Rider Of The Week focuses on a famous motorcyclist and sees how influential they were. John Surtees was a true legend, being a four-time 500 cc motorbike world champion. In addition to his motorcycle career, he was an accomplished Formula One racer. He’s the only person to have won world championships on two and four wheels.
Surtees, the son of a London motorbike dealer, was born in 1934. His father Jack was an accomplished motorbike grass track competitor. It only seemed natural that Surtees would follow in his father’s footsteps. At 14, he had his first professional outing in a motorbike. He sat in the sidecar of his father’s Vincent and they won the race. This provided Surtees with a taste for success.
In 1950, Surtees joined the Vincent factory as an apprentice. At the age of 17 he competed at the Thruxton circuit and gave Geoff Duke a strong challenge. Surtees received his first factory sponsored motorbike from Norton in 1955. He went on to beat Duke at Silverstone and then at Brands Hatch.
Then, Surtees accepted an offer to race for the MV Agusta team. He won the 1956 500 cc world championship and dominated the 1957 Grand Prix season. Surtees won three more world championships in 1958, 1959 and 1960. He also became the first man to win the Senior TT at the Isle of Man TT three years in a row. Surtees’ Agusta exploits earned him the nickname figlio del vento, which meant son of the wind.
At the age of 26, Surtees decided to retire from motorbike racing and switched to cars. He made his debut at the 1960 BRDC International Trophy held at Silverstone. Surtees quickly made an impact, finishing in second place.
Surtees won his first Formula One championship in 1964 for the Scuderia Ferrari team. In 1966, Surtees won the Belgian Grand Prix. A falling out with Ferrari led to Surtees leaving the team the same year. He finished the season by driving for the Cooper-Maserati team and came second in the Drivers’ Championship. He formed his own racing team in 1970 called the Surtees Racing Organisation and it was disbanded in 1978.
After Surtees retired from racing he returned to his roots and opened up a motorbike shop in Kent. He continued to be involved with motorbike and car racing events. For a time he became the chairman of the A1 Team Great Britain.
Surtees passed away on the 10th March 2017 at the age of 83. He acquired multiple titles and honours during his life, such as being inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and attaining an OBE and MBE.