Marc was a relatively late starter in the world of motorsport, graduating from karts and the Super Vee series to the German F3 championship in 1976, at nearly 25 years’ age.
The following year saw him graduate to Formula 2, gaining more experience in his ambitions to move to the top flight of the motorsports echelon. Marc’s tendency to be brutally honest and direct saw his career ambitions take a hit, however. Having been signed to race a BMW 320i in the German Touring Car Championship that year, a clash with Hans Heyer saw him suspended for two months.
Despite this, Marc moved to the BMW-bacvked Polifac Formula 2 team in 1978 as the number-two to team-mate Bruno Giacomelli, who went on to cruise to the title. Surer was a truly capable deputy, running dutifully as the rear gunner en route to six second-place finishes. The following year, he would go on to win the championship as the team’s lead driver, but many felt he’d made heavy weather of doing so when compared with Giacomelli’s seemingly easier progress the year before.
Nevertheless, Marc had done enough and achieved his ambition: a drive in Formula 1. He made his debut for the little Ensign team at the 1979 Italian Grand Prix, but failed to make the qualifying cut for both it and the subsequent Canadian race. He would, however, manage to qualify for the season-ending United States Grand Prix, but retired with engine problems.
Surer had seemingly done enough to be signed by the mercurial Gunther Schmid and his ATS team for 1980, but the season was barely two races old when Marc crashed heavily during practice at Kyalami, sustaining broken ankles that kept him out of the cockpit until mid-season.
Surer moved back to Ensign for 1981, and his burgeoning talent began to emerge with a brilliant wet-weather drive to fourth place – from 18th on the grid, no less – at the Brazilian Grand Prix, which included the fastest race lap! He followed this up with another points’ finish at Monaco, before switching to Theodore mid-season.
The following season saw him in another new team – Arrows – and again his Kyalami jinx would strike with another leg-breaking shunt that delayed his race appearance with the team until that year’s Belgian Grand Prix. Points finishes in Canada and Germany were little reward, but the A4 chassis was well-down on the front-runners.
The following year saw the debut of his team-mate Thierry Boutsen, whom he would drive alongside for three seasons. While he managed to outscore the Belgian on points, he was generally outperformed by him in overall speed.
In late 1984, Arrows finally got its hands on some BMW turbos, and it was this connection with the German manufacturer that saw Marc drafted into the front-running Brabham team in the middle of 1985, paired up with two-time World Champion Nelson Piquet. Finally having the equipment to showcase his talent, he had his best-ever season and ran close to his team-mate’s pace. Sadly, reliability would rob him of podium finishes at Brands Hatch and Adelaide.
BMW placed Marc back at Arrows for 1986, and he picked up a trio of ninth places before a tragic rallying accident in Germany: he slammed his Ford sideways into a tree, killing his co-driver and sustaining serious burns and injuries that would force his retirement from the sport.
Despite having not raced for a long time, Marc has still kept close links with his love of motorsport, heading up BMW’s competitions directorship in their touring car involvement as well as commentating for Swiss, and later German, television.
RichardsF1.com is extremely thankful to Marc for his time and support in compiling this interview, where he proves as frank and honest as ever about the highlights of his motorsport career.
|Full Name:||Marc Surer|
|Born:||18 September 1951, Fullinsdorf (SUI)|
|First GP:||1979 United States East Grand Prix|
|Last GP:||1986 Belgian Grand Prix|
|Wins:||0||Best Finish:||4th||Best Qualifying:||5th|
|1972||Swiss Karting Championship, 1st overall|
|1973||European Karting Championship, 1st overall|
|1974||German Formula Vee Championship, Fuchs VW, 2nd overall|
|1975||Central European Formula Vee, Motul VW, 3rd overall|
|1976||German Formula 3 Championship, Chevron BMW, 2nd overall|
|European Formula 3 Championship, Chevron BMW, 5th overall|
|1977||European Formula 2 Championship, Hohmann Auto / March Racing, 13th overall|
|1978||European Formula 2 Championship, Polifac BMW / March BMW, 12 races, 9 podiums, 2nd overall|
|1979||European Formula 2 Championship, Polifac BMW, 11 races, 2 wins, 6 podiums, 1st overall|
|Formula 1, Ensign Ford N179, 3 entries, 2 DNQ, 1 race, 0 points, Not Classified|
|1980||Formula 1, ATS Ford D3 / D4, 9 races, 0 points, Not Classified|
|1981||Formula 1, Ensign Ford N180B, 6 races, 1 fastest lap, 4 points, 16th overall|
|Formula 1, Theodore Ford TY01, 7 races, 0 points|
|1982||Formula 1, Arrows Ford A4 / A5, 12 races, 3 points, 21st overall|
|1983||Formula 1, Arrows Ford A6, 15 races, 4 points, 15th overall|
|1984||Formula 1, Arrows Ford A6, 6 races, 0 points|
|Formula 1, Arrows BMW A7, 9 races, 1 point, 20th overall|
|1985||Formula 1, Brabham BMW BT54, 12 races, 5 points, 13th overall|
|1986||Formula 1, Arrows BMW A8, 5 races, 0 points, Not Classified|
How did you come to be involved in motorsport? Did you always harbour ambitions of making it to Formula 1?
