- March 21, 1916
- January 12, 1957
- United Kingdom
- Not Active
Ken Wharton (1916-1957) was a British racing driver who recorded fifteen starts in the Formula One World Championship between 1952 and 1955, scoring points in just one race. He was more successful in sports car racing, rallying and hill climbs, scoring some notable wins, such were at Reims 12 Hours or International Tulpenrallye (three times) and winning the British Hill Climb Championship four times.
Wharton lost a life in January 1957, in an accident during a sports car race at Ardmore Circuit in New Zealand.
Participating at Monte-Carlo Rally in 1949
Born in March 1916 in Smethwick, Frederick Charles Kenneth Wharton started his racing career in the new National 500cc Formula in his own special and later acquired a Cooper and an Austin Seven. He also raced in off-road trials, hill climbs, and rallies.
His career gathered a momentum after the World War II. He owned a Ford dealership near Birmingham and there he built his own specials that enabled him to take successive British Trials Championship titles from 1948 to 1950.
Participating at Monte-Carlo Rally in 1949
In 1949, he participated in the Rallye Monte-Carlo with Ford Pilot V8, finishing in the fifth place. In the same year, he scored his first win in the International Tulip Rally in the Netherlands, sharing a car with Joy Cooks.
Later in a career, Wharton recorded two more wins at Tulip Rally, in 1950 and 1952. He attended Rallye Monte-Carlo few more times, in 1951 and 1956.
Four-time British hill climb champion
In 1951, Wharton started his fantastic streak of four consecutive wins in the British Hill Climb Championship from 1951 to 1954, all in the F3 Cooper car with JAP engine. He also competed much in the international hill climb races, scoring several podiums and winning few times with ERA.
His other successes with ERA R4D included winning the Brighton Speed Trials in 1954, 1955 and 1956. He also gained some success in national sports car events in the early 1950s.
Taking championship points in Formula 1 debut
Ken Wharton made his Formula One Championship debut in May 1952 at Bremgarten Circuit, participating in the Swiss Grand Prix, the season-opening round of the championship. He was driving F2-spec Frazer Nash-Bristol for Scuderia Franera.
He was 13th qualifier in the #22 car and finished the race in the fourth place, behind Piero Taruffi (Ferrari), Rudi Fischer (Ferrari) and Jean Behra (Gordini). Wharton earned three championship points, never repeating such a success later in a career.
Racing with Cooper F1 car in 1953
Wharton recorded three more starts in the 1952 F1 Championship season, driving Frazer Nash at Spa (DNF) and Zandvoort (DNF), and Cooper T20-Bristol at Monza. He finished ninth in the Italian Grand Prix, four laps behind race winner Alberto Ascari.
In 1953, Wharton spent a season in a Cooper T23-Bristol, participating in five F1 Championship events. He retired in the Dutch Grand Prix and French Grand Prix, then finishing 8th in the British Grand Prix and 7th in the Swiss Grand Prix. His last race that year was the Italian Grand Prix in which he was not classified after completing 57 laps, 23 laps less than a race winner Juan Manuel Fangio.
Four F1 starts with Maserati in 1954
In 1954, Wharton joined BRM/Owen Racing Organisation but he was driving a Maserati 250F in four F1 Championship events. He reached the finish in three races - British Grand Prix (8th), Swiss Grand Prix (6th) and Spanish Grand Prix (8th).
Outside F1 Championship, he was driving a BRM P15 in a couple of races, finishing second in the New Zealand Grand Prix at Ardmore Circuit and third in the Lady Wigram Trophy at Wigram Aerodrome.
Two last F1 starts with Vanwall in 1955
Wharton recorded his two last F1 Championship starts in 1955, driving a Vanwall. In May, he suffered burns after his car caught fire during the BRDC International Trophy at Silverstone. Wharton recovered for the British Grand Prix at Aintree Circuit in July. He finished ninth in the #28 Vanwall, sharing a car with Harry Schell. He was driving for 50 laps, Schell was in a car for 22 laps.
Wharton's last F1 Championship Grand Prix start was at Monza in September 1955. He retired at the beginning of the race due to injection problems in his #44 Vanwall.
Class victory at Le Mans 24h debut
Wharton was a versatile driver, racing in the same time in F1, hill climbs, rallies and sports car races. He was driving Frazer Nash Le Mans in sports car races during 1952, also making his Le Mans 24 Hours debut with that car in 1953.
He was sharing the #39 Frazer Nash Le Mans Coupe with Lawrence Mitchell, finishing 13th overall and first in S2.0 class.
Victory at Reims 12 Hours as the greatest sports car success
Three weeks later, Wharton scored his greatest success in sports car racing by winning the Reims 12 Hours. In that race, he was sharing the #3 Jaguar D-Type with Peter Whitehead.
Wharton lost a life at Ardmore Circuit in New Zealand
In 1955, Wharton raced mostly in an Aston Martin DB3S, but also in a Ferrari 750 Monza, Lister-Bristol or Frazer Nash Le Mans, without any success. He drove again a variety of cars in 1956, using Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Jaguar or Cooper T41.
At 1956 Le Mans, he and Jack Fairman retired in a Jaguar D-Type after an early Fairman's accident. Wharton's best result that year was the third place in the Australian Tourist Trophy in a Ferrari 750 Monza.
Wharton's career and life ended on January 12, 1957, in the sports car Grand Prix race at Ardmore Circuit in New Zealand. He started from pole in the #64 Ferrari 750 Monza but crashed and lost a life.
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