In June 1966, John Surtees had a major row with Dragoni, the Ferrari team manager, which led to his leaving Ferrari halfway through the racing season.* This left Enzo Ferrari one driver short and he decided to appoint Mike as Surtees’ replacement in the Formula One team.
This created a complication: Mike was considerably taller than the other drivers and thus his car had to be adapted to fit him. It had a longer cockpit, the pedals had to be further apart to accommodate Mike’s size 47 shoes, and the windscreen had to be taller to protect his face from the air.
Mike had had some previous experience of racing single-seater cars. In 1958-9 he raced David Fry’s Fry-Climax (Formula 2); in 1961 he raced a Gemini Ford (Formula Junior) entered by Chequered Flag; and in 1962 he drove a Cooper Climax (Formula 1) entered by Bowmaker Racing. In an article of 1966 he made the following comments on his “upgrade” to Formula 1: “Prior to my recent attachment to the Ferrari F1 team, my single-seater experience had been confined to 1500 cc. Formula 2 and Formula Junior cars, and frankly neither of these appealed to me very much. I preferred to drive more powerful cars, and found that not only did I get more enjoyment, but I also obtained better results when I did so.
When I joined the Ferrari organization as a development engineer, and became a member of the factory sports car racing team, it suited my racing aspirations very well indeed. …This did not worry me as I could see no great attraction in Formula 1 racing when it was restricted by an engine capacity of 1.5 litres. However, when the replacement formula offering a 3 litre capacity was announced, the thought of driving one of the new cars was a great deal more appealing …”
Towards the end of his first Formula 1 racing season Mike wrote an article for Shell describing the circumstances of his move to Formula 1: “I was very pleased when, at the beginning of 1966, Commendatore Ferrari said he would do his best to give me an occasional drive during the coming season. I interpreted this as meaning that there would be a very good chance of my getting a drive in the Italian Grand Prix, at Monza in September, when the Ferrari team always make their greatest effort, usually with at least one extra car. Little did I know at the time that I would be launched into the F1 team to fill the gap left by John Surtees in the middle of the season. The disagreement between Surtees and the Ferrari team came about on the eve of the Le Mans 24-hour race. Surtees stood down from the race, and the final severance of his association with the team came after he had flown to Maranello the following Wednesday for a meeting with the Commendatore. At that time there was in existence in the factory the chassis of my Formula 1 car, being 4 centimetres longer in the wheelbase than the other cars, and intended for my use, I hoped at Monza. It was simply a bare chassis unit, and the process of building it up into a complete car had not even been started. … The racing shop was given instructions to complete the car as quickly as possible. Many times in the past I had seen how the Ferrari mechanics could perform near-miracles when they were really up against it, and by working three shifts day and night I was able to climb into the car and test it at the Modena Autodrome on the following Tuesday evening. The car was then loaded onto the transporter and sent off to Rheims.”
Mike’s first race for Ferrari in Formula One was in fact the French G.P. at Rheims, in July 1966, where he came second, behind Jack Brabham. In the last eighteen laps of the race, after Bandini dropped out of first place owing to a broken cable, Mike gradually reduced Brabham’s lead from 40 to 9.5 seconds. The race was just not quite long enough for him to catch up, but was nevertheless quite an achievement for a newcomer to Formula 1.
At the Dutch G.P. in Zandvoort he spun off on lap 11 at exactly the same spot as Jochen Rindt had done on lap 3, and crashed into Jochen’s abandoned Cooper-Maserati, doing the car so much damage that he could not continue the race.
At the German G.P. at the Nürburgring he was lying in 8th position when he left the track on lap 10. Bandini and Scarfiotti were not doing much better, being in 9th and 10th place, although by the end of the race Bandini had worked his way up to sixth.
