Motorsports Legend John Surtees Passes: 1934-2017

Kevin Duke
by Kevin Duke

The only world champion on two wheels and four

The motorsports community is saddened today by the loss of one of the true legends of motorcycle racing. John Surtees, winner of four world championships in Grand Prix racing’s premier class, passed away at the age of 83.

The fact that Surtees won 500cc Grand Prix titles in 1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960 is more than enough to earn the Englishman legendary status and reverence across the globe. Out of 39 grand prix races from 1958 to 1960, Surtees won an incredible 32 of them aboard MV Agustas. He also captured three 350cc world championships for MV.

John Surtees was the first rider to win the Senior TT at the Isle of Man three years in a row.

But being a four-time motorcycle world champ was just a prelude for the English phenom. Surtees jumped from MV to Formula 1 car racing in 1960, finishing his second F1 race at the British Grand Prix in an incredible runner-up spot, then qualifying on pole position in just his third race! The next two years were spent in uncompetitive cars, but Surtees moved to the Ferrari team in 1963 where he flourished, culminating in the 1964 F1 world championship.

This gave Surtees a racing résumé unlike anyone else’s, being the only rider/driver to have won the uppermost titles in both motorcycle and automobile racing. He also won the 1966 Can-Am title while racing a Lola T70 by taking five wins in eight races.

After a squabble with the Ferrari team in 1966, finishing second in the driver’s world championship, Surtees moved to Honda’s burgeoning F1 team for the ’67 season. He scored Honda’s second-ever F1 race win at the Italian Grand Prix and went on to finish fourth in the championship chase.

Surtees wasn’t just a great racer. He was also a keen thinker with deep engineering knowledge. This gave him the courage to start his own automobile race team, the Surtees Racing Organisation in 1970, competing in F1, F2 and Formula 5000. Surtees retired from competitive driving in 1972. Interestingly for motorcycle enthusiasts, it was this same year that former motorcycle world champion Mike Hailwood drove for Surtees in Formula 2 car racing and won the European class title. The Surtees race team was eventually dissolved in 1978.

The accomplishments of John Surtees are recognized around the world. England gave him the honor of being presented with the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), and he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1996. Then he was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2008, and finally the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2016. mourns the passing of John Surtees but cherishes the decades of inspiration he’s given us all. Godspeed, Mr. Surtees.

Full bio:

Very sorry to hear that John Surtees, the only person to win both #MotoGP & #F1 World Championships, has passed away at the age of 83.

— MotoGP™ (@MotoGP) March 10, 2017

Kevin Duke
Kevin Duke

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  • Spiff Spiff on Mar 11, 2017

    Ain't nobody getting out alive. Sounds like he had a good run. I imagine when he bench raced the room listened. RIP.

  • Ian Lannister Ian Lannister on Mar 11, 2017

    I had meet and greet with him at Goodwood when I was a nipper. Lovely chap who was very encouraging of my childhood dreams (never realised) of being a MotoGP racer. He is one of my biggest idols and remains the only man to win major world titles on two AND four wheels. A pure bred racer through and thru.