My abiding memory of John Surtees will be of him pitching up at Brands Hatch back in the 1980s, in the days when I was still racing motorbikes. He must have been in his fifties at the time but he had his trusty Norton with him, or whatever he was riding, and was just heading out to give it a thrash with a huge grin on his face.
John always had that grin. His face was like one of those ‘smileys’ which we all use in text messages now, teeth and all.
He never lost his enthusiasm for motorsport. John was passionate about it. He loved all the machinery. He could tell you about the jets in the carburettor, the springs in the seat. A racer’s racer.
I am not sure he and my father were particularly close. The denouement of the 1964 championship, which he won by 40 points to my father’s 39, was obviously very tense. But then I think sometimes the camaraderie of those days is exaggerated now. The drivers kind of created their own bubbles that they lived in.
It was a dangerous era. The best era. And John survived it. Thrived in it. Not only did he win six motorcycle world championships and the F1 world title (the only driver to win world titles on two wheels and four – an achievement that will surely never be matched), he won the Senior Isle of Man TT three times in succession and set up his own team. An absolute hero.
Later on, when I was driving cars, he was always generous with his advice. He wanted to help others and was a passionate communicator of his experiences.
The tragic loss of his son Henry was a cruel blow, but John was unstoppable. He set up the Henry Surtees Foundation, with which I was proud to be involved, helping to save the lives of others.
John was certainly his own man; a committed member of the British Racing Drivers’ Club and an independent one. He would speak his mind even if it was not a fashionable view. I think he was wary of group-thinking. That independence of thought earned him the respect of everyone he met, though, from Enzo Ferrari to Bernie Ecclestone.
His death has come as a real shock. Another bridge to those halcyon days gone. Although he was 83, I thought he would go on forever. He looked so well when I last saw him. I will miss that grin.