Died, F1 Legend

John Surtees

British

  • Tatsfield, Surrey, England Place of Birth
  • 11 February 1934 Date of Birth
  • 1971 Austrian Grand Prix F1 Debut
  • Surtees Current/Last Team

John Norman Surtees is celebrated as the only World Champion on two and four wheels, excelling in motorcycle and Formula One racing with remarkable skill and bravery. He transitioned from motorcycles to cars with surprising ease, but his rapid ascent in motorsport was also due to immense hard work and a serious-minded approach. However, his fierce independence ultimately became a hindrance. After securing the drivers’ title at Ferrari, a violent argument led to his departure, hindering his consistency in winning thereafter.

NationalityBritish
BornJohn Norman Surtees
11 February 1934
Tatsfield, Surrey, England
Died10 March 2017 (aged 83)
Tooting, London, England

Surtees’ family background gave him an early start in motorcycling. His father Jack, a three-time British motorcycle sidecar champion, owned a motorcycle shop in South London. John, the eldest of three children, was born on February 11, 1934. By age 11, he had his own bike and could ride and repair it with equal skill. He left school at 16 to become an apprentice engineer at the Vincent motorcycle factory and won his first solo race a year later. In 1955, he joined the Norton works team, achieving 68 victories in 76 races. From 1956 to 1960, racing 350cc and 500cc bikes for the MV Agusta team, he won seven world championships.

Surtees’ transition to cars was swift. In 1959, already a famous bike racer, he was given test drives by eager talent scouts. In his first single-seater race at Goodwood in a F3 Cooper, he finished a close second to Jim Clark. This performance caught the eye of Team Lotus‘ boss Colin Chapman, who hired him for the last four races of the 1960 Formula One season. Surtees’ impressive results, including a second place in the 1960 British Grand Prix and a near win in Portugal, made him a sought-after driver. After considering several offers, he chose to drive for Cooper in 1961 and Lola in 1962, though these drives yielded few results. Nonetheless, his talent and tenacity kept him in the spotlight, particularly in Italy, where he was invited to lead Ferrari‘s Formula One team.

Enzo Ferrari, impressed by Surtees’ passion and fighting spirit, hired him as the lead driver in 1963. Surtees’ first championship win came at that year’s German Grand Prix, after a fierce battle with Jim Clark’s Lotus. In Italy, Surtees, known as ‘Son of the Wind’ and ‘John the Great,’ was hailed as Ferrari’s saviour. Nicknamed ‘Big John’ in English, he became known as ‘Fearless John’ in 1964 after another brilliant victory at the Nurburgring. That year, he won the World Championship, overcoming rivals Graham Hill and Clark in a dramatic Mexican Grand Prix showdown.

Despite becoming the first World Champion on both two and four wheels, Surtees faced challenges. His feisty personality and fierce independence sometimes worked against him. He developed a reputation for being argumentative and cantankerous, maintaining an intimidating demeanour off the track as well.

In 1965, when Ferrari’s Formula One cars were less competitive, Surtees raced his own Lola sportscar in the North American Can-Am series. A severe crash in Canada left him with multiple injuries, but he recovered to win the 1966 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa. However, his ongoing feud with team manager Eugenio Dragoni led to his departure from Ferrari after the Le Mans 24-hour race. Surtees later admitted that the split was a disastrous mistake for both parties.

Surtees finished 1966 with Cooper, winning the season finale in Mexico, and spent two years with Honda‘s new Formula One team, winning the 1967 Italian Grand Prix at Monza. After a frustrating 1969 season with BRM, he formed his own team, Team Surtees, but it had limited success. Surtees retired from driving in 1973 to focus on his team, but financial and performance challenges forced him out of Formula One racing in 1978.

In his later years, Surtees retired to the English countryside with his new family. He developed an interest in architecture and found success in real estate. He dedicated much of his time to The Henry Surtees Foundation, established after his son’s tragic death in a Formula Two race in 2009. John Surtees passed away peacefully in March 2017 at 83, leaving behind a legacy as a one-time F1 champion.

John Surtees Formula One World Championship career

F1 Career1960–1972
TeamsLotus, Cooper (non-works), Lola, Ferrari, Honda, BRM,
McLaren (non-works), Surtees
Entries113 (111 starts)
Championships1 (1964)
Wins6
Podiums24
Career points180
Pole positions8
Fastest laps10
First entry1960 Monaco Grand Prix
First win1963 German Grand Prix
Last win1967 Italian Grand Prix
Last entry1972 Italian Grand Prix

Sources: Formula1.com and Wikipedia.com

Teammates

Driver Nationality Current/Last Team F1 Debut Status
British Team Lotus 1960 Dutch Grand Prix Died, F1 Legend
Austrian Team Lotus 1964 Austrian Grand Prix Died, F1 Legend

Teams

Team Nationality Debut Season Status
Team Lotus British 1958 Historic
Ferrari Italian 1950 Current
Honda Racing Japanese 1964 Historic
BRM British 1951 Historic
McLaren British 1966 Current
Surtees British 1970 Historic