John Surtees would have turned 84 today. He was an English Grand Prix motorcycle road racer and Formula One driver. He was a four-time 500cc motorcycle World Champion, winning that title in 1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960 and he was the Formula One World Champion in 1964, and remains the only person to have won World Championships on both two and four wheels.
Until today no other driver was able to repeat his success in the Englishman’s unique style. Enthusiasm, passion, rigour, a detailed analysis of the race tracks and of his adversaries transformed Surtees’ long career into a continuous success in every class and on all kinds of tracks. Born in 1934 with an inherited passion for motorbikes, as a young man he dedicated himself to two wheels, debuting and winning his first official race in 1951 in the Excelsior B14 class 500.
First on two wheels, and later on four. Until the 60s “Big John” as he was called conquered one success after the other, for an unmatched record of 37 Grands Prix, 44 podium places and an incredible number of fastest race laps. Surtees’ talent didn’t go unnoticed in the world of motor racing and soon he was offered a driver’s seat. In 1961 he started with Cooper and in 1962 with Lola, where he studied, improved technically and let his technicians make some mechanical interventions to make the British cars more competitive.
His time with Ferrari
In 1962, at Monza, the Englishman awoke Enzo Ferrari’s attention, impressed by John’s personality and style. Without hesitating Ferrari made Surtees the Scuderia’s number 1 driver in 1963. A memorable year, when John, called “Son of the Wind” by his new family from Maranello, gained his first Formula One World Title. A splendid 1964 followed with one of the most exciting duels in the history of racing. Despite his great passion for extremely competitive cars the following years didn’t satisfy John. It was the moment for looking at races other than Formula One.
In 1966 Surtees had a bad accident, where he got seriously injured, but recovered completely. Due to some differences with Enzo Ferrari, John concluded the season with a Cooper and changed his team several times until 1972 when he decided to form his own team, but without great success. He retired from racing in 1973, dedicating himself to his team, which he left in 1978, when he definitely abandoned the world of racing.
Art print of John Surtees driving his Ferrari 312 at the 1966 Belgian Grand Prix. Get yours here!
Last year John unfortunately passed away, but he will always be remembered as a legend.
Written by Yash Singh.