Table of contents:
- The Forge of a Champion
- Mike Hailwood and his golden age
- King of the Isle of Man
- Farewell to the legendary pilot
2023 Author: Nicholas Abramson | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-21 14:58
Mike hailwood, a myth of the motor world, a legend who was able to appear in the annals of motor racing history regardless of the number of wheels, is our virtual guest in this new installment of the Legend Drivers. His nickname was known as Mike the bike Alluding to his natural talent and his symbiosis with these machines that we love so much around here, and so well he was known as a fan favorite. Quite a character that we are going to get to know a little more today.
Mike Hailwood's life was always linked to motorcycling as his own father had been a pilot before World War II, and he was also the owner of a large motorcycle distribution chain. It was in the England of the 40s when little Mike would make his first steps with a minibike, a postwar England where a certainly comfortable position like the one his father enjoyed helped a lot so that the future champion could dedicate himself to riding in the very decent family farm, of about 32,000 square meters of surface.
And as we will see, his life was just as intense and fruitful, as unfortunately short-lived.
The Forge of a Champion
Focusing on his role as a racing driver, which is our greatest interest, Mike Hailwood debuted at age 17 at the Oulton Park circuit, among other things one of the most demanding, varied and beautiful circuits that I know, and he did not badly because he finished eleven and soon began to savor the honeys of victory. That first race at Oulton Park was nothing less than a six-lap race for 150cc motorcycles, and the young Hailwood raced it at the controls of a 123cc MV Agusta. For the history.
At that time things were different. Nowadays nobody gives a penny because a pilot can win in several categories on the same day. Mike Hailwood in his first full season, 1958, got 7 hat-tricks (win three or more, wow, races in a single day). Plus it started so strong that beat higher performance bikes, he did fast laps and… well, honestly, it's quite scary to count this data: in the races at Snetterton Road won all four categories on the same day (125cc, 250cc, 350cc and 500cc), signing the four fastest laps and becoming the first driver in history to exceed 90 miles per hour on average (approximately 150 kilometers per hour) on that track. The Hailwood numbers that year (remember, his first year of competition) they are amazing: 74 victories, 17 second places and 5 third places. Fine cinnamon.
Still amazed, let's shut our mouths and march to 1959, the year in which Mike was racing at the 125cc, 250cc and 500cc at 19 springs with the aspiration of winning his first title. It could not be, finishing third in the 125cc and fifth in the 250cc. In the half liter he was only able to get the odd one fastest lap in race.
So as not to get bored with numbers, let's go back to 1960, where Mike Hailwood was already winning in all the categories he took per band, from 125cc to 1000cc, he accumulated consecutive victories and on the same day (it still amazes me), he was constantly scoring for the 250cc world championship and 500cc and he was 5th and 6th respectively in both championships, despite getting great victories and fast laps, a not inconsiderable accumulation of experience and above all, enjoying himself.
Although right now it seems like a pause in the story, I do not want to continue without noting that at the time we are talking about, the Grand Prix were the elite of motorcycling, as it is today to race in MotoGP and perhaps to a lesser extent, in the World Superbikes. He was the elite, but at the same time a pilot with money and talent could enter that closed world based on talent and victories. Something that today seems unreal to us. It was the victories and innate quality of Mike Hailwood that made it possible for him to occupy an unrepeatable place in the history of motorcycling and motorsports.
The fact that he had a comfortable economic situation today is perhaps something anecdotal, they were other times and there were not so many sponsorships or advertising contracts. With that said, let's move on.
Mike Hailwood and his golden age
Mike had already been through many legendary brands, Norton, Ducati, Mondial, AJS, NSU … until Honda arrived. In 1961, at age 21 and enrolled in the giant Honda, Mike Hailwood was proclaimed 250cc world champion and be runner-up in 500cc simultaneously. He also raced the 125cc World Championship (6th), but his career inevitably led him to the upper classes of motorcycling. The beast had tasted the taste of… absolute victory.
