I would never pretend to be a mathematician, but it does not take a rocket scientist to work out how the MotoGP™ World Championship will be decided on Sunday. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) must score at least two points to be crowned World Champion. Even if Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) wins the 27-lap race at Valencia, a 14th place finish for Pecco will be enough because, if they tied on points, the Italian has won more Grands Prix this year. If Pecco does not finish the race, Fabio must win to retain his title. It has not always been that easy to work out.
The swinging sixties may have been an exciting time for music lovers and English football fans, but it could be more than a little complicated if you were involved in Grand Prix motorcycle racing. Actually, working out who was the World Champion at the end of the season could test those mathematical skills. The problem was not all Grands Prix results counted towards the final Championship tally. Two world title deciders at the final round were perfect examples of just how complicated it could be for everybody involved.
In 1967 the only Grand Prix staged in Canada was held at the 3.956 km Mosport circuit. The 40-lap 158.240 km 500cc race was the final round of the Championship. In those days, only the riders’ best six results in the ten-round Championship counted towards their final total. Mike Hailwood was desperate to give Honda their first 500cc world title before they withdrew from the Championship. He won the race from World Champion Giacomo Agostini riding the MV Agusta. Adding up their best six results gave them both 46 points. Then the fun and games started. The Championship would be awarded to the rider who had won the most Grands Prix in the season. The problem was that Agostini and Hailwood had won five apiece. The title finally went to current Champion Agostini because he’d finished second on three occasions, one better than Hailwood. Honda had to wait 16 years for a certain Freddie Spencer, and a two-stroke before that 500cc title came their way
A year later the 250cc World Championship faced a similar conundrum. After the final round at Monza Yamaha team-mates, in name only, Phil Read and Bill Ivy ended up with 46 points apiece. Only their best six results in the ten-round Championship counted toward their final tally. Like Agostini and Hailwood the previous year both had won five Grands Prix apiece but then it became more complicated. Both had finished second on two occasions but never third. The title was finally awarded to Read after adding up their respective race times in Grands Prix they had completed.
On Sunday it will only be the 19th time the Premier class at the World Championship has been decided at the final round in 74 years. In hindsight, a couple of those races could come off the list. In 1957 Libero Liberati riding the Gilera won the final race at Monza to take the title from team-mate Bob McIntyre. Earlier in the year Liberati had crossed the line in first place at the Belgium Grand Prix but was disqualified for changing his machine without notifying the officials. After the end of the season, Liberati was re-instated as the winner in Belgium, meaning he had in retrospect won the title before that nerve-wracking final round
Strictly speaking, the last time the 500cc World Championship was decided at the final round was in 1993. Kevin Schwantz led Wayne Rainey by 18 points going into the final round at Jarama. However, Kevin had won the title two Grands Prix earlier when Wayne was seriously injured after crashing during the Italian GP at Misano.
It’s a massive ask for Fabio to retain his title on Sunday. Only on three occasions in those 18 final race deciders has the rider on the start line with less points taken the title. The Frenchman would join Rainey, Nicky Hayden and Jorge Lorenzo if he pulled it off at Valencia. A trio of iconic World Champions who never gave up the fight.