Champion of Champions: Jim Clark vs John Surtees

Jim Clark vs John Surtees

Champion of Champions

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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?

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

Total Voters: 607

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Images ?? (Clark), Uncredited (Surtees)

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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117 comments on “Jim Clark vs John Surtees”

  1. I can only go on stats for this one, so Jim Clark gets my vote.

    1. yep. stats say it all

      1. I doubt people will go with the stats so blindly when Schumacher again “enters the game”… ;)

      2. Commendatore, as a Schumacher fan you’d be quite mistaken to go with stats alone if Schumi was paired with Clark. Clark beats Schumi on percentage of wins, percentage of poles and points per finish.

        1. A few other stats which Schumacher wins hands down…

          1. Jeffrey Powell
            8th January 2011, 15:33

            Having watched both drivers, I think one could say that most people would agree that given equal cars ,the likes of Hakkinen, Alonso and Others would give Schumi. a really hard time.I think it’s unfair to include Rosberg because the old chaps obviously taking time to get back up to speed.I don’t remember anyone thinking they could beat Clark in a totally matched car.Graham Hill probably thought so but then he was an even bigger kidder than Jenson Button.(Graham Hill Fan ,I’v even got an Autographed picture))

    2. +1 to that.

    3. Jim Clark was the best driver of his era. Surtees was not, easy one for me ;)

      1. Schumacher is different because he has the stat that matters most.

        1. Its pretty nailed no that Clark would have definetely been up there in amount of WDC’s if he hadnty died so early – his stats are like reading Ferenc Puskas’s goalscoring record, especially when you consider the car failiures %.

    4. Sorry John, but a devastating tally in Jim’s favour.

  2. Just thought I’d let you know that you’ve listed Clark as winning the title in 1962 at the top of the stats section. It should read 1963.

    1. Fixed, thanks.

  3. this is actually tougher than it seems if you take into account John Surtees’ 7 world championships on motorbikes before becoming a GP driver. It really does elevate him to “incredible” status imo.

    Maybe not as good of a GP driver as Clark, but certainly a champion with few peers.

    1. I would agree with the above sentiment in that I think Surtees’ motorbike world championships are actually worth including in the article – as he is the only champion to have won on 2 and 4 wheels!

      1. Also, I don’t think he actually won at LeMans, but he came very close for Ferrari.

      2. Surtees was really far better than statistics can show. Especially after coming back from the injury in Canada. If you read the book Go Like Hell (about Ferrari vs Ford at Le Mans) there is a lot about Surtees in there, his struggle against Dragoni, and his incredible drive to overcome adversity in his career. This poll should really be a lot closer, like yesterdays match up of Mansell and Piquet, but even then Clark would deservedly take it. But Surtees definitely deserves a bit of credit here.

    2. That’s why I’m not looking forward to Mario Andretti’s match-up either. Only one F1 title but he’s also won Indycar and NASCAR titles. Nor Graham Hill, only triple crown winner (Monaco, Indy 500, Le Mans)

      1. Uhhh, where are you getting Mario having won the NASCAR title? He won races, yes, but never won the title.

        Also, as much as I agree that diversity tends to show someone as a better driver, these polls are about who’s the best F1 champion. Therefore, I think their performance in other disciplines have no bearing on whether they are a good *F1* driver.

        1. My bad about the NASCAR title. While I’m with you about other disciplines having no bearing on how good an F1 driver is, it does add something to a driver’s “aura” if he’s been successful in other varied disciplines as well.

    3. On that basis Surtees for me.

      If you think about how good Rossi would have to be to swap to cars now and win a WC, then still have enough energy left over to give a new manufacturer their maiden win then maybe start his own team, well that’s how good Surtees was, and that’s what he did.

  4. Waiting for Hakkinen Vs Raikkonen. That will be close for sure.

    1. If they face each other.

    2. Wouldn’t the after match-up interview be riveting.

      1. Mika would have to repeat his answers otherwise he’d get a “Your comment is too short” message from Keith.

        1. They can both just add “for sure” at the end ;)

      2. I’d watch that :D

        But seriously, did you watch that episode of Top Gear where Hakkinen teaches James May to drive on dirt? He can be very funny.

  5. Jim Clark is very high in my list of World Champions so he gets my vote. ‘Fearless’ John stats could have been greater if only Ferrari would have concentrated in F1 instead of trying to win it all at the time.

  6. Initially I was just going to vote for Clark, but I started to think about it more and considered if Surtees could have had it better.

