Spain's greatest motorcycle racers
Eight of the most dominant Spanish motorcycle riders ever to grace the discipline
Got his first job aged 12, working in a Madrid bike shop. Admitted he wasn’t good with the spanners, but it was a way to get close to motorcycles. When his boss was away he would climb aboard one of the Triumphs or BSAs he was supposed to be fixing, fire it up and cause havoc in the streets. The result was 90 GP wins and 13 50/125cc world titles, followed by a long career as a TV pundit.
Spain’s successor to Nieto followed a similar path. Martinez won four world titles in the two smallest classes at the end of the 1980s. The last time he came close to winning a GP was at Brno in August 1996, when he lost a last-lap dogfight with a wild youngster called Valentino Rossi. After retirement he moved into team ownership. Martinez currently runs riders in Moto2 and MotoGP.
Pons gave up his architectural studies to focus on racing. He was one of many talented Spaniards who rode for the nation’s most famous engineer, Antonio Cobas. In the late 1980s, as Spain opened up to the world, he became its first factory Honda rider. He won back-to-back 250cc titles in 1988-89 but got a shock when he moved up to 500s in 1990. He has run teams in MotoGP and Moto2.
The first Spaniard to go all the way, from winning the 125cc world title in 1989 to taking the 500cc crown in 1999. He spent five years as factory Honda team-mate to serial 500 champ Mick Doohan, who accused the Spaniard of using him as a tow truck. Crivillé took out Doohan on the last lap of the 1996 Australian GP, after which the Aussie said, “Your perception of racing needs to be fine-tuned, I think.”
Discovered in a talent cup, Pedrosa made his GP debut in 2001, took the 125cc world title in 2003, added 250 championships in 2004 and 2005, then moved to MotoGP with the factory Honda squad, where he’s been ever since. He is MotoGP’s most victorious rider never to have won the title. The 32-year-old has won 31 MotoGP races, mostly despite – not because of –his diminutive stature.
Trained from a very young age by his father Chicho, Lorenzo made his GP debut at Jerez, Spain, one day after his 15th birthday, before the sport’s minimum age limit was raised to 16. He has a very particular approach to riding. Won his first 125cc GPs with Derbi, graduated to 250s with Aprilia, then to MotoGP with Yamaha in 2008. Winner of two 250 titles and three MotoGP titles.
In 2013, before the pair fell out, Rossi announced that Márquez had the ability to become the greatest MotoGP rider of all time. He’s done nothing since to suggest that he won’t go on to break all the records. In 2017 he became the youngest rider to win six world titles across all three classes. His talent for riding on the ragged edge has most of his rivals watching in slack-jawed admiration.
Viñales was favourite for the 2017 title after dominating pre-season testing and winning the first two races, but chassis and tyre problems destroyed his season. He won the 2013 Moto3 world title with a superb move at the last corner of the finale. He won second time out in Moto2 the following season and graduated to MotoGP in 2015, firstly with Suzuki before switching to Yamaha.