“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you dies each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintry light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person had died for no reason.”
~Earnest Hemingway – A Moveable Feast~
“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.” – Mike Hawthorne
Tall and blonde, living life to the full, I stood out from the crowd when I first arrived on the Formula One scene. I drove hard, but partied harder; amusement was more important to me than money or fame.
For my first Grand Prix in 1952 my father and I arrived at Spa with a Cooper he had bought for me to drive. Despite having to do two pit stops to top up my leaking fuel tank I managed to finish in fourth place. I came to the notice of Enzo Ferrari and by the end of the year he had offered me a contract for the following season. I resolved that if I wasn’t driving a British car that I would at least look British.
“The Hawthorn racing uniform was complete: dark blue helmet with visor; white shirt with bow tie, covered by a green jacket; driving gloves; white linen trousers which buttoned at the ankles; socks and a pair of battered old brogue shoes. ……..Only rarely did he ever alter this outfit, once or twice doing without the jacket and occasionally using goggles instead of the visor” – ‘Mon Ami Mate’ by Chris Nixon
It was the following year that I had my first win, battling with Fangio at the French Grand Prix at Reims. We swapped the lead numerous times but by the time we crossed the finish line I had scraped together a one second advantage. It was only my ninth Grand Prix and I was the first British driver to win a World Championship race.
“Mike Hawthorn drives in devil-may-care style, his husky frame hunched over in the cramped cockpit, a grim scowl on his face. Moody Mike enjoys his cigarettes and whisky, cuts loose occasionally on the trumpet (which he plays with some skill), flies his own plane. He drives solely to win, cares little about how he accomplishes it (‘I haven’t bloody well got a driving style’).” – Time Magazine 1958
1958 was to be a harrowing year for us. First Luigi Musso was killed at Reims. Then my world fell apart when my best friend, Peter Collins, died after crashing during a battle with Tony Brooks for the lead at the Nurburgring. At the final race of the season Phil Hill let me pass him for second place which meant I won the World Championship from Stirling Moss by one point to become the first British Formula One World Champion.
After Peter’s death racing wasn’t the same, it wasn’t fun anymore. The day of the gentleman racer was almost over and racing was being taken over by the professionals. Drivers had managers and trainers. They exercised and got drunk only after the race, not before. I decided it was time to quit.
After my retirement I said, “The roads are getting proper death traps. If you ask me, the racetrack is safer than the road between Farnham and London.”
Two cars flashed past. One lost control and spun, hitting a tree. Hawthorn was dead, killed on a rainy day, crashing his Jaguar on the Guildford bypass. He was twenty-nine. Rob Walker said, “I thought Mike was immortal,” echoing the thoughts of thousands of others.
…When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person had died for no reason…