He was brash yet quick, talented yet careless, he loved to race yet often lost interest in what he was doing and he wore a bow-tie while driving an F1 car. John Michael Hawthorn was a colourful F1 driver of the 50s, who lived a carefree life but managed to write his name in the annals of F1 history, all the same.
When he decided as a nine-year-old lad that he wanted to become a Formula One racer, Hawthorn (perhaps) had no idea that he would be a World Champion 20 years later.
Starting off his F1 career in a rather inauspicious fashion, with 10 points and a fifth place finish for his Cooper in 1952, the Briton decided to switch to Ferrari for the 1953 season. One of the best moments of his career came that year, when he beat the great Juan Manuel Fangio’s Maserati to the chequered flag of the French Grand Prix. He pushed his car to its very limit and in the dying seconds of the race he whipped the prancing horse to victory beating a surprised Fangio by just 800ths of a second.
Mike Hawthorn’s final season in Formula One was interestingly his most noteworthy. Driving a V-6 powered Ferrari D246 he registered only one win through the entire season but still managed to clinch the title. His closest championship contender, Stirling Moss, had four wins but Hawthorn piped him to claim the crown by a single point thanks to his consistency throughout the season which included six podium finishes apart from that solitary win.
After becoming the first ever British World Champion, Mike Hawthorn then decided to retire from the sport at the age of 29. He seemed to have quit at his peak, just as many sportsmen do, with nothing left to prove. But his exit from F1 came more out of disillusionment that was caused by the death of his dear friend and teammate, Peter Collins.
In Collins he had found a soul-mate whose character was strikingly similar to his. They shared the same interest in women, alcohol and fun and also shared the same ‘prankster mentality’, playing countless pranks on unsuspecting victims right through their time together. The two drivers had become inseparable over their stint as teammates and it was but obvious that Hawthorn was shattered by his friend’s demise. But he was also crestfallen by the dangers of the sport as this wasn’t the first time that he had witnessed the fatal nature of racing. In the 1955 24 hours Le Mans race, Hawthorn was involved in a crash that killed 82 spectators.
Shortly after his retirement, the ‘Bow-tie World Champion’ met a tragic end when he lost control of his car while on the A3 Guildford bypass in Southern London. While driving his Jaguar sedan - which was modified to be a mean, speeding machine – Hawthorn, who was engaged in a road race with his friend Rob Walker, veered off the road losing control of his car and hit a tree, ending his life.
John Michael Hawthorn may have died tragically in the eyes of many, but no one can deny that in his dying moments he was having fun, speeding away and enjoying himself without a care in the world, just as he did throughout his life.