Of all the places to celebrate a milestone like a 1000th grand prix event, Le Mans is a pretty damn good one (certainly compared to Formula 1’s 1000th race being run at Shanghai International Circuit in 2019). The Circuit de la Sarthe oozes with history and a passion for motorsport. Thus, it marks a symbolic place to reflect on motorcycle grand prix racing and look to its future.
Grand prix racing has come a long way since the very first event that counted towards the world championship. That 350cc race at the Isle of Mann TT on 13 June 1949 bears no resemblance to what I’ve been looking at out of the window of the Le Mans media centre this weekend.
It’s good to appreciate the past, but it is merciful that all of that is history. The world championship we have now is much faster and much safer.
“The great thing about today is that we had the same tension, but in addition [in the past] we had the thought of death,” grand prix legend Giacomo Agostini told Autosport’s French language sister website Motorsport.fr. “Unfortunately, when we fell it was more the serious damage than the little damage. Today, fortunately, you can fall, get up, start and go ahead. This has been the great evolution of safety.”
It’s also vastly more popular and available now that it was in 1949. But, as MotoGP headed towards its 1000th GP event, it’s clear that most within the series’ sphere think two things: the spectacle is still fantastic, but the popularity of the championship has collapsed in recent years.
“Something a bit special happened with me, because there were a lot of people who didn’t follow motorcycles and then became fans,” MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi told Autosport in an exclusive interview at the Spanish GP – the 999th grand prix event. “People both from Italy and the rest of the world.
“Now, let’s say that the popularity levels of the world championship have returned to normal, to the stage before I came along. They are looking for formulas, like sprint races, to attract more people, but in sporting terms I think the championship is working. It’s exciting to watch MotoGP races, from the stands or on TV.”
Rossi’s retirement at the end of the 2021 season was a seminal moment in MotoGP’s recent history
Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images
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