• French Grand Prix 1953

Hawthorn wins a French epic

Martin Williamson July 5, 1953
Mike Hawthorn and Juan Manuel Fangio exchange glances in the closing laps of their epic clash © Getty Images

The 1953 French Grand Prix was one of the sport's classic battles, and while it was, as expected, a battle between the Ferraris and the Maseratis, the winner came from outside the established elite - the playboy Mike Hawthorn.

The fast Reims track was expected to favour the Maseratis but questions remained over their reliability as both Juan Manuel Fangio and José Froilán González had broken down while leading at Spa a fortnight earlier. When Alberto Ascari took pole he seemed on course for his tenth win in 11 starts, but what transpired was anything but predictable.

Fuel loads proved vital. Gonzales started with a half-full tank, hoping to pull out a big lead before having to pit, but the gamble failed as after his early stop he was involved in a furious battle for the lead with Hawthorn and team-mate Juan Manuel Fangio with Ascari for once unable to pass.

For lap after lap the two Maseratis and Hawthorn swapped the lead, and on the line less than a second-and-a-half separated the three, with Ascari a further three seconds back. "It was the toughest race I have ever driven," an exhausted Hawthorn admitted.

Ascari still had a commanding lead in the drivers' championship but the race not only showed Ferrari now had a serious challenger in Maserati, but he had an up-and-coming rival closer to home.

Earlier in the day Stirling Moss in a Jaguar had won the 12-hour endurance race on the same track.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA

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Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA Martin Williamson, who grew up in the era of James Hunt, Niki Lauda and sideburns, became managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group in 2007 after spells with Sky Sports, Sportal and Cricinfo