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Formula 1 Motorbikes 7

The good and the great

Previously on these pages, to re-phrase the opening titles of the best American soaps, we have examined why most are merely very good while a few are great.

Following a slight diversion via Milan and Giacomo Agostini (below with Rossi), I am ‘visiting’ this subject again today as we count down the hours until the red lights go out in Sao Paulo.

motogp f1  The good and the great

We have looked, previously, at the examples of Schumacher (Michael), Sebastien Loeb and of course Valentino Rossi who wrapped up his MotoGP season in the lovely Spanish city of Valencia at the weekend, having long ago taken his eighth championship.

motogp f1  The good and the great

Of course there are others we could have mentioned. Lists like these are fraught with dangers, but we surely might have included Ascari, Nuvolari, Fangio, Moss, Clark, Surtees, Sheene, Stewart, Doohan and Senna. And then there is Giacomo Agostini.

motogp f1  The good and the great

It is three decades since the man from Milan walked away from the sport he dominated, taking 122 Grand Prix victories, but he is still very much the romantic hero right across the world.

I know little about motorcycle racing but I love to watch the MotoGP men at work. Most of what I do know, I learn from the writings of our very own Mat Oxley (who writes about Rossi in our 1,000th edition) and a man called Rick Broadbent who writes for the London Times.

On the weekend of the race in Valencia, Broadbent contributed a fascinating and entertaining look back on Agostini’s career, and the great man’s perceptions of Rossi, the new King.

motogp f1  The good and the great

“The difference between Rossi and his rivals,” says Agostini, “ is that they are very good, but he is great.” And this simply underlines the importance, and the mystery, of those who are just that bit faster than everybody else. Those extra tenths come from some mysterious gift, from God in the case of Senna, and this precious gift cannot be taught, or bought.

This point is relevant as we approach the final Grand Prix of the 2008 season in Brazil. Either Massa or Hamilton will win the world championship, this we know, but are either of them great? Or merely very good? The jury is out on this one, for me at least, and will be for some time to come. Winning the championship will not instantly confer upon either man the mantle of greatness and this, I think, applies to the entire field with the possible exception of Fernando Alonso. For me, the Spaniard has the ingredients from which great drivers are created.

IF Hamilton wins the title at Interlagos, IF he drives a faultless race, and IF he goes on to win the title again next year, then he may be on his way to joining his hero Ayrton Senna as one of the sport’s great drivers. But these are big IFs. Made famous by Rudyard Kipling, this little two-letter word carries a huge amount of weight. Consider the words of British politician David Cameron in reference to what may or may not have been committed by his colleague George Osborne on a Russian boat in the Ionian Sea. “ IF my aunt had wheels,” he said, “she would be a bicycle.” That’s what he said. I much prefer Keke Rosberg’s oft-quoted musing. “IF my aunt had balls,” Keke said, “ she would be my uncle.” Perfect. If only our politicians could be so succinct.

motogp f1  The good and the great

So many people are deemed to be ‘famous’ or ‘great’ or worse still, ‘awesome’. And yet so few are, in reality, any of these. Lewis Hamilton is certainly famous, and ‘awesome’ he was at Silverstone in the rain. But it will be some time before we can call him great. Whatever happens at Interlagos next weekend.

motogp f1  The good and the great

Oh yes, and Casey Stoner won in Valencia with Rossi coming home in third place. That can’t be right, can it? But then Rossi did take the 2008 title by a margin of 97 points. From Stoner. That sounds a bit more natural.

Add your comments

7 comments on The good and the great

  1. Aleš Norský, 27 October 2008 12:48

    I never knew much at all about motorcycle racing, but back than one could not escape knowing about Agostini. That is the thing about greatness, I suppose. I know nothing about skiing or tennis, but I know Stenmark and Borg. Hamilton certainly has the potential to become great, he is an exceptional driver. I just hope that he does not reach the same stage as Senna, who was so self-centered that often the other drivers would ignore him on the podium and he alone had to pour the champagne over his head. Those podiums with Prost and Senna were quite a dreadful sight, really. At least Schumacher genuinely enjoyed winning.

  2. rob widdows, 28 October 2008 08:48

    Yes, that is exactly the point! I know nothing about horse racing or boxing but I am very aware of Frankie Dettori and Jo Frasier, or Lester Piggott and Muhammed Ali.
    I knew the list would be fraught with dangers and of course I managed to omit the name of Alain Prost who certainly comes into my own group of ‘great’ racing drivers.
    I agree that Hamilton is an exceptional racer and his record to date speaks for itself. I just wonder, however, if he may become extremely famous, extremely wealthy and yet still fail to gain entry to the place of the Gods. Only time will answer this one.
    Personally, I hope he wins in Brazil because I think he has been good for the sport and I think he would make a interesting World Champion. He is, perhaps, like Obama, a man of his times, a man in the right place at the right time.

  3. Filipe Amoroso, 28 October 2008 12:35

    I wouldn’t say a household name is by inherently a “great”, which is basically what is being suggested. E.g. I know Britney Spears, but I wouldn’t rate her as an all time great chanteuse. She’s just famous.

    I too will wait for time to tell if Hamilton makes it to the Greats. And if the fourth power will put him there. It’s looking good on both fronts, isn’t it?

    I hope he wins in Brazil because he’s been better than Massa throughout the season.

  4. Kevin O, 28 October 2008 22:41

    Lists like these are indeed fraught with danger for you have forgotten Mike Hailwood. How could you!!! Mike won championship after championship on bikes then moved on to formula 2 and formula 1.
    Lets see some recognition here of an execeptional man who raced two wheels and four to fame.

  5. rob widdows, 29 October 2008 09:25

    Fair point Felipe. Of course fame does not equal great. Especially today.
    And let us be very clear – Ms Spears is NOT a great singer. We could perhaps have chosen Victoria de Los Angeles or Maria Callas or Birgit Nilsson…………….that is more what I meant when choosing ‘greats’ from areas about which I have little knowledge.
    From more recent times it might be Grace Slick or Grace Jones or………’s all a matter of personal taste etc etc!
    Anyway, we are approaching the end of a very exciting F1 season and, as we say in Britain, may the best man win. How about that for sitting on the fence.

  6. Aleš Norský, 29 October 2008 13:47

    Ok, but there is a difference between show business and sport, although maybe not for much longer. In sports, you still need to beat your opponents to become famous, while in (especially) pop, the way you dress seems to be more important for achieving fame than the way you sing or play.

  7. rob widdows, 29 October 2008 14:03

    Well said Ales – but honestly the differences between ‘showbiz’ and ‘sport’ are becoming ever more blurred, are they not?
    Night racing is pure showbiz.
    If we judge by dress, then Grace Jones has it for me in the more modern era! Or maybe Blondie in her heyday………….
    A1GP goes to China this weekend and they are donating some of the race proceeds to the fund for the earthquake zone, in which the event will be held. That is what sport, the rich sports anyway, should be doing. Let’s hope a great many Chinese turn up to see what will probably be a spectacular race for the new Ferrari-powered cars.

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