Profile: Don Beauman

Nationality British
Date of Birth 26th July 1928
Date of Death 9th July 1955
Car Connaught (1954)
Races Entered 1
Races Started 1
Best Result 11th (GB 1954)

Before Formula One

In the world of motorsport, 1955 was a year disproportionately fraught with tragedy. At Le Mans, Pierre Levegh and over 80 spectators were killed in a violent accident on the pit straight. In Indianapolis, race leader Bill Vukovich was killed instantly when his car somersaulted and burst into flames while lapping slower cars. World champion driver Alberto Ascari lost his life in a testing accident at Monza. In Ireland alone there were fatal accidents at two venues; three drivers were killed in separate accidents at the Tourist Trophy in Dundrod, bringing an end to car racing on the circuit, while highly promising 26-year-old English driver Don Beauman was killed at Wicklow.

Donald Bentley Beauman was born in Farnborough, Hampshire. With a middle name like Bentley, it would come as no surprise that the shy young Donald, or “Don” as he would be more commonly known, would develop a strong interest in driving cars at speeds considered discomforting to the faint-hearted. He was born into a military family; his father was Archibald Bentley Beauman, a decorated army officer and Great War veteran who would rise to the rank of Brigadier General just before the outbreak of the Second World War, and would lead the synonymous Beauman Division during the Battle of France, the only example of a British division being named after its commander since the Napoleonic era. His uncle was Eric Bentley Beauman, a pilot of the Royal Naval Flying Service and its successor the RAF, also a keen mountaineer. His aunt – Eric’s wife – was Katherine Bentley Beauman, who served in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and even wrote a book about her experiences entitled Wings on her Shoulders.

Despite all this, a military career would not beckon for young Don. After his coming of age he ran a hotel in Bayswater, London, and with his funds purchased a 500cc Cooper-JAP Formula 3 car in 1950, a popular choice among aspiring single seater racers of the post-war period. Beauman would race this car for the next two years, scoring a number of podiums, including a 2nd place behind none other than Bernie Ecclestone, who was driving a newer Cooper Mark V in the Junior Championship race at Brands Hatch on the 8th April 1951. His first win came in the April Handicap race at the same track two weeks later after a fierce battle with Harold Daniell. Don would also end the year having scored a single point in the first ever British Formula Three Championship, which put him in a shared 22nd place with Basil de Lissa. The following year he would finish runner-up to Charles Headland in the Irish 500cc Championship, which actually consisted of a single race at Newtownards Airfield in County Down!

1953 saw Beauman make the step up into sports cars by way of the purchase of a Riley TT Sprite from the up and coming works Ferrari driver Mike Hawthorn. The two were great friends, with Hawthorn treating Beauman as his protégé, advising him on his racing and also having his cars prepared at the Hawthorn family’s Tourist Trophy Garage in Farnham. Beauman formed the Cornhill Racing Team with John Riseley-Prichard and success came immediately in the form of a win at the first BARC meeting of the year at Goodwood. More wins at Ibsley and Thruxton followed, as well as an impressive showing in his first foreign race in the Leinster Trophy on the 8.34-mile Wicklow Circuit in Ireland. There was great interest surrounding his entry, as Hawthorn had won that very race two years previously in the same Riley Beauman was now driving. He held on in torrential conditions to take 3rd place by a mere second from the charging Bobbie Baird’s Ferrari 225S.

Don prepares the Riley (16) for the 1953 Leinster Trophy with Mike Hawthorn’s chief mechanic Brit Pearce.

Don prepares the Riley (16) for the 1953 Leinster Trophy with Mike Hawthorn’s chief mechanic Brit Pearce.

A month later, Beauman would make his continental début and it was to be a challenging one, as the venue was no lesser track than the daunting Nürburgring and the race itself no lesser challenge than the world-famous 1000 km endurance race that now formed part of the inaugural World Sportscar Championship calendar. Beauman was entered to drive Mike Currie’s Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica. Problems arose when scrutineers refused to let the car take the start if aluminium shields were not fitted to join the car’s cycle wings to the body. In stepped Mike Hawthorn, who had been entered to drive a Ferrari 375MM with Giuseppe Farina before an engine failure in practice for the car of his teammates Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi saw the team make the decision to take the engine from the Hawthorn/Farina car and put it in the other one. Ascari and Farina were nominated to drive the sole remaining Maranello entry and so Hawthorn was left to spectate. He offered to complete the work required to allow the Frazer Nash to race and he spent the whole night preparing the car with Brit Pearce, his chief mechanic. Soon after dawn, it was ready to take the 7:30 am start. The Frazer Nash easily led in its class and looked set to finish 4th in the general classification when Beauman failed to appear on the start-finish straight in the dying stages. Hawthorn recalls:

“[Roy] Salvadori told me the car was stopped at the roadside somewhere past the Karussel turn. We had an Aston Martin ready on the public roads inside the circuit, so Mike Currie, Pearce, Bob Chase and I got in and tore round to find Don sitting there disconsolately drinking a glass of water. He said the A-bracket locating the rear axle had broken, but I practically knocked the glass out of his hand and told him to get in and keep going.”

