The Great John Surtees


Driving for the Honda racing team, Surtees adjusts his goggles before the 1967 Monaco Grand Prix in Monte Carlo. — Photograph © Schlegelmilch/Corbis

John Surtees remains the only racer ever to have won a World championship on a bike and in car.

In our opinion the ability to race is something in-born and instinctive. Deft handling of a vehicle is a valuable skill and one to which one should aspire. It requires after all an incredibly complex combination of skills and sharp perceptions – as well as the bravery and confidence to put one’s life on the line based on the knowledge of ones’ abilities. Bravery. Boldness. Self knowledge. The stuff of which heroes are made.

John Surtees on an MV Agusta, Isle of Man Senior TT, 1956. © National Motor Museum

It might be that racing was passed down through the Surtees family DNA. John’s dad had been a motorbike dealer and an enthusiastic racer himself and the boy had thus been around the grease and roar of engines all his young life.

Surtees won the 500cc world championship astride an MV Agusta in 1956 – at a time when the stretched out, knee down style of racing was being pioneered. Four years later he signed for the Lotus F1 team and began racing cars full time. In 1964 he took the driver’s championship with Scuderia Ferrari and in doing so forged the legend that remains untouched.

Scuderia Ferrari Formula One race team in 1965 including drivers Lorenzo Bandini (in car), John Surtees (far right) and race engineer Mauro Forghieri (third from right). — Image © Manuel Litran/Corbis

The Surtees years racing saw amazing changes and technological developments in all forms of motorsport – and it’s fitting that the man was the first top-line racer to pilot a Honda – a company whose passionate attention to detail and design was to usher in a whole new technologically exact era into F1.

We’ve heard rumours that Valentino Rossi might get a crack at top level motorsport sooner or later. We wouldn’t bet that he’d surpass Surtees’s achievement. Or, for that matter, that he’d be able to do it with half as much style.

Great Japanese footage of Surtees’s 1967 victory at Monza.


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