If we had to condense the epitome of old school racing, Mike Hawthorn would be one of the first drivers to come to mind. Scouted by Enzo Ferrari himself back in Formula 2, he won the Scuderia the 1958 World Championship and immediately retired from racing. He tragically lost his life just one year later in what many believe to have been an illegal race against motorsport manager Rob Walker, but his legacy spans well beyond his Formula 1 victories.
Rivalries... and bowties
Mike Hawthorn's adventure in Formula 1 dates back to 1952, when Enzo Ferrari offered him a works seat for the Scuderia after following his success in Formula 2. By securing a podium and a fourth place in the second part of the season, Hawthorn immediately showed his prowess behind the wheel. Nothing, however, compares to his first ever victory in Formula 1, at the iconic 1953 French Grand Prix at Reims. Managing to hold back none other than Juan Manuel Fangio, he established himself as one of the fiercest competitors on the grid.
His custom of wearing papillons, the French bowties, during every single race earned him the nickname Butterfly, but he certainly wasn't as gentle. After a couple of brief experiences outside Ferrari, he paired Peter Collins and Luigi Musso in the Scuderia again and engaged in an extremely cynical, well-documented rivalry with the Italian.
Success stained by tragedy
It should come as no surprise that those years were some of the most brutal and deadliest for motor racing, and tragedy seemed to follow Hawthorn wherever he went. It was him winning the infamous, tragic 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans, where 84 people lost their lives.
His 1958 World Title, achieved with just one win and several podiums against #1 contender Stirling Moss, was equally tainted by disgrace. His only win (again, the 1958 French Grand Prix at Reims) was achieved at the expenses of teammate Musso, which was chasing him for the lead before going wide and crashing to his death. The same tragic fate was suffered by Hawthorn's other teammate, Peter Collins, losing his life at the 1958 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. Many believe that Hawthorn's retirement from racing inequivocably stemmed from the number of peers he had lost to motorsport that year.
Old-school racing is frequently regarded as the truest expression of motorsport. In some ways, it might be. However, we must never forget that this is what was implied, and still is to a certain extent. Today, we celebrate the great driver that Mike Hawthorn was. At the same time, we wish no other Champion the same type of success: it's been 60 years for a reason.
Written by Aurora Dell'Agli