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F1 Opinion Motorbikes 48

Where is the ‘Sir’ in John Surtees?

The New Year’s honours list for 2012 was, as ever, a matter of interest for the motor racing industry.

This is one of those British traditions that never fails to be controversial. Only recently, in this magazine, Patrick Head expressed his surprise that designers and engineers such as John Barnard and Gordon Murray have so far not been recognised by the British establishment.

On my travels away from my homeland I find that the majority of folk are amused and intrigued by this ancient custom, by our love of titles. In the main they go back to the days of the British Empire, as in Order of the British Empire (OBE) or Member of the British Empire (MBE), both of which are sporadically awarded to British racing drivers. In case you’re wondering, Lords and Ladies are traditionally inherited titles, although the House of Lords also includes those who have been elevated on account of their good works for the nation.

motogp opinion  Where is the Sir in John Surtees?

Anyway, all that aside, this year saw Nigel Mansell, already an OBE in recognition of his achievements on track, receive a CBE. This stands for Commander of the British Empire and was given in honour of his work for the young people’s charity UK Youth. His efforts have included going on an extremely long and arduous bicycle ride around the country. For clarification, you do not now refer to Nigel as Commander Mansell.

Also on the list for 2012 was Adrian Newey who received an OBE for his ‘services to motor racing’ which are self-explanatory and include the design of world-championship winning Grand Prix cars for Williams, McLaren and Red Bull, not to mention his success in Indycar and the fact that the man is a genius.

And there is of course a connection here as Nigel Mansell won his 1992 World Championship at the wheel of a Williams FW14B which was, in part at least, designed by Adrian Newey. So far, so good, then.

motogp opinion  Where is the Sir in John Surtees?

But what is perhaps more interesting is why certain other motor racing people have not been recognised. The most obviously glaring omission is the only man ever to win world titles on motorcycles and in cars. I refer, of course to John Surtees who should long ago have received a knighthood, entitling him to be called Sir John Surtees. I have no idea why John has not been honoured in this way and I can think of no logical explanation.

motogp opinion  Where is the Sir in John Surtees?

For Christmas I received an excellent new book by Stuart Codling called ‘Real Racers – Formula 1 Racing in the 1950s and 1960s’. The book is notable for, among other things, some truly wonderful images from the collection of the great photographer Louis Klementaski.

‘Real Racers’ is also notable for a list of contributors printed on the front cover.

Sir Stirling Moss, Sir Jack Brabham, Sir Jackie Stewart, Sir Frank Williams, all of them quite rightly Knights of the Realm, and John Surtees, the lack of a ‘Sir’ in front of his name standing out like a – well, like a sore thumb, as we say, in this land of traditions.

motogp opinion  Where is the Sir in John Surtees?

I hereby call upon the British government to confer a knighthood upon Mr Surtees or, at the very least, to explain to us why this British rider, driver and engineer has for so long been overlooked.



Add your comments

48 comments on Where is the ‘Sir’ in John Surtees?

  1. Ross Neilson, 6 January 2012 12:12

    Great piece Rob, I totally agree. Not only was John a champ on two and four wheels (a unique achievement as you pointed out) he went on to run his own team thereby showing his talents as an organiser and engineer.

    Sadly there is a lack of transparency in the decision-making process of the honours system, which devalues the whole thing a little. Perhaps John, not known to suffer fools gladly, put someone’s nose out of joint sometime in the past and has become blacklisted…

  2. Carlos Sanchez, 6 January 2012 12:16

    Yes Rob, I enjoyed reading your note, and completely agree and support your cause to confer due honor and recognition to the great John Surtees, whom fully deserves it, for his achievements, that albeit from a bygone era, are as you mentioned, were and are remarkable nonetheless.

