At the weekend, with a couple of my kids, I visited the Brooklands Museum – see the Museums website here – Brooklands Museum in Weybridge Surrey the home of British Aviation and early Motor Racing. My late father had been an early Trustee of the Museum assisting it to secure substantial support from Shell, his former employer. I am told there is a plaque to his memory on site but, sadly, we couldn’t locate it.
My father was a very keen follower of Motor Racing, he ran part of Shell’s commitment to sport and visited tracks all over the world in the 1970’s and 80’s. As kids we even lived in the village of Silverstone.
Prior his early years in the Army and then in commerce in Africa and elsewhere, my Dad was schooled at Ardingly College in West Sussex. A rather typical English Boarding School which produced well rounded chaps in the 1940’s. His close friends and contemporaries included Bill Cotton (the son of the 1940’s Band Leader, “Billy Cotton”, who became the head of BBC TV) and John Michael (“Mike”) Hawthorn, who because of his hair coloring, was nicknamed “Snowball”. See our previous post mentioning Mike Hawthorn here – Morgan Cars
Born in Yorkshire on 10th April 1929 this blond and debonair young man was an iconic British racing driver and the very essence of what made motoracing glamourous. He drove a Ferrari and his penchant for racing in a bow tie did much to concrete his reputation as a gentleman racer of the finest tradition. Behind his steely blue eyes lay a depth of grit and ambition that would see him secure the Formula One World Championship alongside a host of other trophies.
Mike Hawthorn’s biography “Challenge Me The Race” carries the line “The first motor races I ever saw were at Brooklands. I was only a very small boy, but to me it was heaven to watch the cars thundering round those towering cliffs of concrete where the banking curved under the Members’ Bridge, to wander along the lines of brightly coloured cars in their stalls in the paddock, to jump as an exhaust snarled suddenly and to sniff the aroma of castor oil.”
Leslie, Mike’s father had relocated from Doncaster to Farnham, Surrey – opening The Tourist Trophy Garage in 1931 – to be nearer Brooklands. His father is said to have driven a young Mike in a Riley 2.0 litre around the legendary track thus sealing his ambition to race. This must have been a fascinating era with the Sunbeam, Napier Railtons and Bentleys battling on the banked curves of the Brooklands circuit.
Mike started racing bikes in 1947 and after a period in Formual Two driving a Cooper Bristol and being courted by the Jaguar team – managed by Lofty England – he joined the Ferrari Team in 1953. He suffered burns following a crash in 1954 in Syracuse (Italy) and whilst hospitalized his father was tragically killed in a car accident. Mike joined Jaguar in 1955 as team leader, replacing Stirling Moss. After a tragic Le Mans in 1955 and a week Jaguar performance at the same race in 1956 – which led to Jaguars retirement from racing – in 1957 Hawthorn rejoined Ferrari.
On 19th October 1958 – nearly 60 years ago – driving for Scuderia Ferrari, Mike failed to win the Moroccan Grand Prix at the newly built Ain-Diab Circuit. He was beaten into second place by Stirling Moss driving a Vanwall. Despite his position, Hawthorn secured, by a single point (total 42 points), the 1958 Formula One World Championship, the first British driver to do so. Moss came second with 41 points. Anoraks will be amused to note that Bernie Ecclestone competed in the same race – one of only two starts ever by Bernie in a Formula One – the second being the same year at Silverstone.
Immediately following the race Hawthorn announced his retirement from motoracing after eight amazing years. Sadly, the 29 year old champ was unwell following the loss of his friend Peter Collins and a recurrent, and, many have said probably terminal, kidney complaint.
Sadly on 22nd January 1959 Mike was killed in a British Racing Green, Mark 1 3.4 litre Jaguar – Reg VDU 881 – that had been loaned to him by the Jaguar team, that crashed on the Guilford by-pass. Whilst the circumstances are unclear it seems that on the wet surface with a witness attesting to seeing his car traveling at around 100 mph, he may have been racing Mercedes Team’s Rob Walker, who was driving a gull-winged doored Mercedes 300 SL.
See this dated Pathe newsreel announcing in its staccato voice over the sad news of Mike’s death Mike Hawthorn Killed
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Image credits – used with grateful thanks Brooklands Museum, Pathe News and Motor Sports Magazine