Henry had his father's class
PUBLISHED: 14:03 23 July 2009 | UPDATED: 10:54 23 August 2010
IT IS always refreshing to meet sports stars, particularly those with genuine talent, who belie expectation, writes Sports Editor Joe Shackley. Overpaid, arrogant, ignorant and rude , too many of the country s sporting luminaries - especially Premier Le
IT IS always refreshing to meet sports stars, particularly those with genuine talent, who belie expectation, writes Sports Editor Joe Shackley.
'Overpaid, arrogant, ignorant and rude', too many of the country's sporting luminaries - especially Premier League footballers - are often known more for their off-field antics than their achievements on the pitch, track or arena.
Henry Surtees, the 18-year-old Formula Two (F2) driver, was a young man known for his capabilities behind the wheel but, perhaps, more because his legendary father John, a former Bromley man, is the only racer to have won world titles on both two wheels and four. But he was clearly much more than that.
Just two weeks ago I was invited to a media karting event at the track along with other members of the press and some of the country's most talented young racers.
I was placed in 'Team Surtees' with Henry, who instantly came across as a confident, likable and funny person.
Speaking to Henry that evening, he spoke to me about his hopes for the future, seemingly aware that his potential was soon to be realised.
"I take every year as it comes, anything can change," he said.
"One race can change your whole career path. I'm looking to next year already, there're a few options. I'm only 18, one of the youngest drivers in the field. There will be more opportunities."
Henry, a member of Brands owner Jonathan Palmer's MotorSport Vision F2 team, admitted there was extra pressure on him because of his father's incredible achievements, but insisted it wouldn't prevent him from making his own mark on the sport.
"There's pressure from different parts, I can't tell dad that he's wrong too often. I do try though," he joked. "There's a bit more press coverage but I've just learned to live with it. I've had it all my life and I just get on with the job in hand. In the end the results speak more than who my father was. I'm my own person. We obviously talk and he obviously has a big input but, in the end, I'm the one in the car and I'm the one who has to do the business."
The racer explained that he hoped to record a podium at the Brands meet, playing up the significant role his fans would play on any success.
"I enjoy the fans coming. I don't believe I could be a racer without the fans," he said. "There's an atmosphere. I take every race as it comes and focus inwards. It's nice to have people come watch you, but as a driver you just concentrate on what you're doing. Fans are important part of the sport and anything I can do for them is very important to me, it's something I think some
Henry had shown promise in the formative stages of what could have been a glorious career, winning the Junior Gearbox Championship in 2005 and finishing third in the British Ginetta GT Junior Championship a year later. In round two of the F2 season at Brno in the Czech Republic he landed pole position.
And he was highly ambitious too. When I asked if he could see a future for himself in Formula One, he said: "That's a silly question. Look at the cars. Who would not want to drive a Formula One car? It's everybody's dream. I would love to race a Formula One car. Driving an F1 car is what I want to do, it's the essence of motorsport, the purest form of racing and where everyone wants to be."
I can't say that Henry, killed in a freak accident last Sunday, would definitely have followed in his father's footsteps, that he would've tested himself against the best racers on the planet or even won the greatest motorsport title of them all. No one can. I can only say that from the brief time I spent with him, his humour, warmth and kind nature were the qualities of a champion.