Classic motorsport moment: Agostini’s ridiculous winning streak
Look back at the purple patch that puts even Mercedes’ F1 dominance to shame
Here’s a question for you: who’s the most dominant racer who ever lived? Most people might say Michael Schumacher with his seven world titles, or perhaps Juan Manuel Fangio, who finished on the podium in two thirds of the F1 races he started.
More recently Lewis Hamilton has staked his claim with a record-breaking number of grand prix wins, and outside of F1 Tom Kristensen won the 24 Hours of Le Mans a staggering nine times. Then you’ve got AJ Foyt Jr in American open wheel racing, Richard Petty in stock cars, Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez in MotoGP… there are a lot of worthy contenders.
But when it comes to winning streaks, not even these legends can claim to have been quite so unbeatable for nearly as long as the great Giacomo Agostini.
The Italian bike rider was born in Brescia in 1942, and had to indulge his passion for racing in secret at first because of his father’s disapproval. The youngster learned his craft in hill climbing events, winning the Italian Hillclimb Championship in 1963 riding a 175cc Morini.
His early success saw him move to the MV Agusta works team for the 1965 season, where he would contest the 350cc and top-tier 500cc championships for the next ten years. The 22-year-old hit the ground running, finishing second in both categories behind teammate and mentor Mike Hailwood.
In 1966 Hailwood jumped ship to Honda, leaving Agostini as MV Agusta’s lead rider. Although he missed out on the 350cc crown, ‘Ago’ (as he became known) clinched his first world title in the 500cc class, dramatically winning the last race of the season as Hailwood retired. It was the first of many.
The two rivals battled once again the following year, with Agostini narrowly retaining his crown after the pair finished level on points and wins; the Italian prevailing with three second-place finishes over the Brit’s two.
And then the dominance really kicked in. In 1968 Agostini won every single race he contested in the 350cc and 500cc classes. In 1969, he did it again. And then in 1970, yep you guessed it, he repeated the trick for a third time.
The run only came to an end at the Isle of Man TT in 1971, when Ago’s MV Agusta broke down on the first lap of the Junior TT. By that point he’d won 58 (fifty eight!) races in a row, including 26 in the 350cc category and 32 in 500cc events. If you discount a handful of retirements in ‘71 and ‘72, Agostini won every race he finished over a five year period bar two.
Agostini retired from motorbike racing in 1977, and his statistics are insane. He won seven 500cc world titles in a row between 1966 and 1972, plus seven 350cc championships on the bounce between 1968 and 1974. In the last of those years he switched to Yamaha, and added an eighth 500cc world title to his collection in 1975 to make it 15 in total.
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In 14 years he started 223 races, finishing on the podium 159 times, of which 122 were wins. He set 117 fastest laps, but only has six ‘official’ pole positions to his name as they were only recorded from 1974.
In his day the Isle of Man TT was the highlight of the year, and 10 of Agostini’s victories came on the Snaefell Mountain Course. It could’ve been more, but after another double victory in 1972 he decided he would never compete there again after his friend Gilberto Parlotti was killed in a race held in atrocious weather. Agostini’s boycott was followed by several other leading riders, and by 1977 the Isle of Man TT had been removed from the world championship calendar.
Not satisfied with his achievements on two wheels, Agostini made the switch to single-seater racing, spending a season in European Formula 2 in 1978 followed by two years in the British F1 championship driving a Williams FW06. In the latter he scored a number of podiums, but he stopped racing for good at the end of 1980 and eventually returned to bikes as a team manager.
What a racer. What a career.