  3. Stuart C, 6 January 2012 12:23

    Hi Rob,

    Glad you enjoyed my book and I thoroughly agree with your sentiments about ‘Big John’. Speed the day when my publishers can do a new edition with those three letters in front of his name…


  4. Elusive American F1 Fan, 6 January 2012 14:01

    Could it possibly be because Mr Surtees hasn’t yet received the endorsement of Jim Hall? :)

  5. rob widdows, 6 January 2012 14:44

    Absolutely, Mr Surteees has never, and will never, suffer fools. And he is opinionated. But all this is good because he knows what he’s talking about and has done just about everything there is to do in the sport. Further, I enjoy his strong opinions, his honesty and his refusal to hide behind jargon and bland speaking. An interview with John is NEVER boring.
    Very nice to hear from you Stuart and yes, I like the book very much and would highly recommend it to true fans of real motor racing. The photos are quite superb, there is enough to read and it is a most useful addition to my reference library!
    Surtees, whom I have known for over 30 years, may be embarrassed by my call for his knighthood. But I stand by every word.

  6. Lewis Lane, 6 January 2012 20:33

    You should stand by every word, Rob – they’re spot on. One day, the people who make these decisions might see sense.. I do sometimes wonder what classes as an achievement worthy of recognition in this country. At a time when “celebrity” seems a byword for non-achievement, and looking at some of the other honours from other spheres of life down through the years, here’s a man who’s achieved more than most people put together, and for a longer time, and yet gets continually overlooked. Perhaps that’s it: He’s not a “celebrity”. Baffling.

  7. hamfan, 7 January 2012 01:21

    This comes up every time the Honours are announced. There’s almost certainly a ‘reason’ for his continued omission – did he run over a corgi with his bike somewhere back in the day? Does Sir Jackie, known to like rubbing shoulders with royals and bigwigs, hold something against him? Anyway, it is a scandal. Mick Jagger’s a Sir, hell, even Tom-bleedin’-Jones is a Sir.

    After writing this I hope you’re inducting him into your Hall of Fame this year (weird anyway that the likes of Franchitti and Scheckter have beat him to it…)

  8. John Read, 7 January 2012 01:22

    Ho Hum…..bring on the republic.

    regards from Oz

  9. Martin Tomlinson, 7 January 2012 11:03

    It’s inconceivable that John Surtees has not been honoured with a knighthood. His achievements in motor sport will never be surpassed. His commitment to our sport at all levels has been quite extraordinary. Then there’s the charity work …

    Motor sport is an industry in which this country is a world leader. Something we should be extremely proud of. John Surtees’ contribution to this should not remain unrecognised even if the man himself might be more than a little embarrassed by such an honour!

    On another note; how does Sir Jack sit with our Antipodian republican John Read (see above)?

  10. Paul Fearnley, 7 January 2012 14:41

    The bloke who gave us Big Brother – yeah, cheers – has been made a Sir. By that measure ‘Il Grande John’ should be awarded… Kent. All of it. At least.

  11. Pete H, 7 January 2012 15:10

    I’m still wondering when Ron Dennis will get his CBE upgraded to a KBE – for services to British motor racing AND industry.

  12. Alex Goldschmidt, 8 January 2012 10:18

    As a fan of John himself, and with the inspiration and help of Peter Windsor, someone who has spent the last several decades in Formula One, I have an on line petition running, which has been signed by several current and retired racing drivers, irrespective of the racing series they compete or competed in. The drivers include former F1 and Indycar driver Mario Andretti, 2-time BTCC champion Jason Plato, BRDC President Derek Warwick and Formula Renault UK Drivers Dan Wells and Joshua Hill, son of1996 F1 Champion and former BRDC president, Damon.

    I am also in the process of writing a request to Recommend for an Hounour, as there will be another chance this year, as HRH The Queen is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee, for us to help John receive the Knighthood he so richly deserves.

    If you wish to assist in helping the petition gain in numbers, currently at 972, please go to and sign this to help us in anyway possible.
    And if you use Twitter and Facebook, please also help to spread the word.


