BLOG: Is Britain heading back to the top of Grand Prix racing?

by Steve Day
Steve Day is a motorcycle racing commentator, usually commentating on ThundersportGB races however has also become a familiar voice on the international scene as he’s been a stand-in commentator for British Eurosport commentating on a number of World Superbike and MotoGP rounds over the past 2 years. 

There’s no denying that British motorcycle racing will always have a say when you look through the records of the Grand Prix results since 1949. Our history up to and including the 1980’s makes Great Britain a

There are some pretty big British names in the history
of Grand Prix racing…

superpower in terms of the amount of successful British riders in Grand Prix racing.

In recent times in the premier class (500cc/MotoGP), we’ve not had a rider finish in the top six of a championship since Niall Mackenzie in 1990. In that time across all classes we’ve witnessed Italy produce some genius talents, USA bringing over champions, Australia supplying us with two riders from another planet and more recently, complete and utter domination from Spain.

What has happened to the strong British presence in Grand Prix racing and why has it taken us so long to notice? Not only are we behind other European nations when it comes to funding rider development but we’ve also been trickling our talent down the path of Superbikes rather than Grand Prix racing.
In the 90’s, the World Superbike championship was only a few years old before it became immensely popular in the UK and certainly when Mick Doohan started clearing off in 500cc races, the close and exciting WSBK championship was immediately appealing to all fans and many riders too, especially when we had Carl Fogarty to support.

The fact you could buy and ride what looked like a replica factory bike on the road was at this time a sensationally clever idea and it is hard to forget how packed Brands Hatch would get for an SBK event. At this time, we didn’t really care that our GP status was sinking, ‘Foggy’ was winning World Superbike championships and all was well with the world…

At Mugello in 2000, Northern Irish legend Jeremy McWilliams picked up his first 500cc podium in third place, very little was mentioned at the time but he was the first Brit on a GP premier class podium for seven years and although he followed it up with another at Donington Park two months later, we had no idea at the time that we’d have to wait 12 years for the next.

In fact on the very same day in July 2000, a flamboyant Italian hit the scene and won us all over with his charm, cheek and darn right brilliance. Italian or not, Valentino Rossi wasn’t just a hero in his native land but here in the UK people went mad (are still going mad) for him and his loveable rogue aura melted the hearts

A familiar scene throughout the 2000’s…

Photo: Yamaha Racing

of almost every bike racing fan. With no Brits in the top five overall, Rossi was the hero and to many was considered Anglo-Italian.

Being typically British, the majority of us were happy with Rossi’s dictatorship in MotoGP from 2000-2009, the ‘we don’t like change’ attitude was inherited by the crowds and no matter how talented the opposition was, they were not liked by the Rossi congregation. However when he got injured in 2010 and the young Spanish pretender, Jorge Lorenzo won his first Moto GP crown, a fair few British fans were clueless as to what to do and who to support.

It was around that time we started to realise that whilst we had spent a huge part of our lives watching Doohan and Rossi pull the strings in GP racing we had very little to cheer about ourselves. Sure, we were quietly confident about our young hopefuls coming up from the 125cc class but the here and now in the premier class made for terrible reading – at least until Brno 2012.

Very few riders have been able to cope with the transition from World Superbikes to MotoGP but Coventry born rider Cal Crutchlow hushed quite a few critics and persevered through a tough first season in MotoGP

Career best result in Le Mans…

Photo: Yamaha Racing

before ringing some bells in his second.  Having threatened to land one sooner in the season, Cal Crutchlow claimed his first podium in the Czech Republic and became the first Brit to do so since that drizzly day at Donington in 2000. With another podium at Philip Island, Cal went onto finish the 2012 season in seventh overall, the highest a Brit has finished in the premier class since Mackenzie’s fourth in 1990.

This year, we’ve only reached the fifth round of the season and already we have plenty more to smile about, Cal sits in fourth place in the championship and has added another two podiums to his CV, including a career best finish of second in Le Mans.

We’ve been enjoying success in the Moto2 class too, Scott Redding is the name on everyone’s lips and has done the London bus trick… waiting for that first win to come and the next is merely a fortnight later.
It’s no longer a matter of ‘can he get himself a MotoGP ride for 2014’, his results have made him the hottest property outside the premier class and he could soon be the subject of a tug-of-war as to who gets him next season. What’s more, the British records that have been gathering dust for decades are being broken and there is a genuine feeling that the future is looking quite bright for us once again.

There’s an incredibly high chance of us having four British riders in the Moto GP class for next season and elsewhere, there’s a tidy conveyor belt of talent filtering through in Moto2, Moto3, the Red Bull Rookies and the Spanish championship and that’s before we even go into the goods we possess in other World Championships.
In terms of overall GP statistics, we’ve witnessed a golden era from Italian riders, we’ve allowed the Americans and Australians to catch us up and who knows how long Spain’s reign will be? One thing is for sure though, someone has nudged the sleeping giant and I don’t think it’ll be all that long before he’s back to his feet. There are still records to be broken and improvements to be made but our current crop of riders need and deserve our support and the fact remains that they’re the best we’ve had in almost a quarter of a century.

4 thoughts on “BLOG: Is Britain heading back to the top of Grand Prix racing?

  1. While I agree with most of your comments Steve the blame for GB's demise in MotoGP and other classes lies squarely at the door of the ACU…They were the ones that should have been easing the path to the GP's…and even funding a junior programme similar to Team Italia and the like.

    Instead young riders have to travel to Spain and their CEV and Moto2 series.

    The ACU abdicated their responsibilities to the circuit owners and the 'God of British Superbike' and you know what they say about worshipping false profits.


  2. While I agree with most of your comments Steve, I have to say that the blame for GB's demise in Grand Prix sits squarely at the door of the ACU.

    They were the ones entrusted with all things motorcycle and 'THEY' abdicated their responsibility to the circuit owners committee and the worship of the great god of British Superbike
    forcing young riders to move to Spain to learn their trade in CEV and Moto2 championships.

    And you know what they say about worshipping false prophets.


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