Just 168 hours in seven breathless days separated Joan Mir’s first MotoGP™ victory from that World Championship conquest on Sunday. The rider that produced the key to unlock the door to Spanish domination of the premier class had to wait so much longer. A gap of over seven long years separated Alex Criville’s first 500cc Grand Prix win to the title.
I am sure it will not surprise you that I had problems pronouncing Alex Criville’s surname when he brought Spain their first-ever Grand Prix victory in the premier class. I had just about got it right 21 years ago when the very same Criville produced the key to unlock the door to Spanish MotoGP™ World Champions with their first-ever premier class title in 1999
A certain Valentino Rossi stood in their way for the following decade but then the floodgates opened for the likes of Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez and, on Sunday, the mighty impressive Joan Mir.
We always admired the brilliance of Spanish riders in the smaller classes but even multiple World Champions Angel Nieto and Sito Pons struggled in the premier class and did not stay around for long. Then came the 1992 Dutch TT in Assen. Crashes had ruled out the likes of Rainey, Doohan, Schwantz and Lawson. Alex Criville was on hand to win a fantastic three-way battle over John Kocinski and Alex Barros.
Mick Doohan then took over with five straight 500cc World Championships and Alex had to wait another three years just for his next victory. Six more followed over the next three years but the first European Grand Prix of the season in 1999 had a familiar sense of déjà vu to this year. Five-time World Champion and Criville’s teammate Doohan crashed at turn four at Jerez and was ruled out for the remainder of the season. It was the end of Mick’s amazing career, although we did not know at the time. Mick’s crash came on the exit to the very same bend that brought Marc Marquez’s short season to a premature halt this year. Alex went onto win six Grands Prix that year including that Jerez race
Like Mir, he clinched the title at the penultimate round at Rio in Brazil. Both races caused television producers a real headache. The race in Rio turned into a breathtaking last lap battle between Norick Abe, Max Biaggi and Kenny Roberts. Criville’s sixth place would be enough to bring Spain that first title. What pictures do you show? They faced the same problem on Sunday as Franco Morbidelli and Jack Miller fought a ferocious last lap duel to the chequered flag. Mir’s seventh place going into the last lap at Valencia was enough to bring him the title. The television producers were spot on and we got a great view of both Morbidelli’s third win of the season and Mir’s World Championship victory.
Both Criville and Mir had won World titles before arriving in the premier class. Alex was the 1989 125cc World Champion but had to wait ten years before that 500cc crown. Joan only had to wait three years between his Moto3™ World title and being crowned MotoGP™ King.
So happy 21st birthday Spanish motorcycle racing and just one more similarity. I had as many problems pronouncing Joan Mir’s first name when he won that Moto3™ World title as I did Criville’s surname in Assen 28 years ago.