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GP Week : Issue 60
>>Moto GPFEATURE Far Left: Mike Hailwood moved to Honda after massive sucess with MV. Left: Valentino Rossi won with Honda before switching to Yamaha. Below: Eddie Lawson went in the opposite direction – from Yamaha to Honda horse trick, and failed. Most notably and nobly Mike Hailwood, Rossi’s predecessor as ‘Greatest of All Time’. The great Englishman preceded Ago at MV and was 500cc champion every year from 1962 to 1965. Then came the rider sensation of that decade: Mike the Bike was defecting to Honda! His new bike had a great engine, with enough power to tie the frame in knots every time he opened the throttle. He and Ago pushed each other to new limits. Ago won over the next two years with Mike second by the narrowest of margins in 1967 – they were actually equal on net points, but Ago’s overall finishes shaded it. Straight after that, Honda pulled out of factory 500 racing until 1982; but Hailwood was prevented from having another attempt at the crown on yet another type of machine by a contract with Honda, paying him not to ride for anybody else. Still, Jorge hasn’t actually won a first title on a Yamaha yet, so we have to dig a bit deeper to discover that switching steeds remains a rare pastime among the top riders. People tend to stick with what they’ve got, especially if it is winning. Some were more versatile than others, even if through force circumstances. That name Hailwood again. He won 500-class GPs on three different makes: Norton, MV Agusta and Honda. Lawson was another three-brand man: as well as Yamaha and Honda, the last of his 31 wins was on the Italian Cagiva – an uncharacteristically romantic farewell, in the rain in Hungary in 1992. Two others did the same thing, albeit on a smaller scale: Randy Mamola’s 13 wins were almost evenly divided between Suzuki, Honda and Yamaha. If he had managed a win on the Cagiva he would have been the only rider to win on four different makes, but his best on the red bike was third. The other was Loris Capirossi, with one win each on Yamaha and Honda before a run of seven on the Ducati. He has yet to add one more on the Suzuki. Barry Sheene did the splits, but won 18 times on a Suzuki and only once after switching to Yamaha; Max Biaggi had five victories on a Honda, and then eight more with Yamaha. And then he switched back to Honda, to head the factory team after Rossi had left … and never won another GP. Biaggi won championships on neither marque, but is especially relevant: he is something of a role model for Lorenzo, at least in his approach to riding, if not in more personal ways. Max had other issues with his machines and his many teams, but he proved that changing from one bike to another makes little difference to your level of riding, if it is high enough already. But why did all these riders jump ship? Rossi did so because he didn’t feel properly valued at Honda. Agostini left MV for the same reason; there were some parallels also with Barry Sheene. Those who left Nortons behind did so because the bikes were out of date; Hailwood abandoned MV for money, of course, but also for a sense of a new Honda adventure. And Biaggi more or less went where they would have him. If Lorenzo does decide to move, it is likely only to reinforce his place in history.