While he may not have any internationally recognised title wins to his name, Leon Haslam remains one of Britain’s best known and successful motorcycle racers, boasting experience at both grand prix and Superbike level.
Son of the legendary rider ‘Rocket’ Ron Haslam, ‘Pocket Rocket’ Leon followed in his footsteps from an early age, being taken to his father’s events as a child before quickly showing an interest in racing during his early teens.
Winning the National Young Motocross Championship two years in a row, Haslam graduated to road racing in 1997 in the Gilera Scooter National Championship, a series he would dominate with 12 wins from 16 races.
Stepping up to the British 125GP Championship at the age of 15, Haslam finished seventh in his maiden season aboard a Honda, while he just missed out on points during the British round of the 125cc World Championship. A second season in the category saw him claim fifth in the standings, as well as the Under 23 British Championship and fourth in the Spanish 125cc series.
Smoothing his path to the 125cc World Championship, Haslam, who was still only 16, joined the returning Italjet Moto team. Mechanical woes defined his season with the team, but Haslam did at least give a glimpse of his future potential, particularly in the wet, when he finished tenth at a sodden Spanish Grand Prix. He also managed to win three races with the same bike during an occasional British 125cc season.
Despite an indifferent first experience on the world stage, Haslam would nonetheless go on to make headlines around the world when he was signed by the Shell Advance Honda team to compete in the 500cc World Championship. At 17-years-old, Haslam was the youngest rider to ever compete the premier class, not to mention one of the least experienced.
Pairing up with Chris Walker, Haslam’s season on the uncompetitive V-Twin bike was more than respectable. Scoring three points on his debut at Suzuka, Haslam had the edge on the rest of the twin riders, but struggled to adapt to the V4 when it was introduced mid-season. Reverting back to the twin in the search for better results, Haslam finished the season with a fine 11th place, points that saw him classified 19th in the standings – just ahead of team-mate Walker.
A return to more manageable machinery saw Haslam switch to the 250cc Grand Prix Championship, riding a Clibertel Honda, but the decision would effectively end his hopes of progressing up again. Struggling on machinery that wasn’t as competitive as its Aprilia rival, Haslam qualified inside the top ten on just one occasion, with his best result being limited to a seventh place at Estoril, again, in the wet.
Finishing a lowly 19th in the standings, Haslam was not courted for a return to the premier class in 2003 and instead opted to join the British Supersport Championship with the Renegade Ducati team.
Although initially considered a backward step, the move would turn out to be a shrewd one for Haslam. Proving immediately competitive in the category, Haslam recorded five podiums at the start of the season to make him the ideal candidate to replace Sean Emmett in the British Superbike Championship when he was dropped by Renegade mid-way through the season.
Showing immediate affinity with more powerful Superbike machinery, Haslam used his part-season to pitch for a longer term in the category, scoring a best finish of fourth position. More significantly, Haslam was given a chance to compete on the world stage, again with the same team, entering three of the final four World Superbike rounds.
Finishing sixth at Assen and Magny-Cours, Haslam out paced and out ranked Michael Rutter, who rode the bike earlier in the season. Consequently, Haslam got the nod to compete for a full season in the world championship in 2004 alongside Noriyuki Haga, who was returning to the series following an unsuccessful foray into MotoGP.
Although Haga, as expected, was Renegade’s number one rider, Haslam didn’t disgrace himself against his vastly more experienced team-mate. Capitalising on the dominant Ducati era, Haslam was a regular front runner, finishing inside the top five on seven occasions and climbing onto the podium once at the Lausitzring.
He would eventually end the season a fine eighth overall, ahead of the likes of Troy Corser and Walker, but with Renegade slimming down and switching to Honda in 2005, Haslam returned to British shores in 2005 for a first full term in BSB with GSE Racing.
The former World Superbike champions had reformed for 2005 and secured good backing from Ducati, but while Haslam was a firm favourite for the title, an unspectacular start to the season left him playing catch up. Winning for the first time at Oulton Park – breaking a run seven straight wins for Honda -, Haslam would win twice more, but it was only good enough for him to finish a fairly distant fourth overall, well behind title winning team-mate Gregorio Lavilla.
Returning for 2006, Haslam embarked on a more consistent approach to his racing, staying within title contention throughout the season despite not visiting the top step of the podium until the tenth round. The win at Croft was made all the more significant by Haslam’s fight through the field in difficult conditions to snatch victory in the closing stages. Further success at Cadwell Park would launch him into the reckoning again.
However, a retirement whilst leading at the penultimate Silverstone round would ultimately prove crucial for Haslam, leaving him to fall just short of champion Ryuichi Kiyonari. Indeed, the statistics told their own story, Haslam ending the year as runner-up, just eight points adrift yet with eight fewer race wins.
A similar story emerged from the 2007 season, with Haslam taking until the sixth round at Mondello Park to rejoin the winners’ circle. Even so, save for a late flurry of good results to lift him up the order, Haslam was destined to finish third overall, comfortably behind the HM Plant Hondas of Kiyonari and Jonathan Rea.
With GSE unable to immediately commit to the 2008 BSB season due to ongoing wrangles over the legality of its proposed 1200cc entry, Haslam jumped ship to HM Plant Honda, the team’s champion status quickly establishing him as the pre-season favourite.
However, Haslam struggled to get dialled into the CBR1000RR at the beginning of the season and was swiftly left behind by champion-elect Shane Byrne riding the now legal GSE Ducati 1098. Furthermore, Haslam was initially embarrassed by his younger team-mate Cal Crutchlow until a mid-season shift saw him regain authority in the team.
