Triple World Superbike Champion Jonathan Rea’s runner-up spot in last weekend’s BBC Sports Personality of The Year was a shot in the arm for motorsport, especially non-F1 disciplines of the world’s fastest sport.
Among the six speed freaks who’ve won the prestigious award, two of them twice, since its inauguration in 1954, five have been Formula 1 aces, with John Surtees the only hero from the two-wheeled world to take the top prize.
We’ve scoured the archive for a reminder of which racers beat off the competition from athletes, boxers, footballers, golfers, jockeys, rowers, showjumpers, swimmers and tennis players to win the coveted prize. There’s also an honourable mention of the racers and riders who finished on the podium, although how Jim Clark, James Hunt and Colin McRae failed to win will have to remain a mystery.
1959 – John Surtees
Motorcycling king Surtees was the first winner to hail from the world of motorsport thanks to his utter domination of the 500cc and 350cc World Championship classes. ‘Big John’ won all seven 500cc races and all six 350cc events that year for MV Agusta and scooped the award during SPOTY’s first ceremony at BBC Television Centre after five years in London hotels. He finished ahead of England football legend Bobby Charlton and Scottish swimmer Ian Black.
1961 – Stirling Moss
Pipped by Welsh golfer Dai Rees, Britain’s greatest all-rounder finished in second place in 1957, by virtue of his exploits for Vanwall, notably his British Grand Prix win with Tony Brooks at Aintree. Four years on, Moss took Rob Walker’s privately run Lotus 18 to victory against the might of the ‘sharknose’ Ferraris at Monaco and around the fearsome Nürburgring Nordschleife in the German GP, as well as scooping his fourth consecutive RAC Tourist Trophy win at Goodwood – his second in Walker’s Ferrari 250GT SWB – to beat boxer Billy Walker and tennis star Angela Mortimer for SPOTY honours.
1973 – Jackie Stewart
After a world-beating performance for Tyrrell, the Scot put his third title beyond doubt in September’s Italian GP at Monza, with two races still to run. After the death of team-mate and protégé François Cevert in qualifying for the season finale at Watkins Glen, JYS opted not to race in what would have been his 100th GP. And that was that for Stewart, who’d already made up his mind to stop at the end of the year. His title-winning season was rewarded with the SPOTY trophy at BBC Television Theatre, with tennis player Roger Taylor and showjumper Paddy McMahon completing the podium.
1986 and 1992 – Nigel Mansell
Despite the drama and disaster that befell Williams driver Mansell in the 1986 season-closing race on the streets of Adelaide, during which his F1 title hopes were shattered by a punctured tyre, the Englishman was crowned SPOTY ahead of athlete Fatima Whitbread and footballer Kenny Dalglish as a reward for his five GP wins and championship runner-up spot. When Mansell finally scooped the title he’d craved for so long, in 1992, he became only the second person to win SPOTY twice, joining boxer Henry Cooper as a double winner. On that occasion, in a ceremony at Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, he outshone athletes Linford Christie and Sally Gunnell. A year later, Mansell finished third after winning the IndyCar title in his maiden season of US racing.
1994 and 1996 – Damon Hill
Another F1 sob story had a happy ending in 1994 when Damon Hill went one better than his double World Champion father Graham (runner-up in 1968) by scooping SPOTY, ahead of Sally Gunnell and Colin Jackson, after battling until the bitter end for honours with Benetton nemesis Michael Schumacher. And, like fellow Williams frontrunner Mansell, Hill won it again in his title year, in 1996. After pipping rowing legend Steve Redgrave and jockey Frankie Dettori, he became only the third two-time winner.
2014 – Lewis Hamilton
Having joined Mercedes from an ailing McLaren squad for 2013, Hamilton targeted more F1 titles to add to the one he took at the last gasp in 2008. With new engine regulations for 2014, he romped to a second title, winning 11 of the 19 races in a car that was streets ahead of the opposition. An additional end-of-season trophy came in the shape of SPOTY after he’d topped the public vote, ahead of golfer Rory McIlroy and third-placed athlete Jo Pavey. Prior to his win, Hamilton twice finished runner-up – in 2007 and ’08, his first two seasons in Grand Prix racing.