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Glory years: Hawthorn-Hamilton

2013-07-05 08:55

BRITISH HEROES: Two ends of six decades - Mike Hawthorn (from the cover of his book) to Lewis Hamilton, now driving for Mercedes, in 2013. Image: Wheels24


LONDON, England - If Lewis Hamilton celebrates his first win with Mercedes in Germany this weekend it will be a fitting way to mark 60 years of British success in Formula 1.

On July 1953 Mike Hawthorn triumphed at Reims in France after a 60-lap thriller of a road-race with the great Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio to become the first British driver to win a World championship GP.

Only a second separated the two after 498km of racing on public roads, Hawthorn's Ferrari and Fangio's Maserati trading the lead lap after lap in what has gone down as F1's "Race of the Century".


Hawthorn, blond and dashing, became Britain's first World champion in 1958 before retiring that year at 29. He died some months later when his Jaguar smashed into a tree.

His win that July day six decades ago was the first of 226 wins for British drivers to date (July 2013). It marked the start of the end of a post-Second World War Italo-Argentine domination of the sport and the beginning of an era of pre-eminence for British drivers and designers.

Hamilton, 2008 World champion with McLaren and winner at the Nurburgring the last time it hosted a race (2011), is the man most likely to add to the tally this year as the only one of four British drivers with a winning car.

With two British World champions still on the grid (the other is Jenson Button) the present generation of F1 fans may take their country's presence on the podium somewhat for granted but it was not always so. Before Reims, every championship GP since the first at Silverstone in 1950 - excluding Indianapolis, which formed part of the calendar - had been won by an Italian or Argentine.


Until 1955, when Frenchman Maurice Trintignant won in Monaco and Stirling Moss was triumphant in his home British GP, Hawthorn remained the only driver outside of Argentina and Italy to stand on top of the podium. By the early 1960's the situation had changed so radically that from July 1962 to June 1964 every F1 championship GP was won by a British driver - a run of 18.

In 1965 the top five drivers in that year's British GP were from the host nation. No Italian has won the World championship since Alberto Ascari in 1953, no Argentine since Fangio's last in 1957.

British drivers have won races in all but nine seasons since 1955; the most recent blank was in 2005.

Triple champion Jackie Stewart has warned that the country which has provided F1 with more drivers than any other nation could not afford to be complacent. Eight of the 11 teams are based in Britain but nearly all are foreign-owned now. Even former champion Williams, the most British of all, is quoted on the Frankfurt stock exchange.


Stewart told Reuters: "We in Britain have a good history of developing really top talent - it's one of our biggest boasts - but the sport has not been as recognised for that as I believe it should have been, particularly governmentally.

"A whole lot of other people get sponsorship... motorsport doesn't. So we could have more British talent up there and be able to develop the people like (designers) Patrick Head and Adrian Newey and all the others who have come through."


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