And keep going he did. The 4th place was a lost cause, but Beauman kept the damaged car running to take victory in the 2-litre production class a good eight minutes ahead of future FIA president Paul Metternich’s Porsche. It would prove a bittersweet success though, for when Beauman was driving back to England in his Lancia Aprilia, with Pearce and Currie following in the victorious Frazer Nash, they encountered the scene of an accident soon after crossing the Belgian border. Two of the people involved had perished but one was still alive, so Currie got into the Frazer Nash and rushed back to the border post to call for a doctor. The doctor arrived soon afterwards, but there was no sign of Currie, so Beauman and Pearce returned to the border to look for him and found the Frazer Nash had hit an unlit barrier. Mike Currie was dead.


Don driving the Riley at Crystal Palace in September

Beauman’s 1953 sports car successes attracted the attention of the wealthy Sir Jeremy Boles. Boles was a younger man who grew up a short distance away from where the Silverstone Circuit now stands. He was sixteen years old when the former airfield hosted Britain’s first major post-war race, the RAC Grand Prix of 1948, and it was this race that likely sparked the then-teenager’s passion for motor racing. In 1954 Sir Jeremy, now in his early twenties, was making plans to set up his own privateer racing effort and Beauman was to be his star driver. The partnership didn’t exactly get off to a rocketing start though; Beauman was entered in Boles’ Aston Martin DB3 at the British Empire Trophy at Oulton Park; he would start only 15th and suffer a brake failure.

Around the same time as this rather uninspiring début, Boles decided he wanted to steer the team towards Formula 1. The Aston Martin was naturally ill-suited to F1, not to mention illegal under the regulations, so it was necessary for Sir Jeremy to acquire a motor car that was more up to the task. He bought a Formula 2 Connaught A-Type, its 2-litre Lea-Francis engine uncompetitive when the world championship was run to F2 regulations, never mind now with the new 2.5-litre F1. However, not everyone in England could afford a new Ferrari or Maserati anyway – in fact, very few could, so most of the competition would be driving similarly competitive Connaughts and Coopers, meaning that as long as Boles’ 25-year-old driver was a cut above decent, he wouldn’t be struggling at the back end of the field wherever he raced.

Formula One

Don’s first race behind the wheel of the Connaught happened to be the biggest non-championship F1 meeting in Britain; the BRDC International Trophy at Silverstone. This regularly attracted the big names not just from Great Britain, but also from the continent as well. To make matters more difficult, typically British weather was forecast for the event, as it rained rather heavily. Among the entrants were Tony Vandervell’s Ferrari-based F2 Special, other Connaughts entered by the likes of Rob Walker and Ecurie Ecosse, as well as works representation from HWM, Gordini, Ferrari and Maserati. The usual format for the International Trophy was that entrants would be drawn into two separate 15-lap heats, the grid for each decided by practice times, with a final 35-lap heat where grid positions were decided from the combined results of the earlier heats. Beauman qualified 7th of 14 runners in the first heat, his 1:56 lap time matching those of fellow Connaught drivers Tony Rolt and Leslie Marr, the F1 Ferrari of Umberto Maglioli and the Maserati of Prince Bira of Thailand. Most of the field struggled in the difficult conditions, even Beauman, who immediately lost ground to Bira and Louis Rosier at the start, but, credit where it’s due, Don kept the car on the road to finish 9th. The second heat was held in more favourable conditions and as such most of the drivers would complete it in less time than the rain-soaked first heat. Bad news for Beauman, then, as he would have to start the final heat from 17th on the grid. This was where Don’s talent began to show, as he disposed of many of his fellow F2 runners and even managed to pass Roy Salvadori’s Maserati 250F to complete the race in 9th, two laps down on race winner José Froilán González’s Ferrari.

