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

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  1. jihelle (@jihelle) said on 5th January 2011, 9:07

    Well I voted for Clark because… he’s Clark but the pairing is bizarre. I would have pitched Clark against Stewart and Surtess against Hill for a closer match. That said, I always considered that a “true” champion was the one to get out alive of years of racing, especially in the 60s and 70s. That Surtess came out alive after winning both on two wheels and four wheels is quite amazing but one again Clark is…Clark
    I am curious to see who Ketih is going to pitch against Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart. My bet goes for Hill/Fittipaldi and Stewart/Prost.

  2. Accidental Mick said on 5th January 2011, 10:24

    I haven;t voted because Keith hasn’t sorted my password problem yet.

    However, I’m old enough to have watched them live and agree with most of the above comments. Good as Surtees was – Clarke was the best there has been.

    One thing Clarke is not given enough credit for is his ability to get an unreliable car to the end of the race. He had incredible mechanical “sympathy” and would nurse a car through without, seemingly, loseing speed. This is in contrast to drivers like, from that era, Moss or, from today Vettal.

    If you will forgive a ramble I’ll tell you a story. Before Lotus had an F1 team, I owned a mark 1 Lotus Cortina and, through a friend of a friend, was lucky enough to have it race prepared by Colin Chapman. It is well known that Chapman was obsessed with weight and one of the things he did was to drill numerous holes in the engine flywheel to lighten it. This turned the accelerator pedal into an on/off switch. The acceleration was fantastic but if you took your foot completely off the accelerator the engine stopped. Eventually, the flywheel collapsed and destroyed the engine. That was Lotus racing.

  3. mrgrieves (@mrgrieves) said on 5th January 2011, 11:04

    Surtees was a deserving world champion but going through history and if he had the reliability it appears Clark could have easily been world champion from 1962-1967. Have always considered my fellow scot as he Greatest driver in F1 despite not my favourite so Clark for me but Surtees like PIquet got a tough draw!

  4. Daffid said on 5th January 2011, 12:22

    Clark absolutely dominated his era. The wins others picked up more often than not only came after Clark had retired from one of the top positions. Only Schumi has dominated in a similar fashion and even he wasn’t held in the same regard by his contemporaries, Clark inspired awe, even from other past and future world champions – probably only Fangio would receive such plaudits from his direct contemporaries.
    Surtees career is fascinating and impressive, but Clark is different class – in fact a class of 1.

  5. antonyob said on 5th January 2011, 12:23

    yes hate to ruin a good blog idea by keith but the final table will read

    1. fangio
    2. clark
    3. the rest

  6. pseudohendrix (@pseudohendrix) said on 6th January 2011, 7:42

    Clark was one of the top 5 ever for me. Surtees doesn’t make my top 15.

  7. Sasquatsch (@sasquatsch) said on 6th January 2011, 8:30

    Clark. No doubt about that one.

    Not only on stats, but Surtees shouldn’t even be up there given the way he won his title, with Bandini pushing Hill off the track, which ultimately gave Surtees the title.

  8. MacLeod (@macleod) said on 6th January 2011, 10:04

    Surtees was the best allrounder while Clark was the best in a Car. So Jim Clark for me.

  9. Mr. T (@mr-t) said on 6th January 2011, 12:09

    I wanted to vote for Clark but had to go with Surtees – winning championships on two and four wheels is an unparalleled achievement.

  10. I’m not qualified to vote on this one since I’ve only seen brief footage of them both winning races but not enough to know their driving style, on track behaviour, mistakes etc. And I refuse to just accept the motto “Clark was the best ever” without making my own opinion.

  11. antonyob said on 6th January 2011, 16:16

    nice little dig there piffles.. at anyone under 60 voting! ive read probably about 20-30 books on that era and my dad used to marshall in the 50’s 60’s so saw them very close up. he says clark was the best, most books do…ergo hes the best.

    Even if i see Alonso & hamilton 3000 times im not sure that means i would be better placed if i dont take other views into account.

  12. It’s a shame being 26 and not having enough info to vote, besides reading the stats. But that’s not necessarily accurate on this contest right?

  13. no contest Clark for F1 but Surtees on a bike though my favourite biker was Mike Hailwood a greater rider than Surtees

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