The return to Ferrari

When he finally got back to Modena, Mike discussed his future with Enzo Ferrari.  At this point he discovered, to his disappointment, that he could not go back to his old job, in a dual role as development engineer and racing driver, with one foot in the production car department and the other in the racing department.  This was not only because he had had a serious accident and had been out of action for a year and a half and, in addition, was getting to be rather old for top-class racing (by that time he was thirty-eight).

The other reason was that while he had been away the world around him was changing.  In 1969 Fiat bought a 50% stake in Ferrari Automobili.  This led to managerial changes: the production and racing departments were separated, Enzo Ferrari (who was then seventy-one years old) retained full responsibility for the racing department and Fiat took over the car production side.

As Mike described it: “I was looking forward to going back to what I had been doing before, being responsible for the passenger car experimental department which was my business, my career, and motor racing.  But this was the time when Ferrari was negotiating to sell to Fiat, and for this reason he made an offer to me to go into the racing department and be responsible for the development, testing and team management of the sports car racing programme.  It is true I was extremely well qualified to do this because I am an engineer and I’d had years of experience in sports car racing.  I was still limping and I knew that I was not in good enough shape to drive.  So I ran the sports car programme during 1969, and I was obviously pretty competent at it.”   At that time the Direttore Sportivo (overall director of the racing team) was Franco Gozzi.  In the course of 1969 Mike worked on the development of the new 312P 3-litre Prototype.

But he was not content: “At the end of the year I said to Ferrari: ‘Now look, what about driving?’  He said: ‘You are far too valuable to me as a technician.  And I know you personally so well that I can’t afford the risk of giving you a car to drive.’  I replied: ‘Well, I fully understand your point of view, but you must also understand mine.  I’ve had an accident  which I think I can rightly say was not directly my fault.  You must understand that I must be the person who decides when to stop racing, not you.  If you will not give me a car to race, then I am going somewhere else.”

After realizing that Mike could not be convinced to stay on in his existing role, Enzo Ferrari suggested that he should go and work for Ferrari’s Swiss concessionaire, Georges Filipinetti, who in the 1970 season would be racing a Ferrari 512 similar to the works cars.  Ferrari assured him that they would provide him with technical information on all the modifications made to the three official works cars, so that the Filipinetti car would virtually race as the fourth car in the team.

Some of Mike’s friends felt that he had made a big mistake in leaving Ferrari.  Tommy Sopwith, his erstwhile patron, commented: “Ferrari made him a staggering offer … The only condition was that he give up racing.  We were down on our knees begging him to accept it.  I remember saying to him ‘You’ve done it, you’ve proved how good a driver you are, now move on and take this’.  But … he turned it down. I think that was the biggest mistake of his life.”

In October 1969 Mike drove in his first race after the accident, at the Montlhéry 1000 Km de Paris.  He was driving a Lola T70Mk 3B GT Chevrolet owned by David Piper, with Richard Attwood as his co-driver.  They came tenth.

Next: Mike and Enzo Ferrari