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Brits and their Ferrari breaks



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Mike Parkes


Ferrari 312




LII ACF GP, European GP (3 July 1966)


Jonathan Williams (Jackie Stewart)


Ferrari 312 (BRM P83)




VI Mexican GP (22 October 1967)


Two expatriate Brits and their ultra-short GP careers with the Scuderia form the obvious link between these two pictures. But although similar in character the drivers followed very different routes to and away from Maranello.

Probably more gifted as an engineer but with his heart very much in love with racing, Michael Johnson Parkes was more than often offered to quit his racing career in favour of an engineering job - a role in which he excelled at Ferrari after his Grand Prix career-ending crash at the 1967 Belgian GP - but he needed the tough persuasion of the serious leg injuries suffered at Spa before fully committing to a part behind the scenes, away from the glitz and the limelight of sportscar and GP racing.

Jonathan Williams was touted for automotive engineering as well but was lured away from college by his racing-mad friends who used to join up with each other at a South Kensington pub. Piers Courage was one of them. Jonathan and Piers became the closest of friends. At that time, in the late fifties, their only racing experience was some illegal wheel-banging on a local airfield where Jonathan brought his Mini. Piers took his mother's Morris Minor Traveller, which was subsequently mistreated joyously. Of course everyone had to be hush-hush to Mrs Courage, as the family had planned a career in accounting for Piers.

In that, Jonathan Williams' friend shares his background of wealth and high expectations with Mike Parkes, as they both were corporate chairmen's sons. While Piers' father became the chairman of the family brewing business in 1960, Mike Parkes' dad was the head of Alvis Cars, a neigbour to the Rootes Group in Coventry, and good friends with Sir William Rootes. That probably explains why Mike started working as a Rootes engineer but having grown up in a motoring family, he soon started racing MGs before graduating to a Frazer-Nash.

By 1957 Mike had received a Le Mans invitation to join Lotus as a reserve driver at the Sarthe, following his stunning Lotus club drives. This set the ball rolling and not before long Parkes was involved in David Fry's Formula 2 project, taking the seat originally intended for Stuart Lewis-Evans. This led to an early GP entry although Mike failed to qualify the Fry for the British GP F2 class in 1959.

As a sidenote it is interesting to note that Parkes collaborated with another Fry during his time at Rootes - and with a significant result in motorsports as well. In the 1950s Parkes became lead engineer, along with close associate Tim Fry, on the Apex small car project which spawned the Hillman Imp. The Imp was a sales disaster if judged by the success of the car it was intended to rival, the Mini, and unquestionably played a major part in the ultimate demise of the Rootes Group, but its DNA as an enthusiast-designed small car - the Parkes/Fry factor - was undeniable. The Imp proved itself a formidable car on the track, trouncing the Mini in the under-1000cc class in at least two British Touring Car Championships.

There's another connection here, as the rivaling Mini was designed by the legendary Sir Alec Issigonis, who also cooperated in the design of the aforementioned Fry F2 car! Of course, Mike got to do the on-track development through the links between John Parkes and Issigonis, who worked at Alvis during the early part of the fifties before moving on - or rather, back - to BMC to create the classic Morris Mini Minor.

Meanwhile in 1960, Mike's career moved him to sportscars, where he was to stay until a surprise call-up from Ferrari in 1966 saw him replace the Cooper-bound John Surtees. Mike Parkes, sportscars and Ferrari became a formidable trio in the mid-sixties, as a triumphant year for Col. Hoare's Maranello Concessionaires team brought numerous British wins. This led to a works Le Mans drive on board a 250TR. Sharing with Willy Mairesse, Mike took the Testa Rossa to a stunning second place. This superb performance led him to join the Scuderia - originally as a development engineer and reserve driver but the Commendatore could not keep him from winning the Sebring 12hrs and Spa 500kms in 1964, the Monza 1000kms in 1965 and the Monza and Spa 1000kms in 1966. The Old Man begged but at the same time understood that Mike was not prepared to quit.