In the Italian G.P. in Monza in September he came second, only six seconds behind Ludovico Scarfiotti in another Ferrari. This race very much endeared him to the hearts of the Italian public, because it enabled an Italian driver to win at Monza. In a commemorative article which appeared after his death in the Italian magazine “Autosprint”, the author remembers this race as follows: “What other driver, a foreigner, near to achieving his first G.P. victory in Italy, would have foregone it in obedience to an order from his team manager? On that day Parkes defended Scarfiotti’s leading position, fending off the attacks from the Brabham [driven by Denny Hulme] for much of the G.P., after Bandini had abandoned the race. On that day Mike was insuperable. He was even seen waving a hand to Ludovico on the last lap as if to incite him on, while he covered his flank to close the last gaps to Black Jack, as if to say: ‘Get a move on, I can’t hold this guy back any more’. Parkes did not try to win because the order from the late lamented Dragoni was: Today an Italian must win”. Denny Hulme crossed the finishing line right after Mike, just 0.3 of a second behind him.
In general 1966 was not a very successful year for Ferrari in Formula One: it came second in the Manufacturers Championship, with 31 points, Brabham Repco coming first with 42 points.
In February 1967 the Grand Prix Drivers Association awarded Mike the Von Trips Trophy as best newcomer to Formula 1 in 1966.
In his article for Shell Mike commented on the difference between racing a Formula 1 car and racing in sports cars: “In making the transition the first thing I had to accustom myself to was sitting on the centre line of the car, with petrol tanks to my left and right, above and below me. It was also strange at first to see the front wheels out in front of me, and to be able to watch the front suspension at work. Of course I soon found that knowing exactly what your front wheels are doing and where they are pointing has its advantages, and that the car could be aimed into a corner and through it that much more accurately as a result. This is most important in Formula 1 driving, which is a much more delicate and precise skill than driving a relatively heavy sports car. The Grand Prix car is a more sophisticated piece of machinery, designed to reach a relatively higher standard of performance, but which has to be driven closer to its ultimate limit over the full distance and duration of a race than does the two-seater … In Grand Prix races, which usually last only two hours, the pressure is on all the time, and you are having to drive that much closer to the knife-edge . … You have to produce a standard of skill very close to the maximum. Once you let your standard of driving fall off from this, the car’s performance drops off very rapidly indeed. In Grand Prix racing it marks the difference between a potential race-winner and an also-ran.”
In 1967 Mike drove in four Formula One races, of which two were Championship races.. In the Daily Express Trophy at Silverstone, in April, he came first, to the satisfaction of his father, who was present at the race. In the Dutch G.P. at Zandvoort he came fifth. In the Syracuse G.P. in March he again came first, in a tie with Scarfiotti. On this occasion he and Scarfiotti deliberately crossed the finishing line together, as a tribute to Lorenzo Bandini, who had died in a crash at the Monte Carlo G.P. two weeks earlier. His two first places were the only wins achieved by Ferrari in Formula 1 that year (although neither of the two counted towards the F1 Championship). In his fourth race of the season, the Belgian G.P. at Spa in June, he had the near-fatal accident which put an end to his Formula One career.
* Colonel Hoare’s account of this controversial row, based on a conversation with Surtees which took place immediately after it happened, offers an interesting contribution to the debate on why Surtees fell out with Ferrari: “One morning before Le Mans, I had some work to do and I went to our little caravan parked behind the pits which I used as an office. I was sitting in there and suddenly the door burst open and an absolutely white-faced John Surtees came in and said: ‘What do you think about this?’ He told me that Dragoni was worried that John hadn’t recovered sufficiently from his Canadian accident to be the number one driver in that particular car and so Dragoni had said that Scarfiotti should be the number one driver and Surtees number two. Surtees was absolutely apoplectic with fury and had a screaming, blazing row [with Dragoni] and that was the end of Surtees. The seeds of that began about a month before when there was the 1000 Kms. at the Nurbürgring. We had a car running and our pit was next to Ferrari. At the first driver change Surtees came in to refuel, got out of the car, and he looked like death, really looked terrible. He obviously wasn’t fit, (he had been quite seriously injured in a crash on September 25th 1965) he was obviously suffering and Dragoni had asked me soon after the race what I thought of John. I told him frankly exactly what I have told you. That was the reason he decided to make the change at Le Mans which infuriated John and that was that.” [See also photo Gallery 13 Frame 10, a picture which it is believed was taken at Le Mans that weekend]