F1 Racing - - CHEQUERED FLAG -

ge­nius was trag­i­cally ter­mi­nated with a fa­tal crash dur­ing a land-speed record at­tempt.

So what about the post-war years? Well, a few have tried but only three men have truly made it to the top. Fore­most among those who never quite got there for one rea­son or another were Duke, who failed to hit it off with As­ton Martin; Gi­a­como Agos­tini; Mike Hail­wood, whose promis­ing F1 ca­reer was ter­mi­nated by a leg in­jury; Barry Sheene; and Valentino Rossi, who has im­pres­sively tested sev­eral times for Fer­rari but, pre­fer­ring bikes, de­cided not to switch.

The three ex-bik­ers who reached the pin­na­cle of motorsport by be­com­ing F1 world cham­pion? Al­berto As­cari, for Fer­rari in 1952 and ’53; John Sur­tees, mul­ti­ple mo­tor­cy­cle cham­pion for MV and the only one also to be­come an F1 cham­pion (for Fer­rari in 1964); and our own Damon Hill, who be­came a For­mula 1 world cham­pion for Wil­liams in 1996, hav­ing started out on bikes.

Now for the dif­fi­cult bit. Why haven’t more bike rac­ers tried to switch to four wheels and, of those who did, why haven’t more suc­ceeded? Af­ter all, there’s more money to be made from cars. I sus­pect that there is a va­ri­ety of rea­sons. One is that there are ma­jor dif­fer­ences be­tween rac­ing cars and bikes, and be­ing good at one doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean you’ll be good at the other. Another is that, gen­er­ally speak­ing, by the time you’ve clawed your way to the top of the ul­tra-com­pet­i­tive mo­tor­cy­cle world you’ll be too old to make a suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion to cars. And a third rea­son is un­doubt­edly that, in to­day’s world of pay driv­ers, it is just too ex­pen­sive an in­vest­ment for an un­pre­dictable re­turn, even if you can af­ford to try.

Is that it then? No more car-stars who were once bik­ers? I hope not. For starters how about to­day’s wun­derkind, Spain’s Marc Mar­quez who, at 22, is al­ready a quadru­ple world cham­pion with money, tal­ent and youth on his side? John Sur­tees left bikes for cars when Count Agusta, the boss of MV, re­fused to let him ride his own Nor­ton bikes in races where MV weren’t com­pet­ing. John be­ing John, he upped and left to be­come even greater, in tour­ing cars, in sportscars, in sin­gle-seaters and as a con­struc­tor. Maybe Mar­quez will get bored with win­ning for Honda and want to try some­thing new. Pie in the sky? Maybe, but it’s an in­trigu­ing thought.

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