Jonathan Rea on the Kawasaki ZX-10RR in an extremely lean position – a picture of the past after the Northern Irishman will be competing on the R1 for Pata Yamaha next season and Toprak Razgatlioglu, a complete surprise to many, switched to BMW to be on their M-1000RR to seek happiness. For many fans, WorldSBK is therefore more exciting than MotoGP, in which Ducati now dominates at will.

Thoughts on the past 2023 season and 70 years before that

Some people are familiar with the saying “everything used to be better” and we don’t want to toot that horn here. Nevertheless, everyone is allowed to think about what was better 70 years ago than today and in which areas we can be happy that a lot has changed or even improved. Of course, we were encouraged to do this because we recently started a truly mammoth task that we set ourselves in the summer. As is so often the case on our site, it’s about the history of racing, especially because you can hardly find any more information or even sensible summaries about it today. A good example of this is the official MotoGP website, where the first years are listed incompletely, if not incorrectly. We are also of the opinion that the motorcycle world championship actually only took place in 1952 and not three years before, as is officially claimed everywhere. The reasons for this can be found in our huge series of articles about the history of MotoGP, starting from the first year with the participation of riders and constructors from the most successful country before the Second World War. But now for some thoughts on the past 2023 season and 70 years before that, especially because we have only just dealt so intensively with the racing of this time.

A cozy gathering of the biggest stars of the early 1950s, with from left superstar Geoff Duke, Billy Doran, Rod Coleman (with his back to the camera), Fergus Anderson, Ken Kavanagh, Ray Amm and Jack Brett. The reason for this was a boycott by the pilots of the two larger classes at the Schottenring in 1953. This is because they considered this course, which was still new for many world stars, to be too dangerous after a rainy visit and the FIM bowed to their will and withdrew the World Championship status from these races before the start.

What was better 70 years ago?

Not that we want to pretend to be experts in this regard, but at least we dug long and hard in our huge archive and combed through countless documents from this time. Despite of course serving the main purpose of motorsport history, you notice a lot on the sidelines, be it just the type of reporting or how people treated each other back then. From a sporting perspective, we noticed a very significant difference compared to today. Although the factories and their pilots were already competing with each other back then and vigorously fighting for victories and successes on the racetrack, the spirit was completely different than today. It’s best to take your time to read our report on the 1952 Monza Nations’ GP, with the experience of H.P. Müller shortly before the start (and the report about it at the time) as a good example. It should also be remembered that many parts of Europe were in ruins just a few years before.

Aerial view of Freiburg im Breisgau from 1944 – where over a million visitors cavorted at the popular Christmas market in the last weeks before Christmas 2023, around 85 percent of the city center was destroyed a good 70 years before. The people who survived this were shaped by completely different values than the current generation. Some of them are still alive and wonder how much life has changed in the meantime.

Against this background, many and including most pilots generally only had the bare essentials they needed to live. Back then, respect wasn’t just a word. Today, the majority of our fellow human beings in the Western world are only concerned with their own advantage and have developed into ruthless egoists over the last 7 decades. Anyone who wants to claim the opposite should briefly go into traffic or on a busy highway at rush hour to become realistic again. During the Covid pandemic, even a quick purchase was enough. What was also different in the past than today is the fact that almost all children back then were not only accompanied by their own parents, but also raised. They were also taught early on to show respect for others and adults, something that can only be felt today in rural regions. The situation was similar with small distances for which people walked as a matter of course, whereas today the majority hardly ever take an “unnecessary” step voluntarily.

Cover photo for the program of the Sachsenring race 70 years ago – in what was then the GDR, racing was still taking place on a road course. Today’s route only has the target curve and the following straight in common, on which the start is still located.

The worst aspects of the racing years back then

It is almost reassuring to note that those responsible at the FIM back then were just as arrogant and characterized by overconfidence and many misjudgments regarding safety issues as they are today. Otherwise there would not have been a partial boycott of the German Grand Prix at the Schottenring in 1953, after the Dutchman Leonardus “Lous” van Rijswijk had a fatal accident there the previous year and superstar Geof Duke was so seriously injured in a crash that for him the season was over. A year before, on July 13, 1950, italian Claudio Mastellari and just two days later german Kurt Prätorius lost their lives in the internationally advertised “Around Schotten” race, as the tragic successor to Peter von Löwis, who also had a fatal accident there on July 15, 1950. Today, riders still die while playing the sport they love, but safety regulations and protective clothing ensure that the majority of crashes are minor. On the other hand, straw bales were still considered sufficient protection against natural obstacles such as stones or trees until the end of the last millennium. That’s why far too many drivers from back then (and even today at the Tourist Trophy) didn’t survive their racing careers.

Ernie Ring (AJS) – fatally injured in an accident in Spa-Francorchamps in 1953 in the 500cc race. At the Belgian Grand Prix, the Australian flew off in turn 9, was seriously injured and died while being transported to the hospital. At the Tourist Trophy on the infamous Snaefell Course in the same year, four pilots lost their lives in accidents, including the famous “Les” Graham from England, an 8-time GP winner and 500cc world champion from 1949. Just one day before He celebrated his first TT victory in the category up to 125cc (on MV Agusta).

What is better today and awaits us in 2024

When searching through our huge archive, we repeatedly come across evidence of how unreliable technology was back then 70 years ago. The drivers always had spare spark plugs and tools with them so that they could stop while driving if necessary and change them themselves if there was a defect. Similarly, in private transport, it was not uncommon for someone to have to lend a hand if necessary on long journeys because breakdown services were not yet able to rush to help within a very short time. All of this, just like the quality of the tires and clothing, is worlds better today. After Ducati had not only ensured the delight of their fans in WorldSBK since 2022 for a long time, but was also clearly superior to the competition a little too often in MotoGP, the rest of the racing enthusiasts can finally breathe a sigh of relief for next season. Due to the minimum weight, which is long overdue in the WSBK and was decided far too late for 2024, there should be significantly more interesting duels than in the previous two years. The castling at Yamaha is also causing a lot of excitement with the swapping of record world champion Rea instead of Toprak (who went to BMW). Of course, Marc Marquez’s move to the Gresini Ducati customer team in MotoGP also has a definite sensational character. But the modified concession regulations are almost even more important there, with which Honda and Yamaha will hopefully use their advantages to catch up with their opponents in terms of performance. In this respect, we can look forward to a hopefully exciting 2024 and wish all fans, teams and their pilots a great, healthy and injury-free next season.

Fergus Anderson (Moto-Guzzi) in front of Ray Amm (Norton) in 1953 – as this and many other photos prove, the leg stretched out on the inside when cornering was already absolutely common in the 1950s. Journalists today often claim that this is a driving style that has only become fashionable in modern times, perhaps because many of them are simply too lazy to seriously engage with the history of racing.

Unless otherwise stated, this applies to all images (© MotoGP).