John Surtees remembered

| 14 Mar 2017

John Surtees, the only man to have won a Grand Prix World Championship on two wheels and four, has died at the age of 83. 

The son of a London motorcycle dealer, Surtees began his racing career on two wheels and quickly established himself as a prodigious talent, capturing his first 500cc title in 1956, shortly after transferring from Norton to MV Agusta. His incredible pace earned him the nickname ‘figlio del vento’ meaning son of the wind, and he again won the world title in 1958, 1959 and 1960. 

Surtees branched out into car racing when he was just 26 years old, and quickly discovered the pace for which he had become known in bike racing, coming from 11th on the grid to finish second to Jack Brabham at the 1960 British Grand Prix, just his second competitive outing. By 1963 he had made the switch to Ferrari, winning the German Grand Prix and placing second at Silverstone before finally winning the Formula One World Championship the following year. 

The deciding race of the 1964 season took place in Mexico, with Graham Hill five points clear of Surtees and nine ahead of Jim Clark. Hill was slowed due to a collision with Lorenzo Bandini, Surtees’ team mate, while Clark was put out of contention on the last lap due to an oil leak. Bandini then allowed Surtees to pass, handing him his first F1 Championship by one point over Graham Hill. 

Surtees continued with Ferrari throughout 1965 and the beginning of the 1966 season before quitting the team for Cooper after just the second race – which he won. Team manager Eugenio Dragoni had dropped Surtees from the factory’s Le Mans entry, causing him to resign on the spot. He went on to finish a distant second in the F1 Championship to Jack Brabham. 

After a reasonably successful stint at Honda that saw him win at Monza, then a year with BRM, Surtees eventually founded his own team in 1970, finishing a number of races in a car bearing his own name before retiring from racing by 1972. Though he no longer drove, he continued to manage the operation for six years until its closure. 

Though retired from racing, Surtees never fully left motorsport and became a regular fixture at historic racing events, while also running motorcycle and car dealerships. The latter part of his life was defined by the death of his son Henry, a talented racer who was tragically struck by a wheel in an F2 race in 2009. Surtees founded the Henry Surtees Foundation in his memory, and pursued the charity work with the same quiet dedication for which he became known while racing.