Thursday, 22 March 2018 09:00

Mike Hailwood (2/4/1940 – 23/3/1981): A hero in two and four wheels

Written by

Translated by Nikos Arvanitis

The romantic era of 50’s, 60’s and 70’s at motorsports introduced us many interesting and multi-faceted characters who were distinguished by two peculiar elements.

Date of 1st publication: 02/04/14

Their passion for speed and their contempt for fear.
There was such passion, that many of them searched for adrenaline on both two and four wheels.
One of them, was a lionhearted Briton – a legend of motorcycle racing – who was meant to adorn the Formula 1 world.
Michael Stanley Bailey Hailwood was born at Great Milton, Oxfordshire in 2nd April 1940, a period where the war sirens were sounding.
His father Stan (ex-rider) had made a fortune of many millions by selling motorcycles in England, so young Mike was raised in a wealthy environment.
After his early withdrawal from school, he worked for a while at the family business and then at Triumph.


“Mike the Bike”

It didn’t take long for him to get interested in motorcycle racing, making his debut in 1957, aged 17.

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Stan’s financial standing may had provided him the best equipment, but his talent was the factor that helped him be established as one of the most prominent riders, winning the first world championship in 1961 with Honda.
Mike though, when got the opportunity, paid his father off for every expense he had made at the beginning of his career.
He would win 9 world titles on every category (250cc, 350cc and 500cc) in six years with MV Agusta and Honda.
In 1966, he took part at all three categories, winning the title at the first two whilst on the third one he finished 2nd!
In 152 starts, he won 76 races and finished 112 times on podium, while at the same time he took part at the famous TT of Isle of Man, winning 12 times.
The battle he had in 1967 at Senior TT category with another two-wheel legend, Giacomo Agostini has made history, a race that has been considered as one of the most dramatic of all time, in which he won.

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Murray Walker didn’t chew his words and glorified him, characterizing him as “ the best rider who ever lived”.
In 1968, Honda decided to take a sabbatical from racing, giving Hailwood 50.000 pounds not to race with other team and the Briton turned to car racing.
The reputation he got brought him near personalities who shared the same passion for speed, such as Hollywood actor Steve McQueen.

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On 4 wheels

In 1969 he would compete for the first time at Le Mans 24 Hours race with a John Wyer’s team Ford GT40 and David Hobbs as a team mate, managing to finish to the podium, finishing 3rd.
In 1970, he took part again with John Wyer’s team and Hobbs as a team mate, driving this time a Porsche 917k, but they retired after 49 laps.
He returned in 1973, driving a Mirage M6 (with the Ford-Cosworth DFV V8 engine that most of the Formula 1 teams had) of Gulf Racing alongside John Watson and Vern Schuppan, but their effort was brought to an end prematurely after 112 laps.
On the same season, driving the same car and Derek Bell as a team mate, he won the Spa 1000 km race for the World Endurance Championship.
In 1974 he ran for the first time at Le Mans, driving a Ford Gulf GR7 and having Bell again as a team mate, finishing 4th.
His first contact with an F1 car took place in 1963 at the British GP at Silverstone, where he took part behind the wheel of a Lotus 24 of Reg Parnell, finishing 8th.
That year he made one more appearance at Monza, where driving a Lola Mk4 he finished 10th.
In 1965 he took part only in Monaco, where he retired.
In 1971, John Surtees (the only champion in both 2 and 4 wheels) gave him the opportunity to run again in F1 at his newly-founded team.
His first race with the Surtees TS9 was the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, which made history as the most amazing finish we have ever seen in Formula 1.
Gethin, Peterson, Cevert, Hailwood and Ganley with that order, finished with a margin of less than a second as the battle for victory evolved into a slip streaming recital!

In 1972 he took part at 10 races where he retired six times, mainly because of the lack of reliability of the new Surtees TS9B.
At the Grands Prix he finished though, he had pretty good results (6th in France and 4th in Austria and Belgium) and highlight of the season again the race in Monza, where he finished 2nd behind race winner (and world champion that year) Emerson Fittipaldi.
At the same time, he competed at the European F2 Championship (always with the Surtees) team, where having 5 race victories he won the title.

