1958 Moroccan Grand Prix
: 1958 Moroccan Grand Prix: British All the Way By
After years of frustration, and well past his life-expectancy, Mike Hawthorn would be on the verge of his first World Championship. This was more than likely Hawthorn's last and best hope at a World Championship title. Just one last race, and a fellow Brit, would separate Hawthorn from his World Championship.
Emotionally, Hawthorn was done. The last few seasons had seen Hawthorn fail to experience anywhere near the level of success he had even in his rookie year of 1952. In 1952, with an underpowered Cooper-Bristol Hawthorn would manage to earn three top five results and would stand on the podium once. However, in 1955, while driving for the mighty Scuderia Ferrari and Vandervell Products, Hawthorn wouldn't score a championship point and would inside the top ten three times.
In 1956, after a 3rd place podium finish in the Argentine Grand Prix, the rest of the season would be absolutely frustrating. He would suffer two failures to start at Monaco and the Belgium Grand Prix and would share a 10th result. The 4 points would be it for the season and Hawthorn would finish 12th in the standings.
The 1957 season would see a dramatic improvement. He would stand on the podium twice and would score three top five results to finish 4th in the standings with 13 points. Still, Hawthorn and Scuderia Ferrari seemed a long way from being champions.
And if the poor results wouldn't drain Hawthorn, then the death toll would. The great Alberto Ascari would be Hawthorn's teammate at Ferrari and would pass away in 1955. Hawthorn's protégé, Don Beauman, would die in the Leinster Trophy race also in 1955. Of course there was the tragic death of Pierre Levegh and the multitude of spectators at the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans. But then drivers like Onofre Marimon, Charles de Tornaco and Louis Rosier would all pass away in accidents during the span of Hawthorn's career.
Accidents and deaths seemed to be very much a part of grand prix racing during the 1950s. And while they would certainly affect drivers they would compartmentalize it all and would continue to go racing. But for Hawthorn, the 1958 season would be too much and he wouldn't be able to compartmentalize things for very much longer.
In all, four drivers would perish in the World Championship during the 1958 season. Pat O'Connor would be the first to die as part of the World Championship. He would die during the Indianapolis 500, which still counted toward the World Championship at that time. But then, at the French Grand Prix, Hawthorn's Ferrari teammate, Luigi Musso, would die in an accident. Hawthorn would seem to put Musso's death behind himself but wouldn't be able to hide from the emotions over the next death.
Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins were good friends. The two would be seen together away from the circuits partying and enjoying life. In 1958, the two friends were teammates and great teammates. However, just two weeks after winning the British Grand Prix, Peter Collins would die in an accident at the infamous Nurburgring during the German Grand Prix. This would absolutely gut Hawthorn.
The deaths and the poor results were taking too much out of Hawthorn. But internally, Hawthorn had already out-lived his expected lifespan. In 1954, Hawthorn would be diagnosed with a rare kidney disease. He already had lost one of his kidneys, and the last one had already outlived many of the doctors' predictions. So this was very likely Hawthorn's last season. In fact, because of all the deaths and his own health issues, he was certain it would be his last season.
And that meant the Moroccan Grand Prix would be his last Formula One World Championship event. And finally, after a number of years, he was on the verge of the championship.
The 1958 season would be an absolute turn-around season. It would start out with Hawthorn standing on the podium along with Stirling Moss and Luigi Musso. Hawthorn had started on the front row alongside Juan Manuel Fangio in one of his last races. The two memorable players from the 1953 French Grand Prix would finish in the same order, with Hawthorn beating Fangio, but this result would not be for the victory and 2nd place. It would see the two fight it out for the lead for a short period of time.
Then, after an early retirement in the Grand Prix of Monaco and a 5th at the Netherlands Grand Prix, Hawthorn would go on a very important run. Over the course of the next six races, Hawthorn would score one win, four 2nd places results and one retirement. And after leaving the Italian Grand Prix scoring yet another 2nd place result, Hawthorn would be heading into the final round of the World Championship with an 8 point margin over Stirling Moss in the championship standings.
The eleventh, and final, round of the 1958 Formula One World Championship would be a brand new race in a brand new country. In October, Hawthorn and the rest of the Scuderia Ferrari would be across the Mediterranean from Europe. They would be in Casablanca for the Grand Prix du Maroc set to take place on the 19th of October.
