Stanley Michael Bailey Hailwood, otherwise known as “Mike the Bike” was the stuff of legend. He was one of the greatest motorcycle racers in the history of a sport packed with heroes. He went on to become a Formula 1 driver, but never won a race, although perhaps he ought to have done. He took part in 50 Grands Prix between 1963 and 1974, scoring several podiums and being one of the four drivers fighting for the win in the closest ever F1 finish – at Monza in 1971. He was fourth, 0.2secs behind the winner…
Along the way, Mike the Bike not only caused joyous mayhem, often involving enthusiastic young ladies, but also produced a solid series of results in other forms of car racing. He was the European Formula 2 champion of 1972, was on the podium at Le Mans in 1969 in a Ford GT40, shared with David Hobbs, and was a star in Formula 5000.
The stories of Hailwood’s adventures have filled many books, but it is often forgotten in the blur of a life lived to the full that Mike the Bike was also awarded the George Medal, Britain’s second highest award for civilian gallantry (after the George Cross) for rescuing Clay Regazzoni from a burning BRM during the 1973 South African GP.
It was the third lap of the race and local hero Dave Charlton crashed into Hailwood’s Surtees. Most of the cars following managed to avoid the wrecks but Clay Regazzoni arrived in a fight with Jacky Ickx and crashed straight into Hailwood’s car. The BRM burst into flames with the Swiss driver unconscious at the wheel. Hailwood’s overalls caught fire as he extracted himself from his Surtees, but the flames were extinguished by a fire marshal and then Hailwood went back into the fire to rescue his rival, somehow managing to undo Regazzoni’s belts and pull him out of the car to safety. Regazzoni suffered only minor burns as a result…
Ironically, a year later at the Nurburgring, Hailwood’s F1 career ended with a violent accident when he lost control of his McLaren after the jump at Pflanzgarten, which left him with a badly broken leg and foot, on a day when Regazzoni won for Ferrari. Such is fate.
Mike the Bike would make a sensational return to motorcycle racing in 1978, winning the Isle of Man TT on a Ducati, at the age of 38.
Three years later, having retired from the sport, Hailwood was killed along with his eight-year-old daughter Michelle in a road accident near his home in Warwickshire when his Rover collided with a truck which was performing a dangerous illegal turn on a fast piece of road. They were on their way to pick up some fish and chips.