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John Surtees on his Honda F1 days


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#1 Paul Taylor

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Posted 25 November 2021 - 02:41

I haven't read or heard much in interviews from John Surtees about his time with Honda. Most of it is about his Monza win, or one line quotes about his involvement with the RA302 (usually in relation to Jo Schlesser)

 

Is there much out there?



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#2 Automobiliart

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Posted 25 November 2021 - 04:22

Hi
Most of what I've read has been negative, how he was creeped out by the handling. I've not found that much out there ...
Maybe it's a case of "If you don't have anything good to say, say nothing" ...

He really liked being with Honda, more so than with Ferrari, where he had a feeling of betrayal ... Dragoni was not warm and fuzzy ...

Sadly, Honda did not pay enough attention to his concerns re: the RA302 ... and Schlesser paid for with his life.

A toss of a coin ...

Paul


Edited by Automobiliart, 25 November 2021 - 04:23.


#3 Charlieman

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Posted 25 November 2021 - 11:26

Sadly, there don't appear to be any detailed English language histories of Honda on four wheels.

 

My understanding is that John's time at Ferrari was positive until that tipping point at the very end. After his Can Am crash, Ferrari's insurance policy paid for his hospital bills and the team were supportive in providing testing opportunities. He was allowed to drive the Tasman 246 rather than the Ferrari 312 at the start of the 3 litre F1 formula. John was very proud of his Ferrari souvenirs and had good relations with the hands on members of the team. But the Ferrari team is the Ferrari team and it does things its own way...



#4 Parkesi

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Posted 25 November 2021 - 11:26

Interesting - "if you don`t have anything good to say, say nothing" is exactly the answer I received when I asked John Surtees how he got along with Mike Parkes...

#5 Sterzo

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Posted 25 November 2021 - 12:09

I haven't read or heard much in interviews from John Surtees about his time with Honda. Most of it is about his Monza win, or one line quotes about his involvement with the RA302 (usually in relation to Jo Schlesser)

 

Is there much out there?

Is it safe to assume you have read the half a dozen pages in his autobiography, "John Surtees - World Champion"? (Page 191 onwards in my copy). Alan Henry is credited as Editor; he may have had a larger role, but some of the wording has a definite Surtees ring to it...

 

He acknowledges Honda was in transition from bikes to cars at that point, its car operation being much smaller. He says "I was about to enter a political situation rather similar to that which I had experienced with Ferrari." He had a close understanding with Yoshio Nakamura, but was frustrated by Mr Honda intervening and overruling. (My interpretation).

 

Surtees says he was "very touched" by a telegram from Honda after their win at the 1986 British GP, saying it would not have been possible but for his contribution earlier.



#6 Roger Clark

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Posted 25 November 2021 - 13:09

He was allowed to drive the Tasman 246 rather than the Ferrari 312 at the start of the 3 litre F1 formula. 

When?



#7 Tim Murray

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Posted 25 November 2021 - 13:41

In John Surtees - World Champion he said that he did many laps of Modena in the 2.4-litre Dino-engined car to get himself back into fitness after his Mosport accident, but Dragoni refused to let him race it. He went on to say that:

In my view the V6 could have won every race up until I left the team, including Spa, which was a wet race.



#8 Doug Nye

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Posted 25 November 2021 - 13:55

John did have a problem with Dragoni which grew worse and worse due to the team chief - in John's view - favouring Bandini by letting him drive the V6 car at Monaco '66 and even at Spa (as above) while he was in his view "saddled" with the big, hefty, fuel-thirsty and disappointingly not-powerful-enough V12.

 

In the final bust-up with Ferrari John told me, on pain of not publishing his words during his lifetime, that the last straw for him was Dragoni suddenly exclaiming "Even if you persuade Mr Ferrari to keep you then I cannot guarantee that your car will be safe...!".

 

Even for as competitive a hard-charger as John - and he was THE most competitive person I have EVER met (and I've met a few) - that was a chilling threat, and completely beyond the pale.  Mr Ferrari did not correct nor rein-in attack-dog Dragoni - so John walked out, saying to Eoin Young who had accompanied him to Maranello but was not - I think - actually in the fateful meeting, "C'mon - we're leavin'".  And they did.  Finito, Benito...

