By TJ13 contributor Oddball
John Surtees Tribute Part 2 – Read PART 1
John Surtees, who has died aged 83, is the only man to have won a grand prix world championship on two and four wheels.
Through the mid 60s he was one of the leading figures in F1 along with Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart and Dan Gurney. The son of a south London motorbike dealer,Even as a teen, the young Surtees was a demon on two wheels and, after making his name in national races, he stormed ahead to claim the world championship.After such a tremendous start he caught the eye of several factory teams but in the end he earned the right of a factory ride with MV Agusta in 1955.
His speed soon earned him the nickname ‘figlio del vento’ – son of the wind – and he soon won the world title in 1956 and then again from1958-60.
Surtees was never one to back out of a challenge and while still competing on two wheels he entered the four wheeled world. He finished 2nd in only his 2nd Formula 1 race(Monaco) while driving for Lotus and at the end of the season he switched to four wheels full time. Surtees spent two years racing for privateers and soon did enough to catch the eye of one Enzo Ferrari. He quickly drafted him into the team in 1963 and Immediately Surtees became a front runner. His first win came quickly with Ferrari.This was gained at the German Grand Prix which was held at the daunting Nurburgring. He went on to win the world championship in the following season in a close fight between Clark (lotus)and Hill(BRM) The championship went down to the final race in Mexico City. Hill went into the race as the favourite, 5 points ahead of Surtees and 9 ahead of Clark. Clark dominated from the front, but was forced to stop on the last lap with an oil leak. The team followed Clark’s problems and Ferrari ordered Bandini to let Surtees by into second place which then gave him the title by one point from Hill.
Surtees had won his sole Formula 1 World Championship. In 1965 the Ferrari could not compete with Clark’s dominant Lotus and in1966 Surtees walked out on the team following a row with team manager Eugenio Dragoni.
The reason for the departure was that Dragoni had dropped Surtees from the line-up for the Le Mans 24-hour race.
Surtees asked for an explanation and Dragoni told him that he did not think he was fit enough to race for 24 hours as a result of injuries he had sustained in a accident in a Can-Am race in the United states.
Surtees quit and walked away from the team. The decision almost certainly cost him a second world title as the Ferrari had improved from the previous season and could have challenged Jack Brabham for the top step.
After Ferrari,Surtees found a temporary stable at Cooper before moving to the new factory Honda team in 1967. He won for Honda in Italy and finished fourth in the championship but the team quit F1 at the end of 1968 following the death of Frenchman Jo Schlesser. Surtees had warned against racing a new car with a body made of magnesium and an air cooled engine.
Honda ignored this warning and gave the car to Schlesser to drive at his home race. He crashed at a fast downhill right-hander while on the second lap. The car had nearly a full tank of race fuel,couple this with the magnesium construction and it gave Schlesser no chance. After two years with BRM, Surtees formed his own team in 1970, initially as a driver/ boss before retiring from full-time racing at the end of 1971 to concentrate on running the team. Sadly the team found little success. Surtees Racing best finish was third in the 1973 US Grand Prix.
After several uncompetitive seasons the team failed to find enough sponsorship to continue after 1978.
Even in retirement,Surtees couldn’t shake the motor sport bug and was soon competing in classic events for cars and bikes and from 2005 to 2007 he was chairman of the British team in A1 Grand Prix series.
After the A1 series ended he began coaching the career of Henry (his son 18) but tragically he was killed in an accident during a Formula Two race at Brands Hatch in 2009.
Soon after his son’s death, John set up the Henry Surtees Foundation to help people recovering from brain and physical injuries and to support motorsport-related educational programmes.
He was widely admired and it’s the words of Damon Hill that sum up this much respected hero.
“Such a lovely man. We have lost a true motorsport legend,”
Even Bernie Ecclestone sent out a message on social media.
JOHN SURTEES 11/2/1934- 10/3/2017 aged 83
St George’s hospital