Probably more gifted as an engineer than a driver, Michael Johnson Parkes was often asked to quit his racing 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.
Formula One driver from Britain. He participated in 7 grands prix, debuting on July 18, 1959. He achieved 2 podiums, and scored a total of 14 championship points. He also secured 1 pole position.
The son of a former Chairman of the Alvis company, Mike Parkes was born into a world of cars and motor racing.
Parkes trained as an engineer with the Rootes Group in Coventry, staying with them until 1962 by which time his professional racing career had started. He first took to the circuits with an MG TD and soon graduated to a Frazer Nash.
In 1955 Mike Parkes and Tim Fry started designing the Hillman Imp. At that time it was no more than a feasibility study.
He started to race seriously in 1957 and, following his stunning Lotus club drives, he received an invitation to join Lotus as a reserve driver at Le Mans. Soon he became involved in David Fry's Formula 2 project, taking the seat originally intended for Stuart Lewis-Evans. Apart from the occasional Libre success in minor events during 1958-59, the car was not really competitive. He entered the British GP F2 class in 1959 but failed to qualify.
A few outings in Sir Gawaine Baillie’s Lotus Elite during 1960 showed his potential but brought little by way of results, but his breakthrough came in 1961 when he raced for Tommy Sopwith’s Equipe Endeavour in GT and Formula Junior events, and also handled Maranello Concessionaires’ Ferrari GT, winning races regularly in all classes. The high point of his season was undoubtedly the Le Mans 24 Hours, in which he shared a Ferrari 3-litre Testa Rossa with Willy Mairesse to take a superb second place.
Although he began 1962 with a rare Formula 1 outing at Mallory Park, taking fourth place in the 1000 Guineas race in a Bowmaker Cooper, Parkes’ immediate future remained in the sports and GT category. His superb form of the previous year was repeated with much the same machinery, his tally including a hat-trick of wins in one day at Brands Hatch. Another fine outing brought second place in the Nürburgring 1000 Km in the works Ferrari, and it was no surprise when he joined the Scuderia for the 1963 season as development engineer and reserve driver.
Over the next three seasons, Mike became one the world’s leading sports car drivers, winning the Sebring 12 Hours and Spa 500 Km in 1964 – a season cut short by a testing accident – and the Monza 1000 Km in 1965.
After John Surtees’ sudden departure from Ferrari in 1966, Mike was elevated to Grand Prix status and, with a special long chassis to accommodate his 6 ft 4 in frame, he took second place on his debut in the French GP and repeated the feat at Monza. His success in sports cars continued, Parkes winning the Monza and Spa 1000 Km in 1966, and finishing second at Daytona, Monza and Le Mans in 1967, a season which started with much promise when he dead-heated with Scarfiotti to share a win at Syracuse and then demolished the opposition in the International Trophy at Silverstone. However, disaster struck in the Belgian GP with an enormous accident. The opening lap crash at Spa-Francorchamps left Parkes lying beside his upturned Ferrari 312 with head injuries and a badly broken leg. The accident virtually finished his career, for although he subsequently had some sports car drives, the old magic had deserted him.
Mike continued in a management role at Ferrari while he recovered from the accident, and made a tentative return in the Paris 1000 Km in 1969, returning to the track in 1970 and 1971 for NART and Scuderia Filipinetti. Though he could not repeat his previous triumphs, Parkes produced some useful performances, including a superb drive to fifth place in the 1972 Targa Florio with Peter Westbury in the little Lola T212.
Following his retirement he managed the private Scuderia Filipinetti Ferrari team and operated a team of Fiat 128s contesting the European Touring Car Championship. Later he became involved in the management of the Lancia rally team for whom he was working when he died in a road accident near Turin in 1977 when his car was involved in a collision with a lorry.