Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler: BlackJack’sBriefs
As with my series on drivers, I started with the Wiki ‘List of Formula One Constructors’ and quickly reduced 136 to 43 eligible constructors by removing the Champions, and those hopefuls who failed to last beyond two or three seasons, and also those who only competed before 1958. [See Part-20 – Intro for details.]
“You talkin’ to me…?”
Born in Tatsfield, Surrey, in 1934 John Surtees was crowned 350cc & 500cc motorcycle World Champion seven times and, four years later (1964), won the driver’s World Championship – the only person to take both. Six years later he founded the Surtees Racing Organisation which contested the F2, F5000 & F1 championships from 1970 – 1978.
The ‘team’ actually goes back to 1966 when Surtees ran a Lola T70-Chevrolet for himself in the first CanAm series, which he won. Surtees and Eric Broadley had been close since the early 60’s when he drove the F1 Lola for the Reg Parnell team and, for a time, was also a neighbour of Broadley, in Bromley, before he moved the operation to Edenbridge, Kent.
It seems John liked to be in control of his own destiny and, after a hotly contested, and lucky Championship, a further two years with Ferrari (against greater competition), two years with the disappointing Honda, and a desperate year with BRM, it was not a surprise that he decided to ‘go it alone’.
In 1969, as America put a man on the moon, Surtees made his own giant leap by buying up the (limited) assets of the Leda F5000 project (although designer, Len Terry, asserts it was another project that Surtees acquired) and adapted the car as the TS5, for F5000. In the fifth race of 1970, the TS7 appeared at Brands Hatch, qualified 19th, and retired from the race with oil pressure problems. In the following races John slowly moved himself up the grid, but invariably lost his engine before the end of the race. But, in Canada, he qualified 5th, and finished 5th, scoring his team’s first championship points.
With varied, and constantly changing sponsorship, Surtees added a second car for Rolf Stommelen, plus a third on occasions, and a fourth in America… but finished 8th in the Championship, with eight points, their best race being 4th at Monza (from 17th on the grid), with ex-bike Champion, Mike Hailwood, in a phenomenal 4/5-way battle that ended with half a second covering the top five.
John now decided to stand down as driver, and signed newcomer, Tim Schenken, to lead the team, with intermittent support from Andrea de Adamich and Hailwood. Another good result (2nd) at Monza, and a handful of other points finishes brought them to 5th in the Championship. Schenken had previously won the British FF Championship, and then the French F3 Championship, but his F2/F1 career was stillborn and he quickly disappeared to GT series. De Adamich, likewise, appeared and disappeared faster than a tsunami, but without leaving anything in his wake to remember… Surtees needed decent drivers…! Hailwood achieved two more 4th places, and a 2nd at Monza, but maybe he needed a decent car…
Surtees were not yet in the same league as Lotus, Tyrrell, McLaren and Ferrari, but they did beat March, BRM, Matra, Brabham, Tecno, Politoys… and Connew…
“CONNEW…!” I hear you cry, as so you should… so, as last week, I will indulge you and endeavour to cast a little light on now-forgotten, perhaps even unknown, constructors…
[NB: Jennie, this bit is for you… 🙂 ]
The connection here is that Englishman, Peter Connew, was a draughtsman at Surtees, until a clash in 1970, when he went off to build his own car. People who remained loyal to John Surtees often described him as ‘firm but fair’. Those who left the team tended to say John was firm… Connew’s intention of making a debut at Monaco in 1972 was scuppered by a rule change that required a new chassis and the car didn’t appear until the sixth race, in France, where Francois Migault actually paid to drive the car (£40,000 for five races), and also brought a borrowed truck with him… which was used to transport the car across the Channel, but which broke down before arriving at the Charade circuit.
The car did reach Brands Hatch, for the British GP, and did practice, but was withdrawn from the race when the innovative suspension proved not up to the job. The team moved on to Germany but, as they didn’t have an official entry, they were denied access by the organisers. Two weeks later they arrived at the Osterreichring, qualified 25th (out of 25), and retired with suspension failure after 22 laps.
And that was sort of it. The car was converted to F5000 for 1973, failed to start the two races entered, but reappeared at the season finale, and ended up in the barrier. And that was it…!
