"Imagine being protested by your own team..."
In an extract from John Surtees’ new book, we look back at the 1963 and ’64 seasons. The Englishman might have become the first racer to take world titles on two wheels and four, but it wasn’t all plain sailing
The option of going back to Italy had been hard to resist, but before this I took part in the six-race Tasman series, starting off the season well with two wins and a second place in the Lola Mk4, fitted for these races with a 2.7-litre version of the four-cylinder Climax engine. Then it was off to Maranello to lead Ferrari’s Formula 1 and sports car teams, and test and develop the cars.
The early-season programme at Ferrari was heavily focused on the new 3-litre sports-prototypes, as success at Le Mans was considered important for the sale of road cars. The disadvantage was that this limited the design and development time allocated to Formula 1.
I wasn’t the only new face. After Carlo Chiti, the previous chief engineer and race director, had departed just over a year earlier, taking a number of staff with him, Mauro Forghieri had become race engineer. Forghieri coordinated development with the main design team, now headed by Franco Rocchi, and Eugenio Dragoni was drafted in as team manager.
There was a hectic programme to build and develop the 250P sports car in time for the Sebring 12 Hours, the first race, where there were entries for the American distributor, Luigi Chinetti, as well as the works cars. I was teamed with Lodovico Scarfiotti, who was about my size, so one of the cars I had tested at Modena was allocated to us. But when we arrived in Florida we found that Dragoni had offered it to Chinetti’s North American Racing Team (NART) and the car we were given was one that had scarcely been tested. Dragoni was no doubt trying to demonstrate his authority, and I was tempted to leave them to it. But after talking to Lodovico we decided to sort out the car as best we could in the time available and beat them with it.
And that’s what we did, leading home five other Ferraris despite coping with engine and exhaust fumes coming into the cockpit because sealing modifications to the engine cover had not been done. On the rostrum with the local beauty queen, we had to beat a hasty retreat behind the pits to be sick.
Then Dragoni disputed our victory, suggesting that the NART car had covered more laps. Imagine being protested by your own team, when you’d just won your first race for them! But the only two complete lap charts were those of the organisers and my wife Pat, and our victory was confirmed. But this bitter-sweet experience was a foretaste of what was to come at Maranello.
There were highlights in 1963, including two wins at the Nürburgring, in the 1000Kms race with the V12-engined 250P and in the German Grand Prix – my first Formula 1 win – with the V6-engined 156. With co-driver Willy Mairesse, I also came close to winning on my debut at Le Mans: we were leading past the 18-hour mark with everything going well when the car burst into flames.
On a lighter note, Enzo Ferrari said when we first met that they didn’t have much money, but there were other benefits. These included staying at top hotels at a heavily discounted rate of about £1 per night, and as Enzo Ferrari’s driver I got discounts, without asking, everywhere I went in Modena or Maranello.
Mr Ferrari faced his share of problems in 1964. There had been takeover talks with Ford, and acquisition by Fiat was also a possibility. The threat from Ford meant that the early-season programme still targeted the prototype cars, and for the Sebring 12 Hours and the Le Mans 24 Hours my co-driver Lorenzo Bandini and I now had the 330P car with a 4-litre V12 engine.
I qualified fastest at Sebring and led most of the race before lighting problems caused a long pitstop, dropping us to third place at the end. At the Nürburgring we went back to a 3.3-litre 275P that I qualified fastest, but then we lost a wheel in the race. Le Mans was another one that got away: Lorenzo and I were well in the lead with over 11 hours gone – and the Ford challenge dealt with – when the fuel pick-up pipe broke on our 330P, the extra pit stops we needed dropping us to third place at the finish.
For Formula 1 we had the new V8-engined 158 car. I won the non-championship Syracuse race, but then finished only once in the first four Grands Prix, taking a second place to Jimmy Clark at Zandvoort. But with a third place in the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, and the prototype season largely over, there was more time for the Formula 1 programme.
At the Nürburgring I won for the second year in succession after an early battle with Jimmy and Dan Gurney in the Brabham. The Austrian Grand Prix was held on a rather rough airfield at Zeltweg, but I was leading and feeling in control when a uniball in the suspension broke – an unusual occurrence for a Ferrari. In the Italian Grand Prix at Monza I had another contest with Dan – there were 27 recorded lead changes in the first 56 laps – but then his fuel pump failed and I won by more than a minute from Bruce McLaren in his Cooper-Climax. Suddenly I was in contention for the world championship.
In the United States GP at Watkins Glen there was another struggle between Graham Hill, Clark, Gurney and me, but Jimmy fell back and I was left with Graham and the BRM to contend with. However, I misjudged a passing manoeuvre on another driver, missed a gear, took a lengthy drive across the grass, and finished second.
Before the season finale in Mexico City, Hill led the world championship with 39 points, I had 34 and Jimmy 30. I was concerned that we might not be able to achieve the correct mixture on our direct injection to get power at the 7000ft altitude, a fear that proved justified. Our first engine broke and the second one was down on power, so we made some changes for the race. But the V8 was considered a safer bet than the team’s new flat-12 engine, which was allocated to Bandini.
I made a good start from the second row but then the engine cut out and continued to misfire, dropping me down the field. When it started to overheat it actually began to run better and I set off in pursuit from 13th place. Bandini and Graham had a coming-together at the hairpin, probably caused by them seeing me appear in their mirrors. I then passed Bandini to take second place behind Gurney, while Jimmy had to retire with a split oil pipe.
It all took a while to sink in – I had won the Formula 1 title to add to my seven motorcycling world championships. But I didn’t really appreciate it until I saw the excitement on my mechanics’ faces. That was very special. It hadn’t been an easy season, and we had come a long way together in those two years.