What followed next for the Beauman-Boles partnership was a trip to Belgium for the Grand Prix des Frontières at the challenging 10.4 km Chimay Circuit near the French border, a regular fixture of the racing calendar held to varying single seater regulations over the years. For the 1954 edition, it would be F1. A small field of twelve would form the grid, as many of the more regular Grand Prix entrants were competing in Rome on the same day. Beauman still faced some tough opposition, not least of which were Prince Bira’s Maserati A6GCM and the Gordini T16s of André Pilette and Jacques Pollet. A 4:10 in practice gave Beauman 3rd place and a spot on the front row in the race though. More amazingly, Don was able to keep up with the leading F1 cars in the early stages before inevitably dropping back due to the disadvantages of having a less powerful engine than the frontrunners on such a fast circuit. He would end up finishing the race in 3rd, first of the F2 cars by two whole laps from local veteran Arthur Legat, a two-time winner of the race back in the 1930s. Unfortunately it came under tragic circumstances; Pilette had spun in front of Pollet, who swerved to avoid him. This sent the Frenchman into a crowd of spectators, two of whom would be killed from being hit by the Gordini.

The very next day Don was back in England racing in the Whit-Monday Meeting at Brands Hatch, the first such meeting on the circuit where a race was held to Formula Libre regulations. Here he went one better than he did in Chimay by finishing 2nd after leading most of the 30-lap race, only to lose it three laps from the end when Bill Whitehouse in a similar A-Type Connaught got past, this after the two had been in a duel the Motor Sport Magazine report described as “being fought out in the highest standards of motor racing.”

Yet more success would come in the Crystal Palace Trophy two weeks later at the eponymous south London circuit. It was run in a similar format to the International Trophy, the only difference being that the final heat would be the same length as the previous two, at ten laps. Beauman was in the second heat this time and had pole position. Fellow front-row qualifier Rodney Nuckey was quicker off the line though, and would win the heat by four seconds from the Connaught. Starting 5th for the final, Beauman would slot himself into 3rd behind Reg Parnell’s Ferrari 625 and Peter Collins’ Connaught, and that was exactly how the race would finish.


Don leads Bill Whitehouse in the Crystal Palace Trophy

Beauman finally took his first win in the Connaught in the Chester Trophy, a Formula Libre event at Oulton Park that consisted of two 12-lap races, both of which he won comfortably. This was followed by the biggest race of Don Beauman’s short career thus far, the 1954 British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Being a world championship race, the challenges Beauman faced at the same track two months earlier in the International Trophy were multiplied, with Ferrari, Maserati, Gordini and the returning Mercedes all sending their full works outfits, with the usual assortment of privateers bringing the mixture of F1 and F2 cars in the field up to a total of 32. A top ten finish, never mind points, seemed out of the question. To exacerbate matters further, it would be raining again.
Beauman put the Connaught 17th on the grid, which made him the fastest F2 driver. The race was dry at the start, but with grey skies looming it was a matter of when, not if, it would rain. Long-time veteran Bob Gerard in his Cooper-Bristol got ahead of Beauman at the start, but the two remained close in the early stages of the race, pulling away from the other F2 runners. The race did indeed turn out similarly to the International Trophy, with González, a previous British GP winner, taking his second and final world championship victory with a comfortable lead over his teammate Mike Hawthorn in the rain. A high attrition rate allowed Beauman to climb up the order to finish 11th, 2nd of the F2 entries, as he failed to get past Gerard, but he had once again proved that he could run a clean race and with speed, finishing literally miles ahead of the remainder of the F2 field.


Don sits in the Connaught in preparation for his world championship début

Moving into August, the month began with the August Bank Holiday Meeting at Brands Hatch. Like the Whit-Monday race, it was a Formula Libre event and Bill Whitehouse would once again prove to be stiff opposition. It was a two-heat event, with the final results determined from the aggregate times of both. Beauman led Whitehouse home in the first heat, while the order was reversed in the second. Whitehouse won on aggregate, but Beauman walked away with the track record at 1:00.6 (it’s worth pointing out here that the modern Grand Prix circuit did not exist at the time, and instead only what we now call the Indy circuit existed!).

Next stop for Donald and Sir Jeremy was the International Gold Cup at Oulton Park. The field was a similar mixed bag to Silverstone, albeit downsized to 21 cars, with most of the works teams not showing. Starting 7th on the grid, Beauman was chasing Roy Salvadori’s Maserati when the latter left the circuit and hit a tree due to a sticking throttle, luckily escaping serious injury. Once again, Beauman ended the race behind Bob Gerard’s Cooper, this time in 4th place.

