Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Márquez and Hailwood: different times

MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.


Márquez and Hailwood: different times

Marc Márquez may have broken Mike Hailwood’s half-century-old record to become the youngest man to win back-to-back premier-class titles, but in fact his achievement doesn’t outshine Hailwood’s. Or does it?

Back in Mike the Bike’s day, kids didn’t race motorcycles. It was a man’s business. There was no such thing as minimoto racing; even minibikes were a decade or two in the future. Most racers took to the track after they had started riding on the road at 16 or 17, not while they’re learning to read and write. Thus Hailwood’s achievement – twice 500 World Champion at the age of 23 – was astonishing.

But Hailwood wasn’t a normal post-WW2 century kid. His dad Stan was loaded, made rich by a chain of motorcycle shops. Most people called him ‘Stan the Wallet’, though only behind his back, while others preferred ‘that miserable old bastard’. So while other kids played conkers and used jumpers for goalposts, Hailwood spent his childhood weekends thrashing around the family’s extensive grounds on a specially converted minibike, based upon a 98cc Royal Enfield Flying Flea road bike.

And once Hailwood started racing Stan dug deep into his fat wallet to ensure his son always had the best equipment, to the extent that he helped Ducati finance the development of a new 250 and 350, specifically for his boy. And young Hailwood was often chauffeured to race meetings in dad’s Bentley, while his gleaming motorcycles followed on the back of a gleaming truck. No wonder everyone else was jealous.

Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

Back to top

Comments

Comparing the riders? Yes yes Mat, I smell what you're cooking! Thanks!

Far more pithy to flip that over and compare/contrast the TIMES and life circumstance around our wonderful champions.

And with more overview may arise more appreciation. It is so wonderful RIGHT NOW in our beloved motorbike racing!

Indeed it's impossible to say who is the better rider, greater talent or greater hero. Apart from being a double world champion in the big bike class, really everything else is totally different. Even the class itself.

Great to see some race footage from those days, by the way! I would love to see full race coverages from the 60's like the ones we have nowadays. Man that would be brilliant, with all that exotic machinery. And I would love to see what sort of battles on track they had then. (Even though the field as a whole was much more spread in terms of speed, of course.)

won at the Isle of Man at age 38,on a 900SS and came back the next year at 39 and narrowly missed a hat trick in his last appearance in the TT. His comeback and 3 TT victories in his last two years leave brilliant, young Marc something to shoot
for in sustained excellence...

Lovely article by Mr. Oxley. As to comparing the two, I think on one side it's apples and oranges; how can you honestly compare these 2 great riders? Different eras, different times, different technologies. One thing they did have in common; they were/are both arguably the best riders on arguably the best equipment of their day. Both were/are, shall we say, well subsidized. Other than that, the comparison must end. And this does a disservice to the other Aliens of our time like Stoner, Lorenzo and Rossi. Especially Vale.

And anyway, what of the great Agostini? Surely he must enter into the conversation. I think it's a bit too soon to be putting young Marquez on that pedestal. Let's give him a few more years and see what transpires. You have to admit, though, He's off to a pretty good start! :-)

Some of the discussion on records has been downright ludicrous over the last year.
Comparing how many victories in a season, for example, is a joke. Some years in the 50's they raced a handful of GPs to determine the title, now we race 18 rounds. Was it Ago who once won every race in a year in 350s and 500s in 1968, and 11 out of 12 in the 500s a few years later (and didn't bother to turn up for the final round in Spain)?
That was then, and this is now, and the fixation with comparing different eras does only disservice to all concerned.
Why are we so obsessed with proving person X is the best ever?? Shouldn't we just be satisfied with what we have witnessed?

Great article as ever Matt. What fantastic footage of Silverstone, how it's changed, all racers are brave as someone above has said, but no gravel traps, run-off etc. And look at the kit, was Mike wearing a Parka? There would have been no body armour either.

I love that Pathe News stuff. Great anecdotes too.

I was aware that Mike was from the very wealthy family, obviously that doesn't trump talent but it does help with a 'leg-up' (look how many modern pop stars and actors are now from showbiz or rich families for example, and they don't necessarily have to be talented, whereas a rider does).

I agree comparisons are moot points.

In many sports, you cannot compare. In football for instance, you cannot compare a defender and a striker. They have different jobs, different tasks, separate goals. In the case of a motorcycle racer you can. Their goal is to start the race on a grid of other bikes and be the first person to cross the finish line.

Where you can't compare Marquez and Hailwood is on "how" they do it. Would Mike the bike be dragging his elbows around corners at 64°? No. Would Marc have the ability to take the mountain course without putting it into a sheep? No.

Where you certainly CAN compare them is how they raced against their respective competition.

Hailwood arguably had far superior machinery, while (yes or may be the best bike) the gap between the Hondas and Yamaha's is much smaller, even to some extent the gap between Marquez and Broc Parkes is equivalent to a podium in 1954. Marquez has the likes of Rossi, Lorenzo and Pedrosa to complete with. Riders who are so close in terms of the machinery they are on, the training they do, the skill they have, the experience and race craft, that even competing should be a challenge. He's not beating, he is destroying. Much as Hailwood did...

So to say you can't compare because in the 50s and 60s riders didn't start until their late teens is totally irrelevant. Lorenzo famously started riding as a toddler. The whole field were riding as small children. The competition should be on par given these facts, and yet the racing works has gotten even more cutthroat, more and more competitive. More riders trying to get to the top.

Marquez has done it, not because his father dropped him off on the Bentley, but because he has been consistently the BEST since he started and continues to be in a much tighter pack.

So not to take away any credit from The Bike, but you absolutely CAN compare, and when you really look at it, Marquez (up to this point in his career at least) is in the lead.

For me I would like to see him win championships away from Honda over a long career to really cement himself as a "great", and there is still time. Whether the racing fraternity, or more likely Honda, will let that happen I don't know. I'd love Yamaha, Ducat, Suzuki, whoever, to be able to stump up the cash to lure him away, but I'm not convinced that will ever be possible.

I agree that Marquez is something special. But he's several championships away from being a goat in my book. There have been many game-changing riders over the decades but most only shine for 3 or 4 years and then fade. Marquez had a fabulous, legend-making first half to this season but a less stellar 2nd half so far. Let's see how the next couple of years go before we put him on a high pedestal.