Why Surtees is unlikely to be knighted


Each and every time the names on the New Year’s Honours list are revealed it inevitably leads to hundreds of motorsport fans crying foul over John Surtees being overlooked for a knighthood. And yet, nobody appears to stop and think why this is the case.

It happened again last week, with my Twitter timeline awash with people expressing their apparent dismay at the thought of him having to continue to go through life without the Sir prefix adorning his name.

And then, after people stopped getting into a tizz, they then went back to the daily grind and forgot all about it… until today.

For reasons I am unable to fathom out, former BBC F1 presenter Jake Humphrey posted the following message on Twitter this morning:

Which was duly followed by a similar tweet from BBC F1 commentator Ben Edwards:

First and foremost, I like their sentiment, and I wholeheartedly agree that Surtees deserved – note past tense – a knighthood for his achievements in two- and four-wheel motor racing, but the chances of that happening now are slimmer than a strand of hair.

To begin with, what possible benefit is it signing a petition on an American-based website? Surely an e-petition on the official HM Government website would hold more clout? And what happens when it reaches its target of 10,000 signatures anyway?

Not that any of the previous questions need answering, because instead of filling out a pointless online petition, have a read of the guidance notes for honours nominations instead. Especially point four, which states that:

Nominations should be made while the nominee is still active and, if possible, at least 12 months before he/she is expected to retire or stand down, because of the timeframe involved.

A knighthood would therefore have to be awarded to Surtees for his current activities and not his successes from 50 years ago, for which he received an MBE in 1959 and OBE in 2008 for services to charity and motorsport.

And anyway, to the best of my knowledge only four luminaries of the sport have been awarded a knighthood since the second world war: Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart, Frank Williams and Stirling Moss.

The first three’s contributions to motorsport are well-documented, but I do admit to being unable to see the distinction between Moss and Surtees. Which leads me to believe that public recognition of name plays a significant part when it comes to the honours system…


  1. You say you can’t see the difference between Surtees and Moss?

    Surtees is well known for starting out and winning motorcycle GP (as well as winning the Isle of Man three times in succession). Then successfully making the move to cars with his F1 win.

    No one else has done that and it’s likely no one ever will.

    • I know, I said as much in the piece?

      Let’s not forget though that Moss was one of the greatest all-round racing drivers of all time, driving in 585 events, finishing in 387 of them and winning 216. So not too shabby either.

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  3. Hi Dan,

    As you probably know I was responsible for starting up the Facebook Page “John Surtees Deserves a Knighthood” https://www.facebook.com/pages/John-Surtees-Deserves-a-Knighthood/170713899655616#!/pages/John-Surtees-Deserves-a-Knighthood/170713899655616 back in June 2011.

    If you look at one of the earliest posts I put on there it was the link to the official UK Government Honours website https://www.gov.uk/honours which has already been lobbied by many of us in the way prescribed.

    The petition you refer to above is an open petition (not started by me) and is the latest in a long line of several that have been started up on John’s behalf. The fact that it has no “official” backing or validation doesn’t to my mind makes it unworthy of our support.
    Of course we are very aware of the part two “guidance” note with its advice about the person being active in the field that he has been nominated for but if you look at some past recipients of the award you can put quite a wide interpretation on this. John is still very much active in motorsport, still has a race licence and still participates in FIA and MSA sanctioned two & four wheel events all be it of a non- serious nature such as The Goodwood Revival.

    You could draw a parallel here with someone like Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney. Many would argue that from their body of work it was their performances 40-50 years ago that actually was responsible for the acclaim and recognition that they receive today and it is for that they gained respect. However both are still very active and performing even if it is some way off of what many considered to be their peak. Both were awarded their knighthoods way past what many consider to be their heyday (not me). It’s all down to interpretation!

    In addition to his racing career of course John works tirelessly for charity, good causes and community projects and to my mind that in itself is worthy of the nomination alone especially when you consider that work on the back of his own personal (& tragic) circumstances.

    Yes I agree on the evidence of what has gone up until now it seems that there are some in authority who for some reason seem reluctant to bestow this honour upon John; but that is no reason for us to give up the fight!

    Dominic Malvern

    • Sorry Dominic, but I have to disagree on some of your points.

      The notion that a few thousand signatures on a website – whose modius operandi is to harvest Email addresses and other information – will cause the powers that be to cave in and award Surtees with a knighthood is a preposterous one.

      If those that supposedly so incensed by the situation actually bothered to fill in a nomination form instead then something might actually happen. Instead, they are adding their names to a petition which, while it is an easy way to generate interest, will result in nothing happening.

      And yes, he is still relatively active in motorsport, but perhaps not to the same level that others who have been bestowed with the Sir title have been in their respective industries.

      A knighthood is overdue, I agree, but I can see why they will not award him one 50 years after his successes and not purely for his sporting achievements.

  4. The only reason why Sutees has not received his due recognition is his failure (by modern standards) to blow his own trumpet and refusal to conform to the double dealing and politics that became part of F1 racing – I refer to his dealings with Colin Chapman, the team manager at Ferrari, and the Piranha Club. I reckon if he had had a little more selfishness and accepted Chamans offer, he would have been F1 champion for 3 or 4 times.

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