Motoette -in forward motion

60 Years of history in the making: MotoGP


With less than two months to the launch of the 2011 MotoGP season, set to kick off at the traditional Qatar race circuit on March 20th, it’s only fitting to talk about the future of MotoGP. But, after the suggestion by my friend and teammate, Matt at Girlracer about doing a story on the history of MotoGP, I had to agree, it was good idea. Especially after I asked him where the first Grand Prix was held and he couldn’t tell me! Ok, granted, after doing some digging I discovered it wasn’t an easy question to answer and I certainly didn’t have a clue!

So, in the paragraphs to follow is a summary of how the MotoGP got its start. Highlighting some of the chosen few from the many inspirational riders that have made the Grand Prix what it is today and how it has amazingly evolved over the last 6 decades.

In the Beginning

In its rawness, the Grand Prix actually dates back to the early 1900’s and was held in various countries. The accredited officials that directed the Grand Prix prior to the FIM, had announced an all new European Championship in 1938, but, it was postponed due to a lack of fuel after the start of the Second World War.

The first formal World Championship Grand Prix’ series (MotoGP) came into existence in 1949 with its inaugural race being held at the Isle of Man TT, followed by Bremgarten, Switzerland, Assen, Netherlands, Francorchamps, Belgium, Ulster/Clady, Northern Ireland and Monza, Italy.

The fledgling GP consisted of four classes, 125cc, 250cc, 350cc and the premier class 500cc’s (coined the “Queen Class”).The first champions to pave the Grand Prix in the first year was British rider Leslie Graham (500cc) on a AJS motorbike. Another British rider, Freddie Frith took a first place world title on a Velocette in the 350cc class. Italian natives Bruno Ruffo claimed victory on his Moto Guzzi in the 250cc division and Nello Pagani on a 125cc Mondial.

Sidecars were also participants of the GP racing circuit and dominated the power-band with the largest displacement of 600cc’s, which later was reduced to 500cc’s in 1951. Few might remember that sidecars were a part of the GP class up until 1996. After a long successful union, the following season evolved into the Sidecar World Cup in 1997 and the sidecar became history on the GP provisional calendar.

The 50’s

The Italian manufactures seemed to have the market on the GP grid and dominated the World Championships for the majority of the 1950’s. Companies such as Mondail, Moto Guzzi, Gilera and MV Agusta reflected the strength of the industry and clearly had the edge on the 500cc class. MV Agusta in particular was exuberant late in the decade, taking all the World titles across all four categories for three seasons, from 1958 to 1960. Their dominance was not relinquished in the 500cc class for 17 years, from 1958 until 1974.

Without a doubt Umberto Masetti was the man of the hour on his Gilera, winning titles in 1950 and 1952. His persistence paid off for him in both races, keeping a marginal lead over his rivals, Geoff Duke and Les Graham and went in for the wins.

Britain’s Geoff Duke got his revenge the following year in 1953, by achieving four titles in five years, piloting his Norton and Gilera. The British continued to dictate the 500cc class with John Surtees riding for MV Agusta and claimed another four titles of his own from 1956 to 1960.

The 60’s

This was the era of achievement and laid the foundation in what the GP is today. The 1960’s introduced the Japanese motorcycle manufactures such as Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha, escalating to a World Championship in the 125cc, 250cc and 500cc classes. Suzuki in particular did very well in the newly added 50cc class, which was introduced in 1962.

But as quickly as they came, they left. With the rising costs associated with the Grand Prix, most of the Japanese manufactures were forced to withdraw from the competition and Yamaha was all that remained at the end of the 60’s.

To counter balance, the FIM introduced new rules which limited the bikes to single cylinder engines in the 50cc class, two cylinders in the 125cc and 250cc and four cylinders in the 350cc and 500cc class, enabling the struggling teams to make a comeback.

This was also the decade that acquainted us with MotoGP legend Giacomo Agostini. Riding for MV Agusta and his last year with Yamaha, he was the most successful rider in the history of the World Championship competition. These were the days when it was not uncommon for one rider to compete in multiple classes. Agostini took 10 of his 15 titles in five consecutive seasons as a double champion in the 350cc and 500cc classes.

The 70’s and 80’s

As the 60’s ended, so did the 4-stroke engines and the 2-stroke started to emerge. They were first implemented to the smaller categories like the 50cc and 80cc classes, but gained popularity and expanded into the 125cc and 350cc classes. The 2-stroke engines took the seventies by storm monopolizing the industry. Re-emerging after a 12 year absence from the GP, Honda was the only factory left to hang on to the 4-stroke engine, which led to disaster in 1979. By 1983 they changed their philosophy on the 4-stroke engine and created a 500cc 2-stroke bike, known as the NS500. Freddy Spencer went on to bring home the title for the Honda team that year.

Britain’s Phil Read and Barry Sheene held the UK on top in the 500cc class for 5 more years (1973 to 1977).

