Who Is the G.O.A.T? Hailwood vs Rossi

July 28th, 2015 | In: Motorbike, Racing

Valentino Rossi is on the form of his life at 36 years old and his racing renaissance in 2015 has once more led to claims that he must be the greatest of all time (or GOAT for short). But is he?

Rossi only has one realistic contender for this title of course, and that’s the late, great Mike Hailwood. But just how do these legends actually stack up against each other in terms of results and achievements?

Futile as it may be to compare riders from different eras, there are at least some factors that don’t change over the decades – like how many world titles a rider wins, how many different classes he’s won in, and how many different makes of machinery he’s won on.

Valentino Rossi racing round a corner
Valentino Rossi - image by Corentin Foucaut on flickr

Rossi vs Hailwood:

So let’s start with the basics. Mike Hailwood won a total of nine Grand Prix world championships across three different classes – 250cc, 350cc and 500cc. Rossi has won the same number of titles across four classes (125cc, 250cc, 500cc and MotoGP), although sine MotoGP replaced 500cc as the premier class, it’s essentially the same championship just contested on different kinds of motorcycles). But Rossi could still add to that tally as he will be competing for at least one more season with Yamaha in MotoGP and quite possibly more.

Rossi surpassed Hailwood’s total of 76 Grand Prix wins in 2005 and his running total stands at 111 going into this year’s summer break, but that figure is sure to grow as Rossi’s incredible run of success continues.

Hailwood started in 152 GP races and as well as winning 76 of them, he also finished on the podium 112 times and set 79 fastest laps. Rossi has so far had 201 podiums and set 92 fastest laps but, again, these figures are likely to increase.

Hailwood achieves huge success in just 9 years:

One thing that speaks volumes about Hailwood’s abilities is the fact that he only raced in Grands Prix for nine years between 1958 and 1967 whereas Rossi is now in his 20th year of GP competition. And if Hailwood won 9 world titles and 76 GPs in just nine years, how many might he have won if he’d raced for 20?

Both men have won world titles on different makes of motorcycle. Hailwood won five titles with Honda in the 250cc and 350cc classes and four with MV Agusta in the premier 500cc class. Rossi has so far won nine world championships for three different manufacturers. He took his 125cc and 250cc titles with Aprilia, and has won the 500cc and MotoGP classes with Honda and Yamaha.

The dangers of Hailwood’s era:

There’s no doubt that Hailwood faced far greater dangers in the era he raced in. Not only did he have to ride on pure roads courses like the Isle of Man TT (which counted as the British round of the Grand Prix world championship up until 1977) but the riding gear of Hailwood’s era was worlds away from modern equipment in terms of the protection it offered.

Mark Hailwood in the lead of a race
Mike Hailwood - image by Insomnia Cured Here on flickr

Run-off areas were practically non-existent and there was no Clinica Mobile at every GP in Hailwood’s day either. It was a tragic fact of motorcycle racing in the 1960s that several of the men who started each season would not be around to finish it. Marco Simoncelli’s tragic death in 2011 proved that Grand Prix racing can still be fatal but his death was, thankfully, a rarity in modern world championship racing.

Can we really compare the two?

The difficulty with comparing eras is that factors like the level of competition have to be considered too. When Giacomo Agostini won many of his world titles (after Hailwood and Honda’s retirement), his MV Agusta was the only factory machine on the grid so he did have an unfair advantage and often lapped riders up to second place.

Rossi faces tough competition:

No-one can ever accuse Rossi of not having had stiff competition over the years. From Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau to Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez, he’s had to beat off some astonishingly talented rivals and Hailwood, for the most part, had to do the same. Giacomo Agostini, Phil Read, Jim Redman and Billy Ivy are considered some of the greatest riders of all time and Hailwood had to beat them all, regularly, to win his world crowns.

Marc Marquez racing round a corner
Marc Marquez - image by Corentin Foucaut on flickr

GP wins:

Perhaps a fairer way to compare the two legends would be to even things out and compare their titles and GP wins over a similar period from the moment they claimed their first crown. Hailwood only raced for a further six years after winning his first title in 1961, so how would Rossi’s stats compare in the six years following his first world title in 1997?

World Championships:

Between then and 2003, he won a total of five world championships while Hailwood won nine in a similar same seven year period. But then, racing has become far more specialised since Hailwood’s day when it was common for riders to contest two, or even three, GP classes in a single day.

