Death on the A3 First World Champion
A couple of weeks earlier, the 1959 season’s opening Grand Prix had taken place with no World Champion on the grid for the first time ever. The great Juan Manuel Fangio had finally retired from racing and the 1958 champion, our very own Mike Hawthorn, had reluctantly been forced to follow his example, as his sole functioning kidney threatened to shut down.
A larger-than-life character cast in the mould of a hell-raising WWII fighter ace, Hawthorn had burst onto the scene in the early 1950s, finishing fourth in his first Grand Prix at Spa in 1952 and scoring his first victory as a Ferrari works driver the following year. He stayed with the Italian team for the rest of his Grand Prix career – he’s the blonde chap on the right of our photo, watching the team’s mechanics changing his car’s gearbox.
Unlike the thoroughly professional Stirling Moss, who had arrived on the Grand Prix scene at around the same time, Hawthorn viewed each race as a necessary distraction between all-night parties. He was delighted to win the 1958 World Championship, though it was tempered with sadness at the death of his fellow Ferrari works driver, Peter Collins, earlier in the season.
For someone who had repeatedly cheated death during one of the most dangerous eras of motor sport, it was ironic that Hawthorn’s career should be cut short by health worries. He died not on the track, but on a tricky bend on the A3 near Guildford in January 1959 at the wheel of a Jaguar MkI.