Chassy Media is deeply saddened to learn about the passing of John Surtees last Friday.
Surtees was born to a motorcycle dealer on February 11, 1934, in Surrey, England, which destined the Brit to an early life of motorcycle racing. In 1949, at age 15, Surtees entered his first motorcycle race on a grass track before working for the Vincent factory as an apprentice the following year.
Throughout the 1950s, Surtees would race motorcycles in the 125cc, 250cc, 350cc, and 500cc classes, earning some impressive accolades along the way: becoming the 1956 500cc Champion, and becoming both 350cc and 500cc Champion from 1958 through 1960, winning 32 of 39 races during those years in a spectacular era of dominance with the MV Agusta team. He also became the first man to win the Senior TT at the Isle of Man TT three years in a row.
In 1960, Surtees made the switch from two wheels to four wheels when he made his debut in Formula One, racing for Team Lotus at Silverstone. The following two years, Surtees raced for Yeoman Credit Racing Team and Bowmaker Racing Team before becoming a factory driver at Scuderia Ferrari in 1963. Surtees and Ferrari would compete in F1 and Le Mans from ’63 to 1965, winning the Formula One World Championship in 1964 and becoming the only racer in history to win world championships on both two and four wheels – a distinction he still maintains.
Surtees and Ferrari split right before the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. As explained by Surtees in his interview for The 24 Hour War, he was due to drive the Ferrari 330 P3, but for political reasons was replaced by (Italian and relative of Fiat’s Agnelli family) Ludovico Scarfiotti. Surtees confronted Enzo Ferrari immediately about the replacement, resulting in the divorce of the star driver with the legendary marque.
Surtees continued the 1966 F1 season with Cooper, winning the Mexico Grand Prix and finishing second in the championship before moving to Honda Racing for the ’67 and ’68 seasons, and British Racing Motors (BRM) in 1969.
From 1970-1972 Surtees raced in F1 under his own name with Team Surtees before retiring from competitive racing.
In addition to his impressive F1 and motorcycle record, Surtees competed in Can-Am, winning the inaugural 1966 championship with Team Surtees in a Lola T70, entered Le Mans four times (earning the best result of third in 1964), and also contested F2, USAC, and a variety of other open-wheel and sports car races during his illustrious career.
Post-competitive racing, Surtees would continue to drive his old motorcycles and cars in various vintage racing events until his sudden passing on March 10, 2017, from respiratory failure while at a London hospital. Surtees was 83 years old.