Had he done so, he might have missed the highlight of his career! When John Surtees fell out with GP team manager Eugenio Dragoni and quit to join Cooper, Mike was suddenly promoted to the GP team. In 1966, the first year of the 3-litre area, Ferrari had caught the British opposition on the hop - just as they had done in 1961 when another transition to a new formula had to be made. The 312 was by far the best car of the field, and Surtees seemed set for a second title after a crushing display at Spa when it all went wrong. With the title up for grabs the Italians contrived to mess things up by upsetting their number one driver. They did this by doing the thing they had become used to in the sixties - divide their attention between F1 and sportscars, with the latter category getting the better treatment until the Le Mans 24hrs was behind them. To Surtees that meant ruining a perfectly good chance to another F1 World Championship. Being the proud man that he was, Big John simply said good luck to you.

Now Lorenzo Bandini was Ferrari's lead man but cruel luck took the Italian out of the title equasion soon, as a French win was lost in the dying minutes when the trottle cable snapped. For the rest of the season, Maranello managed to hand Bandini the 312 that broke. Another opportunity lost.

Although Ferrari's potentially dominating season was handed over gift-wrapped to the Brabham boys, whose thank you came in the form of an ultra-reliable mid-season winning streak, the Scuderia's mishap created Parkes' big break. He delivered by qualifying third and finishing second on his debut at Reims. At Brands Ferrari were auspiciously absent because of a general strike striking Italy again - supposedly. Parkes then threw it away at Zandvoort with a spin but was denied a good finish by an engine blow-up at the 'Ring, resulting in a violent crash.

Next up was Monza and to the delirious joy of the crowd the top two drivers on the grid raced red cars, Parkes taking pole ahead of Scarfiotti, who had starred in Germany by taking fourth on the grid in a 2.4-litre Ferrari V6, albeit on a track that favoured the nimble 2-litre cars of Clark and Stewart. At Monza, however, it was horsepower that counted and the Ferrari V12s had loads of it. On a famous afternoon it was Ludovico Scarfiotti who brought his Ferrari home first, with poleman Parkes just inching Denis Hulme for second, but not after lead driver Bandini had had to retire with fuel feed problems.

The extent of the 312's intrinsic superiority was shown by the stupendous form of replacement drivers Parkes and Scarfiotti, both drawn from the sportscar team. Without taking anything away from them, here were two sportscar drivers stepping in without any fair warning and delivering the goods. But the damage had been done earlier in the season, with Surtees leaving and Bandini getting the raw deal when the 312s were passed around. In the two away races at the Glen and in Mexico Ferrari were a mere part player, with the team only bothering to turn up at the first with a single car for Bandini, which considering Lorenzo's luck unsurprisingly failed.

In 1967, the team started afresh, showing excellent form in sportcars, resulting in one-twos at Daytona and Monza, Bandini/Amon leading Parkes/Scarfiotti on both occasions in their dominant P4s. And in Grand Prix racing things looked pleasant as well, with Parkes and Scarfiotti obliterating the opposition in the early-season non-championship events at Syracuse and Silverstone. The Sicilian event saw the famous dead heat between the Monza '66 stars while Parkes was streets ahead in the International Trophy. Then came the Monaco GP.

Having skipped the sensational car-breaking season-opener at Kyalami - which fortunately saw no-scores for Clark, Stewart and Rindt and low scores for Brabham and Hulme - the Ferrari team confidently entered the classic at the Principality, knowing that they only trailed the lucky Rodriguez by 9 points. Bandini qualified second behind Brabham while young Chris Amon made his debut for Ferrari.

