John Surtees (1934-2017) was a well-known British motorcycle and Formula One racer. He started his career on two wheels, moved on to four and managed to not only become a champion but to construct and develop his own race cars.
John Surtees is the only driver ever to become both a motorcycle world champion (500 cc class) as well as a champion in the Formula One. He won the Motorcycle world championship four times (1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960). In 1964, driving for Ferrari, he added Formula One title to his CV.
Working and racing with father
The son of a motorcycle dealer from London, Surtees' career was almost pre-determined already in his childhood. He started working at his father's shop and participated in amateur races at a very early age. By the age of 16, he went to work for Vincent Motorcycles as an apprentice and continued to race
As a motorcycle racer Surtees had a nickname ‘son of the wind’
Factory driver for Norton
In 1955, his talent was noticed by the British motorcycling enthusiasts and he managed to get a contract as a Norton factory racer. He was so good that even the Italian factory MV Augusta offered him a place in the factory team where he earned the nickname 'figlio del vento' (son of the wind).
Surtees has won seven motorcycle championship titles
First title with MV Agusta in 1956
His perfect driving skills and rich experience helped him in his quest for the championship title, and in 1956, Surtees won his first motorcycle championship riding an MV Augusta in 500cc class. He went on to repeat his success in 1958, 1959 and in 1960, making him one of most successful drivers in the world of motorcycle racing.
Change from two to four wheels
In 1960, at the age 26, Surtees felt that he had to move on, and the only logical thing for him to do was to try to advance to single-seater car racing which is the closest thing to a motorcycle. With his reputation, he easily managed to get a contract and his first Formula One race was in Monte Carlo behind the wheel of a Lotus race car.
John Surtees debuted in Formula One in 1960
Victorious 1964 season with Ferrari
On his first race outing, Surtees finished second, proving that he is an enormous talent with great potential. He had some success during these first years, but the real test came when he moved to Ferrari in 1963. The following year, after some brilliant driving, he managed to win the title and became the only man to hold the world championship titles in two and four wheels races.
Accident which changed his life
After 1964, Surtees never won another F1 title again, but remained a competent and fast driver during the rest of the '60s. In 1965, during the testing of the then new Lola T70 sports car, Surtees had an accident that left him with life-threatening injuries. He had multiple broken bones and after long therapy, he recovered, but with one side of his body an inch shorter than the other.
In 1964 John Surtees became F1 champion with Ferrari
Successful constructor and team owner
In the early '70s, Surtees retired from racing fully but remained active as a constructor throughout. His Surtees Racing Organisation team participated in various series and championships including Formula 3000, Formula One and Formula 5000. The team was finally disbanded at the end of 1978.
After his interesting racing career, Surtees moved back to England and became a motorcycle dealer, continuing the tradition from his father's dealership and even opening a Honda cars dealership. He continues his involvement in motorcycling, participating in classic events with bikes from his stable of vintage racing machines.
John Surtees - racing legend and the oldest living F1 champion
Among longest living champions
Following the death of the Australian Sir Jack Brabham in May 2014, Surtees became the oldest surviving Formula One World Champion. He was also the oldest surviving 500cc/MotoGP World Champion, following the death of his friend and rival Geoff Duke, who died at the age of 92 in 2015. Surtees died on March 10, 2017, at the age 83.