Friday 10th March 2017.
It is with sadness that today we learned that the only man to win a world championship on two and four wheels John Surtees has passed away aged 83.
A total professional and one of the most versatile racers of all time, Surtees career started out in racing in 1949 as a passenger for his father who was a top sidecar racer. It didn’t take long for John to move onto competing himself and by 1950 he was taking part in road races, starting as a privateer on a modified Triumph Tiger before later moving to Vincents and Nortons.
It was 1953, aged only 19, that he got a invite to ride for the Norton works team. Within two years Surtees was heading up the MV Agusta’s 350cc and 500cc world Championship campaigns. It was during 1953 that he won his first of seven motorcycle world titles, the 500cc category. He won the other six titles over the next four seasons on the famous red and white Agusta’s and in 1959 his feat was recognised with an MBE in the Honours List on the Queen’s Birthday.
His move to four wheels came about when many people, including 1958 F1 Champion Mike Hawthron, to switch his talents over to cars. His first drive in a car was the Aston Martin DBR1 and Vanwell F1 car around Goodwood, a track he had never seen before that day. He done enough to impress both teams with his performance but decided to stay on two wheel until 1960. His first F1 race came at the wheel of Colin Chapman’s Lotus at Monaco. His second race was the British GP and Surtees would come home second before adding a pole position and third place at the Portuguese GP as well.
It was 1963 that he signed for Ferrari and it was with the Italian giants that he took his F1 World Championship win in 1964. Surtees also turned his hand to other forms of motor sport as was the norm at the time and this included four separate attempts at the Le Mans 24 hour race which produced a best finish of third in 1964. Within Formula One he moved on from Ferrari due to a fall out at the 1966 Le Mans race where he was due to drive one of the teams cars only to be told at the track he was not competing, the team blaming it on injuries he sustained the year before in a sports car crash at Mosport in Canada. Surtees was so frustrated that he quit the team immediately and joined Cooper for the rest of the season, the decision likely cost both Surtees and Ferrari the championships in 1966.
Surtees would sign for Honda for 1967 but was hampered by mechanical issues, the high point victory by 0.2 seconds at the Italian Grand Prix. By 1970 he set up his own team, Surtees Racing Organisation. The team spent nine years competing in F2, F5000 and F1 with John driving until 1972 when he retired from competitive driving and ran the team till its end in 1978.
Away from the track Surtees ran a motorcycle shop in West Wickham in Kent as well as a Honda car dealership in Edenbridge, Kent in the 1970s. He continued competing in classic events on both two and four wheels and in 2005 was the chairman of A1 Great Britain team in the A1 Grand Prix racing series. His son Henry was also a racer and competed at National and International level before tragically losing his life in an F2 race at Brands Hatch in July 2009. Surtees was then part of the Henry Surtees Foundation that helps to assist people with accidental injuries and help young people to develop their capabilities.
John was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1996, He was also given an OBE and CEB in future honours list to go with his MBE and was a man that was known to have a story and great to talk to. He passed away today peacefully with his wife Jane and daughters Leonora and Edwina by his side. The family released a short statement.
“We deeply mourn the loss of such an incredible, kind and loving man as well as celebrate his amazing life. He has set a very real example of someone who kept pushing himself at his peak and one who continued fighting until the very end.”
John Surtees, multi time world champion on two and four wheels, has passed. John is survived by his wife and daughters and our thoughts and prayers go out to them at this time.