His name has dominated motorcycling statistics for over fifty years. Whatever successive generations’ attempts, his 15 titles and 122 wins by him remain undefeated to this day. This palmares, still so impressive today, was built in 14 years of Grand Prix racing. Arrived at the age of 22, when he had only been racing for four years, he destroyed everything and very quickly established himself as a superstar with an incomparable aura.
When he talks about his career, Giacomo Agostini describes it as a vocation, almost an irrepressible call. He says he was made for motorcycling from birth, even though his family didn’t follow racing at all. “I was born and I had the bike in mind. My parents were worried. My father said ‘But where did you come from? We have nothing to do with two wheels, nothing to do with sport!’ I don’t know. Mother nature gave me this,” he explains in an interview with Motorsport.com.
“I dreamed of two wheels, I wanted to ride a motorbike. I cried when I saw them on the street!” goes on. But young Giacomo, the eldest son of the family, had to wear out the brakes much more than he would have liked. Impatient, he touched all the two wheels he could get his hands on, took advantage of village festivals and boys’ gatherings to do some scuffing, but his family remained resolutely against the matter.
In 1960, finally, he reached the minimum age required and obtained, or rather snatched, his father’s consent to be able to participate in the official competitions. There’s just a real contrast between an Agostini, who was already an adult when he got his permit, and today’s careers which start and turn professional very early, with drivers coming as children and reaching the world level in their teens.
“I started at 18 because it wasn’t possible before. (You needed) the parents’ signature. Unfortunately I was 18 and a half, because my father didn’t want to sign! Once, he said ‘I don’t sign my son’s death’. L ‘I hated for it, but now I understand what he felt when he told me this”.
The young Giacomo was convinced he was made for motorcycling, and he wasn’t wrong. When he was finally allowed to participate in competitions, he immediately demonstrated an extraordinary talent. He insists that he never needed to learn the science of driving, which was innate to him. “Nobody told me this or that. I bought myself a helmet, a suit, I bought a motorbike and I finished second out of 40 riders in the first race”. Simple.
His idols were called Tarquinio Provini, Carlo Ubbiali, Gary Hocking… “They are the riders I dreamed of, and I said ‘how nice to be able to become like them!’ but I never thought I’d make it. It was a dream, and then it turned into reality.” His lifelong dream actually came true, and he would soon become the absolute point of reference for this sport.
The champion who ruled it all
After his first experiences in Italy, in uphill races and on circuits, first with his private Morini Settebello 175 and then with a factory bike, he arrived in the World Championship in 1964. He contested his first two races in the 250cc class and was soon hired by the MV Agusta, alongside the benchmark Mike Hailwood.
And it was immediately the beginning of a historic career… The following year he obtained his first world victory, in the 350cc class, and was already in the fight for the title. It wasn’t long before he became the leader of the Italian marque, triumphing in the 500cc championship in 1966, the beginning of a real steamroller period.
He won seven consecutive 500cc titles between 1966 and 1972 and another seven in 350cc between 1968 and 1974. It was the late 1960s that cemented his legend, and not surprisingly: between 1968 and 1969, he won 20 consecutive races in the 500cc class, including winning none of the ten Grands Prix in 1968. Over the next two seasons, he won ten races out of 11, then 11 out of 13 in 1972. In 1971, he entered eight out of 11 races and won every time.
For 12 seasons, he won at least once a year in both 350cc and 500cc, the two classes in which he specialized. He destroyed them all: on four occasions, in fact, he was crowned champion with five races to go, something no one else has managed to do since.
Giacomo Agostini at the 1975 Finnish Grand Prix
Though reluctant and unrelated to the sport, his parents ended up following his exploits and, as he recalls, there was “a lot of excitement”. “My mother came very little because she got very excited; on Saturdays and Sundays, she was in church to light (candles), make donations and pray. And when I left she said to me ‘Mino, don’t forget, go slowly but win!’. I said ‘Mom, it’s hard to go slow and win!'”.
Three days of suffering when it comes to quitting
After being inseparable from MV Agusta for nine years, he switched to Yamaha in 1974 and managed to win one last 500cc title in 1975. Two years later, the decision to quit was forced on him. “I took it at the last minute,” he explains. “It was a very difficult decision. You leave because you say ‘I’m old now’ while at 38 or 40 you are not old. But the age and time has come to leave”.
It was a real heartbreak for him, after years of intense activity. It was very tough. I suffered and cried for three days because I was leaving my great love. The thing I dreamed about when I was born just ended. I told myself that I would no longer have that joy, that feeling”.
“This was true, but you have to use your head, think that life goes on and say thank you that you have had this from life, that you have had these joys. Then unfortunately they cannot last for life because our sport is made for young people and not for the old. It’s hard, but you have to try to understand and think about doing something else”.
When he hung up his helmet, Giacomo Agostini had won 15 titles: seven in the 350 class and eight in the premier class, where he is still unbeaten. After 14 seasons in Grand Prix racing, he spent a few years in motor racing before returning to motorcycling as crew chief.
Today his career is displayed in a trophy room he created on a property near his home and is looking to expand. “I still want to put so many things I have under the roof. I need space!”. Yep, a career like this takes up space. “Every week I go there, do interviews or look at my bikes. Maybe if I’m sad, I go there, look at my trophies… And I tell myself it wasn’t bad!” concludes Giacomo Agostini with a smile.