Having finished second on four occasions, Haslam eventually won his first race for Honda at Knockhill, kicking off a superb end to the season that would see him triumphant in five of the last nine races. His efforts would see him rewarded with second in the standings, albeit well behind Byrne.
Lumbered with ‘bridesmaid’ status yet again, Haslam was expected to remain in BSB for one more year in an attempt to secure that long awaited title, but instead took a risk by returning to the World Superbike Championship with a new – and privateer – team.
Pairing up with Stiggy Racing, graduates of the Supersport category, Haslam’s move was certainly considered lower profile compared to that of BSB rivals Byrne and Tom Sykes, but he would eventually emerge as the series’ top representative.
Translating his new-found bond with the bike onto the world stage, Haslam was on the podium at the very first round in Australia, taking the fight to better funded Honda counterparts Ten Kate during the first-half of the season.
A superb display at Assen followed with a pair of hard fought podiums before Haslam’s crowning moment came with a second place finish on home ground at Donington Park.
Financial woes on the part of the team threatened Haslam’s progress towards the end of the year, but he kept spirits high by securing sixth in the overall standings, ahead of several more fancied competitors, including Byrne, Sykes and Kiyonari.
A career-defining season for Haslam, he not surprisingly courted plenty of attention from factory teams during the off-season, including Honda and Kawasaki, before he eventually put pen to paper with Suzuki.
The first time he had competed internationally with the backing of a manufacturer, while Haslam was tipped to perform well in 2010, there remained question marks over the competitiveness of the Suzuki package after a hugely disappointing 2009 campaign.
Early indications in testing suggested Haslam was the man capable of returning the Alstare-helmed squad to the front, but it was his victory in the very first race – in which he came out on the right side of the closest WSBK finish ever – proved both man and machine would be reckoned forces this year.
Indeed, Haslam was the model of consistency, winning again in Valencia, while he didn’t finish any lower than second during the first five races. However, despite claiming a third victory at Kyalami, he was being matched all the way by Max Biaggi, who was hot on his heels as the season reached the mid-way point.
A fall at Miller Motorsports Park proved the tipping point, Biaggi moving ahead into a lead he wouldn’t lose to the end of the season. Haslam chased gamely, but with the cash-strapped Suzuki hesitant on providing full backing to the Alstare team, his title challenge waned as the season progressed.
With Suzuki’s reluctance to develop a potential title-winning bike proving unfathomable to some, Haslam was forced to choose between his heart and his head when it came to deciding his immediate future. While he was tied into an Alstare contract, the team – themselves expressing a disappointment with Suzuki – agreed to let him leave to join BMW, who offered a more tempting future proposition.
A third season with a third different manufacturer, Haslam began 2011 remarkably well with a run to the podium in his first race with BMW, though it was a result that somewhat flattered to deceive.
Indeed, Haslam would bother the podium winners on just two further occasions as he found himself hampered by the set-up issues that had dogged the S1000RR since its debut in 2009. Even so, despite a frustrating mid-season lull, during which Ayrton Badovini on the satellite BMW Italia emerged as the manufacturer’s best-scoring rider, Haslam’s combination of consistency and determination was still rewarded with a fine fifth in the standings.
Haslam remained with BMW in 2012, where he was joined by Marco Melandri. Beginning the season by breaking his leg at Phillip Island, Haslam battled on regardless and even had the measure of his respected team-mate during the opening rounds, even if he threw away a probable win at Assen with a crash from the lead in wet conditions.
Indeed, much emphasis was being made on who would break BMW’s WSBK victory duck, a rivalry with Melandri that would come to a head during a pivotal Donington Park event during which the Italian got the edge on Haslam to claim the manufacturer’s long awaited debut win, before the pair were involved in a controversial clash just metres from what should have been Haslam’s victory in the second outing.
Thereafter, Haslam endured a torrid year, just one more podium coming as mistakes and technical issues conspired against him. From being a title contender at Donington Park, Haslam slumped to eighth in the overall standings, contributing to his eventual departure from BMW.
Nonetheless, Haslam has found a new home with Honda for 2013, where he will look to turn the second bike alongside Jonathan Rea into a winner. Career Highlights:
b>2013: Haslam returns to Honda machinery for the 2013 season2012:
World Superbike Championship, BMW Motorrad, 8th2011:
World Superbike Championship, BMW Motorrad, 5th2010:
World Superbike Championship, Suzuki Alstare, 2nd (3 wins). 2009:
World Superbike Championship, Stiggy Honda, 6th2008:
British Superbike Championship, HM Plant Honda, 2nd (5 wins) 2007:
British Superbike Championship, GSE Ducati, 3rd (4 wins) 2006:
British Superbike Championship, GSE Ducati, 2nd (3 wins) 2005:
British Superbike Championship, GSE Ducati, 4th (2 wins) 2004:
World Superbike Championship, Renegade Ducati, 8th2003:
World Superbike Championship, Renegade Ducati, 21st (3 races)
British Superbike Championship, Renegade Ducati, 11th
British Supersport Championship, Renegade Ducati 11th2002:
250cc World Championship, Cibertel Honda BQR, 19th2001:
500cc World Championship, Shell Advance Honda, 19th2000:
125cc World Championship, Italjet Moto, 27th
125cc British Championship, Italjet Moto, 7th (3 wins) 1999:
Under 23 British Championship, Champion
125cc British Championship, Honda, 5th
125cc Spanish Championship, 4th1998:
125cc British Championship, Honda, 7th
Gilera Scooter Championship, Champion1996:
National Young Motocross, Champion1995:
National Young Motocross, Champion