  13. Alan Baulch, 8 January 2012 12:50

    I, like many others joined an on line petition a year or two ago for such an award for John.
    sadly it fell on deaf ears


  14. Adrian Muldrew, 8 January 2012 19:25

    I strongly agree that John Surtees should receive a knighthood. His achievement as world champion on two wheels and four remains unique after nearly fifty years. Well done Rob for highlighting the matter, and well done Alex Goldschmidt for the online petition. Many of us will be aware of the relentless hoo-hah which accompanied each honours list for years until Bruce Forsyth was finally given a knighthood last year. I will not offer an opinion on the merits of that particular K, other than to say that if Brucie deserved it then Big John definitely does, but I mention it just to show that things like Alex’s petition are most emphatically not a waste of time.
    I don’t think, by the way, that John has been overlooked because he put any noses out of joint. It should be pointed out that he has in fact been honoured twice – an MBE as long ago as 1959 and then raised to OBE in 2008. That the latter appointment was quite recent may go some way to explaining the lack of a further elevation to K in the short time afterwards, disappointing though that is to all of us. By next year five years will have passed, so hopefully the K will be more feasible again. If not next year, then certainly one might dare hope in time for John’s 80th birthday the year after.
    Final point, Rob – OBE doesn’t stand for Order of the British Empire. That’s a common misconception, but it means Officer of the Order of the British Empire, just as the lower MBE indicates Member of the Order of the British Empire. When John’s a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, we’ll all be happy.

  15. John Read, 8 January 2012 23:45

    G’day Martin,

    Jack Brabham remains a legend with or without the title, so I am ambivalent about it.

    I do agree however if they are to be handed out that John Surtees should also get one.

    For the sake of good order I am also happy the it was Captain Cook rather than La Perouse who won “the race” to the great south land.

    Regards from ‘mildly contradicted’, Down Under…….

  16. Martin Tomlinson, 9 January 2012 12:28

    ‘Morning John

    Thanks for your response! You’re right Jack remains a legend. And one who I think is too often overlooked when it comes to debates about the ‘greats’ of our sport.

    I once asked John Surtees who he considered his toughest competition. He responded; Jim and Colin (as a combination), Jack (Brabham) and Dan (Gurney).

    Regards from a cold Cambridge!

  17. rob widdows, 9 January 2012 13:20

    OK, this is all most encouraging and thanks to everyone who has taken the time to contribute.
    Now we have an online petition to sign – so get signing – and thanks Alex for giving us the link.
    And Paul is right – if the man responsible for sending the truly ghastly Big Brother to our TV sets can be recognised, then perhaps we really have lost all common sense and ability to seek out those who have made a real contribution.
    Dumbing down is one of the curses of modern society.

  18. N. Weingart, 9 January 2012 15:28

    John Surtees is, in my opinion, one of the best of all Grand Prix class riders and drivers and regardless of what honors he may receive he will remain a titan of motorsport.

  19. Carlos Sanchez, 9 January 2012 16:19

    Superb Rob!
    Modern society shall, through mass media,, EDUCATE, and absolutely not the opposite as has become the norm. Thank goodness for publications like this that still exist, and prove right, for the evolution of our society in general, with a beautiful sport as Motor Sport as our Troyan Horse!

  20. Carlos Sanchez, 9 January 2012 16:30

    And I hope and this helps me make the point further.
    Trojan Horse, in english, or horse of Troy, more correctly.
    Than ‘Horse of Troya’, as in Italian.

  21. noahracer, 9 January 2012 21:51

    Surtees, at some point in his long and distinguished history, must have used his blunt honest to piss someone royally off.

  22. Nick Lawton, 15 January 2012 13:05

    John Surtees’ unique place in Motor Sport history certainly warrants recognition. However, I have a problem with the comment, “But what is perhaps more interesting is why certain other motor racing people have not been recognised. The most obviously glaring omission..”.

    I recgonise this won’t make me very popular and hell will have frozen over first considering this individual is the very antithesis of the British Establishment. However, surely, the most obviously glaring omission is Bernard Charles Ecclestone.

  23. Andy, 16 January 2012 19:36

    Its preposterous that Nigel Mansell gets a CBE. Prost and Senna were far better. If he is CBE they should be made Knights, or Most Beautific Emporers… blah blah…legends..blah.. (continues until falls asleep)

  24. Alex Milligan, 17 January 2012 03:18

    Andy, it may have escaped your attention, but neither Prost nor Senna are British………..

