy and the Ulster Trophy as well as the Spa 24 Hours sports car race with Ferrari team-mate Giuseppe Farina.

Nineteen fifty-four was harder work, not helped by him receiving bad burns in a crash at Syracuse, but he finished the year with three seconds and then victory in the season finale in Spain, and third place in the drivers' championship. His father's death led to him quitting Ferrari for Tony Vandervell's Vanwall team - he needed to be at home to keep an eye on the family garage in Farnham - but after two races he returned to Ferrari, only to find the returning Mercedes team had the cars to beat. But 1955 was notorious for the Le Mans 24-Hours disaster in which 80 people died - Hawthorn won the race but was involved in the accident, some holding him at fault.

Another change of team - this time to BRM - in 1956 was a failure, and his only podium came in Argentina where the non appearance of his car allowed him to guest drive a Maserati.

In 1957 he again returned to Ferrari and again was there or thereabouts without really looking as if he was a serious challenger to Fangio, with two podiums from six starts.

In 1958, with Fangio retired and alongside the superb Tony Brooks and Peter Collins, Hawthorn won the world title through, the Times noted, "consistency and sustained brilliance". Although he won only once, to the four wins of Vanwall's Stirling Moss and the three of Brooks, his victory in France was backed by five seconds and he edged out Moss by one point. But Collins' death at the Nurburgring left him demoralised with the sport.

He immediately retired, although the decision was not made public until the end of the year. What was not widely known at the time was that he was suffering from a chronic kidney complaint and he may not have been able to continue even had he wanted to. It had got him out of national service - that in itself caused ructions in the media - and had plagued him throughout his career. The nature of his illness made it remarkable he was able to party to the extent he did; he admitted every time he went to the loo it was "like peeing gravel".

He planned to devote his time to his garage and to get married. However, in January 1959 he was killed when his Jaguar skidded, struck a lorry and crashed on the A3 near Guildford. He had been overtaking a Mercedes owned by Rob Walker which he had spotted in the distance. His loathing of Germans and all things German was well documented and his car was nicknamed the Merceater.
Martin Williamson

Strengths and weaknesses
Hunched over the wheel, he drove in what was described as a devil-may-care attitude, but was less consistent and more temperamental than many of his rivals. However, given the right car, as he was in 1958, he could be one of the fastest drivers. On the downside, he more than once had to withdraw from races because of excesses the night before.

Career high
His second place at the Moroccan Grand Prix was enough to secure him the world title, a testament to his staying power and determination.

Career low
Despite winning the 1955 Le Mans 24-Hour race, Hawthorn's role in the tragedy resulting from Pierre Levegh's accident overshadowed all that followed. While officially exonerated, few forgot his admission of guilt in the immediate aftermath and at the time of his death he was being sued by Lance Macklin, another involved in the incident, for libel over Hawthorn's account of the matter.

"For much of his young life Mike Hawthorn was shitfaced, about to get shitfaced, or recovering from being shitfaced." Charles Jennings in Burning Rubber

Five years before his own death, Hawthorn's father was killed in a road crash ten miles further along the same road

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