Mat Oxley

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

Current page

181

Current page

182

Current page

183

Current page

184

Current page

185

Current page

186

Current page

187

Current page

188

Current page

189

Current page

190

Current page

191

Current page

192

Current page

193

Current page

194

Current page

195

Current page

196

Motorcycling’s world championships celebrate their 70th birthday in June. The first racing season that awarded world titles ran from June to September 1949, taking in rounds on the Isle of Man, at Bern, Assen, Spa-Francorchamps, Clady and Monza.

In fact, that’s not strictly true: the first ‘motorcycling track championship of the world’ took place at a 1903 cycling event in Paris. But this doesn’t really count, as the event was contested by Frenchmen riding French motorcycles around a French track. The winner was Maurice Fournier, riding a 1500cc V4, manufactured by Clément Cycles.

Plans for the creation of the world championships were first discussed at a FICM (Fédération Internationale des Clubs Motocyclistes) meeting in Italy in April 1946, eight months after WWII. The leading light in these talks was Count Giovanni Lurani, who also worked with the FIA, initiating GT racing.

Motorcycle racing changed significantly as a result of the FICM meetings, which concluded at the RAC club in London in 1948. The supercharged machines that had dominated racing in the late 1930s were banned, because the only available ‘pool’ petrol wasn’t up to the job. Everyone had to drastically reduce compression to suit the 75-octane fuel, which Norton technical director Joe Craig declared “little better than paraffin”. German riders and manufacturers were also banned, so no BMW or DKW, which had been major pre-war forces.

Four manufacturers contested the premier 500cc class, the only category that ran at all six rounds (supported by 350s, 250s and 125s): Norton, AJS, Gilera and Moto Guzzi. Except that Gilera didn’t turn up for the first race on the Isle of Man, because the expense of a two-week event 1200 miles and two boat rides away was too much in those hard times.

The Senior TT – 264 miles of hellishly bumpy 1940s Manx roads – was dominated by RAF pilot Les Graham, until his AJS broke its magneto with less than two miles to go. Thus Harold Daniell became the first winner of a premier world championship race, on an updated pre-war factory Norton single.

Round two was hosted by the city of Bern, around the lethal Bremgarten circuit. Gilera arrived in force, with its four-cylinder Quattro, much-changed since it won the 1939 European championship in supercharged form. Ferrari was also present with its first F1 car, the supercharged V12 125. Ferrari’s Alberto Ascari won the car race, while Graham and AJS took victory in the bike event, ahead of Gilera’s Arciso Artesiani and Norton’s Daniell, who kept his place at the top of the championship.

Artesiani’s team-mate Nello Pagani won next time out at Assen, after a last-lap dogfight with Graham, who took the championship lead. The following weekend at Spa a split fuel tank did for Graham, which put Pagani ahead. It didn’t matter. Graham ran away with round five at Clady in Northern Ireland, where the seven-mile straight was so bumpy that the Gilera riders couldn’t use full throttle to exploit their top-speed advantage.

“Gilera didn’t turn up due to the expense of a 1200-mile trip”

Les Graham was now world champion, with his best three scores already unbeatable. Pagani won the finale at Monza, leaving him one point behind Graham in the riders’ championship and Gilera just one point behind AJS in the constructors’ championship.

Norton won the crown two years later, the last British marque to win a premier-class world title. The British industry seemed overcome by post-war lethargy, with AJS directors refusing the budget to improve the E90 Porcupine (nicknamed for its spiky engine fins) and Norton management unwilling to move beyond its unstreamlined single-cylinder machine, because that’s how the company sold its road bikes.

Gilera assumed dominance in the next few years by redesigning the Quattro’s chassis, copying many features already used by AJS and Norton; its girder front forks
and friction rear dampers were replaced by hydraulic forks and rear shocks. As soon as Gilera riders had the handling to match their horsepower there was no stopping them.

Frustrated by Norton’s reluctance to progress, Geoff Duke signed with Gilera in 1953 and won motorcycle racing’s first world-title hat-trick. British riders were a favourite with Italian brands for the next decade; MV Agusta signed Graham in 1952 and four years later lured John Surtees away from Norton.

Germany was allowed to race from 1952 finding success in the smaller classes, but in 1955-60 the Italians asserted their dominance, winning all 24 constructors’ titles.

In 1959 the series moved into its next phase, when Honda turned up on the Isle of Man. The company won its first world titles two years later and was quickly joined by Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki. By the mid-1970s Japanese manufacturers had all but taken over, a situation which continues today, although Spanish, Italian, German and Austrian manufacturers have also enjoyed occasional days in the sun.

At the end of the inaugural 1949 season the federation’s British representative claimed that the FIA was inspired by motorcycling’s example to create drivers’ and constructors’ categories for Formula 1’s first season in 1950.


Mat Oxley has covered motorcycle racing for many years – and also has the distinction of being an Isle of Man TT winner
Follow Mat on Twitter @matoxley

You may also like

Related products