Much fuss has been made – quite justifiably – in memory of Mike Hawthorn’s first British win in the Formula 1 Drivers’ World Championship, 50 years before Lewis Hamilton, whereas we all know this rather splendid kid has really won his 2008 title 50 years after Mike. Once Ron Dennis and McLaren had introduced Hamilton to the World Championship, in 2007, he scored his first win in what was only his sixth F1 race. Big deal? Perhaps not quite.
When Hawthorn was invited to join Ferrari’s works team, in 1953, he was also just 23 years old. OK, he’d enjoyed brief senior-category experience with Bob Chase’s Cooper-Bristol during ’52, but since world title-level entrants are today extinct it seems reasonable only to compare his works team top-level record against that of his illustrious successor.
Back in 1952-53, World Championship status had been applied to 2-litre unsupercharged Formula 2 cars that season, and Mike’s first race for his new Italian employer was in the Argentine Grand Prix at Buenos Aires on January 18, 1953. His debut went pretty well. He finished fourth.
In the next meaningful World Championship round, the Dutch GP on June 7, he then placed fifth on the road, though the Maseratis of Bonetto and Gonzalez ahead of him were judged to have dead-heated for third, so he could be described as finishing fourth.
But in between times, in non-championship Formula 2 races for Ferrari, he’d retired at Syracuse on March 22, finished second at Pau on April 6… but then won both his preliminary heat and the final of the BRDC’s International Trophy race at Silverstone on May 9. Therefore he had won what was only his fourth – or fifth if you discount the minor heat – senior-formula race for his new Grand Prix team… at least one ahead of Lewis.
The weekend following Silverstone, on May 16, Hawthorn drove his works Ferrari 500 to win twice more, this time in both preliminary heat and final of the Ulster Trophy, on the frankly frightening Dundrod public road circuit just outside Belfast. He knew it well, he revelled in that kind of road racing, and he shone. So at that point he had won handsomely in two of his first five – or counting the heats six – Grand Prix-category races.
On June 21 he then finished sixth in the championship-level Belgian GP, and on June 28 was second behind senior team-mate ‘Nino’ Farina in the non-World Championship race at Rouen-les-Essarts. On July 5 at Reims he finally scored his long-awaited first World Championship-qualifying race win, beating Fangio’s Maserati in a sensational French GP.
So, within his maiden season with a World Championship-level works team he had scored his first top-category race win fourth time out, won again fifth time out, and had then won what was only his fourth World Championship-qualifying GP. Still with me? In essence, some of the bow-tied blond youngster’s records have survived the emergence of his modern-era (equally) young successor.