Motorsport legend John Surtees sadly passed away on Friday, at the age of 83. The only man in history to have won both the premier class title in motorcycle racing and the Formula One World Championship, Surtees was a true giant of both sports – and a true gentleman.
The Brit’s achievements on two wheels were remarkable in their own right, taking his first World Championship in 1956 – before double World Championship victories for three consecutive seasons from 1958-1960 in both the 350cc and 500cc classes. Surtees then left Grand Prix racing on two wheels at the start of the 1960s to try his hand at the world of four wheels, taking the F1 title in 1964 for Ferrari and passing into motorsport legend.
His incredible achievement as a Champion in motorcycle racing and Formula 1 has remained unmatched.
Born into a family with a tradition of racing, Surtees infamously won a race with his father as a sidecar passenger when he was just 14 years old - only for their victory to be subsequently nullified when his age was discovered. Three years later, in 1951, Surtees caused a sensation in front of thousands of spectators as a 17-year-old apprentice who gave the great Geoff Duke a run for his money in an ACU International Meeting at Thruxton. Duke came out on top on that occasion, but Surtees’ star had begun ascending in earnest. He made his first World Championship appearances onboard Norton machinery, before moving to MV Agusta in 1956.
It was in his first season with MV Agusta that Surtees won the 500cc World Championship, taking the crown in 1956. 1957 saw Surtees unable to defend his title, finishing third in the premier class, before he bounced back in unbelievable style in 1958 to win every 500cc and 350cc Grand Prix he competed in. That year, he became a double World Champion for the first time and repeated that feat the following season.
Although not undefeated in his final World Championship season in 1960, Surtees retained both of his crowns - making it six title triumphs in three years. Furthermore, that season also saw him become the first rider ever to win the Isle of Man TT Senior race three years in succession - before his departure to Formula One.
Later in life, Surtees was an ambassador for the Racing Steps Foundation, and founded the Henry Surtees Foundation in memory of his son, Henry, who tragically passed away in a Formula Two crash at Brands Hatch in 2009.
Surtees was 83 when he passed away peacefully at St Georges Hospital in London - the only rider and driver to have been a World Champion as both.
The FIM, Dorna and the motorcycling community extend their deepest condolences to Surtees’ family, friends and colleagues as we sadly say goodbye to a true legend of world motorsport.
Dorna Communications / Photos - FIM Archives