Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Carlo Carluccio
– 1959: Hawthorn – Like a moth to the flame.
Winter in the UK does not compare well to countries with warmer climes. It can be both hauntingly beautiful with low levels of light or it can be suppressed with heavy grey clouds supplying anything from fine misty rain to heavy oppressive downpours.
The facts are simple; the reigning F1 World Champion – Mike Hawthorn – was over-taking a Mercedes 300SL driven by Rob Walker on the Guildford by-pass when he lost control of his car at high speed and spun hitting a tree which caused fatal injuries. A tragic accident of course but possibly avoidable?
On the morning of Thursday 22nd January, the roads in Southern England were treacherously wet from heavy showers and strong winds.
Mike Hawthorn’s schedule for the day was a busy one, off to London for a series of meetings before concluding a business arrangement with Duncan Hamilton. He set off for London on roads he knew very well.
This is when fifty five years of half truths and misunderstandings are drawn into the maelstrom; the results of which become legend.
He was driving a heavily modified Jaguar Mk 1 which he christened the ‘Merc-eater’ as he hated anything German. It was fitted with Dunlop Duraband radial tyres which had been designed to counter the commercial threat of the Michelin X and Pirelli Cintura.
Rob Walker, who played a part in the accident commented: “Duraband were OK in the dry but, because of the hard compound, they could break away in wet conditions. When they did, it was without warning.”
Walker explained the accident in 1998 to Eoin Young and Eric Dymock,
“That day it was pouring with rain and when I saw it was Mike we both accelerated down the hill flat out, using all the gears. We went through the first left hand bend, followed by the right, at his stage we were going very fast. I had just changed into top which I seldom did under 100mph in the 300SL and Mike was a bonnet length ahead. At this point I thought…
This is OK for a World Champion but for me it was a bit too much so I backed off a cars length. Going into the right hander the Jaguar slid the rear out about five degrees, this I thought was just Mike playing around, then the car clipped the kerb and spun round 180degrees. The Jaguar spun round to face me then started going backwards. By now things were getting worse, he clipped the bollards in the centre of the road, the MK 1 travelled backwards across the road clipping the very rear corner of a lorry travelling the other way. I saw the MK1 disappear in a cloud of mud and spray as it left the road.”
The accident was so severe that only the petrol pipe joined the two pieces of car together!
Duncan Hamilton was called and was at the scene within five minutes but added, “I was finding it hard to travel safely over 60mph due to the severe cross-winds that day..”
Hawthorn’s body was found on the rear seat of the car – beyond any medical help. The pathologist reported he had extreme head injuries with fragments of his skull driven into the brain which was the cause of death. Family and friends knew of his kidney problems – he had already lost one to infection in 1955 and had, optimistically, another three years to live – but the autopsy dismissed a blackout as a contributory factor.
Maybe the final words should go to another legendary name of motor-sport, Roy Salvadori:
“On occasion Mike drove like a hooligan on the roads and any fellow racing driver who came across him were in for a dice. I dreaded meeting Mike on the same five mile stretch of the Kingston bypass, which I often did. It was always the same, two fingers up, then you really had a go, it was always the most dangerous five miles ever and I was glad to turn off before him each time..”
Sorry about the music!