John Surtees was an extraordinary British racing driver who achieved the unique feat of winning world championships on both motorcycles and Formula One cars.
He was a seven-time Grand Prix motorcycle World Champion, and the Formula One World Champion in 1964 with Ferrari. Surtees was also a successful sports car driver, winning the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 1000 km Nürburgring.
He later became a team owner and constructor in various racing categories. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most versatile drivers in motorsport history.
John Surtees’ Childhood
John Surtees was born on 11 February 1934 in Tatsfield, Surrey, England.
He was the eldest of three children of Jack and Mary Surtees, who owned a motorcycle shop in South London. His father was a three-time British motorcycle sidecar champion and introduced John to the world of motorcycling at an early age.
John had his first professional outing at the age of 14, riding in the sidecar of his father’s Vincent at a grass track event. However, they were disqualified when the officials discovered John’s age.
Where Was John Surtees Educated?
John Surtees attended primary school in Tatsfield, and then secondary school in Westerham.
He left school at the age of 16 and became an apprentice engineer at the Vincent motorcycle factory.
John continued to race motorcycles in his spare time, winning his first solo race at 17.
John Surtees’ Family
Surtees married Patricia Burke in 1962, and they had two children: Leonora and Henry.
Leonora became a horse trainer, while Henry followed his father’s footsteps and became a racing driver.
Tragedy struck when a wheel that came off another car during a Formula Two race at Brands Hatch killed Henry in 2009 at the age of 18.
John Surtees set up the Henry Surtees Foundation in his memory, to support young people with brain or physical injuries and to promote road safety.
How Did John Surtees Get Into Motorsport?
John Surtees got into motorsport through his father’s influence and passion for motorcycles.
He started racing motorcycles at local events, and soon attracted the attention of Norton. Surtees joined their works team in 1955 and won 68 races out of 76 that year.
He also beat the reigning world champion Geoff Duke at Silverstone and Brands Hatch.
How did John Surtees get into F1?
John Surtees got into F1 after dominating the motorcycle racing scene for several years. He made his motor racing debut in 1960 at Goodwood in a borrowed car, finishing runner-up to Jim Clark, and spent much of the year juggling two wheels and four.
John won seven world championships with MV Agusta between 1956 and 1960, in both the 350cc and 500cc classes.
He switched to cars in 1960, after being offered test drives by several F1 teams. Surtees made his F1 debut with Lotus at the Monaco Grand Prix, finishing sixth.
He then moved to Cooper for the rest of the season, scoring his first podium at the British Grand Prix.
John Surtees lotus
John Surtees drove for Lotus in his first F1 season in 1960, but only for one race.
Colin Chapman hired him to partner Jim Clark at the Monaco Grand Prix, where he qualified fifth and finished sixth.
However, he was unhappy with the handling of the Lotus 18 and felt that Chapman favored Clark over him. He left Lotus after Monaco and joined Cooper for the remainder of the season.
John Surtees Lotus 49
John Surtees never drove the Lotus 49, which was one of the most successful and influential F1 cars of all time.
The Lotus 49 debuted in 1967, with a revolutionary Ford-Cosworth DFV engine that became the dominant power unit for many years. John Surtees had left Lotus by then and was driving for Honda in 1967.
He did drive a Lotus-Cosworth car in 1970, when he entered his own team Surtees in F1.
Surtees Crashed In 1964
Surtees crashed while testing in Ontario when a faulty hub casting sent him into a barrier.
He was thrown out of the car, which landed on him, fracturing his pelvis, damaging his left leg and spine and rupturing his kidneys.
His damaged pelvis caused him to be four inches shorter on one side than the other. he recalled.
When Did John Surtees Win The Formula 1 F1 World Championship
John Surtees won the Formula One World Championship in 1964, driving for Ferrari. He had joined Ferrari in 1963, after two unsuccessful seasons with Cooper and Lola.
Surtees won his first race for Ferrari at the German Grand Prix in 1963, beating Jim Clark in a close duel.
He also won the Italian Grand Prix that year, finishing fourth in the championship.
In 1964, Surtees won two more races, at the Nürburgring and Monza, and fought for the title with Graham Hill of BRM and Jim Clark of Lotus.
He entered the final race in Mexico with a one-point deficit to Hill, and five points behind Clark. He qualified second, behind Dan Gurney of Brabham, while Hill was third and Clark fifth.
Clark took the lead at the start, but his engine failed on lap 65, leaving him out of contention.
Surtees was running third behind Gurney and Bandini, his Ferrari teammate, when Hill was hit by Lorenzo Bandini’s Ferrari on lap 31, damaging his exhaust.
Hill dropped to 11th place and had to fight his way back to fourth. Surtees needed to finish second to beat Hill by one point, but he was unaware of Hill’s position.
On the last lap, Ferrari ordered Bandini to let Surtees pass, which he did reluctantly. Surtees crossed the line in second place, behind Gurney, and became the world champion by one point over Hill.
He also became the first and only person to win world championships on both two and four wheels.
John Surtees’s Formula 1 Statistics
John Surtees competed in Formula One from 1960 to 1972, driving for Lotus, Cooper, Lola, Ferrari, Honda, BRM, McLaren and his own team Surtees.
He entered 113 races and started 111 of them.
- He won six races
- He achieved 24 podiums
- 8 pole positions
- 10 fastest laps.
- He scored a total of 180 points (under the old scoring system).
- He had an average finishing position of 6.36, and an average starting position of 5.77.
- He led 271 laps out of a total of 5,319 laps he raced, which is a percentage of 5.09%.
Grand Tour John Surtees Episode
The Grand Tour is a popular motoring show on Amazon Prime Video, hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May.
In season two, episode seven, titled ‘It’s a gas gas gas’, the trio paid tribute to John Surtees by visiting his home in Edenbridge, Kent, and driving some of his iconic cars on his private track.
They also interviewed him about his life and career and presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
John Surtees Death
John Surtees died on 10 March 2017, at the age of 83, at St George’s Hospital in London.
He had been admitted with a respiratory condition earlier that week. His death was announced by his family through the Henry Surtees Foundation website.
His death was mourned by the motorsport community, who paid tribute to his achievements and legacy as one of the greatest drivers of all time.