Updated 21.02.2023 to reflect Marquez’s 2022 season and Dovizioso’s retirement.
There are so many arguments for who is the greatest rider of all time in the motorcycle world and how this is to be determined.
Personally, I think some individual opinion comes into play and no matter how we assess the stats we could all come up with a different answer to the who and whys.
I think this quote from PatSavage.net blog titled the ‘5 Top Riders of All Time’ explains the reasons for the difficulty very well:
“Skill requirements also evolved from one era to another, and without the same set of criteria for measuring one’s performance while lacking a common context, nobody can tell who was the greatest”
However, there are without disagreement some names that deserve to make a list of top riders of all time and here are my personal favourites in no particular order.
Love him or hate him you must admit the man holds A LOT of MotoGP records and many seem hard to beat without a long (a very long) career.
There are many reasons why millions of fans refer to him adoringly as the GOAT (Greatest of all time).
As of his retirement from racing at the end of 2021 he leads the charge on longest career after joining the 125cc class for Aprilia in 1996.
He holds the highest number of starts in premier class with a massive 372 (432 in total across all classes).
For the numbers people out there this means Rossi has raced in 44.4% of all Motorcycle racing events since its creation in 1949.
His retirement means we will never again see a rider take to the grid who was born in the 1970’s either.
Rossi’s third place finish at Jerez in 2020 saw him on the podium for the 199th time in his premier class career, more than any other rider.
In total Rossi has been on the podium 235 times across all classes, which is more than any other rider in the history of Grand Prix racing (second on this list is Giacomo Agostini with 159 Grand Prix podiums).
He claims 89 premier class wins to his name and 115 GP race wins across the three classes.
Only Giacomo Agostini with 122 wins has stood on the top step of the podium more in Grand Prix racing.
He has won 7 premier class world titles (9 in total) and is amongst the top 10 riders in terms of pole positions (55), most consecutive wins at a single track with 8 wins at Assen and 7 wins at Mugello, Jerez and Catalunya.
As of his retirement Rossi competed at 38 different GP circuits, taking at least one win at 29 of these circuits.
No other rider in history has competed at this many circuits in the span of their career.
15-time world champion – out of which 8 are in MotoGP/500cc class. Agostini also had a very low number of pole positions in his career with only 6 in premier class yet managed to win a huge 68 races (second to Rossi) and take out 8 championships. Agostini currently still holds the record for most consecutive wins at a single track taking out 9 wins at Imatra in a row with a tenth at this track a few years later, as well as 8 consecutive wins at Spa-Francorchamps. Over his career he set a total of 69 fastest laps in his career and took 159 podiums in total. Placing him firmly in the top ten riders of all time.
Interestingly Agostini was racing in the era where the Isle of Man course was the British round of the Grand Prix taking a huge 10 wins across a few classes in the years he raced there.
Perhaps one of the most controversial riders of modern times but a fan or not one must admit his talent is simply out of this world.
He takes the title for youngest rider to clinch a championship and the only rookie since Kenny Roberts to take the title.
He went on to be the youngest rider to win 6 consecutive MotoGP Premier Class Titles.
Marquez had all the records firmly in his sights the first 7 years but sadly injury plagued seasons have all but put an end to the kind of riding we were once used to seeing from Marquez.
Time will tell as 2023 season progresses if his injury is behind him. As it stands now he currently holds
6 premier class world titles (8 in total) with 59 premier class wins to his name (85 in total) and has shared the podium 100 times for premier class. (139 in total)
He sits in the top 5 riders in the world with 63 pole positions in premier class racing from 154 starts, holding the title for the most in one season with 13 in one season (2014).
He was the youngest rider to take pole position in a premier race until Quartararo took this record at the French GP 2019.
However, Marquez remains the youngest winner in premier class (COTA 2013).
He has also set 59 fastest laps in his career so far.
Mick DoohanThe Australian has 5 world titles to his name in premier racing with a total of 54 wins. He took 95 podiums and is still currently the leader where pole position is concerned with 58 to his name (although Marquez looks set to break this in the next few rounds).
He also held the record for the most consecutive pole positions in a single season with 12 in 1997 and a total of 46 fastest laps in his career (recently beaten by Marquez).
Doohan will also be remembered for the creation of the thumb brake control lever being created following a serious crash in the early 90’s. Complications resulted in Doohan almost losing his right foot and as a result he could no longer operate the brake lever leading Brembo to create the thumb control lever.
Unfortunately, despite a stellar career he did not win an actual championship and therefore a lot of his success went unnoticed.
Before his retirement from MotoGP Premier Class at the end of 2022 he was one of the very few riders to reach the major milestone of his 300th Grand Prix Starts with only L. Capirossi and Rossi ahead of him.
Rossi is also the only one ahead of Dovizioso in terms of career length.
He also reached the milestone of 100 podium finishes (beating out Doohan) with 103 in total and 62 in Premier Class.
This is no easy feat for which he deserves much respect.
What about outside of MotoGP?
MotoGP is by no means the only international racing event or championship that creates some amazing riders achieving incredible heights of success so here are a few other riders who absolutely warrant a mention.
Joey Dunlop and his brother Michael both deserve a mention from the IOMTT (Isle of Man Tourist Trophy).
Joey Dunlop took a massive 26 wins at the Isle of Man in the years he completed across various classes, a record that is yet to be beat to this day. Sadly, he was killed in an accident in 2000 competing in Estonia.His nephew Michael is third in the record books with a huge 19 wins. He won the 2019 Lightweight TT race.
Incidentally, road racing is personified by the Dunlop family. Michael’s father Robert won five TT but was killed in a race in 2008. Michael’s brother William died in a race race in July 2018. The Dunlop family has won 50 TT races.
A TT legend by the name of John McGuinness sits between them in second place with 23 wins. He sustained severe injuries during a road race practice crash in May 2017 but was able win a race at the August 2018 Classic TT meeting. He also gained a second place in the 2019 TT Zero (electric) race but was forced to retire from two other races due to mechanical problems.
Don’t forget these boys from World Superbikes.
Jonathan Rea is a four-time WorldSBK champion with a record 68 wins and 131 podiums in total.Followed closely by Carl Fogarty, also a four-time WorldSBK champion with 59 wins and 109 podiums.
While in third place is Troy Bayliss with three WorldSBK championship titles to his name from 52 wins and 94 podiums in total.It is the long standing career records we all are watching to see if Marquez will continue to dominate MotoGP and knock off names such as Rossi, Doohan and Agostini on his quest to being the greatest MotoGP rider of all time or will the title go to someone yet to burn up the track even faster than Marquez and his racing compatriots?
Keep an eye on World Superbikes and certainly don’t forget the incredible riders of the Isle of Man TT.