Vale John Surtees

Surtees in discussion with “Il Commendatore” Enzo Ferrari.

John Surtees has passed away in hospital on the 10th of March 2017 at the age of 83. Surtees was the only person to win World Championships in both the premier Formula 1 car and the 500cc (MotoGP) motorcycle Grand Prix categories.

The Surtees family announced the news in a statement, which read: “It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our husband and father, John Surtees CBE.”

“John, ‪83, was admitted to St Georges Hospital, London in February with an existing respiratory condition and after a short period in intensive care he passed away peacefully this afternoon.”

“His wife, Jane and daughters, Leonora and Edwina were by his side.”

“John was a loving husband, father, brother and friend.”

“He was also one of the true greats of motorsport and continued to work tirelessly up until recently with The Henry Surtees Foundation and Buckmore Park Kart Circuit.”

“We deeply mourn the loss of such an incredible, kind and loving man as well as celebrate his amazing life.”

“He has set a very real example of someone who kept pushing himself at his peak and one who continued fighting until the very end.”

“We would like to thank all the staff at St George’s Hospital and The East Surrey Hospital for their professionalism and support during this difficult time for us.”

“Thank you also to all of those who have sent their kind messages in recent weeks.”

Below is a piece I published on MotoVue in 2014 celebrating the 50th anniversary of John’s outstanding achievement.

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Fifty years ago, on the 25th of October in 2014, John Surtees secured the Formula One World Championship for Ferrari, becoming the first and only man to win a Grand Prix World Championships on two wheels and four. Surtees had already won the premier 500cc Grand Prix crown on four occasions (1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960) and the 350cc G.P. title on three occasions (1958, 1959 and 1960) for a total of seven World Championships on two wheels, before he clinched the Formula One title at the last race in Mexico in 1964.

John Surtees rides his MV Agusta to victory at the 1958 Isle of Man TT.

It’s interesting to note that Surtees won his World Championships on two wheels and four with Italian racing royalty, MV Agusta and Ferrari. But remarkably, Surtees had never raced a car until a non-championship meeting at Goodwood in 1960. Surtees put his F2 Cooper-Climax on pole and finished an incredible second to Jim Clark in a Lotus. In only his second F1 Grand Prix at Silverstone, Surtees, driving a Lotus, finished second to World Champion Jack Brabham. It was only his eighth car race.

At the Portuguese F1 Grand Prix, he put the Lotus on pole giving the team their very first pole position. This was all in 1960 while he was on his way to winning both the 500cc and 350cc World Championship on two wheels with MV Agusta.

Other examples of John’s versatility was to win the inaugural 1966 Can Am Sports Car Championship in America driving a Lola T70 while another was taking Honda’s second F1 win in 1967 by driving the Honda Racing RA 300 to an amazing victory on its debut at Monza in Italy.

 In today’s world of specialisation in Motorsport this type of versatility is unheard of. Surtees, like most riders in the 1950’s and 1960’s, also rode in more than one Grand Prix class during a championship meeting: a concept that would be alien to today’s MotoGP heroes. Yet there is still even more to Surtees’ accomplishments.

Surtees pushes the Ferrari 158 to second place behind Jim Clark’s Lotus at Zandvoort in Holland 1964.

Surtees also became a racing car manufacturer in 1970 forming the Surtees Racing Organisation with his cars competing in Formula 5000, Formula 2 and Formula 1. Surtees greatest success as a manufacturer came with another former motorcycle multi world champion, Mike Hailwood, who won the European F2 championship for Surtees in 1972.

 The prodigious talents of John Surtees have created a unique chapter in the history Motorsport and one that is unlikely to be repeated. Although Surtees has already been awarded an M.B.E. and O.B.E. (in 2016 he was also awarded a C.B.E.) in the Queens honours list, many feel that a Knighthood would be a more appropriate recognition of this great man’s contribution to Motorsport and charity.

© Words Geoff Dawes 2014/2016. Images http://www.commons.wikimedia.org, http://www.ilpost.it, http://www.performanceforums.com

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