John Surtees: 1934-2017

Sutton Images

Following the death John Surtees, we take a look back at the life of one of the undisputed legends of motor racing.

John Surtees earned himself a place in the history books as the only man to win the world championship on both two wheels and four, but it was no fleeting visit to Formula One, as he enjoyed a long career both in and outside of the car.

Having been brought up as the son of a three-time British sidecar champion, Surtees was destined to race bikes. He won his first race when he was 17, and by the time he was 26 he had won seven world championships with the famous Italian MV Agusta team. In 1959 -- before he had won his final title -- his universal appeal had earned him a few tests in cars, and he was entered into a race at Goodwood in an F3 Cooper by Ken Tyrrell. Surtees impressed, and in 1960 made the switch to cars full time.

Colin Chapman had kept a keen eye on Surtees, and offered him a drive for Lotus in four races of the 1960 season. Surtees showed his competitiveness with second at the British Grand Prix, and looked set to win in Portugal after taking pole position and setting the fastest lap before a radiator problem forced him to retire. Still, he was a man in high demand and was left with a number of offers for the 1961 season. One such offer was from Chapman to partner Jim Clark, but Surtees chose to drive a Cooper. The move yielded no podiums, so he switched to Lola for 1962, which saw some improvement but no race wins as he finished fourth in the championship.

His stock was still high in Italy though, and Enzo Ferrari signed Surtees in 1963. The partnership had an encouraging first season, as Surtees won at the Nurburgring for his first world championship victory, and was on the podium on two other occasions. He was unable to challenge Jim Clark for the title though, retiring from three of the last four races and being disqualified for a push start in the other.

The following season started badly too, failing to finish three of the first four grands prix. However, another impressive victory in Germany kick-started Surtees challenge, and he won in Italy along with two other podiums to go in to the final race of 1964 five points behind championship leader Graham Hill, and four ahead of Clark. Hill was pushed off the track by Surtees' Ferrari team-mate Lorenzo Bandini, leaving Clark leading with Surtees third. As it stood, Clark would snatch the title, but his engine blew on the final lap, relegating him to fifth and leaving Surtees with the second place he needed to become world champion.

Surtees always stood up for what he believed in, regardless of the frictions it caused off track. Following a less competitive 1965 season, he suffered life-threatening injuries during CanAm testing in Canada. His steely resolve saw him battle back to full fitness to take victory at Spa in the second race of the following season, before an ill-fated trip to Le Mans. After being paired with Ludovico Scarfiotti against his wishes, Surtees quit Ferrari and moved to Cooper for the rest of the year. Despite being unable to challenge Jack Brabham, he won in Mexico to finish runner-up in the championship.

Surtees moved to head up Honda's challenge in 1967, and stuck two fingers up at Ferrari with a win at Monza. Honda were uncompetitive the following season though, and after the death of Jo Schlesser in the French Grand Prix at Rouen the team withdrew from Formula One. A disappointing year in a BRM followed before the fiercely determined Surtees took matters back into his own hands by starting his own team.

After two unsuccessful seasons Surtees retired from competitive driving to oversee the team full time. A second place for Mike Hailwood at Monza was as good as it got, as a race win proved elusive. Surtees' health was also a problem, with medical problems as a result of his life-threatening CanAm crash. The team folded in 1978.

In recent years Surtees had set up the Henry Surtees Foundation in memory of his son, who was killed when hit by a bouncing tyre while competing in a Formula 2 race at Brands Hatch in 2009. He is survived by wife Jane and daughters Leonora and Edwina.