With Brabham's engine letting go on the get-go it was Bandini leading the first tour. For the next 80 laps it looked like Ferrari was getting off to a great start of their Grand Prix season. Although Lorenzo had to relinquish the lead to eventual winner Denny Hulme he was on a charge to retake it. Then he clipped the barrier at the harbour chicane. The Ferrari rolled and burst into flames, coming to a rest upside down in the middle of the track. It took ages for the rescue crews to arrive. Before the hapless Bandini could be dragged out of the wreck he was badly burned. Miraculously Lorenzo survived the ordeal, only to suffer for three more days in hospital before succumbing to his injuries.

Suddenly, Chris Amon found himself in a similar position to Bandini a year before. And in the meantime the perimeters had shifted. At the next race at Zandvoort, the Cosworth DFV entered the Grand Prix scene, while the title-defending Brabham team was working as slick and routinely as in 1966. And then there was Dan Gurney, whose Eagle was really flying. Ferrari fielded Parkes and Scarfiotti alongside Amon at Zandvoort and Spa but the Lotuses had their measure. Then Parkes suffered a huge first-lap crash at the Ardennes event and was ruled out of action for the remainder of the season. So from the French GP onwards Ferrari entered but a single machine for Chris Amon, who did well to salvage a joint fourth in the championship.

And then, as a complete surprise, there were two Ferraris at the season-closing Mexican GP. Here was this completely unknown Englishman being drafted in straight from Italian F3 at a time the Ferrari flow was ostensibly ebbing away, with even shallower waters still to come, eventually finishing with a complete drought in 1969. Jonathan Williams actually did well to take the car home in 8th but in qualifying the comparison with Amon was obvious: Chris was a massive 6 seconds ahead. It was enough for Ferrari to drop his driver as fast as he had hired him.

That was a massive blow for the man who could not resist the tempting offer to join the illustrious Ferrari team, even though he had only been racing F3 in the years before he was plucked from the De Sanctis team in Italian F3. Jonathan, Piers Courage and some bloke called Sheridan Thynne - another one of those airfield Mini racers, but one who went on to become one of the leading forces behind Williams Grand Prix Engineering as well! - had been club racing at Mallory Park when they met one of their rivals: Frank Williams. Frank was to become an important figure in Piers Courage's life, but first Piers quit school and escaped to Jonathan's Harrow flat, which he shared with fellow racer John Chrichton-Stuart. By that time, Jonathan had already had a season of European F3 behind his belt, and with Piers joining him, the two decided to do a continental season of F3 together.

And so the pair bought two Lotus 22s, called themselves Anglo-Swiss Racing - as they had planned to use Lausanne as a semi-permanent home base - and set off on their 1964 tour of Europe, living from hand to mouth, using their start money to keep their battered machines going for yet another round of the championship. During their travels they met Charles Lucas, a man wondering what to do with his large inheritance. The three teamed up, with Jonathan and Piers agreeing to race Lucas' Brabhams. It was the pivotal move in Courage's career who from that moment on was on his way up. Williams, on the other hand, would remain in F3, until that Autumn of 1967 when he received Ferrari's offer.

Williams' Ferrari career spans that F1 race, an F2 event and a couple of sportscar races. He became involved in the abortive Abarth F1 project and after that was clutching at straws. In 1968 Courage - now an F1 driver with Tim Parnell - moved Frank into signing old pal Jonathan for his F2 team. JW delivered by taking the Rheinpokal but the cooperation never developed into a form in which Jonathan would team up with Piers in the Williams F1 team for 1969. So while Piers and Frank stirred up some surprises with their privateer Brabham, Jonathan was taking sportscar drives that ultimately led to his retirement in the early seventies. For 1970, Courage was offered a drive at Ferrari but he declined. His friend's experience must have played a big part.

Meanwhile, Mike Parkes' return to racing was similarly inconspicuous. Racing for Ferrari-aligned sportscar teams such as NART and Filipinetti, Parkes never regained his old form and by 1973 had fazed out his racing to concentrate on engineering for Fiat and Lancia, one of his main accomplishments being the development of the Lancia Stratos. Sadly, Mike was killed in a road accident in 1977, as ironically was Jean Courage, who never stopped blaming herself for encouraging her first-born son to follow his dream.

