America’s Blue Ferrari: How a US Team Helped Surtees win the F1 Title

Ryan Ashenhurst

The late, great John Surtees is famously known as the only driver to win World Championships on two and four wheels, having won the 500cc World Championships on four occasions and then the F1 title for Scuderia Ferrari in 1964.

But there was something odd about this Ferrari; for the final two races of the season, it was entered under the team name “North American Racing Team” and had a bright blue livery.

The reason behind the American, blue liveried Ferrari that helped Surtees secure the title was one of protest from no one other than Enzo Ferrari. The reason behind the dispute existed outside of the F1 championship, but did involve a spat with the FIA.

The Italian Manufacturer were hoping to run the new mid-engine prototype 250LM Sports car in the Group 3 GT World Championship, but the Italian National Automobile Club, a member of the FIA umbrella, blocked the entry on the grounds that it was regulatory for at least one hundred models of any competing car to be on the market.

Ferrari had only made thirty-two 250LM’s, and tried to argue that the car was merely a slight evolution over the more highly produced 250SWB, but the FIA could clearly see that this wasn’t the case given that the 250LM had a different engine homologation, and rejected Ferrari’s attempt to enter the revolutionary sports car.

This caused Enzo Ferrari to see red and weaponise his assets, removing Ferrari from the F1 championship with immediate effect. With two rounds to go in a tightly contested fight between Ferrari’s John Surtees, Graham Hill in the BRM and Jim Clark’s Lotus, the drama beyond the Championship looked like it would damage Surtees’ prospects.

With two races to go, Surtees was in third place overall with twenty-eight points, behind Clark on thirty and Hill on thirty-two, so amidst Ferrari’s official withdrawal, he needed to do better than his rivals at the upcoming US and Mexican races to claim the title.

Of the three, Surtees was the underdog. Surtees made an interesting retrospective comment on racing for Ferrari in ’64 and given that Enzo Ferrari’s issue was with a sports car campaign that affected the F1 team as a byproduct, his words ring true:

“At Ferrari in those days you started with a handicap.

Until Le Mans was over you couldn’t really do the work you wanted to do – and needed to do – in Formula One.” – John Surtees

Enzo Ferrari’s decision to remove his team from the Championship, at least in terms of licensing, meant that the team would enter the final two rounds with a blue and white liveried Ferrari under the team name North American Racing Team. It meant that officially, Surtees concluded his title winning year in an American-owned team.

The added pressure of Enzo Ferrari’s protest alongside the knife’s edge that Surtees’ championship was already on made the 1964 conclusion the more dramatic. At the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, Surtees stuck the blue Ferrari on the front-row, but his rival Jim Clark pipped him to pole.

Hill was only fourth, behind the American driver Dan Gurney in third. All four cars were separated by a mere three-tenths of a second, setting up a closely contested penultimate round. Clark initially got away with his lead in tact, but was quickly gobbled up by Surtees and Spence in the other Lotus, who’d had a fantastic start from sixth. Hill was also able to get past Clark and claimed third.

Later into the race, Clark had to retire due to a fuel injection problem, his title bid diminishing, whilst on lap forty-five, Hill was able to get past Surtees for the lead and would go on to win the race by thirty-seconds, but with Surtees claiming second place, the 1964 Championship would have to conclude at the finale in Mexico, with Hill now leading Surtees by five points in the standings.

The race at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez was arguably the most tantalizing season finale in Formula 1 history. Jim Clark set a blistering pole lap that was eight-tenths quicker than the rest of the field. Gurney had qualified well once again and was on the front-row, with the blue Ferrari’s of Bandini and Surtees locking out the second-row.

Graham Hill started in sixth, which was far from ideal. Given that a driver’s top six results over the campaign made up their tally, rather than a tally over the season, Hill needed to hope that Clark wouldn’t win the race whilst he finished fourth or lower, whilst Surtees needed to win or finish second if Hill finished lower than third. It was a very complicated scenario, and we can see why this rule was scrapped!

The race began with Clark leading from pole, with Gurney retaining second-place with the blue cars of Bandini and Surtees trailing. But after a few more laps, Hill was able to pass Surtees and got on with hunting down the other Ferrari of Bandini for third place, the title was slipping from Surtees and it looked like Clark or Hill would be crowned.

Disaster struck for Hill as his duel with Bandini got messy, the Italian colliding with the BRM and damaging its exhaust, causing Hill to run the rest of the race with less power. Hill dropped down the order and whilst Surtees was promoted to fourth, the title was now in the hands of Jim Clark, who was still leading the race.

Clark had done everything right but with two laps to go, his engine failed and the Lotus driver disastrously retired from the race. It changed the running order to Gurney, Bandini and Surtees, but the Brit needed to finish in second to secure the title.

Realizing this with only one lap to go and no radio technology in play, the North American Racing Team gestured to Bandini from the pit-wall as he passed to take the final lap. Bandini slowed down to let Surtees pass, and the blue Ferrari’s switched positions, allowing John Surtees to claim the 1964 World Championship by a whisker.

Technically, this remains the only occasion in Formula 1 history in which an American owned team has seen a driver cross the finish line and pick up a Formula 1 World Championship. The blue and white Ferrari remains an iconic reminder of one of the closest battles in F1 history and is the vehicle that prompted Surtees to becoming the only person to win world championships on two and four wheels.

 

 

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