10 Best Motorbike Riders Never to Have Won a GP
Since it began in 1949, over 300 riders have won World Championship Grand Prix races across the various classes but there have been countless more who have fallen short despite their best efforts. Many have come close on numerous occasions, racking up many podium finishes but never quite standing on the top step and hearing their national anthem played – here are our ten best riders never to have won a Grand Prix.
Heinz Rosner – 26 podiums
Heinz Rosner has the unenviable tag as the rider to score the most Grand Prix podiums without actually winning a race. Born in the former East Germany in 1939, Rosner rode for the MZ factory team for his entire career and had his best year in 1968 when he finished third overall in that year’s 250cc World Championship between Yamaha team-mates Phil Read and Bill Ivy. He also claimed fourth place in the 350cc World Championship that same year and although his GP career only lasted from 1964 to 1969, in that time he stood on the podium on no less than 26 occasions. He continues to make appearances at Classic meetings around the world.
Derek Woodman – 16 podiums
Hailing from Blackpool, Derek Woodman was one of the UK’s leading privateers throughout the 1960s and, like many riders of that era, he was competitive in all of the classes, from 125s all the way up to 500s. He enjoyed his best Grand Prix results whilst riding for the East German MZ team and finished third in the 1965 125cc World Championship after taking five podiums.
The following three seasons saw him finish fifth, fourth and fifth again in the 250cc World Championship, with four podiums coming his way and his versatility could be seen in 1968 when he finished seventh overall in the 500cc World Championship after taking two third place finishes in Belgium and Finland. He also took five rostrums in the 350cc class, again on MZs, to make it 16 in total.
Thierry Espie – 16 podiums
Espie may not be a rider’s name that immediately springs to mind but the Frenchman was one of the finest riders from his country for almost a decade. He initially came to prominence in the 125cc class riding the French-built Motobecane, finishing fifth in the 1978 World Championship and going one better a year later with a total of seven podiums.
He moved into the 250cc and 350cc classes, firstly on Yamaha but then on the Pernod and Chevallier machines, which were again built in France. He was a regular front runner, taking fourth in the 1980 250cc World Championship and fifth overall in the same championship three years later. In total, he took an impressive 16 podiums but, after also being successful in Endurance racing, a GP win ultimately eluded him and he retired at the end of the 1985 season.
Colin Edwards – 12 podiums
One of the most successful World Superbike Championship racers of his generation, winning the world title in 2000 and 2002, Edwards had a long and successful MotoGP career which spanned twelve years from 2003 until 2014. During that time he rode factory machinery for Aprilia and Yamaha and it was on the latter that he was most successful taking no less than 12 podiums.
Finishing second on five occasions, three times at the British Grand Prix, and third on seven occasions, he finished fourth overall in 2005 and fifth overall in 2004 and 2009 but he never made it on to the top step of the podium. The closest he came was the 2006 Dutch Grand Prix which he led for 24 of the 26 laps. However, on the penultimate lap, he was overhauled by fellow American Nicky Hayden and in a desperate attempt to claim the victory, he crashed out at the chicane on the final lap.
Patrick Pons – 11 podiums
Frenchman Pons burst onto the Grand Prix scene in 1974 when, aged just 22, he finished third in both the 250cc and 350cc World Championships riding for the famous Gauloises Yamaha team. He took five podiums that season and followed this up with fifth overall in both Championships in 1975 adding four more podiums to his collection.
They proved to be his best years in Grand Prix racing but he instead found success in the 750cc World Championship and, in 1979, became the first Frenchman to win an FIM World title when he won the Formula 750cc Championship. He then won the prestigious Daytona 200 in 1980 and made his return to the 500cc World Championship but sadly lost his life that year at Silverstone during the 500cc British Grand Prix race.
Graeme Crosby – 10 podiums
Graeme Crosby had a glittering career, winning the World Formula One Championship, three Isle of Man TT races, the Daytona 200, Imola 200 and Suzuka 8-Hour Endurance but the one thing that eluded him was a Grand Prix win. Riding for Heron Suzuki (1980-1981) and Marlboro Yamaha (1982), the Kiwi only raced in the 500cc World Championship for three seasons but in that time he scored ten podiums, finishing second four times and third six.
The most versatile rider of his generation, he finished second overall in the 1982 Championship but, disillusioned with the politics within the sport, he walked away from Grand Prix racing at the end of the season aged just 27 and with his best years still ahead of him. Crosby, whose racing career began in 1974, made one-off appearances at Suzuka and in the Transatlantic Trophy Match Races but one was left to wonder just what else he could have achieved had he continued.