Reader's Why by Geza Sury

Very few people made their debut in Ferraris. One of them is Mike Parkes. (Clay Regazzoni and Ignazio Guinti are another two.) Mike's GP debut happened in interesting circumstances. After the Belgian GP, 1964 World Champ John Surtees had left Ferrari with immediate effect. The Scuderia needed a driver quickly, so they drafted one of their sportscar drivers to the driving seat. He had been racing the scarlet sportscars for a couple of years, and won - amongst others - the 1964 edition of the prestigious Sebring 12-hour race in a Ferrari 275P, which he shared with Umberto Maglioli. In fact Parkes was more than just a mere sportscar driver, he had been testing and developing the street version Ferraris. He wasn't an ideal GP driver anyway, because of his 192 cm height, which ranked him as one of the tallest drivers at that time. Michael Johnson Parkes was born on 24th September, 1924. His father was the president of the Alvis Company, a prominent British car manufacturer in the 20s and 30s. Mike was interested in cars, so he became and engineer. He started to race in British Club events in the late 50s, his first major international race was the 1960 Le Mans in a Lotus Elise. The following year he took part in Goodwood Tourist Trophy race driving a private Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta. He impressed Enzo Ferrari himself, so the Old man drafted him into the sportscar team. John Surtees' sudden exit helped him to the driving seat of Ferrari F1 car. Actually Mike had tried to qualify the luckless Fry-Climax in 1959, without any success. By contrast, he qualified the Ferrari 312 to the front row of the 1966 French GP. The powerful V12 was ideally suited to the long straights of Reims, so his team-mate, the new team-leader of Ferrari, Lorenzo Bandini was in pole position. It was John Surtees - now in a Cooper - who made the best of starts from second on the grid, but before the first lap he was slowed down by fuel-pump problems. By the end of the first lap, Parkes was 3rd, behind Bandini and Jack Brabham. He then got the attention of Graham Hill in a BRM, which lasted until Hill's car suffered and engine failure. So Parkes was on his own in 3rd, but around half a minute behind the still leading Bandini. The Italian had built up of 26-second lead, until his throttle cable broke, promoting Brabham to the lead. Black Jack eased up a bit, since his nearest rival, Parkes was 50 seconds behind. And that's how they finished, Brabham won ahead of Parkes (who reduced the gap to 9.5 seconds by the end of the 48-lap race!), Dennis Hulme took 3rd. Parkes repeated that performance at Monza, where he took pole position and led the race for 7 laps, only to finish 2nd behind Ludovico Scarfiotti, team-orders preventing him to challenge for the lead in the closing laps. Meanwhile, he took his first Grand Prix win at the Daily Express Trophy at Silverstone, the following year. Three weeks later - strangely enough - He and Scarfiotti were decleared the joint winners of the Syracuse GP after crossing the line with exactly the same time (1h 40m 58.4s)! Parkes contested only 6 world championship races for Ferrari. Enzo Ferrari wasn't keen to see one of his best test drivers risking his life on the racetracks. He drove a couple of sportscar races in 1967, but than he suffered multiple injuries at the Belgian GP, after losing control and crashing at the notoriously fast Blanchimont corner. After recovering from the accident, he stayed away form racing for three years. He came back in 1970, still driving Ferraris, but he wasn't able to repeat his formers successes. He retired at the end of 1973. After hitting a truck, Mike Parkes died in road accident in 1977.

Reader's Why by David Fox

Sometimes it seemed in the 60's that Williams was more Italian than British! Born in Cairo in 1942, he eventually was reared on the usual diet of English clubbies-Mini's, F3 etc, he then turned his attention to Italy and landed a ride with the de Sanctis F3 team with great success. The call from "La Scuderia" came in 1967 and he had some sports car rides - Le Mans, BOAC 500 etc., but only one F1 race (here) - his unfamiliarity with the car, track, elevation etc. showed as he lined up 16th on the grid some 6 seconds slower than team leader Chris Amon, finishing 8th in the race a full 2 alps behind Clarks' race winning Lotus 49 DFV. He also had a debut/only works Ferrari 166 F2 ride at Rouen… then that was it. He then drifted into driving all sorts of odd things like the Serenissima, drove for his namesake Frank in F2 and then disappeared from the sport to become a pilot in the south of France.

