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Hawthorn to Hamilton: 60 years of British success

If Lewis Hamilton celebrates his first win with Mercedes in Germany this weekend it would be a fitting way to mark 60 years of British success in Formula One.

india Updated: Jul 04, 2013 22:29 IST

If Lewis Hamilton celebrates his first win with Mercedes in Germany this weekend it would be a fitting way to mark 60 years of British success in Formula One.

On July 5, 1953, Mike Hawthorn triumphed at Reims in France after a 60-lap thriller with the great Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio to become the first British driver to win a world championship grand prix.

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

Blond and dashing, Hawthorn became Britain's first world champion in 1958 before retiring that year at the age of 29. He was killed in a road accident months later when his Jaguar smashed into a tree.

His win that July day was the first of 226 wins for British drivers to date. It marked the start of the end of a postwar Italo-Argentine domination of the sport and the beginning of an era of pre-eminence for British drivers and designers.

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

With two British world champions still on the grid, the other being Jenson Button, the present generation of Formula One fans may take their country's presence on the podium somewhat for granted but it was not ever thus.

Before Reims, every single championship grand prix since the first at Silverstone in 1950 - excluding Indianapolis which formed part of the calendar - had been won by an Italian or Argentine.

British sweep

Until 1955, when Frenchman Maurice Trintignant won in Monaco and Stirling Moss was triumphant in his home British Grand Prix, Hawthorn remained the only driver outside Argentina and Italy to stand on top of the podium.

By the early 1960s the situation had changed so radically that from July 1962 to June 1964 every Formula One championship grand prix was won by a British driver - a run of 18.

In 1965, the top five drivers in that year's British Grand Prix 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 with the most recent blank coming in 2005.

Triple champion Jackie Stewart has warned that the country which has provided Formula One 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 have foreign owners now. Even former champions Williams, the most British of all, are quoted on the Frankfurt exchange.

"We in Britain have a a good history of developing really top talent and it's one of our biggest boasts," Stewart told Reuters.

"But the sport has not been as fully recognised for that as I believe it should have been, particularly governmentally.

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

First Published: Jul 04, 2013 22:28 IST