In the modern era, it takes more time to become competitive in each class, which is why winning two world titles in the same year is now a thing of the past. The last man to achieve this was Freddie Spencer in 1985 when he took both the 250cc and 500cc crowns.

There were far fewer GP races per season in Hailwood’s day too. The 500cc world championship typically comprised nine or ten rounds whereas Rossi has to take in up to 18 countries in a single season. This is a double-edged sword; on the one hand it gives Rossi more chances to increase his overall wins tally, but it also means each title is harder to achieve.

Cutting it against the younger rivals:

Rossi is still winning races and challenging for world titles at the age of 36 and Hailwood made his famous and victorious TT comeback at the age of 38 – a feat made even more impressive by the fact that he’d been in retirement for 11 years. So both riders proved they could still cut it against much younger rivals.

Head and and shoulders above the rest:

There are so many variables, so many factors, involved in making any meaningful comparison between Valentino Rossi and Mike Hailwood that it is never going to be possible to say with any degree of authority who was the better rider. And neither should we. Both men stood head and shoulders above the other greatest riders in the world of their respective eras.

If they ever could have raced against each other on equal terms, it seems fair to suggest that Rossi would have won some and Hailwood would have won some. As to who would have been the overall champion, that’s something we will never know. Because the only thing that statistics prove is that statistics can prove anything.

 

So, where do you stand on this? Are you Team Rossi or Team Hailwood? Cast your vote in our poll…

Stuart Barker is a freelance motorcycle journalist and author. A former MCN reporter and features writer, he is now editor of the Official Isle of Man TT and Classic TT programmes and has contributed to most major UK motorcycling titles including MCN, Bike, Ride, Superbike, Two Wheels Only, Fast Bikes, Classic Bike and Classic Racer. His books include biographies of Barry Sheene, Steve Hislop, Niall Mackenzie, David Jefferies and Evel Knievel as well as a centennial history of the TT races.

  • Darron Greatrex

    rossi would never race the tt course so he’s got no balls =D

    • Fabio de Roma

      Haulwood would not even know how to slide his knee let alone his elbiw on the tarmac, he’d be lapped by Rossi half way true the race…..what an idiotic comment…..

      • Steven Kennedy

        Not as idiotic as saying “half way true a race”. Never heard of proof-reading before posting your incompetence for the whole world to see???

        • Fabio de Roma

          You missed elbiw instead of elbow, what using proof reading part time, dumbshit? It’s not a dissertion, asshole, it’s a fucking post on bike racing typed thru an iPhone, where speed over accuracy is the point. Without comsidering that English is my third language. How many do you speak, shothead?

          • Fabio de Roma

            Oh wait, that is supposed to be shithead, I think…

          • Steven Kennedy

            Yep, I guessed that. And that comsidering should have been considering. And that dissertion should have been dissertation. I didn’t bother pointing out elbiw as I didn’t want to come across as pedantic….. It’s all irrelevant anyway as Marc Marquez is the greatest of the current time and in a few years will be the true GOAT. Let’s face it, when Rossi had to kick him off the bike to have a chance of winning a certain race last year it speaks volumes about how “great” Rossi really is.

          • Chuck Chuck

            well faggio, they race in different era, the bike are really different between those era, so does the riding style needed and there’s plenty other different things, it’s really disgust me to seeing an italian rossi fan, an australian stoner fan or a spanish jorge fan spit out their thoughts about their hero, because most of those 3 type of fans is just blatant imbecile biased utter bellend.

          • Barry

            Another clueless post from a braindead mentally disabled jealous loser who thinks what he posts is statement of fact!!!!!!
            Pull your head out of your azz princess 🙂

          • Chuck Chuck

            damn barry or jenny? do you have gender issue?, pull your imaginary casey stoner’s penis out of your azz princess :), face it jimmy, the way is still open for vale to be crowned as the G.O.A.T so does with jorge, marc, etc. but not with stoner, looks like we get another clueless post from a brain dead mentally disabled jealous loser who triggered by my “opinion”, well then happy xmas to me!!!! Its always satisfying to me when my asshole, sorry I mean opinion really upsets others.

          • Chuck Chuck

            hey barry, don’t get your mental traumatize and keep in touch, it’s always a pleasure to playing with you my man.

