Not many men have raced with the ease and panache, on two wheels and four, as ably as John Surtees did. After having won almost every championship he participated in on two wheels, Surtees was one of those rare individuals who shifted to four-wheel racing, and the only one, to win the championship there as well.
Born on February 11th, 1934, in England, Surtees was the son of a motorcycle dealer. Just like his father, he too developed a liking for the two wheeled machines, only he preferred racing them, as opposed to selling them. The young Englishman won as many as seven Championships with MV Augusta from 1956 to 1960, racing in the 500 and the 350cc categories. In 1960, the multiple championship winner made the switch from two wheels to four, when he signed to race for Team Lotus.
In his first season in Formula One, he finished only one race, coming 2nd in the British Grand Prix, but also secured a pole in the Portuguese Grand Prix. Over the next two seasons he raced for Yeoman racing team and managed two podiums and one pole, finishing 4th in the championship in 1962.
1963 saw Surtees make the all-important switch to Ferrari. In his first year there, he managed a race win as well as three more podiums, again finishing 4th in the standings. 1964 was when he won his first, and only, Formula One Drivers’ Championship, and that too by a whisker. Going into the season ending race at Mexico, “Big John”, was five points behind the leader, and had to battle it out with defending champion Jim Clark, as well as point’s leader Graham Hill, who were fighting for the title as well. Hill never finished the race, Clark finished 5th, and Surtees won the race, taking the title by a single point.
After racing for Ferrari for one more year, his souring relationship with team manager Eugenio Dragoni took its toll, and Surtees left the team in 1966 to race for The Cooper Car Company. Winning the season ending Mexican Grand Prix yet again, the former world champion finished 2nd in the standings with 28 points. In 1967 and 1968, the Englishman raced for the new Honda team, but managed only one win. After a solitary year at Owen Racing, in 1969, Surtees went on to start his own team, and raced in it for three more seasons before calling it quits, after a string of below par performances.
A Grand Prix legend, and an inductee in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, John Surtees’ achievements are above par. With no one having accomplished what he has, championships on two wheels as well as four, “Big John” will always to remain one of the greatest monarchs, in the motorsport kingdom.
-Rohhan A Divanji