Autocourse Grand Prix Archive


Surtees, John

John Surtees is widely honoured as the only World Champion on two wheels and
four, a remarkable achievement of which he can justly be proud. But that tag
tends to be used so often that it is easy to forget what a brilliant
all-round racing driver he really was. Born into a motor cycling background
- his father Jack was an amateur racer - the young Surtees began racing on
two wheels seriously in 1951, becoming a star on Nortons through to the
mid-fifties when he switched to the Italian MV Agusta concern. From 1956 to
1960 Surtees was the outstanding rider of the day, winning seven world
titles in the 350 cc and 500 cc classes. He had some promising trials with
both Vanwall and Aston Martin in 1959 and, when his bike commitments
allowed, embarked on his car racing career early in 1960.

A win first time out at Goodwood in Ken Tyrrell's Cooper Formula Junior
marked him down as a special talent. No sooner had he purchased his own F2
Cooper than he received an invitation from Lotus to race their Formula 1
Lotus 18. At this point Colin Chapman was adroitly juggling with a number of
drivers, a situation of which John was unaware. Nevertheless he proved
staggeringly quick for one so inexperienced. In his second Grand Prix he was
second only to Brabham, and he led in Portugal before an error cost him
dear. Not so worldly-wise in those early days, John shied away from signing
to drive alongside Jim Clark for the 1961 season, unhappy with Chapman's
somewhat cavalier attitude towards his contract with Innes Ireland. In the
short term at least, it proved to be the wrong decision. Joining the Yeoman
Credit-backed team running off-the-shelf Coopers for 1961, Surtees recorded
only mediocre results, the sole minor success being a win in the Glover
Trophy. Things improved when the team, now under the Bowmaker banner,
aligned themselves with Lola, and Surtees, deeply involved in the
development of the car, came close to a Grand Prix victory. He did win a
non-title race at Mallory Park, but at the end of the year could resist the
overtures of Ferrari no longer.

John had a galvanising effect on the team, not only as a driver but also as
a source of technical input, particularly in the development of the
monocoque chassis. Prior to his arrival at Maranello, Ferrari had completely
lost their way but by mid-1963 Surtees had won both the German GP and
Mediterranean GP to re-establish the Scuderia as a potent force once more.
When the team introduced the 158 V8 engine early in 1964, Surtees at last
found the car in which he could make a realistic championship bid.
Mid-season victories in Germany and Italy enabled him to travel to the final
round in Mexico with a chance of the title, and luck was on his side as his
two rivals, Clark and Hill, both hit trouble. It may not have been one of
the most convincing championship wins, but in a year when all the cars were
evenly matched it was still thoroughly deserved.

The 1965 season found Ferrari bogged down with their flat-12 engine project,
and most of Surtees' success came in the older 158 V8 at the beginning of
the season. Apart from his sports car commitments, which brought victory in
the Nürburgring 1000 Km, John was now running his own Lola T70 on the North
American sports car scene, but in practice for a race at Mosport he suffered
a massive accident which he was very lucky to survive - as it was he lay in
hospital with serious back injuries for many weeks before making a brave
comeback the following spring. Ironically 1966 was probably his finest year
despite the bitter disagreement that caused him to leave Ferrari in
mid-term. Before the split, John had won the Belgian GP, the Syracuse GP and
the Monza 1000 Km sports car race, but afterwards he scored victories in the
Mexican GP for Cooper and a whole succession of sports car races back in his

The 1967 season was another busy one. Surtees joined the Honda F1 effort but
development proved to be a slow and painful process, though some reward came
when the hastily prepared Lola-based 'Hondola' won a sensational Italian GP
by a hair's-breadth from Jack Brabham. John's involvement with Lola was
deep. Running their Formula 2 car, he broke the Brabham dominance on
occasion, which was a not inconsiderable feat, but the Lola-Aston Martin
sports car project was best forgotten. Meanwhile his transatlantic journeys
to bag some of the lucrative purse-money on offer in Can-Am went on
unhindered. With little headway being made during the second year of the
Surtees-Honda alliance, the project was abandoned at the end of the season,
and for 1969 John joined BRM but it was to become a nightmarish season for
both parties. His Can-Am drives for Chaparral that year were also less than
satisfactory when the narrow 2H car proved to be the most difficult machine
he had ever handled.

The logical decision was to follow the example of his fellow drivers Brabham
and McLaren and build his own Formula 1 car. He was obliged to run a McLaren
while his own challenger was being prepared, but a superb drive and fastest
lap in South Africa proved he could still cut it behind the wheel. There was
even a brief and successful return to Ferrari for three sports car races,
before development of the Surtees TS7 took over, an aggregate win in the
end-of-season Gold Cup race at Oulton Park boosting his morale. The 1971
season proved tougher than expected as the new TS9 made only an occasional
impression on the Grand Prix elite. In the less rarefied atmosphere of
non-championship races, John scored some useful placings, again winning the
Gold Cup, but there was no denying it had been a disappointing season for a
man who had been used to much greater things.

Mike Hailwood's drive at Monza, coupled with a realisation that he could no
longer fulfil all the roles in his team effectively, saw Surtees take a back
seat in 1972. His third place in the International Trophy was his last
Formula 1 success, while in Formula 2 he signed off his racing career with
wins in the Japanese GP at Mount Fuji and the Shell GP at Imola. Thenceforth
he concentrated on running his team, with a succession of drivers good, bad
and indifferent filling the cockpit depending on the exigencies of the
times. Certainly few of them could meet the exacting standards required by
this hardest of taskmasters.

When suitable sponsorship dried up and medical problems that had dogged him
intermittently as a result of his 1965 Mosport accident resurfaced, he quit
the racing scene somewhat disillusioned. Happily, having remarried and
become a contented family man, John re-emerged to enjoy the historic racing
scene in both cars and bikes, where he is a major attraction demonstrating
many of the machines he handled with such brilliance in the past.

Of late he has been heading up the Team GB entry in the A1GP series, as well
as helping to advance the careers of Robbie Kerr and Alex Lloyd.

Personal Statistics

Born 11/02/1934
Place of Birth Tatsfield, Surrey
Nationality GB

1964 Statistics

Race Presences 10
Race Starts  (100%)  10
Did Not Start 0
Did Not Qualify 0
Retired  (40%)  4
Race Wins  (20%)  2
Podium Finishes  (60%)  6
Fastest Laps  (20%)  2
Pole Positions  (20%)  2
Front Row Starts  (40%)  4
Total Points 40
Season Championship Position 1
Season Driver Points 40
9, 6, 4, 3, 2 and 1 point(s) awarded to the first six finishers. Only the best 6 scores were totalled for the championship.

Career Statistics

Years in Competition 13
Championships Won 1
Race Presences 113
Race Starts  (98.2%)  111
Did Not Start  (1.8%)  2
Did Not Qualify 0
Disqualified  (0.9%)  1
Retired  (52.2%)  59
Race Wins  (5.3%)  6
Podium Finishes  (21.2%)  24
Fastest Laps  (9.7%)  11
Pole Positions  (7.1%)  8
Front Row Starts  (16.8%)  19
Total Driver Points 180
Last Race US GP (08/10/1972)

© Copyright 2016 Crash Media Group Ltd. All rights reserved.