So how do you win a World Championship? Do you throw caution to the wind at every opportunity, risking crashing to win races and starting high up the grid or are you more cautious? Statistics on the number of crashes this season have just been released and they are not going to help solve the argument in any way.

Nobody has ever accused MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi of being cautious, but he achieved his nine grand prix victories this season after just one crash (pictured) in 80 hours of official practice, qualifying, warm-up and racing. The Italian may have gone off the track a few more times, but only once did Rossi have to pick up that RCV Honda out of the gravel.

Similarly, not many people have accused the new 250cc world champion Manuel Poggiali of being particularly reckless, but the 20-year old from San Marino crashed no less than 16 times on his way to the title. Even on the day he won the championship in Valencia, he was lucky to walk away from a spectacular accident in the morning warm-up.

So, they may be no help on what tactics to employ to win that title, but those statistics confirm what has been seen out on the track this year - grand prix motorcycle racing is entering it?s most competitive era in 54-year history of the sport as a world championship event.

In this season's 16 grands prix events, including practice and qualifying, there were 705 fallers - an average of 44 fallers per event. That is the highest number for the
last ten years, showing an increase of almost four crashes per event over the 2002 season.

Putting these figures into perspective, it's still an incredibly low number of crashes in 12 hours of 125cc, 250cc and MotoGP practice, qualifying and racing for 90 riders over a three day period. However, the increase perfectly illustrates just how competitive the racing in all three classes has become.

The 4.180km Bugatti circuit at Le Mans in France hosted the most crashes with 72 fallers during the French Grand Prix. The Phakisa Freeway circuit at Welkom in South Africa provided the lowest with just 23 crashes on a track which is notoriously dirty and slippery in the early practice and qualifying sessions.

It was a wet miserable Saturday at Le Mans that really caught out the riders. Eleven 125cc, six 250cc and six MotoGP riders crashed in the morning practice while in the vital final afternoon qualifying session there were seven 125cc, four 250cc and only two MotoGP fallers. Contrast the Welkom sunshine on Friday, where just six riders fell throughout practice and first qualifying sessions in all three classes.

Not surprisingly, it's the ultra competitive 125cc class - with so many young riders - that led the way with race crashes. One hundred and fifteen 125cc riders crashed during races this year, compared to 86 250s and 75 in MotoGP.

In practice and qualifying, it was a different story, with the 250s heading the pack. In the two qualifying sessions, 86 250cc riders crashed, 80 125s and 63 MotoGP riders. In the two practice sessions, 78 250cc riders crashed, 69 125s and 53 in MotoGP. Not to be outdone, the MotoGP riders led the way in the race day warm-up sessions with 22 crashes compared to 18 125s and 15 250s.

So, enough of the statistics and quite literally down to the nitty-gritty. Which rider crashed the most in 2003....

The dubious award went to 15-year old Frenchman Mike di Meglio, who crashed 19 times in the 125cc class. It was his debut season in grand prix racing and certainly nobody could accuse him of not putting in enough effort.

Just two crashes behind him was former World Superbike star Noriyuki Haga, who fell 17 times from his MotoGP Aprilia during a difficult season for both him and his team-mate, World Superbike champion Colin Edwards, although the American fell 'just' eight times.

World champion Poggiali and Frenchman Eric Bataille both crashed 16 times in the 250cc class, while two riders with very different MotoGP experience were next on the list. Former World Superbike champion Troy Bayliss crashed the Ducati 15 times on his MotoGP debut season, while the most experienced grand prix rider of them all - former Honda Pons star Brazilian Alex Barros - fell 14 times from his Yamaha.

The Camel Pramac Pons pair of Max Biaggi and Tohru Ukawa had their fair share of crashes in contrasting seasons. Biaggi (lower pic) fell eight times on his way to third place in the championship and two grands prix victories. The Italian rider's worst day was at Phillip Island in Australia when he crashed in the morning warm-up and also in the race, although he bravely remounted to finish 17th.

Ukawa, meanwhile, fell ten times en route to eighth place in the title chase. He started and ended the season disastrously when he crashed in the first race of the season at Suzuka in Japan and the last race in Valencia.

Finally, the answer to the quiz question that is sure to be asked over Christmas. Valentino Rossi?s only fall of the season came eight minutes into the first practice session for the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring in July.



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