In years gone by, we’ve had some bloody good British riders in the premier class of motorcycle racing. The latest and greatest is undoubtedly Cal Crutchlow, but before him we had Jeremy McWilliams to cheer on and it’s easy to forget that former WSBK champions Neil Hodgson and James Toseland also gave MotoGP a good go. But really, it was in the 50s, 60s and 70s that the likes of Geoff Duke, John Surtees, Mike Hailwood, Phil Read and latterly Barry Sheene dominated in GPs. In 2021 though, there isn’t one British name on the MotoGP entry list. But why? How come there’s no British MotoGP riders?
If you want to make it to the top, you’ve got to start young, and dedicate your life to it. But the problem is, in the UK there isn’t anywhere near enough in place to support that. In fact there are hurdles at every step of the way. It almost makes you think the powers that be don’t want a British MotoGP champion. There’s a reason that four out of the top six riders in last year’s MotoGP were Spaniards. And there’s a reason that the last nine MotoGP champions have been Spanish and not British.
If you’ve ever been to a Spanish circuit on an evening, or in the school holidays you’ll have no doubt seen umpteen kids flying round kart tracks for hours on end. Whilst we’re sending our kids to a weekly football training session, they’re watching their kids turn petrol into noise. Hour after hour. Night after night. Firstly because they can; they’ve got the facility to do it and the sun is usually out; what is it they say about the rain in Spain? Anyway, my point is there’s a circuit in nearly every town in Spain, even if it’s only a small one. The boys and girls have all got somewhere to ride.
But secondly, it’s because over there motorsport is encouraged in the same way as any other sport is (and the way it should be). Motorsport venues are subsidised by the government so track-time isn’t quite so cripplingly expensive, and if you’re any good, you’re never far away from being noticed by the right people.
In the UK, if you want to introduce your kids to bike racing, you’re on your own. There might be a few different options these days, from MX to minimoto, but nothing’s cheap. Oh, and unless you’ve got a race track in your back garden and no neighbours for a good few miles or so, be prepared to do some serious traveling. Even if you are lucky enough to have a ‘local’ track you’ll probably find it’s subject to strict curfew rules. Because motorbikes are too noisy. And nobody in Britain likes to hear the sound of people enjoying themselves.
But in Spain, they’re mad for it. As far as popular sport goes over there, bike racing’s second only to football. You don’t hear them complaining to their local council about the sound of two-strokes on an evening. They’d be laughed out of city hall.
But by far the biggest benefit of the sport’s popularity in Spain is the financial one. A half decent racer in Spain is much more likely to be able to sell himself to a sponsor, just because of how popular it is over there. After all, everyone in Spain has heard of Marc Marquez.
But not only that, when you get to the international stage, there seems to be a keenness for Spanish teams and Spanish sponsors to sign Spanish riders. Whilst it’s more than understandable, it is slightly frustrating.
To make it in any form of motorsport, you’re almost always going to have to make a big financial investment. And in this country, it almost always has to come from the parents. But unless you’re dad’s an oligarch or an international drugs lord, you’re going to need a bit of extra help if you want to make it to MotoGP.
But let’s just forget about the financial side of it for a second. If money wasn’t an object, it’s still possible to get to a decent level of bike racing without disappearing to Spain at an early age. Look at last year’s World Superbike championship standings; the top three riders were all British. So why do we do so well in Superbike racing and struggle in GP racing? Well, all you have to do is look at the racing that goes on domestically. BSB might be one of the best domestic series in the world, but it would seem that it’s only any good at churning out superbike riders. And although WSBK is a big deal, it’s not MotoGP. It’s not even in the same league.
But every now and then BSB does bare some GP spec fruit. And although there’s nobody flying the Union Jack in the premier class, we’ve got a couple of promising lads in Moto2. Sam Lowes and Jake Dixon. Sam came pretty close to winning the Moto2 championship last year, and Jake showed some serious form too. I’m sure that, in a year or two’s time, we’ll have a British interest in MotoGP. In fact I’ve got a feeling it’ll be Jake; that lad is destined for good things.
British MotoGP riders is one thing, though. But as far as MotoGP champions and locking out GP podiums with British riders go, sadly I can’t see it happening. Not in my lifetime, anyway.