    Both of these driver suffered from their own individual misfortunes during their career. Clark broke down a lot, and Surtees had personal problems with his team and suffered a bad injury. Surtees probably had it tougher during his career and could have possible achieved much more if he was more fortunate.

    Still Clark looked like a truly excellent driver. I’m not completely convinced that Surtees could have matched his overall talent, if he had it a bit easier during his career. My vote goes to Clark.

    1. Suretees was great for being able to win on four wheels and two, but what Clark could do on four made the likes of Surtees look ordinary. For me the choice is as easy as Schumacher vs Farina.

      Clark was considered by here’s peers to have been one of the all time greats, his death robbed us of an F1 legend. Stewart thought he was the best Grand Prix driver of the enourmously talented generation they shared, by miles.

      When he died after just 72 starts he’d already won the most grand prix out of any driver in history, easily one of the best ever, dominaited his era whatever he was driving be it F1, F2 and Indycar (He won the 500) still haven’t decided which way I’ll vote if when Senna, Prost Fangio and Schumacher start hitting each other but it could well be Clark.

      1. Jeffrey Powell
        8th January 2011, 15:06

        I had the great honour of watching Jim Clark in all but Indy cars, At the time it seemed some magic force was pulling his cars along.Check out his performance in a one of drive of a works Lotus Cortina in the RAC rally. It is almost impossible to compare drivers from different eras ,but knowing how JYS thought of Jim Clark and having watched Jackies destruction of other drivers even his great mate the super quick,Jochen Rindt If JYS thinks Jimmy was best who are we to differ.

  7. well before my time. the stats have it.

  8. no brainer. Clark. cant seem to vote btw….?

    I never saw Clark race but have read enough and been told enough by those who did that he was that era’s Senna, of course a more understated modest version but he certainly held people in a spell with his economical and effortless driving style. Clarks early demise is still mourned by many of those who saw him race – and to borrow a Don Mclean lyric, for some, that was the day the music died.

    1. cant seem to vote btw….?

      Are you logged in?

  9. You may think that Clark, having the fastest car of it’s era, would be why he won so many races.
    However, Clark was supreme in anything he drove. Looking outside of F1 Clark raced in many other events like the Indy 500, Touring Cars, Sportscars, Rally and even NASCAR.

    I have yet to find a reason outside of statistics and my own knowledge of why I should vote for John Surtees. This should not mean that John Surtees was not a good driver, just that Clark was exceptional.

  10. Clark. Surtees was a mighty fine and adaptable sportsman, but Clark was the dominant driver of that era and is probably my ‘Champion of Champions.’

    It’s a shame for Surtees to be pitched against Clark, as he’s often unfairly overlooked in the ‘pantheon of greatness.’

    1. Agreed, I would vote for Clark in this one, but if it was Clarke vs Senna….?

      1. i would go for clark based on all that I’ve read it must be between fangio, clark and schumacher as an outside bet.
        however, i predict senna will win overall because more people will have actually or experience seen his success.

  11. ah! ta keith

  12. I respect Surtees on the grounds that he switched to 4 wheels and was immediately competitive. However, Clark was a master behind the wheel the like that was rarely seen before. Every driver feared his talent and from that era he is the only stand-out candidate. Even the great Graham Hill couldn’t touch Clark in my opinion. Fans always talk of how we were robbed of the Senna vs Schumacher duel but Clark vs Stewart is surely just as appetising.

    Clark ability to win in every vehicle, whilst quite ironic in this debate, is what makes him stand out. In my opinion he is the equal greatest driver the world has ever known so Surtees met a cruel match here. That said in competition Clark dominated Surtees and I simply feel Clark’s magic was more memorable. Monza 1967 being a clear example of this amongst many others.

  13. By far Jim Clark indeed.. He almost had 3 titles, so he deserves it.

  14. Don’t know too much about any of the champions so just looking at those statistics I go for Jim Clark.

  15. Surtees was an all time great, and I’d rate him above many other one time champions, but agains Clark…sorry, but no contest, Clark all the way!

  16. 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

    1. 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.

  17. 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!

  18. This one seems a bit of a no brainer…

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

    1. 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).

      And so on obviously.

    2. Good question – the answer is no, there is no further ‘reseeding’ to be done.

      1. Thank you.

        Then Alonso and Mansell look set for an early second round exit I guess.

        1. aww, I really wanted to see Alonso vs Stewart. We’ll have to do run-offs in the forum.

  22. 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.

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

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

  25. 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.

  26. Clark for sure.

  27. and hes Scot British !!

    1. 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.

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

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

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

  31. 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.

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

    1. 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.

      1. David B (@david-b)