A review of 70 years of GP : chapter 1


The 17th edition of the A-XOC Bikers'Classics - which will take place from July 5 to 7 - will focus on a major anniversary: ​​the 70th anniversary of the Moto Grand Prix. The opportunity to take a closer look at the history of GPs decade by decade. Starting at the very beginning, and even before ...

In 1949, the FIM organizes the first world motorcycle speed championship. On July 17, the Spa-Francorchamps circuit hosts the fourth Grand Prix 500cc in the history of the world championships. The first one took place on the Isle of Man on the occasion of the famous Tourist Trophy (June 13-15). At the beginning of July, the pilots met in Bern (Switzerland, July 2nd and 3rd), then straight to Assen (Netherlands, July 9th). The GPs of Ulster (Belfast, August 21st) and 'of the Nations' (Monza, September 4th) complete this first season.

Although GPs have already taken place everywhere in Europe since the beginning of the 1900s, they are not yet regrouped in a championship. In 1938, the FICM (International Federation of Motorcycling Clubs, the predecessor of the FIM), announces the creation of a European Championship, but the war puts a serious brake on the project. It will be a long time after the end of the conflict for gasoline to become affordable again and for an international championship to be set up.

125cc, 250cc, 350cc and 500cc are the four official 'solo' categories, plus the 600cc sidecars (replaced by 500cc as from 1951). To rank the riders, a scale of points is determined. It rewards the top five, with respectively 10-8-7-6 and 5 points. The author of the best lap in the race is offered a bonus point, but this rule will be quickly abandoned. Another important detail: only the three best results are taken into account. In this game, it is the British Leslie Graham (on AJS) who wins in 500cc at the end of the first season. He is then 37 years and 341 days old, which makes him the 'oldest' world champion of the discipline ... awaiting the tenth title of Valentino Rossi?

The first decade of GP is dominated by two great riders, both British: Geoff Duke (wins in 1951 on Norton, in 1953, 1954 and 1955 on Gilera) and John Surtees (champion in 1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960 on MV Agusta). At the level of the manufacturers, the competition is raging between the big brands of the time such as AJS, BMW, Gilera, Norton, Triumph, Velocette, MV Agusta and Moto Guzzi, but it is the Italian manufacturers who take the most victories.

The calendar gradually grows, and the Spanish Grand Prix (Barcelona Montjuich), France (Albi, Rouen, Reims, Clermont-Ferrand), West Germany (Solitude, Nürburgring, Hockenheim) and Sweden (Hedemora) are added. At the same time, some precursor countries prefer to withdraw. This is the case of Switzerland, which gives up organizing motor sports competitions on its territory following the drama of the 24 Hours of Le Mans (cars) of 1955. That year, the Mercedes of Pierre Levegh leaves the track, explodes and causes the death of more than 80 spectators, for what remains the most serious accident in the history of motorsports. To be continued…