Great Eight… Multiple world‑title‑winning MotoGP riders
Spanish MotoGP superstar Marc Marquez last weekend added his name to a special list of two-wheeled champions.
The factory Honda ace landed his fourth top-class title in the 2017 finale on home soil at Valencia, thereby elevating himself into the pantheon of legends who secured more than three titles in the 500cc World Championship and its successor from 2002 onwards, the MotoGP Championship.
Here, then, in chronological order are the eight riders in that special club.
Geoff Duke – 4 500cc titles (1951; 1953-1955)
The first multiple champion, Lancashire rider Duke took his first top-class win in 1950 for Norton and his first title for the British manufacturer the following year. After switching to Italian squad Gilera for 1953, he went on a 13-victory, title-hat-trick rout over the next three seasons. He also landed the 1951 and ’52 350cc titles, making him a six-time World Champion.
John Surtees – 4 500cc titles (1956; 1958-1960)
Without question one of the greatest who ever lived, Surtees took over from Duke as Britain’s top rider. His first 500cc win came for MV Agusta on the Isle of Man in 1956 and two more wins from that year’s six rounds gave him his first title. After losing out to Gilera’s Libero Liberati in 1957, ‘Big John’ cleaned up in ’58, ’59 and ’60, winning all but three of the 21 Grands Prix. He enjoyed a similar strike rate on the 350cc MV to take his title tally to seven. And then he went off to cars and, uniquely, scooped the Formula 1 crown for Ferrari in 1964.
Mike Hailwood – 4 500cc titles (1962-1965)
‘Mike The Bike’, another with a legitimate claim to the tag of ‘best ever’, became a top-class race winner with Norton in 1961, again on the Isle of Man. A switch to the dominant MV Agusta machine brought another win in ’61 – a precursor to four straight titles from ’62 to ’65. With a 250cc title already on his CV with Honda in ’61, he returned to the Japanese firm for ’66, adding more wins in 500s and securing 250/350 title doubles in ’66 and ’67. Like Surtees, he switched to cars, winning in Formula 5000 and the World Sportscar Championship, lifting the European F2 title and racking up two podiums in F1.
With a filmstar name and the looks, flair and speed to match, ‘Ago’ won a stupefying number of races. His first 500cc win came at the end of team-mate Hailwood’s final title-winning season in 1965, and for the next seven years, he scooped every title, winning almost every race along the way. His eighth and final top-class title came in his second year with Yamaha in 1975, with his 68th and last race win coming at the end of ’76 having returned to his beloved MV Agusta. Thanks to seven consecutive 350cc titles between 1968 and ’74, Goodwood favourite ‘Ago’ is a 15-time World Champion!
Eddie Lawson – 4 500cc titles (1984, 1986, 1988-1989)
The nickname ‘Steady Eddie’, given to Californian Lawson on the back of a largely crash-free and hugely consistent career, belied his huge speed. He first stood atop a 500cc podium in the opening race of 1984 in South Africa. Three more wins for Yamaha that season helped him become the third American after Kenny Roberts and Freddie Spencer to win the title. He won it again in ’86 and ’88 and proved he could win elsewhere by joining Honda for ’89 to make it four titles.
Mick Doohan – 5 500cc titles (1994-1998)
The gritty Australian made the second half of the 1990s his own, with five back-to-back titles – the first rider to achieve the feat since Agostini. He first tasted top-class victory in Hungary in 1990 but had to contend with a title hat-trick from Yamaha ace Wayne Rainey and one from Suzuki’s Kevin Schwantz before going on a five-title run. He retired early in the 1999 season after a nasty injury at Jerez in Spain.
‘The Doctor’ was for many years the benchmark in premiership motorcycle racing. He won the 125cc, 250cc and 500cc titles in his second year in each discipline – 1997, 1999 and 2001 respectively. Having tasted 500cc victory for the time at Donington, for Honda, in 2000, his first big-bike title came in the last season of 500cc competition. Rossi carried on where he left off in its replacement, MotoGP. Two more titles on the factory Honda were followed by four more for Yamaha, including in year one in 2004. Still the most popular and charismatic of MotoGP’s leading gladiators, he continues to run at the front after 21 years in Grand Prix racing.
Marc Marquez – 4 MotoGP titles (2013-2014; 2016-2017)
Rookie sensation Marquez won his second race on a MotoGP bike, Honda’s RC213V, in Texas in 2013. After another five wins, the 2012 Moto 2 champion, who’d also won the title in the 125cc class, became the youngest top-class champion in the history of the sport. Back-to-back titles prompted more assertions that the young Spaniard was all set to break every MotoGP record. With a smiley and chatty disposition, added to a scarcely believable knees-elbows-shoulders-down riding style, he’s a joy to watch.