With the change to the 3 litre Formula in 1966 Ferrari should really have been in their pre-1961 position, set to dominate the "garagistes" - indeed the press at the time had written off the season as a red car walkover. They had years of experience with 3-litre V12 from the sports and GT programmes so steeping this up to GP performance should have been no real problem.

However they really struggled with drivers and the continuing political bickering at Maranello. Surtees and Bandini were on the team at the beginning of the year and results were starting to come with the Italian's 2nd place at Monaco and "Big John's" superlative winning drive through the Ardennes monsoon at Spa. Then came the Dragoni rift and Surtees left the team to waste his talents in Cooper Maseratis. Bandini, excellent racer that he was, wasn't really up to race winning form-despite almost winning the French GP that year. Ferrari's answer was to fill the team with their sports car racers--Parkes and Ludovico Scarfiotti. -the later winning an emotional Italian GP, and Parkes 2nd at both the French and Italian GP's. For 1967 the original Ferrari F1 line up was to be Bandini, and new boys Chris Amon and Andrea de Adamich. The team gave the opening South African GP a miss. So their season opening event was the Race of Champions at Brands and much was expected. However de Adamich destroyed his car at Paddock Bend in practice and Amon had a serious road accident on the way to the track.

(In those far off days when F1 Ferraris were entered for UK races and never arrived-usually owing to yet another sheet metal workers strike - I well remember track announcer Anthony Marsh informing the crowd that "there were 3 Ferraris here on Friday - honestly!")

Bandini really rose to the occasion here and was mounting a very serious challenge to Dan Gurney's faltering Eagle Weslake in the closing laps of the final. Monaco was the opening round of Ferrari's 1967 Championship tail. With the weight of Italy and the honour of Ferrari on his shoulders Bandini was chasing too hard after Hulme's Repco Brabham when he made his fatal mistake… Amon's 3rd place was no consolation.

Parkes and Scarfiotti then re-joined the squad at the Dutch GP-- the team finishing 4th,5th and 6th-Amon, Parkes, Scarfiotti. Parkes then had his huge shunt at Spa, Amon again 3rd and Scarfiotti not classified. "Lulu" was then dropped from the team - more politics! From then until Mexico Amon then carried on as a singleton entry: The Kiwi's race record - French GP dnf, British GP 3rd, German GP 3rd, Canada 6th, 7th at the Italian GP (where incidentally Scarfiotti appeared as Gurney's Eagle team mate!), USA dnf, and then Mexico which brings us to Williams' one-off drive.

So after 2 years when they should have swept all before them all the might of Ferrari could manage was Parkes' 8th place in the '67 World Championship and Amon's 5th in 1967. The real cause of this lack of success however was clearly Enzo Ferrari's grim determination to beat Ford at Le Mans - he took it upon himself to sweep back the foreign invaders and concentrated all his efforts on winning. Amon has been quoted as saying that the F1 programme only ever took off after Le Mans was over! The gallant struggle was all for nothing - as Briggs Cunningham once said, "The only substitute for cubic inches is cubic money." Detroit was always going to outspend Maranello and even Turin (through Fiat's involvement).

Stewart's GP career started with BRM in 1965, as teammate to G.Hill. The first year was the best with 3rd overall in the championship. 1966 and the new 3-litre Formula found BRM going in the wrong direction with H16 engine complications and he alternate P261 "Tasman" cars suffering from a lack of power his result were not too impressive. The Mexican race was thus his last for Owen. He then joined Ken Tyrrell and Matra International for 1968 - things changed a bit after that!