          • Barry

            So you are now posting to yourself?????
            HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!
            WHAT A COMPLETE MORON!!!!!!!!!!
            I just played you for the biggest douche and you fell for it.
            You made it super easy by replying to yourself like the imbecile you were born as.
            WHAT A GREAT DAY :):):):):):):):):):)

          • Barry

            Damn chuck the braindead f—!!!!! You sure do love throwing toys out of your crib dont you??? Just like a baby crying over nothing!!!! Please remove rossi’s strapon out of your inbred ass since its hitting your brain LMFAO :):):):):):):):)
            Only a retarded neanderthal would be SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO traumatised by anothers’ opinion that you came running to defend your over the hill, washed up, homo, gridfiller…
            As for barry and jenny???
            Seems youre more f—ed in the head than first thought…….
            Bottom line is idiot, you’re the inbred who came running to me.
            Shows your fragility. Makes me laugh with joy 🙂
            Spastic 🙂

          • Barry

            Poor chucky the mentally retarded dumbcunt……..
            Still got rossis’ strapon up your ass I see……
            Bet you love it too!!!!!!!

  • jess fenchley

    Stoner destroys both those has-beens

    • adel sauma

      jess, u need some milk

      • jess fenchley

        Adel, you need a brain 😁😁😁

        • Chuck Chuck

          jenny u don’t need some milk, u need some help, this threat is about hailwood vs rossi, he is great rider, no doubt about that, but he was nothing compared to those two unless we talking about the whining king here then yes he is “easily” the whining king of motogp, but yeah it’s natural to see whining king worshiped by entitled whiner. Thanks for playing

          • Jenny

            Chuck chuck I dont give a f—
            I will post what I want whenever I feel like it.
            It was some other douche who mentioned milk so perhaps direct your insults to him. My opinion is mine and if that ruffles your feathers, then happy xmas to me!!!! Its always satisfying to me when my opinion really upsets others.
            As for whiners then of course Rossi is the king. His whole career is about complaining about people who wont play by his rules. There has never been a bigger crybaby then him.
            Stoner outrode him for years and all smart people know this. Only a pathetic rossi fanboy would be distraught by my post. Typical whiners just like their washed up hero……..
            Game over
            Thanks for playing :):):)

          • Chuck Chuck

            opinion is like an asshole, because everyone always has one and entitled to it

          • Barry

            Which begs the question, why were you so mentally traumatized by mine????
            You must have been since you replied…..
            Oh the irony 😁😁😁😁😁

          • Chuck Chuck

            looks like someone give shit loads of f—, see, you spit your thought and then you lick it back, classic
            Oh the irony 😁😁😁😁😁

          • Barry

            Oh the hypocrisy since you were the braindead turd who came running to me like a 5 year old girl crying for mommy!!!!! Oh the hilarity!!!!!!!
            :):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):)

          • Amber

            Its pretty clear after reading all the posts that its you who went after Barry. Its all there including timeline. As to why you would even care if barry is a casey fan is a little disturbing. But to be honest all your posts seem that way.
            Get help sir

          • Ladder

            Yep I’d have to agree with Barry and Amber. Why do you care who Barry follows??? Are you that easily upset??? So if you like rossi and barry is a fan of stoner, then wouldnt the mature thing to do is to just leave it be? Unless of course you are one of those trolls who thinks he knows everything and insults those that dont agree. It seems that way looking at all the responses. Plus what sort of person replies to himself???
            Doesn’t make you look too bright.

          • Anvil

            Pretty obvious you were dropped on your head as a kid. So who cares a guy likes Stoner? Millions do. Chasing Barry wont change his opinion. It does however provide awesome entertainment for his co-workers watching him spank your ass

          • Barry

            Born a fuckwit and you’re still a fuckwit….
            Your posts back me up 100%
            Congrats dumbass

      • jess fenchley

        Stoner is easily the best of all time and king of motogp

      • jess fenchley

        This thread is where you replied to me first………..so who is spamming who? Yes now that we know the truth, you need some milk and a life. Thanks for playing :0

        • adel sauma

          whoa looks like you’ve growed a nice pair of tits, hahahahaaaaaaa

        • adel sauma

          and since when a single comment mean spamming, since you’ve already grown tits then you can get the milk you needed the most, hauhauhuaha