I was asked in an interview last week if MotoGP™ can possibly survive without its talisman Valentino Rossi. I wish that conversation had been this week because any doubts the interviewer may have expressed were flattened after watching the amazing Bitci Grand Prix of Austria at the Red Bull Ring on Sunday. The future of this incredible sport is in such very safe, capable hands.
Who would not miss the charisma and ability of number 46, who finally bows out at the end of the season. The fresh new breed of hungry warriors showed in the 28 laps of pure drama that we need not worry about the future. It really is the changing of the guard and if Sunday is a real indication, we are in for a treat.
Just where do you start? Brad Binder defying the rain, aquaplaning at around 200 km/h on slick tyres to bring KTM a victory in front of 80,000 patriotic fans. Pecco Bagnaia carving through the field on the last couple laps on the Lenovo Ducati shod with wet weather tyres so close to his first victory, and then Jorge Martin completing the podium just seven days after his maiden Grand Prix win.
South African Binder and Spaniard Martin are absolute examples of why I’m so optimistic about the future. They simply just typify what the modern-day MotoGP™ rider is all about. Battle-hardened in Moto3™ and Moto2™. The first three on Sunday are all former World Champions. I remember Jorge always appearing with a smile at the Moto3™ Tissot Pole Position presentation. Plenty of poles but no wins but when he finally stood on the top step at the final round in 2017 the floodgates simply opened. He was crowned World Champion a year later after seven wins. Brad had won the title two years earlier.
Already these new MotoGP™ youngsters are emulating the true legends of the sport. Binder’s win on Sunday and Martin’s victory on the Pramac Ducati a week before placed them in a very select group of riders in the 72-year history of the premier class.
It was Binder’s second premier class win. His first came last year on just his third premier class race at Brno in the Czech Republic. When you realise that legendary World Champions Kenny Roberts and Jorge Lorenzo also won for the first time in their third race you understand were the South African is going. Martin’s first premier class win came in just his sixth appearance. John Surtees, the only man to win Motorcycle and Formula One World titles took a similar amount of time.
Few have won first time out. Geoff Duke at the 1950 TT race in the Isle of Man, Max Biaggi at 1998 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka and Jarno Saarinen at Paul Ricard in 1973 to name but a few. Marc Marquez got there second time out in 2013 at Austin as did the very first 500cc World Champion Les Graham. He won the 1949 Swiss Grand Prix after leading the very first 500 cc World Championship race in the Isle of Man before his AJS broke down.
Others who have gone onto dominate have found it tougher. Thirteen times World Champion Giacomo Agostini had to wait seven races until that first 500cc win for MV Agusta over the railway lines at Imatra in Finland in 1965. Valentino Rossi had to wait even longer but it was worth it. Despite a trip to the local hospital the night before, that first 500cc win came at the 2000 British Grand Prix at Donington Park in his ninth premier class race and 88 more wins followed. Multi World Champions Mike Hailwood and Wayne Rainey finally achieved that first win at their 12th attempt but it’s five times 500cc World Champion Mick Doohan who was the most patient. His first win came after 26 Grands Prix. The Australian Honda rider went on to win 53 more on route to those five world titles.
So, can we expect more of the same for the remainder of the season and then for many years to come? Who will be the next rider to join that legends list? Perhaps the rain did help on Sunday but with Silverstone next on the schedule it really was good to get the practice in early!