"Motorsport" CBE for John Surtees

December 2015


Grand Prix | Thruxton | Formula One  | TT


John Surtees racing


He was awarded an MBE in 1959, and in 2008 was appointed to the OBE (Order of the British Empire). And now, in the Queen's 2016 New Years Honours list, John Surtees has been made CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire).


Did he deserve it?  Well, we don't care too much about rank, privilege and honours. But if anyone in the world of racing was due another gong, John Surtees is possibly, or even probably, that man. He's a living legend.


John Surtees racer


John Surtees won the 500cc Motorcycle World Championship at the Isle of Man TT in 1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960 riding for MV Agusta. Also for MV, he won the Junior (350cc) TT in 1958 and 1959, and set the fastest lap in 1960.


In 1964 he successfully switched from two wheels to four and became the Formula One World Champion. Apparently, he remains the only racer to have taken world championships on both two and four wheels.


Surtees was born in Surrey in 1934. From the start, motorcycles were a part of his mental and physical furniture. His father, after all, was a bike dealer in South London and raced a Vincent outfit. Oil, petrol and competition was evidently in the blood.


At age 15, John Surtees began competition racing by riding grasstrack machines. The following year he became an apprentice at the Vincent motorcycle factory in Stevenage, Hertfordshire. It was there that he learned the intricacies of motorcycle design and manufacture.


Soon after, he was battling Geoff Duke at Thruxton, and in 1960s he won the Isle of Man Senior TT for the third time in succession and became the first motorcycle racer to do so.


John Surtees racing legend


He campaigned numerous motorcycle marques including Triumph, Vincent, Norton and MV Augusta. But motor racing soon took over, and Surtees, following an impressive debut, took the wheel at the Monaco Grand Prix driving for Lotus. He didn't win, but he acquitted himself well and eyes were upon him. By 1964, whilst piloting a Scuderia Ferrari, he won the World Championship and consolidated his racing prowess.


John Surtees CBEIn 1972, after numerous wins, losses and a near fatal crash that left him with crippling injuries, he retired as a professional racer. For a while he ran a motorcycle shop, and then he operated a car dealership.


Tragedy struck in 2009 when his son, Henry, was killed at Brands Hatch racing in Formula 2. Henry Surtees was just 18.


Under the umbrella of Team Surtees, John Surtees also built championship F1, F2 and F5000 cars. That venture began in 1969 and came to an end in 1978 following intractable financial and health issues related to his racing injuries.


At age 81, John Surtees is the oldest surviving Formula One Championship winner. He still keeps his hand in on the classic motorcycle scene parading bikes and acting as guest of honour. And at any great motor sport meeting, John Surtees is likely to be somewhere in the crowd or on the guest list.


Del Monte




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