His father owned a garage that specialised in top end sports cars, so Hawthorn’s career as a driver was almost a natural consequence. He made his world championship debut in 1952, in a Cooper T20 run by his own private team, and at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone he drove it to an excellent third place behind the dominant Ferraris of Alberto Ascari and Piero Taruffi. That didn’t escape the attention of Enzo Ferrari, who signed Mike for 1953. The English won the French Grand Prix at Reims by fending off Juan Manuel Fangio in a Mercedes, but Fangio (who had begun the season in a Maserati) would go on to win the title that year. Hawthorn stayed at Ferrari in 1954, claiming a grand prix win in Portugal and third place in the championship.
The 1955 season was a pivotal one for the Englishman: not so much because of F1 (he raced for Vanwall and Ferrari but ended up with zero points) but because of the Le Mans tragedy that year. A sudden move from Hawthorn in his Jaguar provoked the chain of events that led to Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes somersaulting in flames into the grandstand on the pit straight, causing the deadliest accident in motorsport history. A total of 83 spectators perished, along with Levegh himself. Mike won the race, but would become embroiled in controversy and recriminations afterwards, nonetheless completing that year’s Formula 1 season. The following year, 1956, was similarly lacking in results: Mike raced in just five grands prix, failing to qualify twice and scoring only four points.
But Ferrari kept faith with Hawthorn and called him back for 1957. Experience had made him a faster yet more mature driver. His team mates at Maranello were Luigi Musso and Peter Collins. In his fellow Englishman he found a kindred spirit, and the two even holidayed together, cementing a friendship so close that they even shared prize money. In effect, this meant that they formed a powerful alliance whose principal rival was their team mate Musso.