I was a Go-Kart mechanic for a friend; until we found out I was the faster driver, so we changed roles!
With motor sport banned in your native land (following the 1955 Le Mans disaster), how difficult is it for a Swiss driver to compete in motor sport?
It makes it very difficult for a young driver. You have to go abroad to start racing.
Growing up, did you have any motorsport idols?
Yes, our hero in Switzerland was Jo Siffert.
You had a successful junior career and links with BMW. You were called up represent the Ensign Team in the final three races of 1979, but didn’t manage to qualify until the season-ending United States Grand Prix. How difficult was this baptism into Formula 1 for you?
After having won the Formula Two championship that year, it was very hard to sit in a uncompetitive Formula 1 car.
Were you offered any advice from any notable figures in the pit lane during your debut?
I do remember Mario Andretti and Carlos Reutemann where friendly to me that weekend.
You switched to ATS for 1980, initially piloting the Cosworth-powered D3. Your first outing in the D4 in South Africa (the third round of the season) would see you break your ankles in a practice accident. In 1982, you would injure your legs in another crash at Kyalami. Did you feel cursed in Johannesburg?
My accidents there were both due to mechanical failures, and had nothing to do with the circuit, I can assure you. I had some more good races there with Touring Cars.
In 1981, you returned to the little Ensign team, picking up your first points (and a fastest lap as well) at Brazil. How did you feel after this achievement?
Doing the fastest lap with a backmarker car was really an achievement for such a small team. I was very happy that weekend.
You switched to Teddy Yip’s Theodore Team mid-season; what was the reason for changing teams? You’ve stated that the Cosworth-powered TY01 was the worst F1 car you drove during your career – what was wrong with the car?
The car was actually to use Michelin tyres. But exactly at the point when I signed to join the team, they had to switch to Avon tyres!
After recovering from your second Kyalami accident in 1982, you started racing with Arrows, with whom you would race for four seasons (1982-4 and 1986). What were your impressions of the team?
Arrows was the first professional team I worked for in Formula One.
Believe me, my time with March in Formula Two or BMW in Touring Cars were better than many of the Formula One teams during this time.
Thierry Boutsen would join you in team from the start of the 1983 season, and over one-third of your career would be spent as his team-mate. What was he like as a team-mate?
Thierry was very fast and also very friendly with the engineers. Soon he became their favourite, because they didn’t like my honesty regarding the problems with the car!
You finally got the taste of turbo-powered Formula 1 when Arrows acquired the use of the 4-cylinder 1.5-litre BMW turbo engine in mid-1984, which also coincided with a chassis change to the A7. How much did you need to change your driving style to adapt to the new engine?
With the turbo engine, the typical throttle reaction was “all or nothing”. It was not very nice to drive at all.
Your most competitive season occurred in 1985, when you joined Brabham. How did the team, and the BT54 compare with the other F1 cars you had driven before?
Unfortunately the car kept breaking down and I lost a few good results.
But it was a very fast car and suddenly I found myself fighting with drivers like Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost for the first time in my career. That was very satisfying.
You were up against the formidable Nelson Piquet as your team-mate. What was your relationship like with him?
Nelson was very nice to me as long as I was slower than him! He could not cope with me being quicker than him at all.
You finally hit your strides in the latter stages of the season, with several top-ten qualifying results, but potential podium finishes at Brands Hatch and Adelaide went begging with engine problems. How frustrating was this for you?
Yes, towards the end of the season I was finally able to harness the car’s potential. But sadly, luck was never with me in Formula one.
Your motor sports career may have wound down after 1986, but your association with BMW was a lengthy one, heading up the competitions department and looking after many of the drivers who represented the company, for example Johnny Cecotto and Joachim Winkelhock. What was the transition like to move away from the cockpit and onto the pit wall, so to speak?
It was a very interesting experience to move to the other side of the pit wall. I was very proud to have been able to make this switch and contribute to BMW’s success.
You’ve had a lengthy and successful motorsports commentary career for German television. How did you become involved in commentary and what do you enjoy most about it?
It was Swiss television who asked me first. When digital television started with Bernie Ecclestone’s FOM company, I joined German network and provided commentary from then on. I really enjoy explaining Formula One to the viewing public.
What would you say were your best moments of your motorsport career?
I remember overtaking Ayrton Senna at Brands Hatch 1985. That was very satisfying!
What is your favourite racing circuit in the world?
What is your opinion on the current state of Formula 1?
The aerodynamics are too important at this time. But the standard and calibre of driving has never been so perfect.
Images via Corbis Images, Motorsport.com and Redditt