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We don’t know if it's Fabio Quartararo or Pecco Bagnaia who will be crowned MotoGP™ World Champion in the next few weeks, but one thing for certain a record-breaking run will be coming to an end. Joan Mir set the record last season when he became the ninth successive Spanish winner in the premier class. It’s a record in the 73 years history of World Championship racing that has never been matched by another country. Even the greats including Giacomo Agostini, Mike Hailwood, Kenny Roberts and Mick Doohan couldn’t produce a similar consecutive winning run for their countries, although they have come close.
It started in 2012 when Jorge Lorenzo won the second of his World titles. Marc Marquez arrived with a bang to win for the next two years with Lorenzo then winning the third and last of his titles in 2015, amid all the Rossi/Marquez controversy. Marquez returned to the top for the next four years with Mir making it nine in a row last year. It’s an amazing record considering how late Spanish riders found success in the premier class.
I’m sure you will not be surprised I had trouble pronouncing Alex Criville’s name correctly when he was the first Spanish winner in the 500cc class at the 1992 Dutch TT in Assen. Spanish riders who had tasted so much success in the smaller classes had found it tough when they moved up to the 500s. Criville’s win was a surprise, but he had opened the gates for both himself and the likes of Alberto Puig (another of Nick Harris nightmare pronunciations) and Carlos Checa.
In the previous 33 years, celebrated World Champions had tried to step up but with little success. The late great Angel Nieto won 13 World titles and 90 Grands Prix in the 50, 80 and 125cc classes. He was such a legend, it’s rumoured the King of Spain persuaded Honda to lend Nieto one of World 500cc Champion Marco Lucchinelli’s NS 500cc machines for the 1982 Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama. It was not a successful outing and Nieto returned to dominate the smaller classes.
Sito Pons won two 250cc World titles in 1988/89 before returning to the 500cc class after finishing 13th in 1985. He was tenth in the 1990 500cc Championship which included a couple of fifth places.
Spain had to wait another seven years after Criville’s historic Assen victory to capture the 500cc World title. It was fitting that it was Criville who was crowned the 1999 Champion at Rio in Brazil. It could have come earlier but a certain Honda teammate to Criville called Mick Doohan had dominated the proceedings for five successive seasons before being forced to retire through injury.
Not surprisingly it is Italy and Agostini who are closest to that Spanish record. Ago won seven successive 500cc titles between 1966 – 1972. The USA, thanks to the efforts of Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz, won six between 1988 – 1993 while Doohan brought Australia five successive titles between 1994 – 1998. Britain’s Mike Hailwood won four successive titles between 1962 – 1965.
World Championship racing has changed so dramatically over the last three decades. All four Spanish premier class World Champions have come through the system and won World titles in the smaller classes before moving up to MotoGP™. They will not make it 10 in a row this season. However, with the return to winning ways by Marc Marquez, the impressive debut of Jorge Martin, the resurgence of Mir and teammate Alex Rins and the arrival of Raul Fernandez from Moto2™, they will be right up there challenging for the ultimate prize in 2022 once again.
The Alex Criville win seems a long time ago; at least I can now pronounce his name correctly.