Boles, deeply impressed with Beauman’s run of finishes, thought now was a good time to purchase a proper Formula 1 car. He looked into buying a Ferrari 625, while John Riseley-Prichard would be hired to take over the Connaught, but Enzo was not an easy man to do business with and the deal fell through. They arrived at their next race, the RedeX Trophy at Snetterton, still armed with the Connaught. Even without the Ferrari, Don was able to fight for big results, as he struggled against Horace Gould to hold down 3rd place and succeeded. Once again, Gerard was ahead of him in 2nd place. This Gerard-Beauman-Gould result would be repeated a month later in the London Trophy at Crystal Palace, though this time they were 1-2-3 in the event.

In September, Don went back over to Ireland to race in the RAC Tourist Trophy at Dundrod. Pierce Cahill had failed to arrive to compete in Redmond Gallagher’s Gordini T15S, while Tom Lord was injured driving the same car, so Gallagher himself took over and got Beauman to drive with him. Together they would win in the S1.5 class.

The Madgwick Cup at Goodwood in October was a race exclusively for F2 cars, so Beauman was among the favourites to win. He qualified 2nd behind, you guessed it, Bob Gerard, and, as with their previous sparring matches, the two had their own private battle and once again there was no overcoming the Cooper-Bristol; they finished 1-2, separated by a little over three seconds. The Goodwood Trophy that same day was the usual F1/F2 affair, and Beauman rocketed off the line from 13th on the grid to resume his battle with Gerard, who was himself trying to get past Salvadori’s F1 Maserati. Don actually passed the Cooper on lap 14 of the 21-lap race, holding it until the penultimate lap. Salvadori led Gerard and Beauman home in that order, the three taking 3rd, 4th and 5th places.

Rounding off the F1 season was the Daily Telegraph Trophy at Aintree, where Beauman was once again in the top rank of F2 drivers, starting 8th on the grid, but he lost ground at the start to Riseley-Prichard and Gerard. He would spend the race trying not to lose further ground and kept in touch with Riseley-Prichard’s Connaught, with Horace Gould pressuring him in a Cooper-Bristol. Don held on to finish a rather lowly 10th, but it was nonetheless impressive that he had finished every F1 race he’d entered so far, a testament not only to Don’s ability to keep the car on the road, but also to the reliability of the Connaught, especially seeing as his first two races in the Aston Martin DB3 ended in retirement: the brake failure at Oulton Park and an electrical failure in the Supercortemaggiore at Monza.

Two more Formula Libre events would round off 1954: a race at Snetterton one week after Aintree where Don finished 2nd to Roy Salvadori, and a Boxing Day meeting at Brands Hatch organised by the British Racing and Sports Cars Club, where he spent the race hunting down Les Leston and Tony Marsh. Undeterred by a 360-degree spin at Paddock Hill, he caught the two Coopers and passed them to win, the perfect end to a 1954 season that would breed a great sense of optimism for the coming New Year. Boles was still trying to get his hands on a Ferrari for 1955, but there was no joy and Beauman persisted in the tried-and-tested Connaught.


Beauman chases down Tony Marsh’s Cooper-JAP at Brands Hatch

First F1 stop of the year was the Glover Trophy at Goodwood in April, and it showed that some things never change, as Beauman continued to fight his private on-track war with Bob Gerard, the veteran driver still doing battle in a Cooper T23-Bristol and still finishing in front of Beauman, but the gap remained as close as ever. They came across the line in 2nd and 3rd positions, separated by less than four seconds, Roy Salvadori winning easily in his Maserati 250F.

Next up was the International Trophy at Silverstone in May, the same event where Beauman had made his F1 début twelve months earlier. He qualified an exceptional 7th out of 22 starters, making him the fastest F2 driver and also beating a gaggle of F1 cars as well, including Maseratis, the new Vanwalls and even Ken McAlpine, who was running Connaught’s new B-Type F1 design! The miracle continued in the race, as Don managed to work his way up into an incredible 4th before the Connaught, having run almost trouble-free over the previous year, was forced to stop with low oil pressure. None would have guessed it at the time, but it would be the last time Don Beauman ran in an event for Formula One cars.

