My son Mike by Stan Hailwood - part three

Picture: Hailwood Archive

This serialisation is taken from a 1966 magazine by Stan Hailwood about his son Mike…

Times innumerable during 1965 I was asked: “Is Mike going to leave MV?” Everybody seemed to know more than we did and we got heartily sick of the rumours because the answer was that he simply didn’t know what to do.

First of all, let me make one point absolutely clear. Count Agusta has often been regarded as a phantom ogre. Nothing can be further from the truth. I met him and corresponded with him quite a lot in four years - always he was a perfect gentleman and a real racing enthusiast.

He could be absolutely charming. In fact, when it looked like Mike would be switching to Honda at the end of 1965 he was writing and cabling for Mike to visit him. We both chickened out. If he had got us into his office and turned on his Italian charm Mike would still have been at MV.

On one occasion we were passing through Italy and facing the prospect of a coach trip through Milan from Linate to Malpensa airports. Instead, we were greeted by a chauffeur driven limo and orders to go to the MV factory at Gallarate. We arrived in the Count’s office at ten in the evening where he had a snack and champagne waiting for us.

Click here for part two

Click here for part one

He wanted to fix up a contract for the following year, we agreed the terms, he dictated it to his secretary and we left the office two hours later in a daze. Everything had happened so quickly and pleasantly, helped no doubt by the bubbly which made us very wary of going back to his office this time.

But he was unpredictable. When Alan Shepherd wanted a talk with the Count he sat in the outer office for well over a day, it might have been two. Mike once sat for six hours and had to go again the following morning.

All the top riders suffered from this sort of thing, Surtees, Hocking, Hartle, Taveri and I suspect the Italian riders had to put up with the same sort of treatment. Then there were many promises which never materialised, Mike’s first being the promise he should have a 250 MV for the Isle of Man.

This was to have been the machine that Gary Hocking used in 1961 when, in a dice with Mike on the Honda four, he went round at 98mph. We knew the machines capabilities and felt it was a potential winner if it kept going. Our judgement was proved correct because for the next two years the 250 races were won at this speed and the MV could have been improved in this time.

Then there was the difficulty in getting machines for British races in which Mike always likes to ride. I can quite see Count Augusta’s point of view. Why should he pay a rider good money and then send machines over to Britain with the chance of him falling off and injuring himself with a world championship at stake.

To be quite frank about the whole matter, I think the real reason for all this trouble was that at long last the Count felt he had a man from his own nation capable of taking a world championship - Giacomo Agostini. The Italians are very nationalistic indeed. When the idol of Italy, Tarquinio Provini, my favourite rider incidentally, wins a race the enthusiasm is fantastic. The crowds carry him shoulder high to the rostrum.

My sympathies are with the Italians. They produce wonderful machines but behave not produced a 500cc world champion since Libero Liberati in 1957. In Agostini they have this chance. He is a brilliant and daring rider and one of the nicest guys to know. Mike and he are the biggest of pals with a natural spirit of keen rivalry as team-mates. Only time will tell but it is a gamble by Count Agusta to rely on him alone to bring the title back to Italy.

When the question came up of Mike leaving MV and going to Honda I had very grave doubts as to whether it was wise. He had a wonderful machine which would obviously be improved and there was the chance of a three cylinder 500 or the six cylinder which John Hartle rode at Monza once.

The old four cyclinder MV was the most reliable and Mike had never really pushed it except when challenged by the Gileras in 1963. To offset this we all knew that the 350 Honda was fast but did not steer too well. However, nobody knew what was going to happen on the 500 side. Various rumours floated around about a six or eight cylinder but in fact there was no 500 Honda and it would have to be built from scratch.

Came the Japanese Grand Prix of 1965 and Mike was given the job of holding back his old pal Jim Redman to allow Ago to win to 350 race which he did. But, to our amazement, Count Agusta gave permission for Mike to ride Honda in the 250 class and although he described the handling has ‘bloody awful’ they weren’t offended and did all they could to fix it.

After a season of broken promises from the Count, the hospitality of Honda and the thrill of riding a six cylinder 250 plus the opportunity of riding three races per meeting it was too much to resist. Honda it was and yet Mike, not normally a sentimental person, found leaving people like Lew Ellis of Shell and his faithful MV mechanic Vittorio Carrano behind very difficult.

Let me put one point in the grave - money did not enter in to it. There was no bidding as many people seem to imagine. In fact, Mike may be worse off unless Honda lend him more machines to ride in British meetings. With MV he had the chance to ride any machine, and did, but now he is not allowed to ride anything but a Honda which may mean giving up a lot of start and prize money. Only 1966 and ‘67 will prove whether he made the right decision or not ... I for one will keep my fingers crossed.

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