June 13, 1949 - 75 years and 3392 GP races later

Nick Harris delves into the annals of time to look back at some of the World Championship’s most unforgettable moments since its beginning in 1949

Little could those riders, who lined up on the Glencrutchery Road, have realised what lay ahead. Not only in their battle over seven tortuous laps round the 60.721kms TT Mountain circuit, but for the next 75 years. It was a pleasant, thankfully dry and clear Isle of Man morning when the Manx flag dropped precisely at 11 am on Monday 13th June 1949. The Motorcycle World Championship was born. Four hundred and forty-seven kilometres later Freddie Frith acknowledged the chequered flag, riding his 350 cc Velocette to become the first winner of a World Championship race. Seventy-five years and 3392 solo grand prix races later, that World Championship continues to go from strength to strength in a very different world.

Just four years after the end of the Second World War the FIM launched the very first Motorsport World Championship series. The six round Championship was open to 125, 250, 350 and 500 cc solo machines and sidecars. The six European venues selected were the Isle of Man, Berne, Switzerland; Assen, Holland; Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium; Clady in Ulster; Northern Ireland and Monza, Italy. It was an amazing brave project to embark on so soon after the end of the war, but it formed the very solid foundations of what we witness today. Three quarters of a century later the MotoGP World Championship consists of 20 rounds in 16 different countries and four separate continents. 

So much has happened in that 75 years both in the World and on the racetrack. There have been 3392 solo grand prix races in the 50, 80, 125, 250, 350 and 500 cc classes. Thirty-one countries have staged grands prix. Seventy-five circuits have hosted grands prix in that time. Some such as Brno, Sachsenring and the Nürburgring have switched from road circuits to purpose-built tracks. Assen in Holland is the only remaining circuit from that original 1949 Schedule to host grand prix every season, apart from the Covid hit 2020.

Over 6000 riders have ridden in the World Championship. They have represented 62 different nations competing in a Championship that truly encompasses the World. Out of that 6000, only 399 different riders have stood on the top step of the podium as a race winner. One hundred and twenty-six riders have been crowned World solo Champions representing twenty-one different nations.

The youngest rider to compete in grand prix went onto win five World Championships, including three MotoGP titles. Jorge Lorenzo was just 15 years and one day old when he made his 125-cc debut at Jerez in 2002. He had to miss the first day of practice for the Spanish Grand Prix because he was still only 14 years old. The oldest rider to compete in grand prix was Frank Cope. He was 62 years old. 

Italian Giacomo Agostini is still the king and most successful rider in the history of the Championship. Fifteen World titles and 122 grands prix victories he achieved in the 350 and 500 cc World Championships, which is never likely to be eclipsed.

Finally, cast your mind back to that morning in the Isle of Man 75 years ago. Freddie Frith may have never quite realised the significance of that 350-cc win, but New Zealander Sid Jensen certainly did. He was determined to become the first rider to start practice for a World Championship race. In the darkness, five or six hours before the start of the five am first morning practice session, he took his 350 cc AJS to the start line. His friends guarded his machine overnight in order he could take his place in history as the sun rose over Douglas Bay. Tragically that first race also included the first fatality in the World Championship. Ben Drinkwater lost his life when he crashed on the fourth lap.

This morning, as we celebrate those 75 years of World Championship racing, we remember and honour those riders who lost their lives living and chasing a dream.