WELCOME ‘The best since Bazza? It could be argued...’
It’s been a good few years for us Brits in Grand Prix motorcycle racing. Last year saw Danny Kent become Britain’s first Grand Prix World Champion since Barry Sheene won his final world title in 1977 and this year, Cal Crutchlow became the first British rider to win a top-class Grand Prix since Sheene in 1981.
Crutchlow’s victory in Brno was remarkable, he took a gamble on the harder option wet Michelin tyre which saw him out of the points in the early stages of the race, before charging through to take his debut GP win, ending the unbearable drought Britain has had to suffer for the last 35 years.
While Crutchlow’s victory was undoubtedly impressive, there’s always a certain stigma surrounding winning a race in the wet. There are a number of riders who have ‘only’ won in wet or iffy conditions and it’s often not until they take a win in the dry that perception of their potential begins to change.
However, Crutchlow followed up his Brno victory with what was widely regarded as a more impressive ride (to second) in front of his home crowd at Silverstone the week after. Then, four races later, Crutchlow defied the odds to win again. This time in the dry after starting to chase down race leader Marquez, who then crashed out of the race.
Both of Crutchlow’s victories earned him places in the history books. His first win in Brno saw him join an exclusive list of 22 British riders to have won in the premier class. And, of those 21 riders other than Crutchlow, just eight of them had won more than one race.
As a multiple British premier class winner, Crutchlow is listed alongside names such as Hailwood, Read, Surtees, Duke and of course, Sheene.
Nine-time World Champion Mike Hailwood is without doubt the greatest British Grand Prix motorcycle racer of all time. His 76 Grand Prix wins (37 in the premiere class) place him fourth in the all-time GP winners list, behind only legends Giacomo Agostini, Valentino Rossi and Angel Nieto.
In comparison, Sheene’s numbers are small. 23 victories, 19 of which were in the premier class, and two world titles, both in the 500cc category. However, two things see Sheene stand out as one of the British greats. His charismatic, cheeky-chap, attitude that won over the hearts of millions, and the fact that it took so long for another Brit to win a premiere class race after Sheene took his last victory in 1981.
In fact, just nine British riders won in any Grand Prix class between Sheene’s last win and now. Unbelievably, after Ian Mcconnachie’s 80cc GP victory in 1986, there wasn’t another British Grand Prix winner until Jeremy Mcwilliams crossed the line to take victory in the Dutch TT some 15 years later. Seven years later, Scott Redding won the 125cc class at Donington Park in 2008. Since then, Brits have won GP races in at least one class in the 2009, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016 seasons, so it would seem things are on the up. 2016 saw Britain win races in all three classes (John Mcphee, Sam Lowes and Cal).
However, it wasn’t just victories Britain was lacking in the premiere class between Sheene’s last rostrum and Crutchlow’s first. Only seven riders, including Crutchlow, have stood on the premiere class podium.
Ron Haslam and Niall Mackenzie came closest to taking Britain to Grand Prix success in that 35-year drought, with Haslam taking nine podiums and Mackenzie seven.
Crutchlow’s four podiums in 2016 take his tally to 12 – more than any other British rider since Sheene. With that, plus the fact he broke the 35-year duck, it could be argued that he is the best British GP racer since Bazza himself.
‘Cal ending the GP drought Britain has had to suffer for the last 35 years’