In the 74-year history of Grand Prix racing only five riders have won the premier class world title on two different makes of machinery. It’s a very special list. Geoff Duke, Giacomo Agostini, Eddie Lawson, Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner need no introduction. Next season Marquez grabs the chance to join them realising time was running out at Honda. He had to move before he was too old.
Duke switched to Gilera in 1953 after winning the 1951 500cc world title for Norton. It was a great move for both. The combination went on to dominate the Championship for three successive years. In 1972 Ago won his last 500cc Championship for MV Agusta. The two-strokes were coming, and he switched to Yamaha in 1974. It was a massive moment for the sport, and a year later Ago became the first two-stroke winner of the premier class winning the last of his 15 world titles.
Without a doubt, Lawson’s move to Honda from Yamaha in 1989 was the biggest surprise. I was the Media Manager of the Rothmans Honda team at the time. Lawson had won three 500cc World titles for Yamaha and was expected to continue meeting Honda head on. I was dispatched to California on a secret mission to interview, photograph, and film Eddie at home in Uplands before the announcement he was joining his great rival Wayne Gardner in the same team. Eddie just loved the new challenge and made it world title number four with second place in that final round in Brazil
Rossi’s move to Yamaha was so brave and the defection of a rider brimming with confidence and at the very top of his game. Typically, Vale had been drip-feeding his intention to leave Honda for months. His bye-bye baby helmet was a clear indication he was leaving a Honda team that he had brought three premier class titles on both two and four-stroke bikes. The move to Yamaha was announced after that final Grand Prix of the 2003 season in Valencia. The rest is history.
Stoner’s move to Honda from Ducati was certainly no such shock but produced the same result. Casey had brought Ducati their first premier class title in 2007 but the Italian factory was struggling, and the Australian switched to Honda in 2011. He dominated the Championship in typical style, and was 90 points ahead of Jorge Lorenzo at the finish. The biggest bombshell from Casey came just two years later when he announced his retirement in a shocked press conference in Le Mans.
It looks certain that Marquez will be on Ducati next season. As with those five other World Champions, some people will question his ability to make the switch. Great riders are World Champions for a reason. Eddie Lawson proved his point by winning the title for Honda in that first year and then returned home to Yamaha the next season.
Could Marc do the same? Don’t rule it out.