Five of the Greatest MotoGP Riders of all Time
By TOI Staff August 23, 2023 Update on : August 23, 2023
MotoGP is the pinnacle of motorcycle racing, akin to Formula 1 but on two wheels. Highly-tuned motorcycles reach speeds of up to 220 miles per hour on the straights and traverse sweeping bends and tight turns while almost horizontal. The MotoGP riders put their lives in their hands whenever they fire up their engines. Over the years, Grand Prix motorcycle racing has produced some incredible riders who have gone down in history as being the very best in their field. Here are five such racing superstars.
Valentino Rossi is the first name that springs to mind when any MotoGP fan thinks about the sport. The Italian dominated the sport throughout the 2000s, winning seven MotoGP Championships between 2001 and 2009, clinching three titles for Honda and four aboard a Yamaha. Nicknamed “The Doctor,” Rossi raced under the now-famous number 46, which MotoGP retired from the sport upon his retirement at the conclusion of the 2021 MotoGP season.
Rossi enjoyed 115 Grand Prix victories during his long and illustrious career, which is why backing Rossi to finish in first place was always one of the best MotoGP bets to make. He spent the first two years of his professional career racing on an Aprilia RS125, winning the championship in his second season. Two years in the 250cc class saw Rossi finish second during his rookie season before claiming the title in his second. It was similar when Nastro Azzurro Honda signed Rossi in the 500cc class, with a runner-up finish in the championship standings and an outright victory.
MotoGP, as it is known now, was launched in 2002, and the organizers could have called it the RossiGP. After winning the title in 2001, Rossi was crowned MotoGP champion for the next four years. He finished second in 2006 and third in 2007 before winning back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009.
At MotoGP level, Rossi entered 340 races and won 76 of them. The Doctor finished on the podium 176 times and started 51 races in pole position while setting the fastest lap in 61 races. Although Rossi was not as competitive during the latter stages of his career, he is still the greatest of all time, a legendary figure in the world of MotoGP.
Spain’s Marc Marquez is the man who took over Rossi’sMotoGP domination, winning six championships between 2013 and 2019. The only blip on an otherwise perfect record was when Marquez finished third in the rider’s title in 2015. The fact that Marquez managed to finish third despite retiring from six of the 18 races shows the man’s talent.
Marquez won his first MotoGP championship aged 20 years and 266 days, which remains a record today. He also holds several other records, including the most victories in a season (13), the only rider to claim 13 pole positions in a season, the highest points total in a season (420), and the largest title-winning margin by points (151).
Injuries have plagued Marquez since his last title win in 2019, but as he is still only 30, the Spaniard has plenty of time to return to his brilliant best.
Giacomo Agostini is a legendary figure not only in motorcycle racing but in motorsport as a whole. He began his professional career in 1964 and continued until 1977 before switching to Formula 1 racing from 1979 to 1980.
During his motorcycle career, Agostini won 122 of 223 races, finished on the podium 159 times, and set the time for the fastest lap in 117 races. The Italian was incredible. He won every world championship from 1968 through to 1974 in the 350cc class before continuing his domination at 500c, becoming world champion each year from 1966 to 1972 and winning another in 1975.
Agostini also has ten Isle of Man TT victories on his resume and competed in 23 Formula 1 races, finishing on the podium seven times.
Australia’s Mick Doohan enjoyed a glittering career spanning a decade. The famous Aussie competed in the 500cc world championship before the class was rebranded to the MotoGP we know today.
To say Doohan dominated the 500cc class is an understatement. Doohan began his 500cc Grand Prix career in 1989 with Rothmans Honda and showed glimpses of what was to come. He finished third in the championship standings in his second season and was the runner-up for the next two years before finishing third in 1993. Doohan began to shine from 1994 onwards, becoming world champion each year from 1994 until 1998. Only a serious injury in practice for the Spanish Grand Prix, which ruled Doohan out for the season, ended Doohan’s dominance.
The late John Surtees was a rare breed of racer, one who remains to this day, the only person to become World Champion on two wheels and in a Formula 1 car. The British star grew up around motorcycles because his father was a motorcycle dealer.
Norton gave Surtees his first professional ride in 1955, and it did not take the young Surtees to show the racing world his abilities. Surtees won the 500cc titles in 1956 and then for three consecutive years from 1958 to 1960. Amazingly, Surtees also competed in the 350cc class at the same time. Here, he won three straight world championships from 1958 to 1960.
Surtees switched from motorcycles to cars by the end of 1960, and he was equally as impressive behind the wheel as he was riding a bike. He raced in Formula 1 from 1960 to 1972, becoming world champion in 1964.
A life-threatening accident in Canada in September 1965 resulted in one side of Surtees’ body being four inches lower than the other. Doctors saved Surtees’ life and managed to set most of the break without surgery, although the right-left discrepancy of his body was still almost an inch. Despite nearly dying, Surtees continued racing in Formula 1 until the end of the 1972 season, when he called time on his racing career.
One of Surtees’ sons, Henry John Surtees, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a professional racing driver. Sadly, the young Surtees was struck by a wheel that came off another car, and he died due to severe head injuries.Read more: Five of the Greatest MotoGP Riders of all Time