Formula One: British motorsport great John Surtees dead at 83

A 2016 file photo shows Surtees walking through the paddock ahead of the British Formula One Grand Prix at Silverstone.
A 2016 file photo shows Surtees walking through the paddock ahead of the British Formula One Grand Prix at Silverstone.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - Britain's John Surtees, the only man to win both the Formula One and motorcycle grand prix world titles, has died aged 83, it was announced on Friday (March 10).

Surtees, who won the 1964 Formula One title after becoming a four-time 500cc world champion, "passed away peacefully" on Friday with his wife Jane and daughters Leonora and Edwina by his side, a statement issued on behalf of the family said.

The statement added: "It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our husband and father, John Surtees CBE.

"John was admitted to St Georges 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.

"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."

Surtees made his name as a motorcycle racer, notably with British outfit Norton and Italian rivals MV Agusta, winning the 500 cc world title in 1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960, while he also became the first rider to win the Senior TT (Tourist Trophy) race on the dangerous Isle of Man road circuit three years in a row.

Just four years after the last of those 'two-wheel' world titles, Surtees secured his unique place in motorsport history by becoming a 'four-wheel' world champion when winning the Formula One drivers' championship with Italian giants Ferrari.

He also raced for Cooper and Honda, as well as founding a team bearing his own name.

Surtees's death sparked a flood of tributes from throughout the motorsport world.

Damon Hill, another of Britain's F1 world champions, whose late father Graham competed against Surtees, tweeted: "Such a lovely man. We have lost a true great motorsport legend. RIP John. #JohnSurtees."

Valtteri Bottas, a driver with current world champions Mercedes, said: "Sad news today. It was great to meet you legend. RIP John Surtees."

Surtees suffered a family tragedy in 2009 when his 18-year-old son, Henry, was killed in a Formula Two race at the Brands Hatch track in Kent, southeast England, when he was struck on the head by a wheel that had come lose from another car.

The Henry Surtees Award was established in his momory in 2010 as an annual prize for the most outstanding performance by a promising motor racer.

His family's statement noted: "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 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."

Surtees was awarded Britain's CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) medal in 2016, although many felt his achievements were deserving of the higher-ranking knighthood.