The second-place finish in the 1951 International Trophy was no surprise as José Froilán González, the man who scored Ferrari's first win in the Formula 1 world championship, described Hamilton as “the world’s fastest wet weather driver”. The pair went head to head in the 1954 Le Mans 24 Hours and during the closing stages, the heavens opened. Hamilton more than halved the gap to the leading Ferrari 375 of González and Maurice Trintignant. It was only with the track drying that the Argentinian managed to pull away again and win the race by a single lap.
He knocked himself out aged two after crashing down 38 steps in his pram, he also crashed a master’s car through a wall at school and suffered a bird strike during his drive to victory at Le Mans in 1953. Calamity seemed to follow Hamilton, but he thankfully survived a terrible crash later that year at the Portuguese Grand Prix. Leading into the first corner, he hit an electricity pylon – which cut off the power supply to Oporto for several hours – and after being thrown from the car, he ended up in a tree, hanging there for some time before falling down and nearly being run over by another car. He survived that, and latterly, the embarrassment of being caught speeding on the way to participating in a TV programme about road safety.
The bird strike on the Mulsanne Straight perhaps could have been worse – both Hamilton and team-mate Rolt were initially disqualified from the race for practising in a car with the same number as another. Reinstated, the pair was found in a local bar. Jaguar Team Manger Lofty England didn’t realise quite how much they had imbibed. “Of course I would never have let them race under the influence,” Lofty said afterwards. “I had enough trouble when they were sober!” The team tried to ply Hamilton with coffee during pit stops, but he refused it – it made his arms twitch – and had brandy instead.
After retiring in 1959, he concentrated on sailing and expanding his car dealership – now called Duncan Hamilton ROFGO, which has been run by his son Adrian for the past 45 years. “I am fiercely proud of all he achieved and am sure I won’t be alone in raising a glass to him on April 30th, the centenary of his birth,” he said.
Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.