MotoGP: 1954 Racing Politics

MotoGP History

You may have noticed when poking around the FIM statistics that there’s no classification for manufacturers in the 1954 MotoGP Road Racing Grand Prix Series. This was the first serious problem since the creation of the MotoGP Championship in 1949.

It all started at a meeting of the International Sporting Commission was held in October 1953 in Paris. Among the subjects on the agenda was an analysis of the annual Championships and a discussion with the International Permanent Bureau of Motorcycle Manufacturers.

The CSI Vice-President and ACU (Auto-Cycle Union, British Federation) delegate stated: "In the opinion of the ACU, the individual Rider Championships have served their purpose and should now be abolished, but the Manufacturer Championships should be retained."

The reasons for this proposal were that the MotoGP Rider Championships created difficult relations between the riders and the manufacturers whose machines they rode, and between the riders themselves. After much discussion, it was agreed that the MotoGP Rider Championship would be abolished starting in 1954.

This decision was conveyed to the manufacturers at a joint meeting with the Bureau Permanent International des Constructeurs de Motorcycles held on October 9, 1953. During this meeting the President of the Manufacturer Board accepted the abolition of the MotoGP Riders Championship, and the Permanent Bureau emphasized the importance given to the reduction of the number of GP races.

The Permanent Bureau wanted to see the MotoGP Manufacturer Championship limited to six motorcycle races in each of the solo classes (125cc, 250cc, 350cc, 500cc), of which the four best results should be taken into account.

Three of these six motorcycle races would regularly take place in Germany, Great Britain, and Italy respectively, and only motorcycles and riders entered by the manufacturers themselves should be allowed to participate.

Other proposals were also submitted to the CSI, including one to reinstate the previous system of indicating each year one among the various classic meetings as the European Championship meeting. It was rejected. A Commission of Inspection CSI/Permanent Bureau was considered to be impracticable.

One manufacturer representative in each country would be asked to give the views of the manufacturers of that country to the CSI. The entry of each manufacturer would be considered as automatic, but each manufacturer would have the opportunity of declining his participation in the Championships before the start of the season.

Finally, the MotoGP Rider Championships would be dropped for 1954 and the question of its restitution considered in a year’s time.

During the Congress in London in November 1953, CSI President Pieter Nortier, recalled that the subject had been discussed in October and it was decided to recommend to the General Council that the MotoGP Rider Championship not be run the following year.

Also, they would reduce the number of countries in which World Championship races could take place, as well as maintain the Manufacturer Championship, provided that the number of races counting towards this MotoGP Championship be limited only to the four best performances of each determined brand.

Finally, they would give the permission to the manufacturers to withdraw from the World Championship provided that this intention was announced before January 1 of the following year. The first decision–to abolish the Rider Championship–was approved by the MotoGP manufacturers, but they requested more time to discuss and take a decision about the other subjects.

Several National Federations openly opposed the decision concerning the individual Motorcycle Championships, notably Italy and Spain. Don Rodil said that the Grand Prix of Europe had been abolished in 1948, and going back to it clearly did not favor the interests of the sport as a whole.

A series of events was created which enjoyed a great success and the FIM should continue its work in this way, rather than make changes that could jeopardize this development. Besides, Rodil said, "the FIM should not become dependent on the manufacturers as the sport, not the industry, must be our main concern".

The President then explained why this proposal had been made. The reason came, in part, from the riders themselves. A top factory MotoGP rider could be unlucky in the first events and then during further meetings, he could receive the order not to race too hard in order not to prejudice the other riders of the manufacturer team of which he was also a member, and who had already been successful in the previous meetings–basically, they were worried about team orders.

The Swiss delegate, Barambon, replied that from a purely sporting point of view, it was a mistake to abolish the MotoGP Rider Championships. According to Chamberlain, Individual Championships were not very popular with some riders. He added that one of that year’s champions had tried to withdraw at the beginning of the year, and a survey among the German riders resulted in a majority being against the championship.

Finally, he mentioned also the idea to propose to the General Council that in future the Bonacossa Trophy could replace the Championships, as this Trophy would be awarded to the best MotoGP rider of the year, following the results of a vote by the CSI members (this would be refused).

Prouse and Rodil were still not convinced. The President said that in any case the Manufacturers’ Permanent Bureau should meet again on November 30 and it was not impossible that the manufacturers might refuse to take part in the MotoGP Championship.

