Injection of promise

1964 German Grand Prix John Surtees (Ferrari 158)

It was probably his motorcycle experiences that gave John Surtees the bravery to conquer Formula One’s most fearsome circuits, the Nurburgring and Spa-Francorchamps. The skill came naturally.

In the 1963 German Grand Prix, he qualified second behind Jimmy Clark, and managed to reverse those positions in the race. And so in ’64 there was a confidence about John at the ‘Ring despite having finished just two races so far second at Zandvoort, third at Brands Hatch. John believes pursuit of Le Mans glory had distracted Ferrari’s attention from F1, but that real progress was made in Solitude, two weeks before the German GP. “We went over to Bosch and fitted up an electronic mixture control, because the problem with the Ferrari V8 was that the direct injection was too rich one end and wouldn’t work the other; or too weak one end and it wouldn’t work the other. The pumps were designed for three-litre engines or bigger, so the fine adjustment hadn’t been there.

“So Solitude was the first time we had something reasonably well carburated, and if it had stayed wet, we would have walked the race. As it was, it dried and the combination of Lotus and Climax meant Jimmy was able to pick me off. But because we had achieved quite an improvement, and the ‘Ring was a good leveller, we felt in with a chance.”

In qualifying, John pipped Clark to pole by 0.4sec. Alongside them on the front row were Dan Gurney’s BrabhamClimax, and Lorenzo Bandini in the V6 Ferrari. When the flag fell to start the race, Bandini outdragged everyone, but by South Curve had dropped to fourth. Clark, Gurney and Surtees had passed him and disappeared into a race of their own, constantly changing places. But when John looked in his mirrors and saw Graham Hill’s BRM trying to join the fun, he had to go for it, and snatched the lead from Clark at the Karrussel, just as Jimmy hit valve trouble. The Lotus would retire on lap seven. But still there was more than enough to keep Surtees’ attention, for over the next four laps of the 14-mile circuit, he and Gurney were constantly passing and repassing. The Ferrari driver, however, had something in reserve.

“When you were driving the ‘Ring, the most important thing was to have rhythm; if you went over the limit at one corner, it could still be affecting you at corners a mile further on! So I never went faster than I had to.”

But now he had to. Slicing two seconds from his lap time on successive tours left Surtees with a five-second lead over Gurney, and by lap 11 Dan was in trouble with overheating and had to let Hill past.

And so in the absence of healthy rivals, John was able to reel off the remaining laps to beat Hill by 75sec, while Lorenzo Bandini brought the V6 Ferrari home third.

The following grand prix, in Austria, it would be Bandini’s turn to take the winner’s laurels and the race after that, at Monza, Surtees would win again. On such results are world championships founded.

David Malsher