In Pit Lane – Get your GOAT | Columns | Gassit Garage
Trees are tall. But they do not touch the sky. I offer this cod philosophy to help keep things in proportion. When you are up too close to something, it is easy to over-inflate its importance.
With a few weeks to look back on the MotoGP season, it still inspires awe. But what is the true measure of achievement? Have we now seen the passing of the baton from one GOAT to the next?
There can only ever be one, and for many years, certainly for my generation, it was easy. Mike Hailwood forever. I saw him race with nonchalant superiority back in his heyday, and then again when he returned to win on the Isle of Man, twice, after 11 years away.
Agostini, likewise a giant, won more races and titles. But Mike the Bike twice won three classes at the same GP: 250, 350 and 500 in East Germany in 1963 and Czechoslovakia in 1966. More than all this, it was his style of winning and his casual enjoyment that tipped the scales, even before his doubly victorious TT comeback in the late 1970s.
It was much to do with sportsmanship. Hailwood enjoyed winning, but not in the same way as one of the later racing all-timers, Barry Sheene. To the wildly popular Sheene, who single-handedly brought bike racing to a wider public, the pleasure was less that he had come first, but that all the others hadn’t. It wasn’t the winning, it was the beating of them. That’s why, when he started losing, he took it badly.
Other big guys came and went. Kenny Roberts was a real eye-opener, with a ferocious combination of intelligently focused talent and frightening determination. Serially dominant Doohan stood head and shoulders above his contemporaries in a five-year reign cut unfairly short by injury. By then, Freddie Spencer had burned bright and brief; Eddie Lawson became the first back-to-back champion on different machines; the rivalry of Rainey and Schwantz had illuminated racing.
Then Rossi turned up, and to those for whom Hailwood is a shadowy figure of the distant past, he definitely became Greatest of All Time.
This isn’t a crazy idea. Results support it; but also that Rossi was better enough than his contemporaries that he could make the races entertaining for the fans, and still win more or less at will. In the process, he radiated sheer enjoyment in much the same way as Hailwood. By and large – now he is getting beaten – he still manages to do so. Which is just one of many things that make him amazing. But his spiteful spats over the years, with Biaggi, Gibernau and now Marquez, tend to take some of the gloss off. Or is that just me?
Rossi’s era has been glorious and longer than Hailwood’s, in years as well as continuity. But all good things come to an end, and while his speed and competitive spirit remain breathtaking, the wins have become now-and-then, with 2018 the first season in any class (apart from his two Ducati years) without a single one.
Marquez now quite outclasses Rossi, on a weekend-by-weekend and indeed year-by-year basis. And not only Rossi. His performance in 2018 excelled even his own previous best- and youngest-yet standards. Quite apart from taking the lion’s share of wins, nine of 18, he added another four seconds and one third to make 14 podiums. Dovizioso was next-best on nine; Rossi and Vinales had five each. And this in a time of the closest-ever racing, rightly dubbed a new Golden Age.
But it’s still a bit soon to appoint Marquez as GOAT. He needs to carry on for a while. And then maybe come back and win on the Isle of Man.
And to remember that tall trees can also fall over.
By Michael Scott