A giant of a driver. Brave, yet circumspect; sensitive, but tenacious. “Il Grande Gianni”-Big John. The tifossi loved him and gave him this surname. A unique man, his feat of being the only man in history to win the world championships both on two and four wheels will probably never be surpassed. He always took it the hard road, made the team his own, but this approach finally landed him in trouble.
He accepted a Ferrari deal in 1963 and right away took his maiden F1 win in the best possible place in the world-the legendary Nordschleife, the yardstick of all the race tracks in the calendar, beating a limping Jimmy Clark’s Lotus 25. With the new Ferrari 158 in his hands he took one of the most surprising victory in the championship’s history, after a thriller in the season ending Mexican GP in 1964, beating the great Jimmy Clark and Graham Hill in the process. Of course, with some robust help received from team mate Bandini…
Before that, Surtees scored two deserve wins, at the Ring again and at Monza where the tifossi went crazy. His rhythm and audacity showed in his second Ring triumph was a master class. In 1965 nor he or his car where a match for the Clark-Lotus 33 combination, but in 1966 under new rules, Ferrari produced arguably the fastest car of the year, the powerful and beautiful 312. Armed with this 360plus bhpmonoposto, he retired in Monaco, but at Spa, under torrential rain obliterated the field…which proved to be a Ferrari final flourish.
When team manager Eugenio Dragoni informed Big John that he wouldn’t be part of the Le Mans line-up, the Englishman tendered his resignation. It was a bad call for both parts. Signing with Cooper, than Honda, he rarely found himself in a winning position. Ferrari won a title only a decade later with Lauda.
But the man who tried to introduce a new approach to the team, more professional and technical orientated, channeling all the energies trough the F1 team, was long gone. A great driver, with all the qualities to be even greater. But that strength of character, once more… All being said, John Surtees remains one of the most distinguished Ferrari drivers of all time, a great wiry man, gifted with a speed from the gods and a mindset of a real champion.