Stirling and Susie were heartbroken to hear that their good friend, John Surtees, had passed away peacefully at the St Georges Hospital, London, surrounded by his family.
John Surtees CBE, remains the only person to have won World Championships on both two and four wheels. He was a four-time 500cc motorcycle World Champion, winning that title in 1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960 for MV Augusta and the 1964 Formula One World Champion racing for Ferrari.
He also founded the Surtees Racing Organisation, better known as Team Surtees, that competed as a constructor in Formula One, Formula 2 and Formula 5000 from 1970 to 1978. In later years he founded the Henry Surtees Foundation in memory of his son, Henry, to assist people with accidental injuries and help young people to develop their capabilities.
John Surtees, born on 11th February 1934, was the son of a south London motorcycle dealer. He had his first professional outing in the sidecar of his father's Vincent, which they won. However, when race officials discovered Surtees's age, they were disqualified. He worked for Vincent motorcycles in the early 1950s and gained his first factory motorcycle ride on a Norton in 1955.
By 1956 he was racing for MV Augusta, where he went onto win that year’s 500cc World Championship. Finishing the 1957 season in third place, MV Augusta went onto dominate in 1958, 1959 and 1960 seasons, with Surtees winning a further three 500cc World Championships.
In 1960, at the age of 26, Surtees switched from motorcycles to racing cars full-time, making his Formula 1 debut racing for Lotus in the 1960 Monaco Grand Prix. As Stirling ‘s teammate, he made an impression on both him and on Formula One, “Boy, he would go for gaps I wouldn’t even look at” he said of Surtees in his biography All But My Life.
Moving from Lotus, Surtees raced for the Yeoman Credit Racing Team in 1961, racing a Cooper T53, and for the Bowmaker Racing Team in 1962. Stirling regarded Surtees skill behind a wheel as second to none, joking that “when following a driver with great car control, such as John Surtees, you would see as much of the front of the car as the back, because it was always sliding around.”
In 1963 Surtees moved to Scuderia Ferrari, achieving his first Formula One win at the German Grand Prix. In his second season for Ferrari, he went on to win the 1964 Formula One World Championship for the Italian team.
In 1965, a life threatening crash in a Lola T70 at the Mosport Circuit, Canada, during practice for the Canadian Grand Prix for sports cars in September of that year, saw him miss the last two rounds of the Forumla One season and finish 5th for Ferrari in the World Drivers Championship.
He started the 1966 season for Ferrari, quitting the team when the then team manager, Eugenio Dragoni, would not let him compete in that year’s Le Mans 24 hour race. Surtees finished the season with a win at the Mexican Grand Prix, racing for Cooper-Maserati.
He his final Grand Prix victory came at the 1967 Italian Grand Prix, racing for Honda. He would race again for Honda in 1968 and Owen Racing in 1969 driving a BRM. In 1970 he set up his own team, Team Surtees, racing alongside Le Mans legend, Derek Bell.
He spent nine seasons competing in Formula 5000, Formula 2 and Formula One as a constructor, retiring from competitive driving in 1972, the same year his team had their greatest success when Mike Hailwood won the European Formula 2 Championship. Team Surtees was finally disbanded at the end of 1978 season.
In 1991, his son Henry Surtees was born, and he became involved in motorsport all over again, taking his son through the karting ranks and into Formula 2. Tragically, Henry lost his life to a bouncing untethered wheel, from a car that had crashed, at the 2009 Brands Hatch Formula 2 race.
For most people, losing a son under those circumstances would have seen them buckle. Such was his strength of character that he went about establishing the Henry Surtees Foundation. The charity was set up to assist those with accident injuries, which John Surtees ran with the same drive and enthusiasm that saw him become a multiple world champion.
Stirling and Susie offer his wife Jane, and daughters Leonora and Edwina, their deepest condolences.
A 'Sir' in every way possible, respected by his peers and admired by his drivers, John Surtees will be missed by all.
A Book of Condolence has been opened on the Henry Surtees Foundation website: http://henrysurteesfoundation.com/
Image © Jayson Fong and Getty