Paul Hawkins in a Ford GT40, Creative Commons

Watching modern races often reminds me of things that happened in Grands Prix of previous decades, and this year’s Monaco event made me remember an event that happened in 1965. I wasn’t there, but one of my favourite drivers was, driving in what was to be his last but one Grand Prix. Or his second, if you’re a glass-half-full kind of person, because Paul Hawkins only ever drove in three World Championship F1 races.

He never scored a point, and never drove for a works team, but I used to think he was great. This was in the days before pretty much every kind of motorsport was televised, but conversely, the support events for Formula 1 races were significantly more interesting than they are today. At least to my mind. GP2 is interesting of course, but it’s a one make series, and as a young boy, variety was what made things interesting to me. And one of the most interesting support race at a Grand Prix, or, can you imagine this, a non-championship F1 race, was the Sports Car race.

“Big Bangers” were what we called them then, and a Lola T70 with a five litre Chevrolet engine was pretty typical on the grid. Perhaps the closed-bodied Mk3, or an earlier Spyder, as made famous by John Surtees. They’d be racing against V12 Ferraris, Ford GT40s, Porsche 906s and a few Lotus 47s – modified Lotus Europas with 1600cc engines: the Davids amongst the Goliaths. A fantastic sight and sound, drifting through the old Woodcote or Stowe corners.

Paul Hawkins ran a Lola T70 Mk3, and he was the first driver ever to win races with one, in the South-African Springbok Series. He won three races there,  the Cape Town three hour race being the first of them. Support races tended to be shorter of course, maybe 20 laps at Silverstone, and about half of the cars would break. We simply take reliability for granted now; failure is the exception rather than the rule.

I’ve no idea why Paul was one of my heroes. He was kind enough to give me his autograph one day, which always impresses, and I remember being very sad when I heard he’d been killed at Oulton Park, his car catching fire after crashing at Island Bend. That was in 1969.

I remembered that the first time I drove the full circuit, around 1996, which actually was a bit naughty of me. We were racing on the Island circuit, which shortens the full circuit with a loop created by a hairpin after Cascades. I’d had a spin earlier in the race and was well out of contention, so on the last lap I intentionally missed my braking point and “had to” carry on along the full circuit, slowly of course – there were no marshals.

When I got to Island I realised just what a corner it is. You couldn’t get there as a spectator. Until that moment it had been Druids (not the Brands Hatch one) that had made me tense the most. But a fast left hander with no run off? You can see it must have been dangerous. Finally getting to drive round the banked Esso (I still can’t call it Shell) hairpin was something I’d always wanted to do as well, but then driving past Knickerbrook (where Paul Warwick tragically lost his life) reminded me why the chicanes were added to the circuit.

A few years later, when we were running a Formula Renault team, the young Formula Ford driver Neil Shanahan lost his life between Knickerbrook and Druids. Tragic, again. But Oulton is still my favourite circuit, and I relished the chance to drive the full circuit. Island? Well, it’s flat in an FF2000 car. But not the first time, nor the second. In fact I had to trick my foot into not lifting: my brain said “flat”, my foot said “don’t be stupid”. So I took Cascades slower, thus arriving at Island at reduced speed, and my foot was happy not to lift. When I finally took Cascades properly, and Island flat, it was exhilerating, but I knew great drivers did not have to resort to such tricks. They just know.

I’m sure Paul Hawkins knew when a corner was flat, but something obviously went wrong at Island that day, just as it did at Monaco in 1965. That was when he became, hopefully, the last driver to put an F1 car into Monaco harbour, swimming back to safety in his overalls. Racing has changed a lot since then, and that’s a good thing.