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In 1973, the brand-new TS14A was equally disappointing in terms of reliability, resulting many retirements and finishes outside the points.
The thing that remained of the minds of most people was what happened at the South African Grand Prix in Kyalami.
At the second lap of the race, Hailwood crashed with Regazzoni’s BRM, which caught fire immediately.
With the Swiss being unconscious in the car, Mike unfastened his seatbelts and ran for help but he caught fire too, as the fuel was flowing onto him.
He ran towards a marshal who splashed him with water, while another marshal started extinguishing the BRM that was in flames.
Soon though the fire flared up again and Hailwood came back to the accident and managed to take Regazzoni out of the car.
Then he returned to the pits, took his girlfriend and left the circuit without telling her anything.
She learned about his self-sacrifice the next day on the newspapers!

Hailwood’s effort to save Regazzoni


For his bravery, he was awarded with the George Medal, the second level civil decoration of the United Kingdom.

Later he was awarded the Member of the British Empire title for his accomplishments.

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In 1974 he went to McLaren where he drove a M23 with Yardley as main sponsor.
At the first six races he managed to finish four times at the points (5th in Brazil, 4th in Argentina and Netherlands) whilst in South Africa he finished 3rd, climbing to the podium for the second time.

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His Formula 1 career though, was meant to be stopped prematurely at its peak.
At the German Grand Prix in Nurburgring, with two laps to go and sitting in 5th position, he lost control at the steep Pflanzgarten downhill and ended up onto the barriers, destroying the front part of McLaren.
Hailwood suffered severe injuries to his legs and retired from racing.

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Mike the man

During his racing career, Mike Hailwood lived like every race driver of that era.
Money, travel, many women and of course, party.
Rumors report that he was the man who “inducted” James Hunt to this way of life.

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However, he was a modest and humble character, something that made him more adorable to the world.
He really enjoyed the atmosphere of the motorcycle racing instead of Formula 1, where the snobbery of several drivers “forced” him to make company with the mechanics, as Jackie Stewart mentioned later.
In 1975 he married his girlfriend, Pauline, having a daughter (Michelle) and a son (David) with her, moving at the same time from South Africa where he lived since 1967, to New Zealand.

Return to the Isle

A normal life did not suit to Mike and following some local races, he decided to move to England in 1978 and to compete again at the Isle of Man.
Motorcycle technology had evolved a lot at the ‘70s and many people claimed that the older riders could not handle them.
His old friends advised him not to give it a try as the 11 years of abstention were too many, the moment that many riders of his age had retired.
He ignored everyone and took part at the Isle with a Ducati 900SS from a Manchester dealership, not even from a factory.
The F1 TT category in which he would participate, allowed modification and Mike made good use of his connections in Formula 1, asking from Hewland (who was providing gearboxes to the majority of teams) to improve that of Ducati, which was considered as its weak spot.
38-year-old Hailwood rode the motorcycle and won the race, making the crowds shiver.

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The bikes, the uniforms, the driving style had changed but the old man put the glasses to the competition.

Isle of Man TT 1978


In 1979 he returned, maybe to prove that his victory in 1978 was not accidental.
This year he was riding a two-stroke Suzuki RG 500, taking part in Senior TT.
He won, getting his 14th win on the Isle and the 7th in Senior TT, an accomplishment that remains unbreakable until today.

The Eternity
Following his definite retirement from racing, he founded a motorcycle dealership and settled with his family to Tamworth in Arden, a small village outside Birmingham.
21st March 1981 was not meant to be a normal day for Hailwood family.
While Mike and his children were returning home by car, a truck driver blocked the way attempting to make a u-turn illegally, causing a collision.
9-year-old Michelle died on the scene, while father and son were carried to hospital.
David survived because he was sitting at the back seat but Mike succumbed to death by his injuries two days later.
The man who was involved in racing, flirting with danger and all its consequences, died like a common man at a car accident.
Irony could not be missing from this sequence of events, as the truck driver who caused the accident was fined with 100 pounds…
His death shocked the racing community and of course all fans.
At the day of his funeral, friends, team mates and hundreds of motorcycle riders were there to bid farewell to Mike and Michelle.
Giacomo Agostini, John Surtees, James Hunt and others carried the champion to the final resting place.


His tomb is still located at the garden of St Mary Magdalene church at Tamworth in Arden.

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In 1981, a part of the course where the Isle of Man race is held was renamed to Hailwood’s Height as a tribute to him.

Active years in Formula 1: 1963 – 1965, 1971 - 1974
Teams: Reg Parnell Racing, Surtees, McLaren
Championship titles: 0
Races: 50
Wins: 0
Podiums: 2
Points: 29
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 1

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