MOTOGP » Geoff Duke
Career 500cc/MotoGP world championships:
4 – 1951, 1953, 1954 and 1955.500cc/MotoGP race wins:
Arguably the first two-wheeled superstar, Geoff Duke reached the newly founded 500cc World Championship in only its second season of existence (1950), arriving with Norton – and winning first time out at the season-opening Isle of Man TT.
Duke may well have gone on to win the world title that year, but two non-scores due to mechanical problems at the next two rounds cost him dearly and - despite ending the six race season with two wins - in a situation where the best four results counted, Geoff lost the title by just 1 point to Gilera’s Umberto Masetti.
Duke was also runner-up in the 350cc World Championship that year, but the following season would see the Briton’s obvious potential recognised as he wrapped up both the 500cc and 350cc championship, with 4 and 5 wins respectively.
However, hopes of back-to-back 500cc world titles were ended by injuries sustained in a non-championship race midway through 1952, but he still had enough of a lead to defend his 350cc crown successfully.
The 1953 season saw Duke make what was then a controversial switch from the British made Norton to ride the technically superior Gilera against which he’d battled in previous seasons. It would prove a clever decision and he prompt won his second 500cc world title by 14-points.
The next season saw Duke and Gilera dominate the premier-class further - the Englishman doubling the points score of nest nearest rival Ray Amm - but 1955 would offer a stiff challenge from fellow Gilera rider Ray Armstrong.
Duke won by 6-points for what would be hid fourth and final 500cc title, but was banned from the opening two GPs of 1956 for supporting a riders’ strike over better pay for privateers. In his absence, John Surtees and MV Agusta took victory, and then claimed a further triumph when Duke retired from the lead of his comeback race.
Geoff’s bad luck continued and, although Surtees would subsequently break his arm, Duke couldn’t catch his countryman and finished the year with only eight points after winning the season ending Italian GP.
As was the case the previous year, Duke’s 1957 season would be effectively over before it began - this time through injury in non-championship race - which forced him to sit out four of the six rounds. He would salvage a third and a second in the final two races to the season fourth in the points.
The withdraw of Gilera saw Duke make an ill-fated switch to BMW for the 1958 500cc World Championship and back to Norton for the 350cc series, but neither machine was a match for the now dominating MV Agustas and Duke finished third, top non-MV, in both championships after dropping his BMW for a Norton midway through the premier-class season.
After only reasonable results during 1959, in which he finished fourth and fifth on Nortons in the 500 and 350cc championships respectively - and with MV Augusta still totally dominating both classes - Duke decided he had little left to prove and called time on his glorious ten-year GP career at the end of season.