Raymond Roche – 10 podiums
Frenchman Roche was the hard man of the Grand Prix paddock in the 1980s and having made his name in 1978 when, aged 21, he finished 11th in that year’s 250cc World Championship with a maiden podium coming at the British GP, he turned his attentions to the World Endurance Championship winning the title in 1981. He then moved back into GPs, specifically the 500cc class, and emerged as a World Championship contender in 1984 when he took no less than eight podiums on his way to finishing third overall on a factory-supported NS Honda.
A seemingly dream move to the Marlboro Yamaha team in 1985 failed to deliver the goods, with just one podium being taken at his home round, and although he spent three more seasons in the 500cc GP series, firstly with Honda once more and then Cagiva, he never reached his previous heights again. However, a move to the World Superbike Championship revitalised his career and he finished in the top three of the series every year between 1989 and 1992, winning the title in 1990, the first for Ducati.
Ron Haslam – 9 podiums
In the late 1970s, Ron Haslam emerged as Britain’s brightest young talent and having earned a factory ride with Honda Britain, he duly won British Championships and also at the Isle of Man TT Races. He deservedly moved up into the 500cc World Championship in 1983 and he remained here until 1990, arguably carrying the nation’s hopes to take over from Barry Sheene and be a serious threat for the world title. Despite having works rides with Honda, Suzuki and, finally, Cagiva, he never quite managed that but he did take nine podiums between 1983 and 1987 with a best finish of second at the 1985 Dutch GP.
Known for being one of the most technically gifted riders in the paddock, his best year was 1987 when he finished fourth overall but he ‘lost’ two years of his career whilst developing the experimental Elf Honda whilst he was also often in the shadow of more illustrious team-mates including Freddie Spencer, Randy Mamola, Wayne Gardner and Kevin Schwantz. Since retiring, he’s been an ever-present ally to son Leon in his career.
George O’Dell – 9 podiums
The only sidecar driver to feature in our top ten, British ace O’Dell was one of the few people to win a World Championship without winning an actual Grand Prix race. That came in 1977 when he took six podiums in the seven races to eventually get the better of Rolf Biland by eight points but a broken leg soon after ultimately meant he was unable to fully defend his crown in the manner he wanted.
His best days at the top were over whilst another broken leg at the TT put him further on the back foot but he did regroup to take eighth overall in 1980 when he took his final podium finish at the British Grand Prix. A British Champion and Isle of Man TT race winner, O’Dell took nine podiums in total but sadly lost his life in a house fire in 1981.
Steve Baker – 7 podiums
Born in 1952, American Steve Baker began his career racing on the dirt track ovals before switching to road racing. After winning three Canadian Championships, he first came to the attention of European fans in 1976 when he was the dominant rider in that year’s Transatlantic Trophy Match Races, despite never having seen the circuits before, and his good results earned him a factory ride with Yamaha for the 1977 season. After winning the Daytona 200, he dominated the World Formula 750cc World Championship and finished second to Barry Sheene in the 500cc World Championship after taking six podiums.
Amazingly, Yamaha released him at the end of the year and he continued on a private Suzuki in 1978, taking seventh overall, with another podium being taken at the opening round. Lightning fast on his day, Baker suffered a devastating accident at the Mosport circuit in Canada at the end of the year and it left him with a broken arm and shattered his left leg. He wasn’t able to recover sufficiently enough to compete at the highest level again and retired shortly afterwards.
Worth a mention….
Save for a handful of wildcard appearances, Carl Fogarty never got the chance to show just what he could do in the 500cc World Championship but, given his success in the World Superbike Championship, he’s perhaps the best rider never to have won a Grand Prix. The Blackburn rider was competing at a time when British riders were continually overlooked for factory rides with his first outings coming on an NSR500 Honda in 1990, deputising for the injured Pierfrancesco Chili. This was before he was at his peak but a ride on a private Harris Yamaha at Donington Park in 1992 finally made people sit up and take note as he ran inside the top five despite the bike being relatively uncompetitive.
He fell victim to an oil spill then and a year later, when he was a factory Ducati rider in WSB, a wildcard appearance on a Cagiva, again at Donington, looked like it would give him a podium as he lay in third place with just two corners to go. However, the bike ran low on fuel and he was pipped on the line by fellow Brit Niall Mackenzie. It was the closest he ever got to a GP podium and it will forever remain a topic of discussion as to just what he could have done over a full season of Grand Prix racing.