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The Greatest MotoGP Riders of All Time

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Moto Grand Prix, one of the leading racing events and motorbike road racing’s pinnacle event, has been the mainstay in the racing DNA for more than 70 years now since its inaugural season in 1949.

As one of the oldest motorsport world championships, MotoGP has produced some of the greatest on-track riders of all time. From Harold Daniell’s first ever win in 1949 and Giacomo Agostini’s eight world titles to Valentino Rossi’s seven titles and 89 record wins, let’s take a look of some of the sport’s greats over the years.

 

Kenny Roberts

Best MotoGP Riders of All Time - Kenny RobertsA pioneer of the sport, Roberts is known for not only his on-track skill but also the changes he brought about to the sport with regards to safety. Roberts was also a team owner, entering Team Roberts in the sport in the 1980s. A three-time world champion with 24 wins, Roberts was also the very first American to win a Grand Prix motorcycle racing world championship.

Roberts made his 500cc championship debut in 1978 racing for the Yamaha USA team. Although the season didn’t start off well for the American, who suffered mechanical failure in the opening race, Roberts came back strongly to win three consecutive Grands Prix and held off a strong title challenge from British racer Barry Sheene to end the season with four wins and 110 points, 10 more than second-place Sheene to win his maiden world championship.

Roberts’ title defence got off to another disastrous start, as he was involved in a serious accident that saw him suffer multiple back injuries and a ruptured spleen in pre-season. Having missed out on the first race of the 1979 season, Roberts returned for the second race in Austria in style by winning the race, continuing his good form with four more wins over the course of the season.

That season also saw the famous British Grand Prix, where Roberts was involved in an epic duel with Sheene and won the race by the narrowest of margins – three-tenths of a second. Roberts’ five wins and consistent strong performances handed him his second consecutive world championship.

A shortened 1980 season saw only 10 races take place, and Roberts took the first three race wins of the season before a retirement at the Dutch Grand Prix. He finished on the podium a further three times to secure his third consecutive championship. Injuries and technical difficulties meant Roberts couldn’t add to his three world titles, but he did put up a valiant challenge in the 1983 season, missing out on the championship by a mere two points.

Roberts retired after the 1983 season, signing off with a win in his final Grand Prix. He continued racing in selected events before running his own team in the 1984 season.

Roberts is known for leading the way for the introduction of knee-bucks. He also fought for riders’ rights with the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) over the way the riders were treated and compensated.

 

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Eddie Lawson

Best MotoGP Riders of All Time - Eddie Lawson

Four-time world champion, Eddie Lawson was aptly named ‘Steady Eddie’ for his consistency of finishing races with composure and not crashing.

After a successful American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) 250cc career, Lawson went on to make his debut in the 1983 season as Kenny Roberts’ teammate. After securing four podium finishes, Lawson finished fourth in the championship standings in his debut season.

With teammate Roberts retiring, Lawson now came into his own and started his second senior season with a victory in the opening round in South Africa. He took a further four wins and finished on the podium 9 out of the 12 races to take his first world championship.

His title defence fell short in the 1985 season as he ended runners up, eight points behind the championship winner, even though he secured three wins over the season.

Lawson continued his dominant run with two more titles with Yamaha in the 1986 and 1988 seasons before making a shock move to Rothmans Honda. His win with Honda in his first season with the team made him the first rider to win back-to-back title with different constructors. His final few seasons in the sport saw him struggle to even finish on the podium.

Lawson retired after the 1992 season with 31 wins and four world championships.

 

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John Surtees

Best MotoGP Riders of All Time - John Surtees

John Surtees is till date the only person to have won both the MotoGP and Formula One championships.

A true racer, Surtees won four 500cc titles and three 350cc titles in his MotoGP career. Surtees won his first 500cc world championship with the MV Agusta team. After a third-place finish to Gileras in 1957, Surtees bounced back strongly in the 1958 season winning both the 500cc and 350cc championships. Surtees went on to win a further two more championships in 1959 and 1960.

Surtees switched from two-wheel racing to four-wheel racing in 1960, riding for Lotus and even going on to win the championship with Ferrari in 1964.

In his later years, Surtees founded the Surtees Racing Organisation, which spent nine seasons as a constructor in Formula One, Formula 2 and Formula 5000.

 

Mick Doohan

Best MotoGP Riders of All Time - Mick Doohan

Michael Doohan, the Australian, was not only a five-time world champion but also one of the smartest riders of the sport. Known for his immense knowledge of the sport, Doohan was widely regarded for his insight into his bikes and their mechanical knowledge.

Making his debut in the 1989 season with Honda, Doohan had to wait for a year before claiming his first victory at the 1990 Hungarian Grand Prix. Three wins and a podium finish in each of the races he finished in the 1991 championship saw him miss out on the title by nine points.