  25. Alex Milligan, 17 January 2012 03:22

    ……and if you read the article and comments, it is largely in recognition of Mansell’s charity work that he has been honoured with the CBE. I was always a huge fan of mansell as a driver, less so of the man, until I saw him at Goodwood FOS in 2011 at the Lotus stand in a presentatioin with Bruno Senna and Vitaly Petrov. Mansell was superbly entertaining and interacted with the attendant public superbly. I came away with a totally revised opinion of him. Congratulations I say…..

  26. Adrian Muldrew, 17 January 2012 14:14

    Alex, you are right to point out to Andy the most obvious reason why Prost and Senna would be much less likely than Mansell to be appointed to the Order of the British Empire, but in fact it IS possible for non-British nationals to be appointed to the order on a strictly honorary basis (meaning that if the appointment is as a KBE, they can’t officially be called “Sir”, although the most famous example, Bob Geldof, is almost universally called so). And in fact – Andy, take note – Alain Prost was indeed appointed OBE as long ago as 1993. As the driver who has won more world titles in British cars than anybody else, it was wholly appropriate.
    Nick, if Bernie Ecclestone is the most glaring omission, it was he who omitted himself, according to this link: . Apparently, he turned down a CBE in 1996. BCE CBE would have had a nice near-symmetry about it, if nothing else, but who knows the reasons why he refused it? Perhaps, as it was a year before Blair came to power, he thought he should wait, having been promised something better for services to the Labour Party! Anyway, the way that little entanglement would all unfold undoubtedly ended his chances forever.

  27. Andy, 17 January 2012 18:00

    ….guys, guys I’m just being facetious. Normally if there is anything remotely positive about Nigel Mansell in this magazine then that will immediately prompt a bunch of rapturous comments reminiscing in wonder about the other wordly brilliance and flawless genius, (and charm and good looks), of, and I am almost unworthy of mentioning their names, Prost and Senna. (Ayrton not Bruno!)…..and thats just from NR!!
    On another point, what’s wrong with Mick Jagger having a knighthood. Admittedly his contribution to motorsport is minimal – although I seem to remember him on the telly at Monza one year. He fully deserves his gong – for both his Performing Arts Centre or whatever it is, and for Sticky Fingers.

  28. Peter, 24 January 2012 06:30

    One reason for Big John’s non-K is maybe the fact that he won the World Championship in 1964 (and bike titles before that), so maybe that was all before certain peoples’ time in Whitehall. Anyway, Rob, you are exactly right, Il Grande John definitely deserves his K. Signing the on-line petition right now….

  29. Sir Mick Jagger, 24 January 2012 20:50

    ….and dont forget Let It Bleed Andy

  30. chris b, 28 January 2012 11:23

    John – was simply an awesome driver on 2 and 4 wheels – his 1st season in F1 was incredible, but appears to have little interest in the media and self-image outside of the motor racing world, where he is enormously respected – especially his opinions – even though i don’t necc agree with them- perhaps Rob MOTOR SPORT could start either a bit more of a high profile campaign for big John or ask him to contribute towards this ever improving magazine – or start a petition i’m sure that [he says tongue in cheek] will effect the Gov’s thinking

    great article Rob

  31. Gwen Chappell, 6 February 2012 16:10

    I have often wondered why John Surtees has not been knighted for still being the only man to win on 2 and 4 wheels. Has it been offered and refused? Standing behind him in the queue to pay for petrol locally, it ran through my mind that one would never see Michael Schumacher doing this rather mundane task. The government should be asked again, bearing in mind the non-deserving individuals that do get honoured…. Please try again and if he doesn’t want it, then so be it.

  32. rob widdows, 7 February 2012 17:14

    There is a petition going round right now in support of a knighthood for John Surtees and Motor Sport is behind it all the way. We have long campaigned for the man to be recognised for his achievements.
    Very few of us object to Jagger’s title. Well, I think Keith does, but he’s not too keen on The Establishment. The Rolling Stones, when all is said and done, are part of British musical history. Nobody, let us hope, is comparing knight for knight, man for man. We simply think Surtees deserves wider recognition. Amen.

