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John Surtees: A legend on two and four wheels

  • Published on 11 Mar 2017 15:07
  • comments 1
  • By: Fergal Walsh

The motorsport world is in mourning this weekend as the news of the passing of British motorcycle and car racer John Surtees filtered through on Friday afternoon.

The word “legend” is one that is often banded around with little care, used on occasion carelessly to describe those that have accomplished much in their field. This, however, is not one of those times.

John Surtees was nothing short of a master of the art of driving. He is the only man to have acquired World Championships on both Motorcycles and Cars which underlines his raw ability and speed.

During his time contesting the Motorcycle World Championships, Surtees amassed no less than seven titles split across the 350cc and 500cc classes. His career began with the Norton team, however his success in the sport came from his time with MV Augusta.

He rode for the Italian team from 1956 until 1960 with his first 500cc crown proving to be just a tease of his eventual domination of the sport. His incredible talent, coupled with the Augusta catapulted him to six more world championships and he took them all over the three years of 1958, 1959 and 1960.

His success on two wheels drew attention from the four-wheeled world and a successful drive in an F3 Cooper at Goodwood earned him a drive in the Lotus for the final four rounds of the 1960 season. He promptly showed the world that his immense talent was transferable between two wheels and four as he took second place in his home race and was denied victory through mechanical failure in Portugal. 

The following two seasons were spent at Cooper and Lola respectively as he plugged away at the pinnacle of Motorsport in cars that were not capable of challenging for championships.

He bided his time and eventually his big break came in 1963 when long-time admirer Enzo Ferrari drafted him in to spearhead the Scuderia’s World Championship attempt.

His first season at the wheel of the Prancing Horse saw him claim top spot on the podium for the first time in F1 with the Nurburgring Nordschleife serving as the backdrop for his first race victory in the sport. Although he was unable to challenge Jim Clark for the championship, he was underlining just how quick he was in the Scarlet car.

His championship winning season did not start well, however a turnaround in form saw him head into the final round in Mexico trailing rival Jim Clark by five points. A second place for Surtees and a blown-up engine saw Surtees claim his championship and his place in the history books was secured.

The 1964 season proved to be the peak of the Briton’s success in the sport, however, as an uncompetitive 1965 season was compounded by a heavy crash at Mosport in the North American Can-Am series. A miraculously seedy recovery saw him finish take victory at Spa, however this was his final outing for the Italian marque after a falling out with team boss Eugenio Dragoni.

He finished the 1966 season at Cooper before joining the newly-formed Honda team for the next two seasons where he was an integral part of the team. His efforts in aiding the development of the car were rewarded with victory in front of the Tifosi at Monza in what would have been an incredibly satisfying win.

Honda’s withdrawal from the sport saw him join BRM for 1969, although an uncompetitive car served as the catalyst for his decision to run his own team.

Clearly, his steely determination was not just reserved for his time behind the wheel and allowed him to transcend the boundaries of the sport in a way few others have. His retirement from driving in 1972 allowed him to concentrate his tireless efforts on the team and although a couple of decent results for driver Mike Hailwoord ensued, the team folded in 1978.

Winning a world championship in any class, in any formula and in any machine requires not only gargantuan strength, grit and determination, but also an abundance of talent. John Surtees is the epitome of a world-class racing driver that loved Motorsport and went to great lengths to succeed. His record-breaking achievements are nothing short of incredible and will be long remembered.

He is revered by many in the world of Formula One in an environment that does not grant many the same level of respect. His achievements and personality have cemented his place as a legend in the Motorsport world and he shall be very fondly remembered.

 

Alex Griffin


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