After another runner-up trophy in 1992 and a difficult 1993 season with multiple mechanical issues, Doohan won his first title in 1994 with a dominating performance throughout the season. 9 wins from the season’s 14 races and five additional podium places meant Doohan took the championship by a whooping 143 points.

The Australian’s dominant run continued as he went on to win each championship until 1998, with 1997 being his most successful year where he won 12 out of the 15 races. An incident at the 1999 Spanish Grand Prix qualifying session saw Doohan suffer a serious leg injury that forced him to retire.

Doohan served as the future world champion Valentino Rossi’s chief engineer and helped the Italian with his immense knowledge of the sport.

 

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Marc Márquez

Best MotoGP Riders of All Time - Marc Marquez

Marc Márquez’s rise in the sport has been nothing less than astronomical.

Márquez won the 125cc championship at only 17 years of age with Derbi and then went on to win the Moto2 championship with Suter in 2012. Making his debut at the 2013 MotoGP season with Honda, Márquez became the first person since Kenny Roberts to win the championship in his debut season.

After winning two consecutive titles in 2013 and 2014, Márquez endured his first tough season during the 2015 season where he faced tight competition from both the Yamahas of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi. Coupled with mechanical issues, Márquez finished the 2015 season in third place, almost 100 points behind winner Lorenzo.

Márquez bounced back strongly next season to hold off Rossi’s title challenge and went on to win his third title with Honda.

The next three years saw utter dominance from the Spaniard as he took four consecutive titles between 2016 and 2019. However, a season-ending injury, suffered at the 2020 season opener, saw him sit out the entire 2020 and start of 2021 season.

Márquez returned to racing at the 2021 Portuguese Grand Prix. Being the youngest world champion, Márquez still has a long career ahead of him, and if the Spaniard continues his form, by the time he does hang up his boots, the ‘Thunder of Cervera’ might just leave the sport as its greatest rider. With 57 victories, 96 podium finishes and 62 pole positions (the all-time world record), Márquez lets his bike do the talking on the track.

 

Giacomo Agostini

Best MotoGP Riders of All Time - Giacomo Agostini

If there is anyone who can challenge Valentino Rossi for the ‘Greatest MotoGP rider of all time’ tag, it would have to be Giacomo Agostini.

Making his debut in the 1964 season for the MV Agusta team, Agostini was paired with Mike Haliwood. The Italian took his first victory at the 1965 German Grand Prix (350cc) and there was no looking back after that. After Haliwood left the team at the end of the 1965 season, Agostini, as the team’s senior rider, responded with sheer dominance on track.

Over the course of next seven years, Agostini won seven consecutive world championships. After missing out on the championship in 1973, Agostini embarked on a new journey at the start of the 1974 season as he switched teams, shifting to Yamaha.

Mechanical issues and injuries stopped him from claiming his eight senior title, but he overcome the difficulties to win a record breaking eighth crown at the 1975 season. When the Italian retired at the end of the 1977 season, he left with 122 wins and a total of 15 championships across different categories.

Outside MotoGP, Agostini also raced in non-championship Formula One races in 1978 and even managed the Yamaha MotoGP team from 1982-1990.  He further managed the Cagiva team and the Honda team in 1995, which was his final stint as a team manager.

 

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Valentino Rossi

Best MotoGP Riders of All Time - Valentino Rossi

Regarded as the greatest MotoGP racer of all time, Valentino Rossi has seven premier class world championships, 89 wins, 199 podium finishes and is the only rider to have raced in more than 400 Grands Prix.

After winning the 125cc championship with Aprilla in 1997, Rossi went on to secure the 250cc title two years later with the same team. A successful 250cc championship saw Rossi shift to the Honda team for the 2000 season and his first 500cc title in 2011 was ironically the last season in the 500cc category, with the MotoGP bikes being introduced from the following season. Rossi went on to win a further two more championships in 2002 and 2003 before shifting to Yamaha where he went on to win four titles (2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009).

A brief stint with Ducati for the 2011 and 2012 seasons saw Rossi struggle to mount a serious championship challenge and he returned to Yamaha at the end of the 2012 season. On his second stint with Yamaha, although he didn’t add to his seven titles, Rossi finished runner-up on multiple occasions between 2014 and 2017. With the rise of talents like Marc Márquez, Rossi began to struggle to even fight for podiums and during the 2021 season, the Italian announced that it would be his final season in MotoGP.

Rossi will be leaving the sport with a total of nine world championships and the highest number of victories. He also owns a Moto2 team, Sky Racing Team VR46, and is a keen four-wheel racer himself, having participated in Formula One tests for Ferrari.

 

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