Consequently, the President stated, "I wish to ask the General Council to authorize us to modify or even to cancel our recommendations if, following the decisions taken by the manufacturers, it would seem advisable to do so. The authorization was given by the General Council."

The next meeting took place at the Automobile Club de France on December 11 and 12, following a preliminary meeting of the CSI Bureau on December 10. The outcome of the meeting of the Manufacturers’ Permanent Bureau, held in Milan on November 30, needed a serious discussion.

In fact, the manufacturers had decided to play hardball, saying that if the CSI was not prepared to reduce the total number of Championship meetings to six, they would withdraw from the championship and also forbid their MotoGP riders to take part individually.

After a long discussion, the CSI delegates decided that–as the Manufacturers’ Permanent Bureau proposed to forbid its members to take part in a Manufacturers’ Championship–that Championship would be dropped for 1954 and an Individual MotoGP Championship for riders would be re-instituted, covering all nine Championship meetings, but only the four best results in any one series of motorcycle races would count.

The story, though, has not yet come to an end. On January 18, 1954 in Brussels, the Manufacturers Permanent bureau met again. Nortier, CSI President, and Bruinsma, Dutch CSI member, were present at part of the meeting, following the request of the British manufacturers. The Permanent Bureau decided to maintain its decision of November 30 and was not ready to let the manufacturers who were interested in racing find a solution themselves.

Five days later, the Manufacturers’ Permanent Bureau issued a press release saying that it had decided to take part in six of the nine Classic Meetings (Grand Prix), but that they would not take part in the Grand Prix of France, Ulster and Spain.

The Bureau had the intention to create a Grand Prix of the Motorcycle Industry of Europe, and a Trophy would be awarded to the manufacturer who scored most points in those six races. In the CSI report, there is a note from Secretary General Tom Loughborough that said this cannot be realized without the previous authorization of the FIM; Sporting Code Arts. 91, 92 and 93.

On March 18, a last attempt was made by the British Manufacturers in London, who tried to convince the CSI members present, Nortier and Chamberlain (it was Chamberlain’s last meeting; he would pass away two days later), and Violet, President of the Technical Commission, and Secretary General Tom Loughborough – that the FIM should give the right to the riders to decline their participation.

The manufacturers were of the opinion that most of the MotoGP riders would decide not to take part and that it would be better to abandon the Championships.

It is quite possible that the attitude of the manufacturers was led by the British industry, and it may have been linked to the fact that the situation quickly evolved against them as from 1949.

In the 500cc MotoGP class, the last title for Norton was in 1951, in the 350cc in 1952 and in Sidecar in 1953. Gilera–soon followed by MV Agusta –won everything as from 1952 with their four-cylinder motorcycles.

Italian manufacturers started to dominate in the 350cc as from 1953, just as they had done in the 125cc and 250cc classes since 1949. In the Sidecar class, the BMW dominance began in 1954.

There were various solutions offered: 1. Abandon the championships 2. Give more importance to the manufacturer titles (thus deleting the rider title) 3. Abandon the 500cc class as the bikes had become to fast and two dangerous. The idea to promote the manufacturer title was designed to provide more publicity for the builders and push them to invest–in the case of Norton, to restart the development of a four-cylinder engine, dropped some time before.

But none of this would happen. The British industry survived until the end of the 1960s on the motorcycle market, and in racing by providing single-cylinder, then twin-cylinder motorcycles to the privateers, allowing the MotoGP starting grids to be filled up.

Anglo-Saxon riders would still hold supremacy during several years, by their number and their skills–Surtees, Hailwood, Redman–and thanks to the success of the TT, but times did change.

At the Congress in Scheveningen (Netherlands) during the first week of May 1954, the General Council decided to follow the rules as published in January. This meant no mention of a MotoGP Manufacturer Championship (the article was deleted from the rules), with the mention of at least 30 entries per solo class (16 for sidecars), and with four races to count if four or more races were run. Contracting out on the part of any individual driver would not be admitted.

MotoGP Constructors World Champions (1954)

  • 350cc – Moto Guzzi – Not Recognized by MotoGP
  • 250cc – NSU – Not Recognized by MotoGP
  • 500cc – Gilera – Not Recognized by MotoGP
  • 125cc – NSU – Not Recognized by MotoGP

The article concerning the manufacturers was re-introduced at the 1954 November Congress in Paris and reinstated for the 1955 MotoGP season.