Known as 'The Farthest West' throughout history, Morocco had been the possession of numerous nations and cultures over the years. Originally a Berber kingdom, the area of current Morocco would come under the rule of the Roman Empire and would represent the western edge of the empire. Later, the area would come to be ruled by Spain and France. It wouldn't be until the 20th century (1956), that Morocco would gain its independence from France and Spain becoming the 'Kingdom of Morocco'.
During World War II, Morocco would be the landing site of the first American troops to fight in the African and European theaters of war. And despite becoming its own independent kingdom, Morocco would be one of the few Islamic nations with an obviously western influence. Mohammed V would become king of Morocco after returning from exile during the days of World War II. He had been the Sultan during the years of French and Spanish protectorate. His son, Hassan II would become king in 1961 and would earn a law degree from the University of Bordeaux. Therefore, Morocco would be much more democratically minded and would remain quite open to the Western world. And this would be never better demonstrated than by welcoming the best teams and drivers in the world to Casablanca and the wonderful coastline for a Formula One World Championship race.
Being that it was Morocco in October it was very likely the weather would be near perfect for the weekend of the race. And as the cars headed out for practice the skies would be clear, the weather warm and the sun shinning brightly. And in qualifying, no one shone brighter than Mike Hawthorn in the 246 F1.
In spite of heavy pressure by Stirling Moss in the Vanwall, Hawthorn would be the quickest around the 4.72 mile circuit. His best time of 2:23.1 would be just a tenth of a second faster than Moss but it would be good enough to give Hawthorn the pole with an average speed of 118.8 mph. But Mike would end up feeling all alone by the end of qualifying as newcomer Stuart Lewis-Evans would make it two Vanwalls on the front row. In all, twenty-five cars would qualify for the race, but all eyes would be clearly focused on just two young British drivers.
The two championship contenders would be side-by-side on the front row. The incredibly large crowd assembled for the first-ever Moroccan Grand Prix would not have to shift and peer down through the starting grid for the two major players were right there at the front for everyone to see.
Time, for Hawthorn, was running out. It was just about time for the start of what would be the final race of the season and likely his career. Criticized for his inconsistency and seemingly lack of interest at times, Hawthorn would either come away the hero or would continue to be this larger than life character than never achieved the pinnacle.
And there were real concerns about which Hawthorn would show up. There had been races where it seemed like he just went through the motions and just never seemed up to driving on the limit at every moment like an Ascari or Fangio. However, in those moments that Hawthorn had shown a resolve, a determination and a will to go racing, he had proven, against drivers like Fangio no less, that he was more than equal to the task. And aided by the brilliant shining sun and the dark visor he would use to protect his eyes during the Moroccan Grand Prix, it certainly seemed evident Hawthorn was ready to give it his all one last time. Just weeks earlier his championship hopes had been thrown a lifeline and he was going to take full advantage of it for it finally seemed his moment had come; Providence had finally smiled upon him.
In the Portuguese Grand Prix, on the 24th of August, Moss would take the checkered flag to keep his championship hopes alive, but in a very sporting move to his fellow countryman, Mike Hawthorn, he would help to keep his championship hopes alive as well.
The Portuguese Grand Prix would be held on the Boavista street circuit. The circuit had just about every kind of imaginable variable to make the racing interesting but difficult. The circuit would have tramlines and cobbled pavement which, in the wet, would make the circuit absolutely treacherous and difficult to drive.
Hawthorn and Moss would battle it out during the early part of the race. However, Hawthorn would lose control on the wet pavement and would have to try and reverse his direction in order to rejoin the race. The manner in which he would do this would be highly questionable and the stewards were prepared to disqualify him for travelling the wrong direction outside of on the track surface itself. This was very dangerous and a very way in which one would become disqualified. However, Moss would come to Hawthorn's aid and would eventually convince the stewards to forget about the disqualification.
Had he been disqualified, Hawthorn would have lost out on seven points. Coming into the Moroccan Grand Prix, Hawthorn led in the championship standings by eight. Moss' gesture would keep the battle for the championship from being even tighter than what it already was.
As the cars were rolled out to their grid positions for the start of the 53 lap, 250 mile, race Hawthorn's objectives were very obvious, but they would not necessarily be easy. And as the field roared away at the start of the race, it would be very clear it would be a fight all the way.
