Forget all the other numbers being thrown around ahead of this weekend’s British Grand Prix, because the one we’re most concerned with right now is four.
Sure, Silverstone might be celebrating its 50th F1 race since 1948, and Williams man Felipe Massa might be on his 200th GP, but for John Surtees - who this year celebrates his 80th birthday and 50 years since his F1 world championship win - the number four will forever remain a reminder of his mortality.
“I had an internal rupture of the kidneys, I split my pelvis, knocked some pieces off the bottom of my spine and ended up in a hospital in Toronto,” he tells TG. “I didn’t really know anything until I came to, some considerable time afterwards. But the accident left me four inches shorter on my left side than my right.”
Accident. It was some accident, which - in the perverse way the universe operates - arose because of the burgeoning community of British motorsport in the 1960s. And just one year after Surtees was sitting on top of the motorsport world, with his first (and, it would transpire, only) Formula One world championship crown on his head.
It’s exactly 50 years since Surtees took the world title with Ferrari in 1964, making him a champion on both two wheels and four (he won seven motorbike world championships between ‘56 and ‘60), the only racer in history to perform such a feat.
And yet motorsport is a fickle, spiteful comrade. Just one year later, Surtees would find himself mummified, strapped to a hospital bed in Canada with no recollection of how he got there.
“I was aware that the British motorsport fraternity was developing back in the mid 1960s,” he tells us, “but Ferrari - my team - were all isolated in Italy. I asked Enzo Ferrari, my boss, if I could keep in touch with the British developments in the out-and-out sports cars that Ferrari weren’t building, to learn something.”
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