The year 1964 was historic for the racing world: “Big John” succeeded in his quest to become the Formula 1 World Champion. John Surtees’ exceptional achievement was to be the first and only person ever to win the title of World Champion on both two and four wheels.
His honours include three world titles in the 350 cc class and four in the 500 cc between 1956 and 1960, with MV Agusta (where he also earned the Italian nickname ‘figlio del vento’, or ‘son of the wind’), and, of course, the Formula 1 World Champion title in 1964 with Scuderia Ferrari. Surtees also helped Maranello to the Constructors’ title in 1964, and the World Endurance Sports Car Championship from 1963 to 1965, winning the 12 Hours of Sebring and twice at the Nürburgring, as well as at Monza in 1966. He began racing in F1 in 1960, aged 26, while still competing on bikes, proving able to handle both. In 1962 he signed for Enzo Ferrari for the next season, an opportunity he could not pass up! Surtees among other things, that year already raced with the 250 GTO at home in the UK and in the Manufacturers’ Championship. In 1963 he immediately won an important victory with the Ferrari F1 at the Nürburgring and second place at Silverstone, both legendary circuits. He then won two races that didn’t count for the World Championship in Pergusa (Italy) and Kyalami (South Africa).
His historic triumph came in 1964. Surtees raced the new 158 F1 equipped with a V8 engine, a type of engine that was destined to be used in a long series of road cars. Surtees was not a man of half measures during the 1964 season, either winning, finishing second, or forced to retire!
After a difficult early period, dropping out of a number of races, the turning point came with triumphs at the Nürburgring and Monza, which helped him to close the gap on drivers of the calibre of Graham Hill and Jim Clark. In the end he beat Hill by a single point, thanks in part to teamwork with Lorenzo Bandini. At the last two races, in the US and Mexico, the Ferraris competed in the colours of the American team NART (white and blue) of importer Luigi Chinetti. It was a form of protest against the sports authorities for not giving type-approval to the 250 LM as a GT car. In 1964 Surtees also won the Syracuse GP, which didn’t count for the championship. His race results with the Maranello Scuderia speak clearly: one world title, six wins, 24 podiums, eight pole positions and one fastest lap, in Formula One alone. Precise, meticulous, technically skilled, John Surtees embodied an extraordinary passion and talent. No other motorcyclist has ever managed to triumph in Formula 1 and, indeed, nor has it happened the other way around. Surtees and Ferrari went their separate ways in F1 in 1966, after his victory at Spa-Francorchamps, in torrential rain. However, their paths crossed again in 1970, in Endurance racing.