A sombre overlay shrouded the first day of the Czech Republic GP, with news coming the evening before of the death of racing legend Angel Nieto.
Thirteen times World Champion in the smaller classes (superstitious, he preferred to call it “12 plus one”), Nieto was second only to Agostini in the number of titles; and third in the world with 90 race wins (Ago has 122, Rossi 115).
Nieto won six 50cc championships and seven in 125s; on five different makes: Bultaco, Derbi, Garelli, Kreidler and Minarelli. He named Barry Sheene as his most respected rival, although the British rider rapidly moved up to the 500 class, leaving the tiddlers behind. Nieto retired in 1986, aged 39.
By then, he had been the pioneer of a surge of Spanish interest in motorcycle racing, which continues to this day.
Nieto remained a major paddock figure, formerly as a team manager, more recently as a TV commentator, and throughout as a friend, mentor, advisor and inspiration to several generations of Spanish riders.
Now aged 70, Nieto was injured when his quad bike was hit by a tourist’s car on the Spanish holiday island of Ibiza on July 26. He suffered head injuries and was put into an induced coma. Doctors had an encouraging prognosis and started to bring him out of the coma, but on August 3 his condition suddenly deteriorated, and he died later that afternoon.
Tributes to Nieto came from far and wide, including at a restrained but quietly emotional press announcement by Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, who spoke of Nieto as not only a great champion but also an unforgettable personality, and a close friend.
Marquez said: “He was one of the first legends, and he came to me at the beginning. We spent a lot of time in his motorhome, watching football.” (Supporting rival teams.)
Rossi also had memories of him and his physical fitness and “power” as he approached his seventies. “Last week his mother turned 100. I remember maybe five years ago we went out in Ibiza. After all night, at about 5 am, I wanted to go to bed – but Angel said ‘No, no; there is another club we need to visit’.”