  33. chris b, 12 February 2012 18:26

    Rob, where does one access said petition?

  34. Sir Mick Jagger, 13 February 2012 21:47

    Quite right Rob (right about Keith as well- moan, moan, moan)

  35. rob widdows, 18 February 2012 13:58

    I think you will find the Surtees petition on the internet. Try ‘googling’ for it and if you can’t find it you could always send a brief letter to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom…………….
    At least John is now in the Motor Sport ‘Hall of Fame’, and not before time. OK, it’s not a knighthood, but it is further recognition and may just be another reminder to those who decide matters of honour at the end of the year.
    I was chuffed that he received such a sincere and heartfelt ovation when he walked onto the stage at the Roundhouse in London last Thursday night. It was a good moment.

  36. Doug Collinge, 20 May 2012 17:06

    Sirling Moss got the knighthood,and I think never became a world champion.!!!!
    So if John Surtees won the motorcycle world champion,and formula 1 world champion, why why why is John Surtees not a sir?

  37. Ian Fraser, 1 July 2012 15:13

    When will somebody with influence start a campaign for knighthoods for John Surtees and for a man who has done more to popularise motor sport than any other, Murray Walker.
    Do we have to wait until it is too late?Should they start singing and campaign for Aids research?

  38. douglas collinge, 29 December 2012 15:47

    Surely after a span of 20 years in motorcycle racing, and car racing ,and being a world champion in both sports. he must be SIR JOHN SURTEES, a head of the first race first win olympians

  39. Ian Porteous, 30 December 2012 04:19

    Today is 30th December 2012 and still John Surtees gets no recognition. What’s the gut gotta do?

  40. Jack Brenchley, 31 December 2012 09:40


    John’s unique achievement, winning the world chmapionship on two wheels and then again on four wheels is hardly likely to be bettered again.

    Once again we see the honours system failing those truly greaty men and women, who are great pillars of our society and have acheived so much in a short space of time.

    In this year’s honours list, only one para olympic gold medalist was recognised as a dame, how sad. Should you start a campaign for change I’m sure the support would be overwhelming.

  41. serge dubois, 9 January 2013 12:26

    Well said !

  42. a p coombes, 29 May 2013 17:44

    Can there be a more deserving person than John Surtees who merits a Knighthood. I find it insulting that such a massive sporting achievement has not received the Queens accolade.

  43. Colin Pascoe, 15 June 2013 16:08

    The only person to win both two and four wheel Championships, John should have been knighted years ago when Jackie Stewart, Frank Williams and the others received their titles. The most glaring omission in the history of motor sport. He may not have suffered fools lightly but you do not win motoring titles by doing so.

  44. andy campbell, 23 July 2013 08:55

    I agree with you totally, and watching a recent F1 Legends show on john Surtees has prompted me to do a search as to why he hasn’t been knighted.
    lets get the campaign bump started and or a petition going and get this man what he deserves.. a knighthood.

  45. lionel Haydon, 25 February 2014 21:53

    John Surtees did more than people know with regards his nohow of engineering and constriction regards cars and motorcycles and his truth with regards the pollocks with in the sport

  46. Susan Shepherd, 1 March 2014 23:57

    As a distant relative of ‘Sir’ John Surtees, I feel that this honor is long overdue. My father, who was second cousin to him, said that the family always referred to him as ‘Sir John’. As history has shown, noone has acheived what he has on the race track! Even Sterling Moss thinks its a joke that he has not been honored! So the powers that be GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER! Show the sporting world that you care about your heros!

  47. John Swingler, 17 March 2014 19:26

    I agree 100%. John Surtees should have received a knighthood years ago. How can we neglect to recognize the outstanding achievements on both two and four wheels. While taking nothing away from Sir Stirling Moss who too was a great racer, he didn’t win a single championship. It is a travesty that John Surtees has not been knighted and this should be rectified in 2014.

  48. A. Mitchell, 5 April 2014 07:51

    It’s inexplicable!
    We must lobby harder. Now!

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