Never since Grand Prix racing started in 1949 has the sport and more importantly the world faced anything so serious as the present pandemic. Being a sport that encompasses the globe MotoGP™ has and always will be experiencing world events well beyond just the confines of our sport.
In 1982 the opening Grand Prix of the season was held in Buenos Aires the capital of Argentina. Little did I realise what lay ahead as I first travelled by motorcycle on a six-day adventure from the bustling capital city to the border of Chile high in the magnificent Andes before returning for the Grand Prix. A stunning race between Kenny Roberts, Barry Sheene and Freddie Spencer made the perfect ending to a wonderful trip. Yes, we had stumbled on a massive demonstration by ‘los desaparecidos’ mothers whose sons had been abducted and slaughtered by the military junta. Also, there were military aircraft at the airport when I delivered some colour films from practice to be flown back to England, but we so enjoyed the party-loving and friendly city. It was only when we arrived back in England early on the Monday morning, we realised we had got out just in time. A day later all flights between Argentina and Great Britain were cancelled and war was declared between the two countries just two days later over the Falkland Islands dispute.
A year later the opening round of the Championship once again visited a country that was never far the front-page headlines. South Africa was strangled by the apartheid regime and I remember arriving at the airport in Johannesburg questioning my conscious if we should have been there. I left five days later absolutely certain Grand Prix racing had made the right decision. A united front by the Grand Prix community to ignore the segregation laws imposed on the black population. Sometimes it was not easy, and it would have been easy to turn a blind eye, but nobody did, and it meant so much to so many people. I hope the reaction of an international sporting community to apartheid was a shock to those in power.
In 2002 we flew into Melbourne airport surprised by the thousands of people waiting for the flights to arrive. Naively we thought they’d come to welcome the MotoGP™ riders on route to Phillip Island for the Australian Grand Prix, but they were there for a totally different reason. Just a few days earlier 88 Australians had tragically lost their lives in the Bali bombings and these were relatives of the survivors who were flying back home to their loved ones. I also remember after quietly leaving the airport and travelling down to Phillip Island Randy Mamola rushing to the local medical centre in Cowes offering to give blood.
Nine years later it was the MotoGP™ paddock that flew into Japan for the Grand Prix in Motegi. It was the first major sporting event to be staged in Japan since the earthquake and resulting tsunami had caused a postponement six months earlier. Despite real worries, which later proved unfounded, about a radiation leak at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station the Grand Prix went ahead. Full grids and some great racing brought both joy and relief to a Japanese nation who’d suffered so much uncertainty over the last six months.
When this coronavirus pandemic crisis finally ends, MotoGP™ will return to the racetracks of the world.