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OBITUARY - PUBLISHED ON JULY 27TH 2009
Henry Surtees, personal recollections
Henry Surtees, the 18-year-old son of 1964 F1 world champion John Surtees, was killed in a Formula 2 accident at Brand Hatch last weekend. Steven English shares his memories of Henry

  By Steven English
 
 

The first thing that struck you about Henry was the handshake. Anyone who was fortunate enough to meet him will relate to that. For those who never had the privilege, it was like being on the end of a hand-to-hand combat technique you were at his mercy before you'd finish introducing yourself!

Henry Surtees LAT
I don't think he found the Surtees name particularly helpful in his career. As with any child of a former great, there are expectations to live up to from day one. He had to win because his father had been a winner and it was tough to deal with that, especially during adolescence.

I think it's fair to say that a lot of people didn't fully understand Henry in their first dealings with him. There was an element of a defensive barrier, which inevitably comes from growing up in the thick of a sport in which his father is a legend. He was wary of people at first, particularly inside the motorsport world, which made him cautious and that caution could be wrongly interpreted by those who didn't get to know him well. He was not a guarded person by nature, but it was very much up to him how much he let people see of him. It took time to earn his trust.

But he responded quickly and almost with joy at being treated like his own person, with his own thoughts and opinions. It's a testament to the family atmosphere in which he was raised that he had the self-assurance to make his own decisions. He had huge respect for John's achievements, experience and knowledge, but he was never afraid to back himself if he was sure of something.

There was also a humble and shy side to Henry, when at times he almost seemed overwhelmed by the situations he found himself in particularly when he was standing out from a crowd as the centre of attention.

Racing was fun to him. He liked to make it look fun as well, sometimes playing down the seriousness of it, but it was because he was doing it for the sheer and genuine love of it.

In his early career he was very aggressive in the car. Part of that was down to his fiercely competitive nature which worked to his advantage, with rivals thinking twice about taking him on in a 50/50 situation. But it was more that he seemed to find it difficult to fully express himself, which often made him ragged. But as he gained experience, he learned to manage that intense desire to succeed, grew more comfortable in himself and became a lot more balanced and controlled.

Their father/son relationship would have been the envy of most parents. Teenagers generally want to spend their free time as far away from their parents as they can get, but Henry clearly enjoyed spending time with his dad and appreciated that there was a lot he could learn from him.

John was completely devoted to Henry, completely involved. He would always want to talk about Henry and push him into the limelight, out of pride in his son. But he somehow managed to do it without heaping any unnecessary pressure on his shoulders.

The sense of tragedy is heightened when someone so young is lost, with so much ahead of them, so much potential to fulfil be that as a racing driver or just as a man. But those closest to him can take at least some comfort in the knowledge that, while Henry was still growing both as a person and as a driver he was already doing it. In spite of his young age he was incredibly mature and, although he of course aspired for more and more, was already living his dream.

Henry Surtees battles for a podium place at Brands Hatch LAT
On the track he had become a successful and respected competitor ahead of his time. He'd won in every category he'd raced in on the way to F2, where he is comfortably the youngest driver to have stood on the podium. Away from the circuit, he was revelling in the freedom of putting his A-levels behind him and thriving on becoming an adult in the world.

Beyond the famous surname and the racing, Henry was an 18-year-old son and brother, and no family should go through that loss under any circumstances.

He was determined and driven, but equally cheeky and mischievous. He was uncomplicated and fun to be around - you often saw what must have been one of the biggest smiles in motorsport as the cheekiness took over his face. And those that remember Henry well will do so with that smile.

Gallery: Henry Surtees 1991-2009
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