John Surtees OBE, seven times world champion on motorcycles and F1 World Champion in 1964, passed away at the age of 83 on March 10th. Surtees was born in south London, his father being a motorcycle dealer there. That got the young Surtees right into bikes from the start. His early races were on Vincents and Nortons, but he moved to Italy to join the MV Agusta team in 1956 and proceeded to win a series of 350cc and 500cc championships, the latter in 1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960.
In 1960 Surtees decided to try four wheel racing and began with rides in a Ken Tyrrell Cooper-BMC FJr car where he made a stunning first impression before switching to the faster Lotus 18 and moving on to F1. After an argument with Colin Chapman, Surtees left the Lotus F1 team and switched to a Parnell Lola-Climax for F1 in 1962. For 1963 Surtees joined Scuderia Ferrari and scored his first F1 win on the challenging Nürburgring. In 1964 Surtees won the Championship in the final race of the season at Mexico City, driving a works Ferrari 1512 in the blue and white colors of the North American Racing Team.
Surtees suffered a huge accident in a Lola T70 at Mosport in 1965 which kept him out of competition for months. In 1966 he had a major run-in with Ferrari’s then team manager Eugenio Dragoni at Le Mans where he had been left off the driver parings by Dragoni on the excuse that he was not fully recovered from the injuries sustained in the Mosport crash. This led directly to Surtees going to Maranello to see Enzo Ferrari and quitting the Ferrari team. He then drove a Cooper-Maseraati and still managed to finish second to Jack Brabham in the 1966 World Championship table. He then moved to Honda in 1967, winning the Italian Grand Prix for the Japanese team.
Surtees then became an entrant and constructor during the 1970s before retiring from the sport. In later years he assisted his son Henry Surtees in what looked like a promising racing career. Tragically, Henry, aged only 18, was fatally injured when struck in the head by a wheel which had become detached from another car during an F2 race at Brands Hatch in 2009. His father then created a foundation in his memory to help support the British air ambulance services.
Photo by Yves Debraine ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com
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