 

DCN



#9 Ray Bell

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Posted 25 November 2021 - 14:25

Referring to the 2.4-litre car as a Tasman car is interesting...

 

We were told that Surtees was going to come out for the Tasman races, but he never arrived. I think the Mosport accident put paid to that one year.

 

Nevertheless, the car never made it here and so there was no Tasman Ferrari until the F2-based cars of 1968 arrived.



#10 9203RW

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Posted 25 November 2021 - 15:14

Interesting - "if you don`t have anything good to say, say nothing" is exactly the answer I received when I asked John Surtees how he got along with Mike Parkes...

 

What was the underlying cause of the antipathy between Surtees and Parkes?  Was it their very background backgrounds, the fact that they were both skilled engineers (albeit via different routes), Ferrari politics or something else?  I've seen many references to their mutual dislike, but have never understood what caused it.



#11 Collombin

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Posted 25 November 2021 - 15:20

I remember Doug calling Parkes an insufferable snob in an old thread on here, so I suspect the class divide might have been a part of it.

#12 Tim Murray

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Posted 25 November 2021 - 16:10

Surtees said in his book that he was asked by Ferrari to give his opinion of the new 275GTB road car that Parkes had put a lot of effort into developing, and John was rather uncomplimentary about it. This rather turned Mike against him, and of course Dragoni did his best to widen the rift.



#13 Doug Nye

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Posted 25 November 2021 - 16:41

That's quite right.  The Old Man sent 'Giovanni' out in the sparkling new GTB and upon his return asked his opinion of it.  John delivered a typically forthright, unrelenting and highly critical assessment which - if I recall correctly described how - "It's unsafe for a normal customer - it goes over bumps as if it's got a hinge in the middle!".  

 

Parkes - who did rather regard Surtees as a grubby South London motor-cycling oik with engineering aspirations above his proper place - was not happy about that and felt that Surtees was launching a personal attack upon his involvement for political reasons.  (As I have mentioned several times, John was the most competitive person I have ever known.)

 

In this matter his opinion was probably over-stated, and thereby was construed by Parkes as being gratuitously offensive - but there is a reason why the all-independently-suspended, transaxle-gearbox 275GTB worked better once the torque-tube rear end had been adopted.  It limited the range of movement of John's "hinge".

 

DCN


Edited by Doug Nye, 25 November 2021 - 16:43.


#14 Rogerkb11

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Posted 25 November 2021 - 17:14

So far as his relationship with Honda in the early days, it was quite well covered in a book '6 Days in August' by Michael Cooper Evans which told the story of Fearless John and the Honda team at the German GP in 1967. I seem to remember that he was expecting modifications to be made quickly (as in a European team) but was frustrated by the Japanese committee approach. That was when he enlisted Mr Broadley's help.

RB



#15 Roger Clark

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Posted 25 November 2021 - 19:48

In February 1968 Autosport published an interview with John Surtees and Yoshio Nakamura.  Surtees said: "Last year things did not go quite as we had panned, mainly because of interference from the production programme.  Normally there is no racing department at Honda; the racing team is just an offshoot of Honda R&D. and the people who design the racing cars are the same people who design the production cars.  A company has to be commercially successful to be able to go racing - and being successful in racing helps it to be commercially successful.  Honda believe in putting the lessons learned in racing into their production cars as soon as possible.  They did the same thing with motor-cycles.  I think Honda make more use of their experience = sometimes to the detriment of the racing itself - than any other company I know"



#16 nmansellfan

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Posted 25 November 2021 - 20:01

I've seen a short interview extract where Surtees says that upon joining Honda, they asked him what funding support he could get for the team. I was surprised to hear that - although the race team were small and 'just' an offshoot of Honda R&D, surely money would not have been an issue if the team had the backing of the man bearing the companies name?

#17 MCS

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Posted 25 November 2021 - 20:32

Hi
Most of what I've read has been negative, how he was creeped out by the handling. I've not found that much out there ...
Maybe it's a case of "If you don't have anything good to say, say nothing" ...

He really liked being with Honda, more so than with Ferrari, where he had a feeling of betrayal ... Dragoni was not warm and fuzzy ...

Sadly, Honda did not pay enough attention to his concerns re: the RA302 ... and Schlesser paid for with his life.

A toss of a coin ...

Paul

Not sure what you mean by "A toss of a coin" - are you able to elaborate?