The 80’s was a time when American riders and Japanese manufacturers started to break into the lime light. With riders such as Kenny Roberts (1978-1980), Freddy Spencer (1983, 1985) Eddie Lawson (1984, 1986, 1988-1989), Wayne Rainey (1990-1992 and Kevin Schwantz (1993).

There was a whole new playing field as well in the 500cc class, with Suzuki, Yamaha and Honda taking the center podium through the eighties.

The 350cc class had now been retired along with sidecars and the 50cc class had been replaced with the 80cc class, only to be dropped a few seasons later by the FIM.

The 90’s

By the mid -90’s there were only 3 classes in the World Championship, 125cc, 250cc and the Queen Class 500cc.

There was no mistaking; the 500cc displacement 2-stroke engines brought the fans to the stands with its greater power output. But, in the commercial industry, street riders were being offered larger displacement engines and the crossover into MotoGP only made sense. The 500cc was replaced by 800cc 4-stroke engines, giving the riders and the fans a whole new experience.

The 90’s gave way to the land down under with Australians like Mick Doogan winning 5 championships in a row for Repsol Honda (1994 -1998) before being force to retire prematurely from a shoulder injury. In his short career, Mick was the first to be inducted as a MotoGP legend and was honored at Mugello in May 2000. Alex Criville and Kenny Roberts jr. also won titles after dealing with adversities in the 500cc class.

 Into a new Century 2000

The turn of the century was also a turning point, re-naming the World Championship to MotoGP in 2002, the introduction of 990cc 4-stroke engine and a fresh new racer, an Italian by the name of Valentino Rossi. Rossi implemented a new kind of insouciant attitude towards racing in the MotoGP, taking to the 990cc like a fish to water, even though, he was the last to win the 500cc title in 2001. Rossi went on to win four consecutive titles, two with Honda and two after an astounding move to Yamaha.

Unfortunately, the 990cc class only lasted five years and in 2007 the official premier class was changed to 800cc. leveling the playing field.

This was also a time when the rules started to change, incurring new restrictions by the FIM. The qualifying sessions were altered, requiring MotoGP one session and the lesser categories taking two practice sessions. In 2007, new rules were enforced on the restriction of tires used on one consecutive race weekend.

American rider Nicky Hayden landed his first title for Repsol Honda in his home-land at Laguna Seca in 2006, breaking Rossi’s winning streak. Aussie rider, Casey Stoner with Ducati- Marlboro, emerged as a standout racer with a 2007 World Championship. But, Valentino Rossi was soon back on top again, taking his sixth premier class title, leaving Stoner as a runner-up.

In 2009 the tire rule was altered once again with a single manufacturer rule making Bridgestone the only tire of choice for the factory teams.

Rossi took another title battling it out against teammate Jorge Lorenzo, making it his seventh, just one short of the legendary Giacomo Agostini.

But Lorenzo laid in wait for the 2010 season and won the World Championship, breaking records in the process.

Moto2 was brought into MotoGP in 2008 to replace the 250cc for the 2010 season. This new category was to be a less expensive copy of the premier class. The 4-stroke 600cc class is unique in that all Moto2 teams can only use one type of engine and tires on their chassis. The Honda engine and Dunlop tires make it a real challenge for Moto2 teams to create the perfect prototype chassis; suspension and variable parts to work synonymously with the FIM regulated engines and tires.

There has been talk of inducting a Moto3 class in 2012, replacing the 125cc class. A 4-stroke single cylinder engine with no more than 250cc.


Looking back at the days of yore in the sport of MotoGP, it can be said; there have been as many twists and turns throughout its 62 years of existence just as the capricious circuits they ride. As one of the most spectacular international competitions in the world of motorsports, MotoGP has earned the ranking of becoming the most popular motorcycle racing event to date, even over World Superbike and continues to grow in popularity ever year.

As a sport based on a points system on the fastest lap time and finishing placement. You might sumarise to say, the real nitty-gritty of a MotoGP race is how a rider copes with speed, tire, track and weather conditions on a highly specialized maximum capacity, factory racing prototype.

So what is it about this particular racing class and its riders that draw fans for more than half a century?

 A question that could just take another 60 years to answer.

February 14, 2011 - Posted by | Casey Stoner, Ducati, girlracer, history of MotoGP, Isle of Man TT, Jorge Lorenzo, Laguna Seca, Moto2, MotoGP, motorcycle racing, motorcycles, Nicky Hayden, superbike, Uncategorized, Valentino Rossi, Yamaha


  1. […] 60 Years of history in the making: MotoGP « Motoette -in forward … […]

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  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Cindi Servante, Matt Paines. Matt Paines said: RT @Motoette: When was the last time you brushed up on your #MotoGP history? #motorcycle Good one! […]

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  3. So what was your favorite decade? Mine was the late 80s/ early 90s.

    I may sound like a dinosaur, but when commercial interests and rider aides came in I got despondent.

    Comment by Gareth | February 18, 2011 | Reply

  4. Great post! Enjoyed the historical perspective of MotoGP!

    Comment by Faceyman | February 20, 2011 | Reply

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