In November 1962 Mike was summoned to Modena for an encounter with Enzo Ferrari which was to change his life completely. Mike went to Modena with Colonel Ronnie Hoare who had been asked by Ferrari, impressed by the news filtering back from England, to organize the meeting. Ferrari offered him a full-time three-year contract to join Ferrari with a dual role, as development engineer and driver for G.T. races. The contract was signed in December and on January 4th 1963 Mike arrived in Modena.
This coincided with a change of policy on the part of Ferrari. According to a contemporary newspaper report, Ferrari lamented the fact that Phil Hill (who had won the F1 World Championship in 1961) and other members of the 1962 official team were “acting like football players”, and were reluctant to test cars or practise before races. As a result Ferrari decided that in 1963 there would be no formal Ferrari team but that his racing cars and GTs would be driven by his “testers”. As well as Mike, he took on John Surtees and Willy Mairesse to drive the Formula One cars.
For Mike, moving to Ferrari also meant a major increase in his earnings. As Colonel Hoare remembered: “For the first time Mike was offered a) a place in the works car team and b) a job as a development engineer. Manicardi told me that the money involved was something unheard of at Maranello.” “Why do you think Ferrari offered so much?” “I think possibly two things influenced him. One was the sort of money he was having to pay other drivers, by that time he had some pretty good ones, Phil Hill, Von Trips. Secondly he thought there was a big advantage in Michael being at the factory on the development side. I think coupling the two together he realized he was going to have to offer far more than an Italian engineer would get. … It was very, very unusual [to employ a foreign engineer]. Nobody before had been there in that capacity and nobody since until maybe Harvey Postlethwaite and later John Barnard.” On top of his salary Mike would get a share of any eventual prize money, and bonuses.
At the time when Mike left for Italy his development work on the Hillman Imp, which had taken eight years in all, was virtually complete – in fact the car was due to go into production in the spring of 1963. The Ferrari offer combined in one job all the things he loved doing. As he said at the time: “I could not refuse the wonderful opportunity to work at Ferrari. It is a design and engineering dream. I shall be able to follow my ideas through under one roof.” Colonel Hoare remembered Mike’s reaction to visiting the factory for the first time: “He was, like everybody else, absolutely overwhelmed by the beauty of the place, the beauty of the machinery, the incredible attention to detail.”
By moving to Ferrari Mike was going from one extreme to the other, in terms of car design. At Rootes he had worked on the design of a low cost, economical, utilitarian car in which the objective was to produce the best possible performance while respecting a series of very specific constraints. At Ferrari he was going to be dealing with some of the most sophisticated and expensive cars in the world where the objective was to produce the best possible performance almost irrespective of cost.
Mike was certainly not the first Englishman to drive for Ferrari. His illustrious predecessors and contemporaries included Mike Hawthorn, Peter Collins, Stirling Moss, Reg Parnell, Tony Brooks, John Surtees and Graham Hill. There was a reason why Ferrari so often employed foreign drivers – it was good publicity for Ferrari cars. A race won by a Ferrari and driven by a British driver would inevitably get more attention in the British press than the same race won by an Italian driver.