Many have tried, but only he, Jorn Surtees, managed to win world titles both on a motorcycle and in F1.
A legend for all motorsport fans, who now, on his passing, takes on the status of legend.
"John, 83, was admitted to St George’s hospital, London, in February with an existing respiratory condition and, after a brief period in intensive care, died peacefully this afternoon", writes his family in a note. His wife Jane, and daughters Leonora and Edwina were by his side.
“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 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.
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.”
Summing up his story in a few lines is impossible, suffice to say that in the late 60s, after having won three 350 titles and the 500 world title on four occasions, three of them consecutive, in 1956 and from 1958 to 1960 on board the MV Agusta, Surtees decided to make the big leap.
It didn't take him long to prove his incredible talent - just four years. In 1964, the legend became F1 world champion, at the wheel of a Ferrari.
He then went on to drive the Honda, the Cooper-Maserati, the BRM and the McLaren-Ford, before retiring in 1972.
In those days, racing was not as bulimic as it is today, so the numbers don't reflect his greatness: 8 pole position, 6 wins and 24 podiums in F.1, 38 wins and 45 podiums in motorcycle racing.
In recent times he had cut back on his public appearances, but remained active and would never miss a lap of honour at the Tourist Trophy. In 2008, together with Jan Witteveen, the former Aprilia race department boss, he was involved in the Maxtra project.
“Speed still really attracts me - he told us - and I like the Moto3 because here the bikes are still.... bikes. There is little room for electronics, the rider still counts”.
In love with his sport, Surtees hoped that someone else would follow in his footsteps and win in both worlds. Many tried, Giacomo Agostini, Johnny Cecotto, but they never reached the level of the Maestro.
“When I was a child I watched him race with the MV - recalls Agostini - and I have wonderful memories of him. He was my idol. In 1965, I inherited his MV together with Mike Hailwood: I found it heavy to ride, as I was coing from the Morini and was used to careening. He was my hero because it's not easy to do what he did, titles don't come for free. And then thanks to John, we motorcyclists have a special record, one of us has won in F1 while the opposite has never happened. I'm saddened, I saw him for the last time at Goodwood, but he was in a car”.
Will there be another Surtees in the future?
He answered this question himself, in 2008, at Shanghai.
“Yes as long as he does as I did, I moved from two to four wheels at 25. I could have carried on winning with the bikes for another ten years, but where was the challenge? Valentino didn't take it up, perhaps he could have done it”.