Newly-crowned King Mohammed V would be on hand to watch the race. He and the rest of the immense crowd of spectators would soon hear the engines become a roar and the cars hurtled forward to get the first lap of the race underway. Moss had a lot of work to do and would waste no time in trying to get them done. He would take the lead of the race right at the start. Phil Hill would also make a great start and would supplant Hawthorn for 2nd. Hawthorn didn't need to challenge for the lead and would get away well but would be intent on holding position in 3rd. In 3rd the championship would be his. Any lower and Moss would have a shot.
Hill would be all over Moss throughout the early stages of the race but Moss' determination to give himself the best possible shot at the championship would give him an incredible resolve that Hill could not overcome. In fact, Hill would try too hard and would end up spinning off the circuit. This would drop him behind Hawthorn and Jo Bonnier.
Hill's role in all this was simple. His aim was to challenge for the lead in order to help ensure his Ferrari teammate would win the championship. Therefore, after Hill caught and passed Bonnier, Hawthorn would then let him through to go back after Moss. Moss had a teammate as well. And Tony Brooks would be keen on helping Moss. Despite starting 7th, Brooks would soon pass Bonnier himself and would also challenge Hawthorn for 3rd. When Brooks got by, Hawthorn's championship hopes were in severe jeopardy. And when Moss set what would be the fastest lap of the race (something he needed to do in order to win the championship), Hawthorn was really in trouble.
Things were looking incredibly good for Moss. Hill wasn't making any ground on him and Brooks remained in 3rd place ahead of Hawthorn. If everything stayed as it was, Moss, not Hawthorn, would win the title. But on the 30th lap of the race, Providence would see fit to reverse fortunes.
Brooks was running extremely well in 3rd place. Keeping Hawthorn behind, Moss seemed on course for the title. But on the 30th lap of the race, with just 23 left to go, Brooks' engine would blow. Moss' aid was out, and Hawthorn was now in 3rd. Moss was running well clear of the rest of the field, but the two Ferraris were running in lock-step together in 2nd and 3rd. And with Brooks out of the race, Hawthorn had a comfortable margin over Bonnier, so he could settle his pace down and just concentrate on not making any mistakes throughout the remainder of the race. But a mistake on the 41st lap of the race would neutralize any celebrations and good feelings after the race.
Stuart Lewis-Evans' gearbox would totally seize in his Vanwall. As a result, the car would immediately go into a spin and would end up striking a tree. The impact would split the fuel tank and the fuel would ignite from the hot exhaust pipes. Lewis-Evans would manage to extricate himself but was covered in flames. Unable to see, he would run in the opposite direction, away from the workers trying to help him. Tragically, the burns, which would cover more than two-thirds of his body would take his life six days later.
Amidst the horror of yet a fourth grand prix driver to die during the season, the final race continued. Lap after lap Moss continued to press on in hopes that Hawthorn would have a mechanical problem. But it would not happen.
Moss would complete the race in two hours, nine minutes and fifteen seconds and would take the win. And with the fastest lap of the race also in the bag, Moss would put Hawthorn in a tough spot. Hawthorn couldn't just sit still in 3rd, or else, there would have been a tie in the points. Hawthorn needed 2nd place to ensure the championship would be his. There would be a long pause. Then, a minute and twenty-four seconds later, the answer would become clear. It wasn't Hill but Hawthorn that was going to finish in 2nd place. Hill, unable to make any ground on Moss would let his teammate through into 2nd place in order for there to be absolutely no doubt as to who would win the World Championship.
Hawthorn had finally done it! In the last moments of a life already passed due he had mustered one more great season and finally had earned himself the World Championship. Like his life, the championship, to many, was past due for Hawthorn, but he wouldn't mind when it did finally come around.
Hawthorn recognized he had been living on borrowed time. And with everything being fulfilled, at the age of just 29, he would send Enzo Ferrari a letter telling the man he was retiring. Ferrari would receive the letter just a week after the race. Amazingly, just about three months later Hawthorn's time would run out on a wet road outside of Guildford, England.
Prior to 1958, Stirling Moss had finished 2nd in the World Championship standings three straight years. The 1958 runner-up result would make it four-straight. And while Moss would seem to be the best of Britain's grand prix talent, he would challenge Hawthorn the race. And ailing health, emotional overload and all, it would be Hawthorn that would have the honor of carrying the nation's colors.