‘From Hawthorn to Hamilton’ was the theme of this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed. Tomorrow Lewis Hamilton could win the F1 title on the 50th anniversary of the first British driver to win the championship: Mike Hawthorn. Journeyer tells the story.
An unpredictable season, with multiple winners and stunning upsets. But as we approach the season’s end, a young British, who’s young enough and fast enough to be one of the stars of tomorrow, is fighting down to the wire to take his first ever world championship.
It’s the story of 2008 – but it could also be the story of 1958, when Mike Hawthorn won the title for Ferrari.
1: Argentine Grand Prix: Buenos Aires No. 2
Hawthorn faced stern opposition from Stirling Moss in 1958. Moss started the season strongly: In the lone Cooper-Climax, he held off the Ferraris of Luigi Musso and Hawthorn to win.
Moss’ win was the first for a rear-engined car. A new era had dawned on Formula 1.
2: Monaco Grand Prix, Monte-Carlo
This was a race Hawthorn could have won on pace. And a bit of luck, too: he inherited the lead after Moss’ engine let go on lap 38. But Hawthorn’s bad luck came in just 8 laps later: his Ferrari slowed with a broken fuel pump. Enter Maurice Trintignant, who inherited the lead just as he had in 1955. Once again, he finished ahead of two Ferraris – this time, those driven by Musso and Peter Collins.
A curiosity: down the entry list, among those who did not qualify, is listed a certain Bernie Ecclestone, driving a Connaught-Alfa.
3: Dutch Grand Prix, Zandvoort
This was a race Moss dominated from start to finish, setting the fastest lap in the process. In their second race, Moss’ new Vanwall team proved untouchable. In contrast, Hawthorn struggled, and was lucky to score two points for fifth, despite finishing a lap down.
After three rounds, the title was definitely moving in Moss’ direction, winning twice already. Hawthorn was down in fifth, ten points behind Moss and five points behind lead Ferrari’s Musso. But with only the best six results counting towards the championship, anything could still happen.
5: Belgian Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps
In between the Dutch and Belgian rounds was the Indianapolis 500 which counted towards the championship but was not attended by the F1 regulars.
Spa saw another Vanwall victory. But this time, it was Tony Brooks who took the win, with Hawthorn in second, and Stuart Lewis-Evans in the other Vanwall in third, in an all-British podium.
Moss, however, didn’t complete a lap after engine troubles. This would prove to be the theme for the season: Moss’ car was faster, but more fragile. Hawthorn’s car was a bit slower, but much more consistent.
6: French Grand Prix, Reims
Finally, Hawthorn broke through and scored a win. He dominated the race from start to finish, also setting fastest lap. Moss couldn’t do anything about the Ferrari, and had to settle for second.
But the race was marred by the death of Luigi Musso. He wanted to take back the initiative from Hawthorn to lead Ferrari’s championship charge again. But while chasing Hawthorn on lap ten, Musso lost control of the car, sliding into a ditch and somersaulting. Musso was hurled out and was fatally injured.
Now it was becoming clear: Moss and Hawthorn, two fellow Brits and good friends, would be battling for this year’s World Championship. While tied on points, Moss led with two wins to Hawthorn’s one.
6: British Grand Prix, Silverstone
The fans at Silverstone wanted, nay, demanded a home win for Britain. And they got it – just not from the guys they expected.
It was Peter Collins who won for Ferrari, with Hawthorn second again. Collins’ win was an emotional one: he had been demoted to the F2 team by Enzo Ferrari, but Hawthorn asserted himself as lead driver and asked Enzo himself to reinstate Collins. Musso’s death left Enzo no other choice.
As for Moss, he had been going well, but was again struck with bad luck and an ailing engine.
Again, a curiosity: Bernie Ecclestone tried, and failed, to qualify for his home race.
And as the voice-over in the video said, Hawthorn gained seven points on Moss, taking the championship lead.
Collins – 14
Musso – 12
Schell – 12
Brooks – 8
7: German Grand Prix, Nurburgring
Tony Brooks won, putting Vanwall on top again. However, Collins was involved in a fatal accident on lap 11. Eerily similar to Musso’s, the car somersaulted and Collins was hurled into a tree, also suffering fatal injuries.
For the record, both Moss and Hawthorn failed to finish, but Moss set the fastest lap.
Now the championship got interesting. Germany was the seventh round of the championship, and drivers could start dropping their worst results from there on out. But with Hawthorn and Moss retiring, neither saw much gains in that round.
8: Poruguese Grand Prix, Porto
But this race saw a different story. Moss and Hawthorn tussled it out at the start, but Moss was just that much quicker and pulled away to win. Hawthorn suffered chronic trouble with his car. First, he pitted to get his brakes checked.
Then at the finish, his car suffered some more glitches, forcing Hawthorn to push it across the line. Hawthorn had originally been disqualified for it by the stewards, but the gentleman Moss interceded on his behalf. The decision was ultimately reversed, which meant that Hawthorn stayed ahead in the title race.
9: Italian Grand Prix, Monte-Carlo
Ferrari were on the offensive at Monza, with Hawthorn being assisted by Olivier Gendebien, youngster Wolfgang von Trips and rookie Phil Hill. But none of them could do anything to stop Brooks, who took his third win of the season, the same number of wins as Moss. But just as in previous races, Hawthorn finished second, while Moss failed to finish. This time, it was a gearbox problem that plagued Moss.
10: Moroccan Grand Prix, Ain-Diab
With the points-dropping system, Moss still had a chance to take the title, but to do so, he had to hope Hawthorn wouldn’t finish first or second. Hawthorn needed first or second so that he could drop his worst scored result: that third place in Argentina.
Moss won in dominant style, despite Phil Hill’s best efforts to catch him. Moss also set the fastest lap in the process. Hill eventually slowed to give Hawthorn second place, enough to give his team mate the world championship. However, thanks to the efforts of Moss, Brooks, and Lewis-Evans, Vanwall had scored enough points to win the first-ever constructors’ championship.
Lewis-Evans, though, suffered severe burns after his car went on fire after an engine failure. He died six days after the race.
A final tragedy
Many were surprised when Hawthorn announced his retirement, just days after winning the title. He had grown tired of seeing his friends like Musso, Collins, and Lewis-Evans die while racing.
But in a moment of cruel irony, Hawthorn himself died on January 22, 1959 in a freak accident on the A3 Guildford bypass, the cause of which was never fully determined.
Hawthorn will always be remembered as a smart racer, who knowed when to push for the win and when to settle for points for a championship. Not only did he win an F1 title, he also won Le Mans in 1955.
But more importantly, he will be remembered as a great gentleman and a well-deserved champion.
Read more about Mike Hawthorn: Mike Hawthorn biography