John Surtees was a remarkable personality back in his time, and with all the records he holds, he surely can boast about him being remarkable. But, he won't, and he can't, because his nature doesn't allow him to do so. John Surtees is a remarkably humble man, yet also supremely talented and fiercely independent. This 25th October, he celebrated his 50th anniversary of the Formula 1 championship victory with Ferrari.
John Surtees is the only person on planet earth to win both two-wheeler and four-wheeler world championships ever. While he won four Grand Prix championships in 1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960, racing on his MV Agusta, he also won the Formula one world title in 1964, racing for the famous Ferrari. That is an impeccable record by any standard for any individual.
He started his racing career at the age of 15 in a grass-track competition. But he first made headlines in 1951, when he gave a tough fight to Geoff Duke, a Norton star, during an ACU race. Surtees big break came in 1955, when Norton race chief offered him a seat, alongside Duke, which he beat two times that season, creating a name for himself. But his stint with Norton didn't last long, as Norton found themselves in financial troubles, forcing Surtees to accept an offer by MV Agusta.
What happened with MV Agusta and Surtees is a folklore now. Gaining the nickname 'figlio del vento'- meaning son of wind - Surtees won his first 500cc world championship title in the year 1956. This only marked the start of his hunger for more wins, as he eventually won 32 out of 39 races during the 1958-60 season, winning all three championships back to back. He also became the first man to win the Senior TT at the Isle of Man TT, three years in succession.
What if you ask Marc Marquez or Valentino Rossi to leave their glorious MotoGP career and join the Formula1 instead? This is exactly what Surtees did, when he suddenly switched to the Formula1 cars, debuting with Lotus in the 1960 season, immediately after winning the MotoGP championship. Although he never intended to make the crossover from motorcycling to F1 racing, yet he achieved the transition with startling success.
Not only did he managed to finish second in only his second GP race, he won a pole in his third race. He continued with the F1 for 1961 and 1962 season, with no major success, before moving to Scuderia Ferrari for the 1963 season. But what was a major feather in his already glorified crown was the 1964 F1 championship win. Without even leading the world championship at any point during the 1964 season, he ended up scaling a peak that no one since has come close to matching. Indeed, it's possible his achievement will remain forever unparalleled.
"I can honestly say that I didn't go into 1964 - or any season in fact - thinking about titles or anything like that," Surtees recalls. "The most important thing in a racer's life is always the next race - that's the attitude you need to get things done, which was particularly true in those days when you had to sort the cars out on track, during race weekends, because you didn't have other resources."
But how did the transition from a successful MotoGP career to a successful F1 career happen? "I thought there was nothing to stop me from doing some car races, and in fact my first race came about through being introduced to Ken Tyrrell, who promptly told me he had already entered me for Goodwood and spoken to the RAC about my licence. What did I have to say? 'Why not!'", said Surtess about his transition.
"So I raced both bikes and cars during 1960, but by the end of the year one or two new challenges came up, and I was aware that turning them down would mean just repeating what I was already doing. Colin Chapman offered me the number-one position at Lotus, and while that went wrong - that's another story - it helped me decide it was time for a new challenge. That's how it came about."
But what about all the success he gained? Does he ever think he is the only person in Universe to achieve this feat? "Well this year it has been brought up more, of course. It was satisfying at the time, and also at this stage of my life, to be able to look back and say that I have that sort of position. But it never drove me. I never went into it for history or fortune: I did it because I loved coming together with a piece of machinery. That was the way it was", Surtees said on his 50th year anniversary celebration.
Surtees, as previously said, is an incredibly humble man. He takes life to the fullest and considers his achievements as only a part of life, which he stumbled upon. "Get the race right and the rest comes with it - that has always been my attitude in life. And yes, looking back, it's satisfying. But the most important thing - the most important part of my racing - was simply that I loved what I was doing..."
So is there anything that Surtees regret? "The races I mainly remember are the ones I didn't win - the ones that annoy me. There are still regrets, things I would have liked to get right, things I was perhaps a bit hasty on. I was sad, for example, about leading Le Mans for over 20 hours and not being able to win it. But ultimately I have been very fortunate to have led a life where I was doing something I loved."
While many consider him as the ultimate man in both the types of vehicles, Surtees says he is more of a Motorcycle person, "In fact I only got involved with cars by accident. It had been suggested to me before, but I always considered myself a motorbike rider. But then MV Augusta restricted my bike programme - I wasn't allowed to ride my own bikes on the British circuits because the Italian media said it was me winning, not MV."
We all duly give our respect to such a legend and get inspiration from him. Although he is not proud of himself, still he accepts one fact - "I said to Valentino Rossi recently, okay, 'you or someone else might match me and do the double, but I was always the first'.
"That is something that can never be taken away - something that I will always have..."
Story credit: Formula1