Where is the 'Sir' in John Surtees?by Rob Widdows on 6th January 2012
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.