There are few books about a world champion that an F1 fan can pick up and find themselves with next to no knowledge of the early pages yet completely enthralled due to the subject. But then, John Surtees is no ordinary subject…
John Surtees: My Incredible Life on Two and Four Wheels
offers an insight in to the amazing career of the man who won seven motorbike world championships before switching to F1 and taking the 1964 title. There are two forewords – written by Valentino Rossi and Sebastian Vettel respectively – but you can bet there will have been many more greats of both disciplines keen to stress their admiration for his achievements.
Reflecting on the dangers of the Isle of Man TT, having described it as too dangerous Rossi adds: “Yet John scored six victories on this challenging circuit. One of those came in 1960 – just four weeks before he finished second in the British Grand Prix in a Formula One Lotus. No one in the world of speed has ever demonstrated such amazing flexibility.
“This book is a record of John's extraordinary life in motorsport. It's unlikely that anyone will ever again repeat his achievements.”
The opening chapters allow Surtees to describe just how he made it in to motorcycle racing – helping his father on grass tracks following the war – and progressed through to become the dominant rider of his time. From such a young age Surtees was involved in the sport, and little anecdotes are intertwined with matter-of-fact statements about what he achieved year-by-year.
“At Easter (1955) I won ten races in three meetings in a weekend at Brands Hatch, Snetterton and Crystal Palace, and in May I won four events in a day at Aberdare Park before travelling overnight to Brands Hatch and winning three more. In the back of our Austin we'd have my two Manxes and the NSU, and I would get my head down and sleep while Mum drove. At the tracks Mum and Dad would make sandwiches and we'd have a Thermos flask of tea – those were our 'hospitality' arrangements!”
This isn't a text-heavy book by any stretch, however. Chapter introductions give way to fantastic archive imagery which draws the eye from one picture – and the story behind it – to the next, moving Surtees' story on apace.
It all makes for fascinating reading of a time worlds apart from today, yet as you work through the book you understand how Surtees' ability to adapt to the ever-changing world of motorsport is what made him so great.
As the reader you are guided through Surtees' life, not just his career. From F1 driver to world champion to constructor – and the tough decisions that came with it – Surtees describes the highs and lows of his motorsport achievements and latterly those after retirement, with the book ending with a touching chapter on 'Henry's Story'. Royalties from the book will go to the Henry Surtees Foundation.
As Vettel puts it: “I think nobody else in the racing world has a personal story that so directly echoes the mechanics of motorsport – from building motorcycles in the 1940s to the running of a racing team in the 1970s.”
And that's just what makes the book so great to read. John Surtees: My Incredible Life on Two and Four Wheels
guides you through so many eras of motorsport through the eyes of one brilliant and very humble man.