GPBlog's Top 50 drivers in 50 days - #29 - John Surtees

15-02-2020 19:00
by Adam Newton
General
GPBlog's Top 50 drivers in 50 days - #29 - John Surtees

Good evening and welcome back to GPBlog.com’s countdown of our top 50 F1 drivers of all time! We’re into the 20’s now so F1 is closer than it has been for a long time, with only four weeks until qualifying in Australia! Yesterday we went back in time for Britain’s first F1 champion, Mike Hawthorn, and today we’re staying with F1’s early days and looking at another Brit, John Surtees.

John Surtees is the holder of a very niche record that is unlikely to be beaten, having become a motorcycle and F1 world champion. Nobody has done that before, or since, and with the two sports both so specialised, it’s hard to see his feat being matched.

Surtees had extreme success in motorcycles, winning seven titles, three at 350cc and four at 500cc. He made the switch to cars in 1960 and immediately entered Formula One with Lotus.

He finished second in his second race, at his home event that year, showing that he had the same capability in cars as he did on bikes.

Pole in the Netherlands and podiums in Britain and Germany in 1962 further proved the Brit’s ability, and Ferrari were convinced to sign him for 1963.

He finished on the podium in three of the first six races, including a maiden win at the fearsome Nurburgring, but Jim Clark ran away with the title as Surtees could only manage P4 in the championship standings.

1964 was much closer, although it started pretty badly for Surtees. Retirements in three of the first four saw him trail Clark by 15 points heading into the British Grand Prix.

Third at Brands Hatch was followed up by a win in Germany and then another in Italy. Graham Hill and Clark both retired at Monza, bringing Surtees back into the championship fight.

P2 in the USA kept him in the fight, but when Hill encountered problems it seemed Clark would win his second title in a row. But with just a lap to go he had an engine problem, and realising Surtees could win the title, teammate Lorenzo Bandini let him through for P2 and he took the championship by just a single point.

The following year saw Clark and Lotus dominate again and Surtees was unable to claim a win, but he came back in 1966 and his performances warranted more, but Ferrari and Maserati’s unreliability saw him miss out on another title.

When he finished, he finished well, with wins in Belgium and Mexico and two other podiums. Retirements in the other five rounds saw Jack Brabham coast to the title in the end, but it could have been closer.

He moved away from Italian cars for 1967 and joined Honda, taking one final win in F1 in Italy. Following this, he started up his own F1 team, but it wasn’t a success and the team folded in the late 70s.

Surtees passed away aged 83 in 2017, and his legacy is still felt. With events such as Lewis Hamilton and Valentino Rossi trying each other’s machinery, Surtees’ legendary record is one that will continue to be talked about.

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