Died, F1 Legend

Mike Hawthorn


  • Mexborough, England Place of Birth
  • 10 April 1929 Date of Birth
  • 1952 Belgian Grand Prix F1 Debut
  • Ferrari Current/Last Team

John Michael Hawthorn, born on April 10, 1929, was destined to become Britain’s first F1 world drivers’ champion. His youth led him to motorsport, with his father Leslie, a racing enthusiast, owning a garage near the Brooklands circuit in Farnham, Surrey. Leslie had raced motorcycles before World War II, and the proximity to Brooklands, coupled with the garage’s racing atmosphere, inspired young Mike. By the age of nine, he was already determined to become a racer.

BornJohn Michael Hawthorn
10 April 1929
Mexborough, England
Died22 January 1959 (aged 29)
Near Onslow Village, Guildford, England

Mike Hawthorn embraced life with zest, drove at breakneck speeds, and died young. Tall, blond, and exuberant, he often raced with a wide grin and a bow tie. He saw motorsport as a thrilling path to fun, a pursuit he never tired of. When his hobby turned into a career, he partied as energetically as he raced, though his journey was marked by tragedy, scandal, and personal misfortune. Towards the end, Formula 1 lost its charm for him, but he retired as a champion. While other drivers were more skilled, none matched his vibrant personality.

Mike’s education, including time at a prominent public school, Chelsea Technical College, and an apprenticeship with a commercial vehicle manufacturer, was meant to prepare him for a career at the Farnham garage. Meanwhile, his father fueled his motorsport passion, providing him with motorcycles and cars for local competitions. Mike also led a group of thrill-seeking friends, racing around the countryside. In 1950, he started winning races in a small Riley sports car his father bought for him. Three years later, the ‘Farnham Flyer’ drove a Formula One car for Enzo Ferrari.

Mike’s rapid ascent from club racer to Grand Prix driver culminated on a momentous afternoon at the 1952 Easter Meeting at Goodwood. Competing in a single-seater for the first time, a Formula Two Cooper-Bristol loaned by a family friend, he faced renowned Argentine drivers Juan Manuel Fangio and Froilan Gonzalez. Mike won the F2 race from pole position, triumphed in the Formula Libre race, and sensationally finished second in the main event for Formula One cars.

Beyond his impressive results, the Farnham Flyer was a striking figure in the slender Cooper, his 6’2″ frame towering above the cramped cockpit, elbows flailing, head thrust forward. Before Goodwood, he had raced in everyday clothes, usually a sports jacket and tie, which often flapped in his face at speed. For his single-seater debut, Mike donned white overalls and a bow tie that became his trademark.

Inspired by his Goodwood success, Mike and his father entered the Cooper in the remaining races of the 1952 Formula One season, dominated by Alberto Ascari in a Ferrari. With a fourth place in Belgium, third in Britain, and another fourth in Holland, Mike astonishingly finished fourth overall in the standings. Enzo Ferrari was impressed and hired him for the 1953 season.

Mike’s only championship victory in his first Formula 1 season was a career highlight. In the classic 1953 French Grand Prix at Reims, his Ferrari barely edged out Fangio’s Maserati. On the podium, hearing “God Save the Queen,” Mike burst into tears and was warmly embraced by Fangio, who regarded him as “a nice young fellow, always in a good mood.”

Nicknamed ‘Le Papillon’ (The Butterfly) by the French for racing with a bow tie, Mike’s flamboyant style and penchant for partying drew mixed reactions. In Britain, tabloids scrutinised him, accusing him of evading compulsory military service, though he had been rejected due to a chronic kidney ailment. His reputation suffered, and tragedy struck again in 1954 when he was badly burned in a crash in Sicily, and his father was killed in a road accident.

Despite a challenging year, Mike won the 1954 Spanish Grand Prix, but subsequent seasons with Vanwall and BRM were unremarkable. His only major win during this period came in the ill-fated 1955 Le Mans 24-hour race, where a crash killed over 80 spectators. Though exonerated, the incident deeply troubled him.

In 1957, returning to Ferrari, Mike found a kindred spirit in teammate Peter Collins. They became close friends, indulging in pranks and hard living while racing fiercely. Mike’s championship year of 1958 was marred by Collins’s fatal crash at the Nurburgring, leaving Mike devastated. He reluctantly completed the season, finishing one point ahead of Stirling Moss to become Britain’s first World Champion.

At the end of that fateful 1958 season, Mike lost his passion for racing and retired. Continuing to drive fast on public roads, he tragically died on January 22, 1959, when his Jaguar skidded off a wet corner near Farnham, killing him at 29.

Mike Hawthorn Formula One World Championship career

F1 Career1952–1958
TeamsFerrari, Vanwall, BRM, Cooper (non-works), Maserati (non-works)
Entries47 (45 starts)
Championships1 (1958)
Career points112 9⁄14 (127 9⁄14)
Pole positions4
Fastest laps6
First entry1952 Belgian Grand Prix
First win1953 French Grand Prix
Last win1958 French Grand Prix
Last entry1958 Moroccan Grand Prix


Driver Nationality Current/Last Team F1 Debut Status
Italian Ferrari 1950 Monaco Grand Prix Died, F1 Legend
Italian Ferrari 1950 British Grand Prix Died, F1 Legend
American Eagle 1971 Austrian Grand Prix Died, F1 Legend


Team Nationality Debut Season Status
Vanwall British 1954 Historic
Cooper British 1950 Historic
BRM British 1951 Historic
Maserati Italian 1950 Historic
Ferrari Italian 1950 Current