Motorsport mourns the death of John Surtees

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John Surtees, a Formula 1 great who won the 1964 championship with Ferrari and was the only man to win world titles on two wheels and four, died on Friday at the age of 83, his family said in a statement.

The Briton won his four 500cc and three 350cc motorcycling world titles with Italian marque MV Agusta between 1956 and 1960.

Surtees was admitted to St George’s hospital in London last month with a respiratory condition and passed away after a short period in intensive care, the family said.

The statement was released through the Henry Surtees Foundation, established after the driver’s son was killed by a bouncing wheel that hit his head during a Formula Two race at Brands Hatch in 2009.

Tributes poured in for a man who excelled at a time when motorcycling and grand prix racing was at its most deadly, with Ferrari hailing a ‘motorsport legend” with a black and white photograph of Surtees and team founder Enzo Ferrari.

“Today the F1 family lost one of its all-time greats,” said the official F1 website.

Surtees, whose father Jack was a national motorcycle sidecar champion, raced in both Formula One and motorcycling in 1960, when he also won the Isle of Man TT.

Known in his later years for forthright opinions on motorsport and an equally direct gaze, the Briton later fell out with Ferrari.

“Mr Ferrari agreed with me at the end, just before he died actually, that we’d both made a bit of a mistake in that we’d lost probably championships together with the parting that we did in 1966,” he told Reuters in a 2014 interview.

“I was so frustrated at not doing things that we could achieve at Ferrari because of political reasons and people pulling in a different direction.”

In 1960 Lotus boss Colin Chapman wanted Surtees as his number one driver but the place ultimately went to compatriot Jim Clark, for some the greatest driver of all time.

Clark would go on to win the championship in 1963 and 1965 while Surtees beat Graham Hill by a single point in 1964 thanks to a scoring system that counted only the best six results.

Surtees also raced for Cooper and Honda, with whom he won at Monza in 1967.

He then set up his own Team Surtees-Ford, with compatriot and fellow motorcycling great Mike ‘The Bike’ Hailwood finishing second at Monza in 1972.

Of his six Formula One wins, four were with Ferrari. In all, Surtees won 290 of the 621 races he entered on bikes and in cars with another 103 podium finishes.

His wife Jane and daughters Leonora and Edwina were by his side and released the following statement: “It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our husband and father, John Surtees CBE.

“John, 83, was admitted to St George’s Hospital, London in February with an existing respiratory condition and after a short period in intensive care he passed away peacefully this afternoon. His wife, Jane and daughters, Leonora and Edwina were by his side.

“John was a loving husband, father, brother and friend. He was also one of the true greats of motorsport and continued to work tirelessly up until recently with The Henry Surtees Foundation and Buckmore Park Kart Circuit.

“We deeply mourn the loss of such an incredible, kind and loving man as well as celebrate his amazing life. He has set a very real example of someone who kept pushing himself at his peak and one who continued fighting until the very end.

“We would like to thank all the staff at St George’s Hospital and The East Surrey Hospital for their professionalism and support during this difficult time for us. Thank you also to all of those who have sent their kind messages in recent weeks. Funeral details will be announced in due course.”