Birth date 11 Feb 1934 (85 years)
Nationality England England
Nickname Big John

John Surtees became the only man to ever become the World Champion on two-wheels as well as on four. His ability to drive motorcycles was as exciting, brave and skilled as was his ability with Formula One cars. John had always been a fierce competitor with only winning on his mind. It was this strong effort on his part that made him the ultimate competitor but also led to his later decline.

Born as the eldest of three children, John Surtees got a head start in driving motorcycles due to the fact that his father, Jack, owned a motorcycle shop in the southern half of London. By the time he was 11, John had a bike of his own to ride and repair, tasks that he carried out with equal ease. At the age of 16, he decided to give school a miss and joined the Vincent Motorcycle factory as an intern. He was 17 when he took part in his first ever solo race, and surprisingly, won it. This win propelled him in the eyes of the racing community and soon, in 1955, he got the opportunity to be a part of the Norton works team for 76 races. In those 76 races, he won an incredible 68 times. Between 1956 and 1960, John was mainly involved in racing at the 350cc and 500cc categories for the Italian MV Agusta team. He won an incredible seven World Championships in the two categories, combined.

FORMULA ONE CAREER

Once a World Champion, John was getting numerous offers to test drive their cars. He took up the offer and cars came almost naturally to him. He finished second in his very first single-seater race at Goodwood, while driving an F3 Cooper. He came second to another promising beginner with Team Lotus. This start saw him get hired by Colin Chapman for the last four races of the 1960 season. He got a second place in the British Grand Prix and a near win in Portugal put him on the top of the market. Motorcycle racing took a backseat and started rummaging through the various Formula One offers lying on his table. Surtees had an offer from team Lotus but decided to go for the Cooper, in ‘61, and a Lola, in ‘62. His talent and skill meant that although he didn’t win anything, he kept his teams in the spotlight at all times. This led to him being invited to lead the Italy’s most famous Formula One team, Scuderia Ferrari.

Enzo Ferrari was a fan of Surtees and brought him in as the number one driver for the 1963 Formula One driver. He won his first championship with Ferrari in 1963, after a ferocious battle with the Lotus of Jim Clark. “Big John”, as he came to be known in England, took a brilliant victory at the dangerous Nurburgring in Germany, in 1964, and then at Monza to get into contention for the title alongside Clark who also had two wins to his name. The title fight went down to the Mexican Grand Prix where Clark’s Lotus was struck by an oil leak and Phil Hill’s BRM went out of the race after an accidental bump by Lorenzo Bandini’s Ferrari. John finished second in the race and won the championship.

John would not taste any more championship titles although he still went on to win three more championship races. John was known to be extremely argumentative & quarrelsome and was always known to speak his mind. Surtees had had a torrid relationship with Ferrari team manager Eugenio Dragoni since 1963. In 1965, once Ferrari became a bit less competitive, John decided to venture into the North American Can-Am series for a lucrative deal. He ran his own Lola in the championships where he suffered a terrible accident in the latter part of the season. Despite serious injuries, John forced himself back to fitness and at the season opener at Spa, he raced through a difficult circuit and heavy rain to grab his last win for Ferrari.

Surtees was left with no option but to turn to Cooper for the rest of the 1966 season and ended up winning the final race of the season in Mexico. He followed that by joining Honda’s new Formula One team for two years. During these years, his main role was to develop the cars and even won a satisfying race at the Italian Grand Prix. Jack moved to BRM once Honda quit the Formula One circuit at the end of 1968. A poor year with BRM led John Surtees to form his own team and unlike what he may have wanted, he barely saw any success. In his nine years with Team Surtees, the best track results they could manage were a second and a third place to Mike Hailwood, a multiple motorcycle champion.

In 1973, John Surtees decided to retire from driving and concentrated mainly on improving the performance of his team’s cars and making enough money to pay for them. He found neither.

His hard work took its toll and he started contracting medical problems, mainly as a consequence of his 1965 accident. He decided to retire gracefully and moved out to the countryside with his new wife and three children. A self proclaimed “nutcase”, John will ever truly be the first and maybe only man to ever win in the two and four wheel categories.

MOTOGP CAREER

John Surtees even today remains the only man to have won both motorcycling championship and Formula One titles. A spectacular racer, especially during the late 50s, Surtees dominated the ‘bigger classes.

With double World Championship titles in three consecutive seasons, from 1958 till 1960, already under his belt, Surtees left to try his hand at driving in the early 60s, at the age of 26. His stint with motorcycle racing began early, coming from a family with a tradition for motorcycle racing. He won his first race at the age of 14, with his father sitting in the sidecar, but the win was later nullified when his true age was discovered.

In 1951, Surtees returned to caused a sensation by giving the legendary Geoff Duke a good fight, at the young age of 17. Duke eventually won the race in an ACU International Meeting in Thruxton, but Surtees had already begun creating a name for himself.

His first World Championship appearances were for Norton, but by 1956, the brand began facing financial difficulties and Surtees soon shifted to MV Agusta, which would be the start of a successful relationship.

In his very first season with MV Agusta, Surtees went on to the 1956 500cc World Championship, which was aided by the fact the Geoff Duke had been suspended from competing by the FIM, after he supported a rider’s strike. But in 1975 Surtees was nto able to defend his title, and he came in third in the premier class.

In the 1958 season, Surtees managed to get back in form and won every single 500cc and 350cc Grand Prix he participated in. He naturally and most deservingly became a double championship title holder, for the first time. To further prove his caliber, Surtees repeated this spectacular feat in the next season, making the most of the powerful MV Agusta machine.

In 1960, his final World Championship season, Surtees though not undefeated, managed to retain his double crowns and increased his count to six title wins in just three years. That season, he set another record by winning the Isle of Man TT Senior race three years in a row, after which he left motorcycle racing for Formula One.

In Formula One, Surtees once again proved himself to be a strong force by winning the 1964 F1 championship, with Ferrari, making him the only racer to win the World Championship title in both two wheels and four wheels championships. This record has not yet been broken.

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