#18 malomay

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Posted 26 November 2021 - 00:53

John did have a problem with Dragoni which grew worse and worse due to the team chief - in John's view - favouring Bandini by letting him drive the V6 car at Monaco '66 and even at Spa (as above) while he was in his view "saddled" with the big, hefty, fuel-thirsty and disappointingly not-powerful-enough V12.

 

In the final bust-up with Ferrari John told me, on pain of not publishing his words during his lifetime, that the last straw for him was Dragoni suddenly exclaiming "Even if you persuade Mr Ferrari to keep you then I cannot guarantee that your car will be safe...!".

 

Even for as competitive a hard-charger as John - and he was THE most competitive person I have EVER met (and I've met a few) - that was a chilling threat, and completely beyond the pale.  Mr Ferrari did not correct nor rein-in attack-dog Dragoni - so John walked out, saying to Eoin Young who had accompanied him to Maranello but was not - I think - actually in the fateful meeting, "C'mon - we're leavin'".  And they did.  Finito, Benito...

 

DCN

I don't wander off topic too much Doug, but for someone who wasn't around at the time (not quite !), I am always interested in hearing the thoughts of those who remember these happenings first hand, rather than the likes of me relying on historic reports ......or recent documentaries to provide my understanding.

 

I'm interested in your (& others) take on how much of John Surtees decision to leave Ferrari was also due to the last minute changes in driver strategy immediately before the 1966 Le Mans ? or was this sort of a "last straw" that broke the camels back ?

 

regards

 

Mal.



#19 Doug Nye

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Posted 26 November 2021 - 07:19

Very last straw - the culmination of building frustration in the way John perceived 'the team' to be focusing more upon promoting their national champion Bandini's chances than his own, whereas he was team leader and demonstrably the faster driver.

 

I must emphasise that I never heard John say a bad word about 'Lorenzo' as he consistently referred to him, never by just his surname - which in part one can take as evidence that he felt confident that man-to-man, JS felt he completely had the measure of him, and could better anything he might do on track.  

 

Within the self-perceived pecking order into which each great driver catalogues his rivals and team-mates - Bandini was down John's list. But here he was apparently being favoured by Ferrari and supplied with the team's more suitable equipment... I can hear John's final determination - "I'm not having it!".

 

DCN


Edited by Doug Nye, 26 November 2021 - 07:19.


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#20 Roger Clark

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Posted 26 November 2021 - 09:26

I am sure most of us feel instinctively more sympathetic to John Surtees than to Ferrari and particularly Dragoni. However, the four races he did with the V12 resulted in two wins, a second and a retired while leading, a good record for a new car, I think. The V6 would probably have been better at Monaco but it’s difficult to believe the same of Spa. The V12 was clearly the future and Ferrari was always good at taking the long view. 



#21 opplock

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Posted 26 November 2021 - 10:18

 The V12 was clearly the future and Ferrari was always good at taking the long view. 

 

It may have seemed that way in 1966 but the only subsequent championship win for the V12 was in a rather wet French GP in 1968. 

 

I must admit a small degree of bias having seen the V6 engine power Chris Amon and Graeme Lawrence to 3 Tasman Cup victories.    



#22 Doug Nye

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Posted 26 November 2021 - 10:24

Spot on - but John was always demanding and he always wanted what he deemed to be the best.  Having had a lot of experience driving the V6 hybrid car during his post-accident recovery, at Modena, he felt it would have been the better option - for him, note - not only at Monaco but also in the wet at Spa. He regarded his successes in the V12 as having been him - Il Grande John - compensating for the car's shortcomings when he would not have had to work so hard to achieve the same results in the other, better suited, team car.

 

John was not totally paranoid but once he got a bee in his bonnet like this there would be no persuading him that his perception  - or assumption - was in any way wrong.

 

DCN



#23 Alan Baker

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Posted 26 November 2021 - 10:28

DSJ, a great admirer of Surtees the driver, was very disparaging in Motor Sport about "John Surtees Enterprises" in 1967/8.



#24 Roger Clark

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Posted 26 November 2021 - 10:29

Perhaps it would have been clearer if I said 3-litre cars were the future.  Later, Ferrari did quite well with 180 degree V12s



#25 Parkesi

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Posted 26 November 2021 - 10:54

Mike Parkes: I used to spend a lot of time with John when he was down here. I remember having a discussion with him one evening and saying,

"In your opinion John, how many cars do you think there should be in a works team?" He replied."One car- my car." I asked why.

