- March 30, 1961
- New Zealand
- Not Active
Mike Thackwell is a former racing driver from New Zealand who competed in various championships, including Formula One. He recorded two starts in F1 World Championship, retiring in both races.
He gained the greatest success in the European Formula 2 Championship, winning the championship title in 1984 and finishing as a runner-up in 1983.
Michael Thackwell was born in March 1961 in Papakura, a suburb of Auckland, but the family soon moved to Perth, Australia. His father Ray was also a racing driver, so it wasn’t a surprise when Mike at the age of 9 began to participate in motocross events.
At the age of 12, Thackwell switched to kart racing and two years later he won the Western Australian championship and the Hong Kong Kart Grand Prix in 1975. During the next season, he moved to England because he wanted to become a professional racer.
Departure to Europe
In 1978, he debuted at European stage, racing in Formula Ford Championship. He won 5 out of 11 races and scored two podiums but that wasn’t enough for the title and he finished 3rd in the standings.
In 1979, Thackwell raced in the British Formula 3 and again did very well, competing with some drivers who will later become stars. Mike again won five times and finished 3rd overall, behind Chico Serra and Andrea de Cesaris but was well ahead of Stefan Johansson, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Thierry Boutsen, etc.
The same year he also raced in the European Formula 3 Championship, won the race at Monza, and finished 8th overall in the season dominated by Alain Prost.
Mike Thackwell had an unexpected Formula 1 debut
The Kiwi driver decided to follow the footsteps of his colleagues, so in 1980 he moved to European Formula 2 championship. The first season with March team was a solid one. He scored a podium finish at Silverstone before taking the 8th position in the Drivers’ championship.
That season the Kiwi racer also debuted in Formula 1. He signed as a test driver with Tyrrell team but Mike had a debut with Arrows. Team boss Jackie Oliver asked him to replace injured Jochen Mass in the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort. Tyrrell allowed Mike to have a try with Arrows but New Zealander failed to qualify for the race, driving a car that wasn’s good enough for him.
A couple of weeks later, Mike debuted with Tyrrell at the Canadian Grand Prix. The race was marked by a huge accident at the beginning of the race when other two Tyrrells were completely destroyed but Mike avoided the carnage and was able to continue the race. Unfortunately, the team ordered Thackwell to give up his car for Jean-Pierre Jarier after the original start was declared null and void. He got another chance in the next event, the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, but failed to qualify due to brake failure.
Formula 2 title was a career highlight
In 1981, Thackwell moved to Ralt Racing Team and the start of Formula 2 campaign was great. He won the season-opening race at Silverstone, then finished 3rd at Hockenheim, but soon after he suffered bad injuries after crashing during a test at Thruxton. Mike missed the next three races but returned in the second half of the season to finish 6th in the championship.
Even though he was considered as one of the future stars, Thackwell was unable to find a proper financial backing for the 1982 F2 season. However, he campaigned that season thanks to the family backing and finished 10th overall.
The season of 1983 was much better. He returned to Ralt Racing Team and did a great job before finishing the season as a runner-up. He won the race at Jarama and had other eight podiums but Jonathan Palmer was in an excellent form that year and he won the title.
However, Thackwell fought back in 1984. He triumphed in 7 out of 11 races driving a Ralt-Honda and won the title with a big advantage to his teammate Roberto Moreno who finished as a runner-up. He led a total of 408 out of the 580 laps.
Another try in Formula 1
In parallel to his F2 duties, Thackwell in 1984 had a second try in Formula 1. Mike was given an opportunity to replace Jonathan Palmer in Skoal Bandit F1 team at the Canadian Grand Prix. However, the return ended ingloriously after he retired on lap 30 due to car failure.
Mike’s last drive in F1 was at the German Grand Prix. He replaced Stefan Bellof in Tyrrell but failed to qualify for the race. Later that year, Thackwell also had a test with Williams but never got another opportunity to race in the most eminent championship.
Thackwell had an attempt to make his name in other categories
After retiring from top formula racing, he tried his luck in other categories. He drove Porsche in the FIA World Endurance Championship, recorded four appearing at Le Mans 24 Hours but retired on three occasions. His best result was in 1985 when he finished 9th driving a Porsche 962C alongside Franz Konrad and Jean-Pierre Jarier.
From 1984 to 1988 Thackwell also raced in the CART IndyCar Series with Team Penske, Japanese Formula 2, European Touring Car Championship, and International Formula 3000 Championship in which he won the 2nd place in 1985, finishing behind Christian Danner.
Before the retirement at the end of 1988, he also won 1000 km of Nurburgring sharing the seat of Sauber with Henri Pescarolo in 1986 and also became 1987 New Zealand International Formula Pacific champion.
Many were surprised when Thackwell announced his retirement from racing. He was described as one of the lost talents who wasn’t lucky enough to be at the right place at the right moment.
Thackwell later worked as a teacher and a helicopter pilot in England. He was also a gold miner in Australia before finally settling down on the south coast of England. His sister Lisa is married to another well-known racing driver – David Brabham.