This had only just begun. Hailwood's talent and charisma, as well as his symbiosis with MV Agusta, would result in a winning streak and world championships that would elevate the English driver to the category of living legend. To give us an idea of the winning mentality of Mike Hailwood, the answer he gave to an editor of the time when he asked what he did to the other drivers to beat them, apart from riding faster:
The winners of Mike Hailwood he got quite fat at the time he was racing for MV Agusta, being absolute dominator of the half-liter category between 1962 and 1965 inclusive (four consecutive championships) until in 1966 a man named Giacomo Agostini appeared who took the 500cc laurel, and he repeated in 1967, something that made Hailwood not demolish history again by proclaiming himself triple annual world champion in 250cc, 350cc and 500cc. It could only have been in 250cc and 350cc. In 500cc simply runner-up.
Obviously my words in the previous paragraph are ironic, Hailwood achieved his last four 250cc and 350cc world championships in 66 and 67, but of course, winning simultaneously and being runner-up in the 500cc behind Giacomo Agostini is something that is not up to the task. anyone's reach. These final two years of his active career he was racing for Honda with a spectacular contract and it was not easy in both the 250cc and 500cc. His greatest rival in the 250cc class was Phil Read, the Prince of Speed, in 350cc and 500cc he was Giacomo Agostini. While in the 250cc the fights were hand-to-hand and extremely tight, in the 350cc the victories were subtly more comfortable, although they left epic fights against the precious 350 MV Agusta that Agostini was wearing, and in the 500cc the fight was equal parts with a motorcycle that It was a rolling snake, with an engine that was too powerful for the chassis and suspensions it was riding, and with Agostini, the latter winning one of the championships by advantage in number of second places, as he was tied on points with Mike Hailwood.
In 1968 Honda withdrew from racing and offered Mike Hailwood £ 50,000 at the time (which would be, approximately, one million euros today) so that he would not run for anyone else, hoping to retain him in case he returned to the competition. But Hailwood would never return. Now it was the turn of the cars, but that is another story. Mike the Bike withdrew from the Grand Prix at the top, at 28 years old.
King of the Isle of Man
Well, after sweating ink with these numbers, it only remains to say that … the thing is not here. So far I have only talked about the victories in the Grand Prix, that is, speed on the circuit, but I was left in the inkwell about his adventures in the Isle of Man, and in general in the world of TT. If here we comment between jokes and a little curiosity that it is phenomenal to see Valentino Rossi go to the Isle of Man, but that it would be crazy for him to compete, there we had Hailwood, who not only competed, but was a benchmark of the time, until today.
When the TT scored for the world championship, Hailwood took it as seriously as any other race. In 1961, at the beginning of his successful career, and when he won his first World Cup, Mike signed something that no one has been able to repeat: not only did he participate in the Tourist Trophy on the Isle of Man, but he also won three of the four categories.
Many years later, already retired from competition, the running bug knocked on his door to try to get a new world championship. In 1978 the TT no longer scored for the Speed Championship, but the FIM has given the category of World Championship to a single race. Mike Hailwood returns to the Isle of Man with the aim of achieving that world championship in the Formula 1 category up to 1000cc and brings with him a Ducati 900SS, Fabbio Taglioni and Franco Farné. The rival to beat: Phil Read with the Honda 900. Epic again, the race is won by our protagonist and He is crowned world champion again at the age of 38.
1979 is a disappointing year for him, fifth on the Isle of Man with the Ducati that is no longer up to par, he decides to pay off his debt to the thousands of spectators who, according to him, had been disappointed and promises to return and win. He would do it, at the age of 39 in the Senior TT, with a motorcycle that belonged to Barry Sheene, a Suzuki 500cc, two-stroke, four-cylinder in frame, rotary valves and 150CV (a model that he had never "tasted"). He won and went out through the big door. As a champion that will not be repeated, I think, for many years.
Farewell to the legendary pilot
Married, with children, and already retired from his activity in competition, Mike Hailwood would meet his death aboard his private car, when, due to an illegal maneuver by a trucker, he jammed his Rover SD1. His daughter died in the accident and he and his son were hospitalized. He died at the age of 40, putting the world of motor racing in mourning. To his credit he achieved 76 Grand Prix victories, 14 Isle of Man TT victories and 9 World (Speed) Championships.
I leave you with a couple of videos. The first is the race on the Isle of Man starring Agostini and Hailwood, both with MV Agusta paths. The second, one of those videos tribute to the champion. I hope you have enjoyed this new installment of Pilots of Legend. See you in the next chapter on my list with another slightly more modern rider: Wayne gardner.