And why do I bother you with such a story…? Well, this was a guy who believed in himself and, with three or four inexperienced mates, with day-jobs, made the effort. While so many people shout at the TV: “I could do better than that…!” Peter Connew got off his butt and created a tiny niche in F1 history.
The Life & Times of Connew F1…
Hailwood was now joined by Brazilian hot-shot, Carlos Pace, and Surtees continued to try out new drivers in a third car but, despite another podium by Pace, and two fastest laps, the team dropped further in the Championship standings.
Hailwood did the sensible thing and moved to McLaren and, half way through the season, Pace accepted a seat with Brabham. Jochen Mass was offered a full-time drive, after a couple of appearances in 1973, and the BrookeBond-Oxo sponsorship changed to Bang & Olufsen – amongst other occasional deals – and six other drivers had occasional drives. To say the Team had their backs to the wall is perhaps fair, and it is perhaps also the case that, without John’s dogged persistence and even stubbornness, they might easily have folded. Pace managed 4th place in front of his home crowd but these were the only points scored this year.
The mid-70’s were a time of small concerns trying to make it big in F1. Ron Dennis’ F2 Rondel team attempted a move to F1 with backing by Motul but the oil-crisis caused the sale of the team, which become ‘Token Racing’, and managed just four entries in 1974 before selling the ‘assets’ to ‘Safir’ who entered it in two non-Championship races in 1975.
Chris Amon, one of the unluckiest F1 drivers ever, also tried to go it alone, entered four races, started one, and was finished before the season was over. The Japanese Maki team also appeared in 1974, but only managed to enter eight races in three seasons, and failed to qualify in all of them. Lyncar, who had been successful in F.Atlantic, also tried an F1 car for the ’74 British GP and failed to qualify. They returned for the British event in ’75, and finished 17th.
Although it was infinitely easier to create an F1 team back then, and perhaps a little easier than today to achieve success, it seems the best days of the owner/drivers was in the 60’s, and ended with the arrival of flared trousers, and platform shoes.
With failing sponsorship (Surtees had apparently upset the father of a young-wannabee, and the expected sponsorship went elsewhere… while Surtees went to court, for two years…) the team now had to cut their cloth accordingly and entered just one car for John Watson, who had shown promise the year before but who also left before the end of the season. Indeed even Surtees didn’t contest three of the last four races.
Surtees now entered the record books, or, at least, the public eye, having acquired sponsorship from The London Rubber Co. They also retained Alan Jones (after a handful of races the previous year for Graham Hill), and American Brett Lunger (who didn’t even fulfill his limited expectations) as drivers, the latter with Chesterfield sponsorship. And a private entry arrived at Brands Hatch for Divina Galica, who was unable qualify.
Jones scored seven points before moving to Shadow, giving Surtees 10th place in the Championship.
Surtees clung as doggedly to F1 in public as their sponsors products claimed to separate people’s private parts in er… private… and, with the addition of sponsorship from Beta Tools (a sort of Italian Black & Decker…), took on the Grandeur that was the Roman candle – Vittorio Brambilla – known to his friends (if you could find them) as The Monza Gorilla. Others had other names… Like his older brother, Ernesto (who had one-off ‘appearances’ at Monza in 1963 & 1969, but didn’t actually race), Vito had also started on 2-wheels. Other than that it’s not known what he and John had in common… but, perhaps like ‘publicity’, all sponsorship is good sponsorship.
Hans Binder also joined the fray, without success, and was replaced in turn by Larry Perkins, Patrick Tambay, Vern Schuppan and Lamberto Leoni, who all failed with the car, before Binder got it back for the last three races. I wonder if he was grateful…
Vito’s exuberance gave him a 4th, a 5th and a 6th for the team’s only points. It is possibly fair to say no other driver drove a Surtees so consistently hard, nor crashed them so often. The mechanics probably wore out a lot of Beta spanners during his two years in their care.
For Surtees’ final year the Gorilla was joined by Rupert Keegan, who failed to qualify five times, failed to start twice, and retired five times, which failed to kickstart an F1 career for the 1976 F3 Champion. After dithering for several years Keegan managed to turn up in the IndyCar series in 1985, but that wasn’t to be, either.
