Jim Clark vs John Surtees

Champion of Champions

Champion of Champions: Jim Clark vs John Surtees

John Surtees took Jim Clark’s championship off him in 1964 – only for Clark to return the favour the following year.

Clark enjoyed a close relationship with Lotus team boss Colin Chapman.

Chapman’s cars were fast – Clark notched up 33 pole positions in 73 appearances. But they were also often unreliable: at South Africa in 1962 Clark was heading for a victory that would have made him world champion, before suffering an oil leak that put him out.

The close relationship Clark enjoyed with Lotus boss Colin Chapman was unlike the often turbulent situation Surtees endured at Ferrari. Surtees won the title with them in 1964, coming out on top in a three-way battle at the last race with Clark and Graham Hill.

But he found himself increasingly at odds with team manager Eugenio Dragoni. On top of that he was badly injured in a Can-Am race in Canada late in 1965, forcing him to miss the last two races of the year.

Surtees returned back for the start of 1966 but the rows continued between him and Dragoni over Ferrari’s new car, so he left at the end of the year to drive for Honda.

While Surtees won in Monza, Clark added another four victories to his tally. But once again car trouble held him back as the team perfected the DFV-engined 49.

Clark won the only F1 race he drove in 1968 before his death during a Formula Two race in Germany. Surtees, meanwhile, stayed at the top flight until 1972, driving his final races for his own team.

Which of these drivers should go through to the next round of the Champion of Champions? Vote for which you think was best below and explain who you voted for and why in the comments.

Jim Clark John Surtees
Jim Clark, Indianapolis, 1967 John Surtees
Titles 1963, 1965 1964
Second in title year/s Graham Hill, Graham Hill Graham Hill
Teams Lotus Lotus, Yeoman Credit, Ferrari, Cooper, Honda, BRM, Surtees
Notable team mates Trevor Taylor, Mike Spence, Graham Hill Roy Salvadori, Lorenzo Bandini, Ludovico Scarfiotti
Starts 72 111
Wins 25 (34.72%) 6 (5.41%)
Poles 33 (45.83%) 8 (7.21%)
Modern points per start1 11.65 5.91
% car failures2 29.17 44.14
Modern points per finish3 16.45 10.58
Notes An oil leak in the final race of 1962 cost him his first title Badly injured at Mosport in 1965, the year after he won the F1 title
Finished on the podium in every race where his car didn’t break down over the next three seasons Won for Honda in 1967 and later ran his own team
Killed in a Formula Two race during the 1968 season having won the first race of the year The only person to have won the world championships for bikes and cars
Bio Jim Clark John Surtees

1 How many points they scored in their career, adjusted to the 2010 points system, divided by the number of races they started
2 The percentage of races in which they were not classified due to a mechanical failure
3 How many points they scored in their career, adjusted to the 2010 points system, divided by the number of starts in which they did not suffer a race-ending mechanical failure

Which was the better world champion driver?

  • Jim Clark (94%)
  • John Surtees (6%)

Total Voters: 607

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117 comments on Jim Clark vs John Surtees

  1. sw6569 (@sw6569) said on 4th January 2011, 15:45

    Another tough round. Clark was exceptionally talented, but equally had a very good car under him.

    I dont know enough about Surtees, but I do know that Clark’s peers (i.e. Hill and Stewart) rated Clark as the greatest driver of his generation. My vote goes for Clark therefore

    • Scribe (@scribe) said on 4th January 2011, 18:20

      He had fast cars in F1 no doubt however, it’s his speed in everything else that confirms him, in my eye’s as an all time great.

      That and as you say the respect of his peers.

  2. The second of your ‘Notes’ section for Clark is quite astonishing!

    Another interesting Clark fact – Despite all his wins and a plethora of 3rd’s, he only finished second once!

    I voted for Jim, though I respect the talents John Surtees had in both bikes and cars!

  3. plushpile (@plushpile) said on 4th January 2011, 15:50

    This one seems a bit of a no brainer…

  4. Atticus (@atticus-2) said on 4th January 2011, 15:51

    Easy one. Clark.

    It seems to be a popular answer but considering his achievements, pure speed and skill, great races (Monza 1967 like Fangio’s Nürburging 1957), outracing of the likes of Graham Hill as teammates (who is a great driver himself) and the reputation he enjoyed amongst the other drivers the vote seems to be justified.

    Surtees was a good maybe a great driver as well. But in my opinion Clark has a serious chance to finish as Champion of Champions as well.

  5. antonyob said on 4th January 2011, 15:51

    Its a slightly odd pairing really. Clark vs Stewart or Clark vs Senna maybe but Surtess v Clark is like comparing Senna with Piquet.

    Surtees was never really rated that highly even in his day. His feat looks better now but only because competing in different sports at that level is so rare. Although it was still rare then, England hadnt long had a test cricket player who also turned out for Englands football team. and racing hadnt become so specialised, they all did Indy racing one week & saloon racing the next.

  6. Atticus (@atticus-2) said on 4th January 2011, 15:56

    Oh and an important question by the way to Keith directly.

    Will the sixteen drivers be reseed once Round 1 is over? Or the one through from the first pair (seems to be Schumacher) is going to fight for the votes with the one from the second (Alonso).

    Maybe this was discussed before I’m sorry if it was I missed it.

  7. Jack Holt (@jack-holt) said on 4th January 2011, 16:10

    I’m sure Surtees must have been a great driver, but Clark was head and shoulders above everyone in his era, as I think most of his contemporaries would agree.

    Surtees won in 1964, but only after his teammate (Bandini) knocked Hill out of the race when Hill was in a championship winning position. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but it does take the lustre off Surtees’ win.

  8. Kenny (@kenny) said on 4th January 2011, 16:18

    Surtees was excellent on two and four wheels, but Clark had a special talent rarely, if ever, matched and certainly never exceeded.

  9. YoungGuns (@youngguns) said on 4th January 2011, 16:19

    I’m sad that 2 of my Favorite Drivers got paired in Round 1 in the end I had to go with Jim

  10. NickV (@nickv) said on 4th January 2011, 16:22

    The bit about Clark being on the podium everytime his car didnt let him down is mega – unheard of these days. Plus Clark could have been at least a 5 time champion had he survuved and car not broken down in 62, as he would have beaten Hill in 68, Rindt in 70 and if he would have carried on that long could have beaten Fittipaldi in 72. Plus winning the Indy 500 and BTCC show his talents behind every type of car on every type of circuit.

    Nothing against Surtees, an exceptional rider and driver, but Clark is in his own leauge, even compared to the other greats imo.

  11. 0634 (@) said on 4th January 2011, 16:22

    Clark for sure.

  12. antonyob said on 4th January 2011, 16:30

    and hes Scot British !!

    • Scribe (@scribe) said on 4th January 2011, 18:25

      Him an Jackie, weird how Scots and English all happily acept British in F1.

      Hoping Paul Di Resta becomes the next true flying scotsman with a title. After that little Coulthard interlude. An a year or two.

  13. Chippie (@chippie) said on 4th January 2011, 16:33

    Anyone who fails to vote for Jim Clark should be banished from this site, Jim Clark is the greatest driver in F1 history!

  14. schooner (@schooner) said on 4th January 2011, 16:33

    There aren’t very many former champions that I would put above Clark. Surtees, as good as he was, isn’t one of them.

  15. Calum (@calum) said on 4th January 2011, 16:34

    Keith, how is the draw made – are you picking two drivers out of a hat each day?

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