Thousands gather to pay their respects to Mike

On a freezing cold and drippy wet Sunday in January, the little Georgian market town of Farnham – on the Surrey-Hampshire border – is usually very quiet. For me it’s been home for 37 years, and the Mike Hawthorn Memorial event organised there by Paul Roach, Michael Ballard, Tony Bailey and others to mark the 50th anniversary of the first British Formula 1 World Champion driver’s premature death simply made our eyes pop.

The local police contributed hugely by agreeing to close the town’s one-way system for a three-lap demo by 50 relevant cars – ahem, actually closer to 75 I believe participated – and there was a moving commemorative service at St Andrew’s church, 50 years after Mike’s own sombre funeral there. Stirling and Suzie Moss, Tony and Pina Brooks, and many more old friends, acquaintances and indeed one-time employees and family friends turned out in the chill. Some of Mike’s old friends expressed discomfort at the way ‘their’ Mike has become perhaps over-hyped public property in recent years – and charitably, they do have a point. But to see small kids in the estimated 5000-strong(!) crowd oohing and aahing over Ferrari 246 Dino, Cooper-Bristol, Testa Rossa, Monza and Jaguar D-Type, Aston Martin DB3S, Lancia Aurelia and assorted Jaguar saloons – among so very many more – was to hope that future enthusiasts will have caught the bug that day…

Arch-Hawthorn fan Nigel Webb made a big investment, not least in time and drive, to help bring this one-off event about, and Mike’s grave in West Street cemetery ended the day piled with floral tributes. For me the most striking were one marked simply, “God bless, Mike – from two old girlfriends” and the true classic from his old mate Nick Syrett of the BRSCC, which just said it as it is – “Mike, you wouldn’t believe how much a pint of light and bitter would set you back now. Cheers! N”. Aah, the reality… good old boys.