Michael Parkes

Full Name:
Michael Johnson Parkes
Born:
24th September 1931
Richmond, Surrey
Died:
28th August 1977 (Aged 45)
Riva Presso Chieri, Piedmont (I), road accident
Nationality:
British
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

Mike Parkes was a low-profile engineer/driver who was briefly a works Ferrari Formula 1 racer. He was the son of J.J.Parkes – a World War II officer in the Royal Air Force who was later Managing Director of the Alvis Motor Company.

Early career in industry and racing

Parkes followed his father into the motor industry on leaving school, joining the Rootes Group as an apprentice engineer in 1949. His first racing car was a 1930 Frazer Nash but it was with an MG TD that he won a race. Parkes raced at first "because it furthered my curiosity and knowledge about motor cars." He also showed talent and impressed from 1957 when driving a Lotus and then Formula 2 Fry-Climax.

A non-qualifier for the 1959 British Grand Prix with the latter, he was invited to share Willy Mairesse’s works Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa in the 1961 Le Mans 24 Hours and they finished second. They repeated that result in the following season’s Nürburgring 1000Kms and the Englishman decided to leave Rootes to become a full-time Ferrari driver in 1963.

Motor racing professional with Ferrari

He worked as a test driver for the F1 team while continuing his successful sports car career. He was third in that year’s Le Mans 24 Hours with Umberto Maglioli and they won at Sebring at the start of 1964. Winner of the Spa GP (a round of the World Sportscar Championship) when driving alone, he was on the podium at the Nürburgring and Reims.

However, Parkes’ successful season ended prematurely when his brakes failed during testing at Modena. He injured his back and was out of racing for the rest of the year. He returned to win the 1965 Monza 1000Kms and his 1966 sports car victories included Monza, Spa-Francorchamps and the non-championship Paris 1000Kms at Montlhéry.

Formula 1 with the Scuderia

His career took an unexpected twist when Ferrari’s F1 team leader John Surtees abruptly left the Italian team. The 34 year old Parkes was drafted in for the 1966 French GP with a Ferrari 312 modified to accommodate the 6ft 4in Englishman. He promptly qualified on the front row and finished in second position. No GP debutant would match that performance until Lewis Hamilton arrived in 2007. Parkes started another three GPs that year and was again second in Italy having qualified on pole position. That was good enough for a share of eighth position in the world championship.

He began 1967 by winning the International Trophy at Silverstone, dead-heating with team-mate Ludovico Scarfiotti at Syracuse and finishing second in the Daytona 24 Hours. Second again at Le Mans, Parkes lost control a week later at the blindingly fast Blanchimont Corner while running third in the Belgian GP. His Ferrari hit the bank and rolled with Parkes thrown clear and fortunate to survive with concussion and badly broken legs.

Parkes eventually returned to sports cars in the 1969 Paris 1000Kms but his competitive edge had been dulled. Fourth at Daytona and the Nürburgring with private Ferraris during 1970, he was seventh in the 1972 Le Mans 24 Hours and soon retired as a driver.

He continued to work in Italy and joined Lancia in 1974 as part of the development team for the Stratos. He was on his way to Turin in a rainstorm three years later when he was killed in a head-on collision with a truck.