2007 Festival of Speed
Sir John Surtees, posing with Carlos Ghys.
Born in Tatsfield, Surrey, Surtees 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' age, they were disqualified. He entered his first race at 15 in a grass track competition. In 1950, when he was 16, he joined Vincent as an apprentice; whilst with them he bought his first car, a Jowett Jupiter. He made his first headlines in 1951 when he gave Norton star Geoff Duke a strong challenge in an ACU race at the Thruxton Circuit. In 1955, Norton race chief Joe Craig gave Surtees his first factory sponsored ride aboard the Nortons. He finished the year by beating reigning world champion Duke at Silverstone and then at Brands Hatch. With Norton in financial trouble and uncertain about their racing plans, Surtees accepted an offer to race MV Agustas. In 1956 Surtees would win the 500cc world championship. In this he was assisted by the FIM's decision to ban Geoff Duke for 6 months because of his support for a rider's strike over more start money. In the 1957 season, the MV Agustas were no match for the Gileras and Surtees battled to a third place finish. John Surtees (left) and Mauro Forghieri in 1965 John Surtees (left) and Mauro Forghieri in 1965 When Gilera and Moto Guzzi pulled out of Grand Prix racing at the end of 1957, Surtees and MV Agusta went on to dominate the competition in the two big classes. In 1958, 1959 and 1960, he would win 32 out of 39 races and became the first man to win the Senior Isle of Man TT three years in succession. At age 26, Surtees switched from motorcycles to cars, full time in 1960 making his Formula 1 debut racing for Lotus in the Monaco Grand Prix in Monte Carlo. He made an immediate impact with a second place finish in only his second Formula One race at the 1960 British Grand Prix and a pole position at his third race in the 1960 Portuguese Grand Prix. After spending the 1961 season with the Cooper racing team and the 1962 season with the Lola team, he moved to Ferrari in 1963 and won the world championship for the Italian team in 1964. Surtees parted company with Ferrari during the 1966 season after winning the 1966 Belgian Grand Prix, citing excessive pressure as a factor, leaving Jack Brabham to take the Drivers' Championship. In 1967, he joined Honda's Formula 1 team. He stayed with the Japanese team for 1968 before switching to BRM. John Surtees in 2006 John Surtees in 2006 In 1970, he formed his own race team, Surtees Racing Organization and spent nine seasons competing in Formula 5000, Formula 2 and Formula 1 as a constructor. He retired from competition in 1972, the same year the team had their greatest success when Mike Hailwood won the European Formula 2 championship. The team was finally disbanded at the end of 1978. In 1996, he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. The FIM honored him as a Grand Prix "Legend" in 2003. He continues his involvement in motorcycling, participating in classic bike events with bikes from his stable of vintage racing machines. He also remains involved in single-seater racing cars with him holding the seat of chairman of A1 Team Great Britain, in A1 Grand Prix racing series. His son, Henry currently competes in the Formula BMW UK series for Carlin Motorsport.