He said: "For two good reasons. First, if there is only one car in the team, that`s one less car to beat on the track.

Second, if there`s only one car to prepare, I`m going to be sure that the best mechanics are working on my car and that it gets the best attention."

It`s a very sound argument. It`s so logical that you can`t disagree with him.

But it is not my attitude. I neveer consider myself as anything more or less than an employee of the company.

I was employed to do a job of work as a member of a team.

"The Day I Died" by Mark Kahn, 1974, chapter on Mike Parkes, "In hospital you have time to understand life better"/page 81 



#26 Perruqueporte

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Posted 26 November 2021 - 21:45

John did have a problem with Dragoni which grew worse and worse due to the team chief - in John's view - favouring Bandini by letting him drive the V6 car at Monaco '66 and even at Spa (as above) while he was in his view "saddled" with the big, hefty, fuel-thirsty and disappointingly not-powerful-enough V12.
 
In the final bust-up with Ferrari John told me, on pain of not publishing his words during his lifetime, that the last straw for him was Dragoni suddenly exclaiming "Even if you persuade Mr Ferrari to keep you then I cannot guarantee that your car will be safe...!".
 
Even for as competitive a hard-charger as John - and he was THE most competitive person I have EVER met (and I've met a few) - that was a chilling threat, and completely beyond the pale.  Mr Ferrari did not correct nor rein-in attack-dog Dragoni - so John walked out, saying to Eoin Young who had accompanied him to Maranello but was not - I think - actually in the fateful meeting, "C'mon - we're leavin'".  And they did.  Finito, Benito...
 
DCN

Most unusual, in my experience, John’s ultra-competitive nature was matched by his sporting nature. He really was a great sport and he detested unsportsmanlike behaviour in others. I had a long conversation with him on the subject once, which I found inspirational. When I suggested to him that children should be taught the difference between sporting and unsporting conduct when they are at school, he said that the rules and regulations for all sports should include such references.

Christopher W.

#27 cooper997

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Posted 27 November 2021 - 00:19

June 1968 Motor Racing 'Around the World by Coche'... refer Sun rising fast?

 

1968-MR-June-Honda-info-TNF.jpg

 

 

Stephen



#28 cooper997

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Posted 27 November 2021 - 02:32

Andrew Frankel squeezed into one of Honda's 60s GP car for July 2005 Motor Sport. A period Surtees Honda photo should be on the cover. Same issue has a feature on Anthony Carter's then new Motor racing book, again a Surtees Honda photo is shown.

 

MS own website archive can help you find it.

 

 

Stephen



#29 PZR

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Posted 27 November 2021 - 14:46

I've seen a short interview extract where Surtees says that upon joining Honda, they asked him what funding support he could get for the team. I was surprised to hear that - although the race team were small and 'just' an offshoot of Honda R&D, surely money would not have been an issue if the team had the backing of the man bearing the companies name?

 

(my bold)

 

You might well think that, but at the time Honda was punching well above its weight in most of its activities and arguably getting a little ahead of itself.

 

Bear in mind too the poor foreign exchange rate for the Japanese Yen during the period; For most of the Sixties it took around 360 JPY to buy one US Dollar and both companies and individuals faced restrictions in how much they could spend outside Japan. The cost of imported materials was high, but also heavily taxed and controlled by tariff quotas.

 

Worth bearing in mind I think.
 



#30 Lee Nicolle

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Posted 28 November 2021 - 23:02

(my bold)

 

You might well think that, but at the time Honda was punching well above its weight in most of its activities and arguably getting a little ahead of itself.

 

Bear in mind too the poor foreign exchange rate for the Japanese Yen during the period; For most of the Sixties it took around 360 JPY to buy one US Dollar and both companies and individuals faced restrictions in how much they could spend outside Japan. The cost of imported materials was high, but also heavily taxed and controlled by tariff quotas.

 

Worth bearing in mind I think.
 

Such boring realities of life were probably not taken into account by John.

Though personally I feel that Honda cars and bikes of the period were way too high tech and simpler possibly would have been better and far cheaper as well.