Marc Marquez’ achievement in winning his second world title has, it seems, already lifted him into the pantheon of the Gods. Certainly, it is an historic achievment and the kid is brilliant but two world titles, even at the tender age of 21, do not a racing God make.
Now Valentino Rossi can be discussed in those terms. His recent victory on his home track, Misano, and his subsequent podium performance at Motegi following a horrifying crash which necessitated a spell in hospital is evidence of true greatness. Why?
Well, he had been written off by most of us as a winner, he put his horror years at Ducati firmly behind him and demonstrated that talent plus experience can defeat anno domini. Not to mention winning five titles on the bounce starting in 2001. And adding a couple later on.
At 35 years old this amazing man is not only the greatest star motorcycle racing has ever produced but he is also, and this comes hard for a Mike Hailwood disciple to admit, the greatest ever rider.
As John Surtees once famously remarked, ‘The stopwatch doesn’t lie’ when dismissing Rossi’s potential as a Formula 1 driver following various well publicised tests, the stats supporting his elevation as the Godfather of two-wheel speed are unchallengeable. And Surtees would agree on that one.
There are those of us who might have argued that, unlike some of the greats in history, he did not win his championships on both road and track. And the fact that he has not won another championship this year or, probably, ever again doesn’t matter any more. True greatness is achieved by remaining at the top of your game for a long period. And he has been there longer than any other rider.
As one writer perceptively put it: "Great champions never get bored with winning!" That is Rossi and anyone who witnessed his undiluted joy when he eventually got back to receive the adulation of 100,000 fans at Misano could see it. And we were also witnessing a celebrity, the like of which has never been seen on our sport, whose very presence on the grid, surrounded by dozens of photographers gets into his opponents heads, world champions though they may be.
Barry Sheene enjoyed that level of public recognition, but largely confined to the UK, and at a time when social media didn’t exist. Rossi is a world wide phenomenon and young Marquez has some way to go before he can be talked of in the same breath. He has made a good start.
MORE SEATS THAN BUMS?
They call this the silly season. And with good reason. There seems to be more jockeying for position going on in motor homes than on the track. Every major race series is facing wholesale rider and team changes, none more so than the Superbike series, World and British.
In WSBK, Honda, who if there was an award for underperformance of the year would be a clear winner, have promoted Ten Kate’s local Supersport star Michael van der Mark. But as Messrs Haslam and Rea are leaving for what they hope are more competitive teams elsewhere, there is another seat to fill.
Where Haslam is going is still unclear. He has seen four years of his racing life slip by, dogged both at BMW and Honda, by duff electronics.It is rumoured he might be headed back to BSB. Rea is joining Tom Sykes at Kawasaki. Sykes is no doubt delighted to see the back of Loris Baz. Indeed, he has seen a bit too much of it for his own liking this year. But whether Rea, while more experienced, will make him feel more comfortable is open to doubt. The pair aren’t exactly on each other’s speed dial.
Baz, one of the brightest young stars in WSBK, has now found a MotoGP bike big enough. His 6ft 5in frame is not easily accommodated but the Forward Yamaha team have been encouraged by Dorna to find room for a Frenchman. The other rival for the most promising youngster award, Alex Lowes, has re-signed for Voltcom Suzuki. He will climb onto plenty of podiums but is his bike quick enough enough to be on the top step half a dozen times?
British Superbikes is going to see big change. Honda are coming back, but who will fill the seats - one or two from MotoGP or World Supers. We might see both Haslam and Leon Camier back on the domestic scene, maybe at Milwaukee Yamaha alongside newly-signed Josh Brookes (click here). Will Paul Bird run three bikes, or four in two teams. Will he run BMWs ? The Langwathby chicken baron doesn’t like being a small fish in a big pool, hence his departure from MotoGP, so he will relish reaffirming his domination of BSB.
Returning riders are not always the answer. Both John Hopkins and Jakub Smrz, hardly new but reconditioned, have underperformed which leaves Tyco with a vacancy. The one redeeming feature for BSB has been the resurgence of RyuiKyonari under the old master Stuart Hicken. What an amazing turn around.
But currently there is nobody who has a package to be challenging for MotoGP titles in the future. Britain’s premier championship should not become a sort of rest home for retiring riders. Of the top eight riders in MotoGP, seven come from Spain and Italy. And the other championships are dominated by riders from the same two countries. Isn’t that where we used to be?
Yet again we ask, what is the governing body doing to encourage the talent of tomorrow? Self-evidently not enough. Bluntly not much.
IT’S CHEATING ISN’T IT?
Team orders have long been the subject of controversy. And this tactical (dishonourable?) practice was brought into play at Magny-Cours when Marco Melandri made a big show of slowing down to let his Aprillia team-mate Sylvain Guintoli get the winners points in his WSBK title battle with Tom Sykes.
No complaints from Kawasaki. Not just because it’s within the rules but the Japanese factory employed the same methods in slowing down Loris Baz, allowing Sykes into third place!
Full marks then to Melandri who, in the second race, ignored his pit signals to beat Guintoli over the line. The Frenchman had great difficulty smiling through the post-race interviews. Why is this form of cheating allowed?