Vito won a single point in Austria (from 21st on the grid), was disqualified in Holland after a push-start, and crashed at Monza (and received a flying wheel on his head), where ‘Gimax’ stood in for the injured Keegan (his first and only F1 event) but failed to qualify… after which Rene Arnoux and Beppe Gabbiani took over the cars.
Brambilla returned to the circuits at the end of 1979, with Alfa Romeo, but his career was over. Meanwhile Surtees returned to Britain for the winter. Although a car was prepared for 1979, ‘monetary problems’ – i.e. they were skint – forced John to admit defeat. The team did enter a few ‘F5000’ races but the organisation was formally closed before the end of ’79.
It would be nice to draw conclusions, or perhaps a moral, from this. Certainly F1 had become more costly, and opportunities for private entrants had dwindled. Try to produce your own car as well and the cards seemed to be stacked against you. Several new teams appeared during the 70’s and all failed. Even those with some heritage in lower formulae were unable to make the ‘enormous leap for mankind’. Only the Fittipaldi/Copersucar team lasted as long as Surtees but even Champion, Emerson, and then, Keke Rosberg, were unable to win a race for the team.
It is perhaps also pertinent that throughout their nine-year foray into F1 much of the Surtees designwork was done by John himself… Peter Connew decided to go it alone when his innovative ideas were apparently disliked. The Surtees cars were often mere developments of the previous year’s car, when often the original car needed to be discarded, and a new design introduced. The cars tended to be over-heavy, and under-powered, were hard on tyres, and… so on…
The 1976, TS19 (part designed by Ken Sears, who later arrived at Lotus) was also campaigned in 1977, and the first part of 1978, but by the time it was belatedly replaced by the TS20, the better teams had adopted ‘ground effects’.
The name of Len Terry has been linked to Surtees as a designer but he was only responsible for the Leda LT27 F5000 project, which folded and was taken over by John (although Terry himself asserts it was an earlier project that Surtees acquired) and adapted for F1 as the TS7. Terry had been a peer of Broadley and Chapman in the 750 Motor Club and worked often with Chapman as well as designing and building his own Terrier cars. He penned the 1965 Indy-500 winner, and then Dan Gurney’s Eagle cars, and also provided designs for Gilbey and BMW. After the Leda, Terry worked for BRM briefly, and the Viking F3 team, and many more. before retiring.
It would appear that John did not suffer fools gladly… and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that but, ‘firm but fair’, simply doesn’t work with all sorts and I suspect John’s man-management skills were also lacking to the extent that he possibly believed that, if a job needs doing, it’s best to do it yourself – just look at his amateur logo – a high- school graphics student could have done better. It is easier to be a sole campaigner as a driver than as a constructor, where it is desirable to be able to delegate, without which it can seem as if people are not trusted, and people who are not trusted tend not to be overly loyal.
Connew proved his ability to design a racing car – how much better might the Surtees cars have been if John hadn’t believed he was himself a better designer, which was never proven. Even Brabham and Gurney, both superlative engineers, as well as drivers, allied themselves with talented designers.
Schenken has said that he would turn up to test a car, only to sit around all day while John did everything, until being asked his opinion twenty minutes from the end of the day, when he had to drive with the pedals etc., set for John.
Surtees had a high turnover of mechanics (and drivers, and sponsors…), John claiming he often trained guys who then left for better wages elsewhere – maybe it wasn’t all down to money… He also admitted he was his own worst critic, but had not been averse, as a driver, to criticising Carlo Chiti at Alfa Romeo, and Mauro Forghieri at Ferrari, and Jim Hall at Chaparral…
In 2003 FIM honoured John Surtees as a Grand Prix ‘Legend’… Ten years later, in 2013, he was awarded the Segrave Trophy, ‘. . . in recognition of multiple world championship, and being the only person to win world titles on two and four wheels.’ The honour of the award is perhaps equalled by the indignity that it took them fifty years to realise this…!?
Many racing drivers have introduced a son to motor-racing, or perhaps tried unsuccessfully to keep them away. Not many have suffered the tragedy of losing a son to the sport, as John did, in 2009, when Henry Surtees, aged 18, was hit on the head by a loose wheel from another competitor, in a F2 race at Brands Hatch.
A video of John Surtees receiving the 2013 Gregor Grant Award, from Dario Franchitti.