After Formula One

Beauman was surely on the radar of several top racing teams at this stage of his career and the future outlook for the 26-year-old looked bright. Indeed, he would finally get his big break in June of 1955, as Mike Hawthorn, now driving for the works Jaguar sports car team, had arranged a test for Beauman at Silverstone and Jaguar team manager Lofty England was sufficiently impressed with the results. The prospective line-up for Le Mans would be Mike Hawthorn/Jimmy Stewart, Tony Rolt/Duncan Hamilton and Don Beauman/Desmond Titterington. However, both Stewart and Titterington were injured in the Eifelrennen at the Nürburgring. Titterington would not recover in time for Le Mans and Stewart gave up motor racing altogether. Hawthorn took the opportunity to lobby for Beauman to take Stewart’s place as his co-driver, but Ivor Bueb, who had also tested for Jaguar at Silverstone, now saw an opportunity to get himself on the Le Mans team and made his own case. In the end, Bueb would be partnering Hawthorn, while Beauman would be sharing a car with Jaguar test driver Norman Dewis. They were running a fine 4th when Beauman spun the D-Type and buried it in a sand bank at Arnage at around midnight. He spent several minutes trying to dig the car out. When he finally did and prepared to get going again Colin Chapman arrived at the corner carrying too much speed, and the Jaguar was pushed back into the sand, ending Beauman’s long day.


Baptism of fire for Don, as he spins the Jaguar at White House in practice.

As fate would decide, Beauman’s final race was to be the 1955 Leinster Trophy in Wicklow, where he had finished an excellent 3rd two years earlier. The day on which the race was held, the 9th July, would be the hottest in Wicklow that year, which resulted in a deteriorating road surface. Back behind the wheel of Sir Jeremy Boles’ Connaught, Beauman immediately proved competitive, as he challenged for the lap record in practice. Indeed, he was considered, along with Desmond Titterington and William Smith, one of the pre-race favourites to win.

Smith made an excellent start in his C-Type Jaguar, but Beauman was also quick off the line and eventually got past his fellow Englishman halfway around the lap. At the conclusion of the first lap, Beauman held a lead measuring approximately 75 yards and set what would turn out to be the fastest lap of the race with a 6:02, this from a standing start! He then started to build on the existing gap to Smith before he would have to come in for a fuel stop. But then, halfway around his second lap, Beauman spun on melting tarmac as he overtook George Nixon’s Lotus on the fast and undulating stretch between the Beehive and Ballinabarney Gap. Nixon swerved his car in an attempt to avoid the Connaught and ended up getting collected by Smith, who continued with damage.

Beauman was not so lucky, however. The Connaught somersaulted and hit a tree, both set ablaze. Beauman was thrown out and suffered a fractured skull; he died before reaching the hospital. The charred remains of the car were taken first to Coleburn & Hopkins Garage in Wicklow town, where the Gardaí conducted their investigation into the crash – finally declaring it to be an accident – before being returned to Mike Hawthorn’s Tourist Trophy Garage back in England, where it was stripped for parts and placed in the foundation excavation for a new showroom that was being built there. The remains are still there to this day. Hawthorn, who was in Wicklow to watch his friend race on that fateful day in 1955, wrote the following on him in his autobiography Challenge Me the Race:

“He was progressing well and was sometimes brilliant, but occasionally he made mistakes, for no obvious reason, which I think was more a flaw of temperament than of driving ability.”

Autosport had similarly laudatory words on his ability, the following appearing in an issue published less than a week after the accident:

“Beauman, aged 26 years, was regarded as one of Great Britain’s most promising drivers. […] In Don Beauman this country has lost a driver who was almost certain to make his mark in Grand Prix racing, and had already been approached with a view to joining a British team for 1956.”

On the 7th October 2000, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Wicklow races, the Leinster Motor Club unveiled a plaque upon which Beauman’s name was engraved, commemorating a great talent whose life was robbed 45 years earlier.

Don Beauman's name on the plaque in Wicklow, erected 45 years after his death on the circuit.

Don Beauman’s name on the plaque in Wicklow, erected 45 years after his death on the circuit.

Would Don Beauman have made a significant mark on the world of Formula One and motorsport at large? Could we have seen him regularly dicing with his great friend Mike Hawthorn in equal machinery at such venues as Spa-Francorchamps or Reims? His results in Hawthorn’s old Riley and Boles’ Connaught certainly present a strong case, but sadly we will never know for certain.

Sources: 500race.org; alpinejournal.org.co.uk; Autosport; Challenge Me the Race, Mike Hawthorn, William Kimber; conceptcarz.com; The Dundrod TT Races 1950-1955, John S. Moore, Dreoilín Publications; findagrave.com; historicracing.com; The Irish Times; Motor Sport Magazine; Northern Whig; racingsportscars.com; second-a-lap.blogspot.com; teamdan.com; Then a Soldier, Brigadier General A. B. Beauman, P. R. Macmillan Ltd.; The Wicklow Motor Races 1950-1957, Joan Carvill, Dreoilín Publications

With thanks to the members of the Autosport Nostalgia Forum