Death on the A3 First World Cham­pion

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - The Way We Were -

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.

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