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. Leftie (@leftie) said on 4th January 2011, 16:34

    Clark. I haven’t seen him race so i have to believe an opinions of those who know what they are talking about. And majority of those, though recognising Surtees’ magnificient achievements, state that there ever was only few naturally talented and fast drivers as Jim Clark.

  2. David B said on 4th January 2011, 16:39

    Jim, has been unique.
    I call him at the same of Fangio, Senna and Schumi. All the rest is below.

    • Scribe (@scribe) said on 4th January 2011, 18:29

      How do you feel about Prost in that list? Very underated for all his acheivments was Prost. Would have had Senna’s first title where it not for that 11 best finishes thing. Beat him the next year by keeping the car together better, had to be driven off the road the next.

  3. I have the utmost respect for John Surtees, an excellent driver and a very nice bloke. But Jim Clark is just.. well Jim Clark and i cant vote any other way. The guy finished 2nd only once in his career, and when his car wasnt failing him, he was bring home 1st place. The man was just incredible.

  4. Calum (@calum) said on 4th January 2011, 16:58

    It was a remarkable acheivement for Surtees to win the Motorbike World Championship as well as the Formula One championship – he gains lots of respect for that, and rightly so.

    However Jim Clark was the fastest ma in the world! His records speak for themselves – Clark “Finished on the podium in every race where his car didn’t break down over the next three seasons” which shows that on his day he was untouchable. During his two title years he easily beat Graham Hill – who was no slow coach – this makes his championships even more worthy in my opinion!

  5. MercedesBeanz said on 4th January 2011, 17:12

    The search can stop right here, to me, Clark is the best F1 driver of all time.

  6. kowalsky (@) said on 4th January 2011, 17:16

    I would be surprised if the champion of champions is not a driver killed while racing. When you are a fan in any era, and you see a driver pay the ultimate price. Your perception of him changes, and as time goes by, you tend to remember what made him great, and forget the rest.
    I never saw clark drive, but as stewart once said. Jim was always wondering after the starts, why everybody was so slow!!! That says it all.
    Clark all the way.

  7. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 4th January 2011, 17:20

    Poor Surtees, I really had no trouble with this one. Being the only F1 and motorcycle world champion is a big achievement, but Clark makes even Senna look like an also-ran. His 25 wins was a record at the time, good going when you consider how fewer races there were (to put it into perspective, Alonso has only 1 more). A gentleman, a personality, a racer; this biggest crime of the new Hockenheim is that the drivers no longer go past his memorial.

    • Scribe (@scribe) said on 4th January 2011, 18:32

      Seconded, I always hope they’ll restore the old memorial somewhat, re-name the hair pin Clark, an build a new memorial to the guy.

      Possibly Clark wouldn’t want a statue but something to mark out what was lost.

  8. antonyob said on 4th January 2011, 17:24

    Yes apparantly there is a scruffy little stone memorial where he died.

    I guess it should be remembered that many died then. I remember Stewart saying that during his career, 50 or so fellow drivers, across the different disciplines he drove, F1, CanAM etc had died !

  9. fahadalam007 (@fahadalam007) said on 4th January 2011, 17:28

    The stats say it all Jim clark wins itfor me

  10. Pedal to the Vettel (@pedal-to-the-vettel) said on 4th January 2011, 17:30

    Lol if vettel and fangio get paired together I will be gutted since I would like to see at least a few young drivers of today get though even though their career is not over yet.

    I voted for Clark, he could of equaled maybe even beat fangio’s 5 times record the way he was driving.

    • Scribe (@scribe) said on 4th January 2011, 23:16

      Vettle though? Alonso has a shot at true greatness so we needn’t worry too much about him but a young speedster from our gen getting through?

      Gotta be Hamilton.

  11. GeeMac (@geemac) said on 4th January 2011, 17:35

    I almost went for Surtees just because he drive for a team called Yeoman Credit… this is Jimmy Clark’s hands down.

    • GeeMac said on 4th January 2011, 21:23

      Time for a serious comment now. The greatness of Jim Clark can be summed up by this quote from another prominant F1 driver in the 60’s after hearing of Clark’s death: “If it could happen to Jim, what hope have the rest of us got.” Ultimate respect from your peers, 2 WDC’s, wins in various categories, Clark has my vote.

  12. P. Rippon said on 4th January 2011, 17:41

    No comparison!! For those that never saw Clark drive, he was Senna & Prost rolled into one plus he could drive anything, sports, saloons and even rally cars! I can recall one of the stories that Trevor Taylor told us of purposely reverting to wrong settings on the spare car in testing,as he new Clark was going to use it- and Clark was still faster! Even Trevor admitted that in his era no one compared with Jim Clark!

  13. Miguel (@miguel) said on 4th January 2011, 17:43

    Compairing a driver to Jim Clark is never fair. No doubt in my mind that Clark was the best racecar driver ever, even better than John Surtees who was a powerhouse just as well. I somehow find this poll a bit disrespecting towards Surtees, although I know that is not the intention nor the case.

  14. George (@george) said on 4th January 2011, 18:00

    I would probably rank Surtees about half way up the list of champions, his stats are skewed by some of the dogs he drove. Clark on the other hand is top 5, I’ve never heard a bad word said of him and he was looked up to by his contemporaries, so he gets the vote.

  15. Burnout said on 4th January 2011, 19:46

    This is a very unfair pairing. Surtees could probably hold his own against most other one-time champions, and many two-time champions as well. But pairing him against Clark, arguably the greatest driver of their generation, means he has no chance. That’s like pairing Damon Hill against Schumacher (hope I didn’t stir a hornet’s nest there!)

    My vote goes to Clark. Finishing better than 3rd on average is mega!

    • Well someone has to be paired with Clark. Surtees is probably unlikely to win the whole thing anyway.

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