John Surtees, Damon Hill and Mike Hailwood were all bike racers who made the switch to F1 cars. Hill was not a top level bike racer but became an F1 world champion, the opposite was the case for Hailwood.
So Surtees, who passed away when he was 83 years old last year, remains the only man to be world champion on both. But there have been a few riders more recently who have ‘had a go’ in an F1 car. And according to one of them it’s easier for a bike racer to test an F1 car than for an F1 driver to test a Moto GP bike close to the limit.
Surtees won seven Motorcycling titles riding invincible MV Agustas and four of them were in the 500cc category (1956, 1858, 1959 and 1960) before turning his attention to four wheels, first in Formula 2 and then in Formula 1. The Championship he got with Ferrari in 1964 allowed him to write an unwritten chapter, something nobody has been able to do again.
The man who was closest to making the transfer to F1 was Valentino Rossi: he tested extensively for Ferrari, exploring the option of joining the team, and also drew attention with his laptimes.
Between 2005 and 2008, Il Dottore did more than six testing days driving one of the red cars in Maranello, Mugello and Fiorano, and also in Montmelo and Valencia.
Luigi Mazzola, one of the Ferrari engineers who recollected Rossi’s performance with the F1 car, explained some months ago how surprised Michael Schumacher was by the Italian rider.
“I don’t exactly remember how many tests we did with Valentino riding the Ferrari, but I’m sure that at least were seven. In the first one he went out on track and did around 10 laps. At the end of that day his laptimes were amazing and I remember Michael Schumacher (who was looking at the telemetry) having a big stunned gaze, he couldn’t believe it”, wrote Mazzola on his Facebook profile.
Finally, and after thinking about it for a long time, the rider from Tavullia declined riding in four wheels to magnify his legend on two wheels.
More recently, two MotoGP Champions did something similar. Two years ago, helped by Monster, Jorge Lorenzo drove the Mercedes that made Lewis Hamilton World Champion for the first time with the German firm in 2014.
Lorenzo really prepared himself for that day of testing at Silverstone, something he claims he will never forget. “I think would be even more difficult for Formula 1 riders to ride fast on a bike. Basically because inside a car you feel protected and know that if you crash, your body isn’t going to directly crash on the floor”, summarised Ducati’s rider, who has won the last MotoGP Grand Prix, in Italy and in Catalunya.
Between these two races Marquez and Pedrosa had the chance to try a Red Bull-Toro Rosso in Spielberg, in an event organised by the beverage brand.
Helmut Marko, director of the Red Bull F1 team, went to the Austrian circuit to see Marquez’s test, which was under the tutelage of Mark Webber.
According to the reigning Champion, Marko even asked about how many years Marc had left in his contract. “One never knows if they are joking or not. But one thing is to test at the Red Bull Ring and the other one is to ride in Monaco”, assessed Marquez.
By: Oriol Puigdemont
This weekend’s Moto GP event is the German GP.
What do you think, could it ever happen again that a rider makes the switch? Leave your comments below.