John Michael Hawthorn was born in Mexborough, Yorkshire, on April 10, 1929 to Leslie and Winifred Hawthorn. Mike studies at Ardingly College in Sussex and once his exams are over he starts working as a sales representative. His father owns the Tourist Trophy Garage in Farham, and provides service and spare parts to customers of prestigious brands such as Jaguar and Ferrari. Thanks to his father's work, the young Mike's desire to become a racing driver grows more and more inside him.
The Englishman made his debut on September 2, 1950, with his Riley Ulster Imp, KV 9475 from 1934, winning the 1.100 cc category at the Brighton speed event. The following year, still driving a ½ liter Riley TT, he took part in the MotorSport Brooklands Memorial Trophy, a mini championship held on the Goodwood circuit, and won by one point. Also in 195 he won the Ulster Trophy Handicap in Dundrod and the Leinster Trophy. In 1952, at the wheel of the Cooper - Bristol T20, Mike won the Easter Trophy at Goodwood and with the same car he made his debut in Formula 1, taking part in the Belgian Grand Prix and getting a fantastic fourth place. Subsequently, the British driver won his first podium at Silverstone, in front of the home crowd.
These results, combined with other successes in non-world races and his determination and enthusiasm, attract the attention of Enzo Ferrari, who wants him in his team for 1953. Mike is defined as the pilot with the bow tie because in this historical period in which the drivers run without fireproof suits, the British usually show up at the races dressed in a very British style green jacket and bow tie. In his first season in Ferrari, having the very fast Ferrari 500 in his hands, Hawthorn wins his first world championship race in France, beating Fangio and thus becoming the youngest winner of a Formula 1 Grand Prix.
His first championship in Ferrari ended with two other podium finishes, in Switzerland and Germany, both times in third place, and with fourth place in the overall standings. But 1953 is also the year of his victory at the 12 Hours of Pescara paired with Maglioli, and at the 24 Hours of Spa paired with Farina, driving a Ferrari 375 MM Berlinetta on both occasions. The following year, exactly in April, Mike tests the new Ferrari on the Syracuse circuit, and in the race he finds himself in the top positions, when to avoid an obstacle in the middle of the track he crashes into his teammate González. The two Ferraris catch fire but fortunately both drivers come out unscathed from this accident, even if Hawthorn remedies some burns.
In the same year, the disappearance of his father will lead Mike to a period of depression and despair, as he was very fond of him. Nevertheless, the young British driver still managed to win the final race in Spain, and to conquer three second places in Great Britain, Germany and Italy, so that in the final standings Mike finished in third place, behind Juan Manuel Fangio and José Froilán González.
In 1955, Mike moved to the English Vanwall team, but his results were not very satisfactory and from the Dutch Grand Prix he returned to compete in the remaining Grand Prix with Ferrari. This not very exciting year, however, will be remembered above all for the tragic accident that took place at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in which Hawthorn is involuntarily responsible due to his abrupt maneuver that triggers the accident that leads to the disappearance of the Swiss driver Pierre Levegh and of numerous spectators. Mike wins the 24 Hours but critics will judge him as a dangerous driver, overshadowing the victories achieved up to that point in his career.
In 1956 will be another year of transition, where his only good result is third place in Argentina, in the opening race of the world championship season, at the wheel of a Maserati 250F. Enzo Ferrari, however, is a sincere and profound admirer of Hawthorn and wants him at all costs for the 1957 season to replace Fangio. In Ferrari Mike finds Peter Collins, his countryman, and Luigi Musso, with whom he has no good blood due to an accident between the two in which the Roman driver fractured his pelvis. In 1957 Hawthorn finished fourth in the world championship, achieving third place in Great Britain and second place in Germany as his best result.
In 1958 will be a special season, marred by two new tragedies which will have Peter Collins and Luigi Musso as victims, but which will give Mike the joy of world triumph. At the eleventh lap of the German Grand Prix, Peter Collins, at the wheel of his Ferrari 800, goes off the track under the eyes of his compatriot and teammate, crashing into a tree, and due to serious injuries he will go out on the way to Hospital. Musso, on the other hand, will lose his life in the French Grand Prix, in Reims. The disappearances of Collins and Musso are devastating for the British driver, to the point that he threatens to leave Formula 1, but Enzo Ferrari and teammate Phil Hill persuade him not to stray from the world of Motorsport. From this moment, however, his smile fades.
Mike continues the championship and in the last round, which is held on October 19th in Casablanca, he finishes second behind Moss and wins the title. With only one triumph at the French Grand Prix, compared to the four victories of Moss he reaches in Argentina, Holland, Portugal and Morocco, but only one retirement against the five of his rival friend, Mike scores 42 points, one more than opponent, and becomes World Champion. During the race, American Stuart Lewis-Evans is the victim of a bad accident, resulting in severe burns.
"I'm done with racing".
Says Mike, tired of seeing his colleagues die or get seriously hurt; it seems a sentence dictated by despair and sadness but a month after his retirement it will become official.
"Better to be asked why you retired than to be asked why you are not retiring".
Against fate, however, nothing can be done: after less than two months, on January 22, 1959, he loses control of his Jaguar Mk1 and goes off the road, extinguishing himself at the age of 29. Hawthorn, the pilot with the bow tie, leaves leaving a strong regret in the world of motors, given his irreverence, his determination, but above all his class.