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Interview with John Surtees, Part 1: & # 34; B.R.M. wanted to attach a start ban to me & # 34;

Daniel Reinhard
Interview with John Surtees, part 1
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50 years ago you became Formula 1 world champion in Mexico City. How did the 1964 season go in retrospect?

S urtees: Mexico was the end of a difficult year with many reliability issues. We weren't particularly fast at the beginning of the season because Ferrari initially focused heavily on the sports prototypes. Only after the 24 Hours of Le Mans did Ferrari invest more work in the Formula 1 car. An important moment for the change was the race on the Solitude, which took place a week before the GP Germany at the Nürburgring. Our problem was the eight-cylinder engine. We had switched from the V6 to the V8. The performance was not evenly distributed. We either had power below or above. This was due to the Bosch injection, which was actually developed for engines with a larger displacement than the 1.5 liters that our Formula 1 engine had at the time. The English V8s from Climax and B.R.M. had a lot of power, especially in the middle speed range. Our engine was only competitive in very specific weather conditions. It couldn't be too cold or too warm so that the mixture was properly prepared.

And how did Ferrari solve the problem?

Surtees: Our engineer Michael May worked very hard on it and eventually succeeded. We then tested the solution with a new controller for the injection on the Solitude. It rained at the beginning and I was in the lead by a large margin. It wasn't until the track dried out that Jim Clark was able to catch up with me. Nevertheless, we had shown that the engine now had significantly more power in the middle speed range. Despite the actually unfavorable weather for us. The improved responsiveness of our V8 paid off at the Nürburgring because there are many passages where the engine has to hang on to the accelerator. I then won the race and that brought me back to the title race.

How did it go from here?

Surtees: At the next race in Austria I was leading again when the rear suspension broke. Very unusual for Ferrari. My team-mate Lorenzo Bandini won, which confirmed that we now had a good car. InMonza then the track and the weather were perfect for our engine. At the top we've always had a good performance. And in contrast to Spa at the beginning of the season, the pistons held out this time too. My second win this year brought me the World Cup lead. But it wasn't without drama. B.R.M. boss Louis Stanley tried to ban me from starting. The week before I had an accident with a Ferrari GTO at a race at Goodwood that hit my head. Innes Ireland had carried me off the track. I suffered a mild concussion, which led Stanley to have my participation banned on medical grounds. Our team manager, Mr. Dragoni, helped me for the only time in my Ferrari career. I didn't have a good relationship with him. This time, however, he took me to Milan to an institute that worked with doctors from NASA. They had developed a process with which one could determine from the reactions whether I was fit to drive a race. You wired me up and found that everything was fine.

Still you weren't the favorite for the final in Mexico?

Surtees: In between there was the GP USA in Watkins-Glen. At first everything looked fine to me again. My main antagonist in the US was Graham Hill. I was already past him when, while lapping, I met someone who claimed the same stretch of road for himself. I ended up in the grass. That cost me the win. So I finished second behind Graham.

The final in Mexico was dramatic. A three-way battle between you, Graham Hill and Jim Clark. Do you remember any details?

Surtees: Oh yes. I wasn't particularly looking forward to this race. The high altitude of over 2000 meters presented us with major engine problems again. Once again we were faced with the task of optimally adjusting the mixture preparation. We started with lean and paid with an engine failure. Then we discussed whether we shouldn't use the newly developed twelve-cylinder flat engine. It had Lucas injection that was easier to tune. The problem, however, was the excessive target curve in Mexico. Under the high centrifugal forces there were problems with the oil supply. That seemed too tricky to us in the last race. Ferrari therefore preferred to install a new V8 and enrich the mixture. When the race started, the engine suddenly stopped running on eight cylinders. I fell back to 13th place. After a few laps, the engine also began to overheat, which had the nice side effect that it suddenly ran on eight cylinders again. Then I started my race to catch up, which put me behind my team-mates Lorenzo Bandini and Graham Hill. They were in atough duel with each other.

It was later suspected that Bandini had deliberately rammed Hill off the track to help you. Is that true?

Surtees: I see it differently. Graham had two Ferraris in the rearview mirror. He didn't know where to look first and tried to choose his line in such a way that neither of us could outsmart him. As we approached the hairpin in a pack of three, I could see Graham blocking the inside lane and attacking Lorenzo on the outside. At the exit of the corner their paths crossed because Graham was being carried outside and Lorenzo wanted to push into the gap inside. They collided and I went inside. I was lucky that Jimmy Clark was out, but since I had more technical problems than he did during the season, I felt that was a balancing act. Dan Gurney won, I came second. That made me the world champion. It wasn't just a special moment for me. After winning the 1961 title, Ferrari had a bad year in 1962. Despite the work on the sports cars, the six-cylinder engine turned the corner in 1963, and in 1963 I won my first Grand Prix for them at the Nürburgring. The 1963 season and the beginning of 1964 showed Ferrari that they wanted to achieve too much with too few resources. Two programs were just too many. From Enzo Ferrari's point of view, I could somehow understand that Le Mans was so important to him. He was faced with the question of whether Ford or Fiat should participate in Ferrari. That's why sports cars were so important to him. That also prevented us from further developing the twelve-cylinder at full throttle for 1965. A mistake for me, because it was the best engine of the entire 1.5 liter era.

Were you always informed about the World Cup status in the final in Mexico ?

Surtees: I had no idea, I just drove. There was no radio. For me it was just one of the many races. I didn't think about the World Cup stand. I said to myself: Drive as fast as you can without your car collapsing and the rest will take care of itself. When I crossed the finish line, I didn't know whether I had won the title. When I got back to the pits, I saw my chief mechanic Borsari with a big grin and the Ferrari flag. That's when I knew that I had the title.

You are the only world champion on two and four wheels. A record for the ages. Does that make you proud?

Surtees: Who knows, maybe someone else will try. I was definitely the first, and that makes me proud. I once spoke to Valentino Rossi about his four-wheel drive ambitions. He told me that he prefers motorcycles. Andit's probably too late for him now. Marc Marquez would still have time to do it.

Tomorrow you will read how the motorcycle star John Surtees became a racing driver.


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