A legend on two wheels and four, Mike Hailwood amassed nine world motorcycle world titles before becoming a rising star in F1
“Mike the Bike” was a true legend – a multiple champion on two-wheels and a star on four. In addition to his racing exploits, Mike Hailwood was awarded the George Medal – Britain’s highest honour for civilian bravery – after saving an unconscious Clay Regazzoni from his burning car at Kyalami in 1973.
Family background and motorcycling career
With privileges afforded to the son of a millionaire, Hailwood had the best machinery that money could buy when he started racing bikes. That he was also blessed with raw talent soon became apparent after his first race at Oulton Park on April 22 1957.
Winning races in his second season, he also made his two-wheel world championship debut in 1958 and amassed a total of 76 Grand Prix wins throughout the classes. His reward was nine motorcycling world titles on 500cc (1962, 1963, 1964 and 1965), 350cc (1966 and 1967) and 250cc (1961, 1966 and 1967).
Formula 1 debut
His first venture in Formula 1 was with Reg Parnell’s privateer team in 1963 and 1964 while still dominating the 500cc motorcycle class. Eighth with a Lotus 24-Climax on his GP debut at Silverstone, Hailwood was sixth in the following year’s Monaco GP now driving the team’s Lotus 25-BRM.
But frustrated by making up the numbers against the works teams, Hailwood decided to concentrate on bikes after the 1965 Monaco GP. However, Honda withdrew from motorcycle racing in 1968 and Hailwood returned to cars once more.
That was in sports cars and Formula 5000 and he shared the third placed John Wyer Ford GT40 with David Hobbs in the 1969 Le Mans 24 Hours. But it was the brute power of F5000 that best suited Hailwood’s style and his Epstein-Cuthbert Lola T142-Chevrolet won the final round at Brands Hatch to clinch third in the 1969 European Championship. He remained successful in that category for the next two seasons and was runner-up in 1971 when driving for fellow bike refugee John Surtees.
Formula 1 return and F2 champion
Hailwood also made an F1 return in that year’s Italian GP and what a return. His Surtees TS9-Ford finished in fourth position just 0.18 seconds from victory in the closest mass finish of all-time. He competed in both F1 and F2 for Surtees in 1972 and battled for the lead in the South African GP and International Trophy only to retire. Four top-six finishes, including a career-best second at Monza, meant Hailwood was eighth in the world championship. Better still, he won twice in F2 to be crowned European Champion at the final round.
He led a surprise 1-2 finish for Wyer’s Gulf-Mirage team in the 1973 Spa 1000Kms but that proved to be a frustrating year in single-seaters. He quit Surtees to drive a third McLaren M23-Ford during 1974 and was third in South Africa.
A consistent finisher all season in the Yardley-sponsored car, he was challenging for fourth during the closing stages of the German GP when his car landed awkwardly at the Nürburgring’s Pflanzgarten and crashed head-on into the barriers. His right leg was broken in three places and although his injuries eventually healed, that was the end of Hailwood’s motor racing career.
Bike racing comeback and death
An emotional return to bikes and the Isle of Man in 1978 and 1979 proved a fairytale finale however. Hailwood won the F1 event in 1978 and the TT for a 14th time a year later. He retired for a final time that summer but was killed just two years later.
Hailwood was out collecting his family’s fish-and-chip supper when his car collided with a lorry performing a U-turn on the dual carriageway near his Birmingham home. His son David survived the crash, but both Hailwood and nine year old daughter Michelle died in hospital.
A straight-talking, humorous man without pretensions – he was recognised as motorcycle racing’s greatest at the time of his death.