While the world of sport enthuses about the performance of two teenage tennis players, Andrea Dovizioso bucks the trend. The 35-year-old Italian returned to the MotoGP™ fray at Misano on Sunday. He may be almost double the age of 18-year-old Emma Raducanu who won the US Open tennis grand slam last week, but Dovi has committed himself to a Championship that is embracing the surging wave of youth as much as any other sport. Dovi’s return to the saddle after almost a season on the sidelines also produced a record that may never be matched
For the first time in the 73-year history of World Championship motorcycle racing,14 premier class Grand Prix winners lined up on the grid for the 27-lap race at Misano on Sunday. With the return of Dovizioso and with Franco Morbidelli also returning to the Yamaha fold after injury, the record was broken.
Dovi has the remainder of the season replacing Morbidelli in the Petronas SRT Yamaha team to prepare for next season when Yamaha have promised a full factory M1 machine. On Sunday he lined up alongside Valentino Rossi in the Petronas team. Between the two with a combined age of 77 years, they have started in 756 Grand Prix with 598 of them coming in the premier class. A record you cannot ever see being eclipsed although we probably thought that about the number of Grand Prix winners on the starting grid
It’s a brave move by Dovi and he knows better than anybody just how tough it will be, but he has the experience to make it work. This will be the third full factory bike he has ridden in the MotoGP™ class. He brought the Repsol Honda team success in the 2009 British Grand Prix and after one season with the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team switched to Ducati. He won the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix and the floodgates opened. The only problem was a certain Marc Marquez was at his peak and despite some masterful breath-taking duels against the Spanish Honda rider that World title never came his way despite 13 more Grands Prix wins. Three years in succession between 2017 – 2019 he finished runner-up in the Championship behind Marquez. His last Grand Prix win came in Austria last year.
When I hear of a rider finishing runner-up in the MotoGP™ Championship three times I always think of Randy Mamola. The exuberant Californian finished runner-up four times after winning 13 Grand Prix. There was no Marquez to spoil his fun in the eighties but the foursome of Kenny Roberts, Marco Lucchinelli Eddie Lawson and Wayne Gardner which was just as formidable. Two so different characters but brilliant on two wheels. Unlike Mamola at least Dovi has tasted World Championship success. He won the 125cc World title in 2004 and was runner-up in the 250cc Championship on two occasions in 2006 and 2007
What lies ahead for the 35-year-old was never better illustrated than on his return to the track over the weekend. He qualified on the back row of the grid alongside Grand Prix winners and fellow Italians Valentino Rossi and Danilo Petrucci. Who would have ever believed such a back row a couple of years ago? Dovi finished 21st in the race won by 24-year-old Pecco Bagnaia who was at Pramac Racing last year.
Stopping the charge of youth is a mighty big challenge even for somebody as level-headed and thoughtful as Dovizioso. He is under no illusions and if he was, he should have watched that New York tennis final last week. It’s going to be a fascinating battle and without a doubt 24 times Grand Prix winner Dovizioso’s biggest ever challenge.
Finally, can you name those 14 premier Grand Prix winners on the Misano grid?