How Many MotoGP Drivers Have Died?

MotoGP has a long history of crashes, driver injuries, and unfortunate deaths. Compared to motorsports with four wheels – NASCAR has 29 fatalities – the risk of serious injury multiplies when you are on a racing motorcycle. How many MotoGP drivers have died since its inception?

Since the inception of the FIM World Championship on June 13, 1949, a total of 107 MotoGP drivers have died. From 1949 to 1989, a total of 99 MotoGP drivers died on the track. From 1990 to date, there have been 9 MotoGP drivers who have sadly lost their lives, one as young as 14 years old.

Even with all the added rider safety equipment, and increased measures to make the racing circuits safer, when a motorcycle racer falls from their bike, it’s up to fate to decide if they will ride again. It’s one thing falling from your bike, and momentum takes you into a safety barrier. It’s another thing when you fall in the middle of a racing pack, being hit by steel machines at a tremendous pace.


How Many MotoGP Drivers Have Died?

Too many MotoGP drivers have lost their lives since the beginning of the FIM World Championship on June 13, 1949. A total of 107 motorcycle racers have lost their lives while competing under the MotoGP mantle.

Safety measures have helped to minimize the death of the riders in recent decades, and long may it continue. As exciting as motorcycle racing is for both the driver and the spectator, it remains one of the most dangerous motorsports in the world.

When a driver is flung from his bike, it’s him against concrete, gravel, and worst of all, fellow competitor bikes. A racing suit and helmet can only offer so much protection. Sadly, when a fellow rider drives over you, it will feel like you aren’t wearing any protection.

MotoGP Drivers Who Have Died In 1949

The first official MotoGP death was recorded on June 13, 1949, on the Isle of Man, involving Ben Drinkwater from the UK. The accident occurred in the very first race of the brand-new FIM World Championship – the Isle of Man TT – when Drinkwater fatally collided with a barrier close to the 11th milestone marker post.  

Today, an S-bend corner, close to the accident location on the famous Mountain Course, is known as “Drinkwater’s Bend” in honor of the first man to lose his life in MotoGP. A total of 3 MotoGP drivers died in 1949. The year MotoGP was born.

RiderBikeCircuitRaceDuring EventClassDate
Ben Drinkwater (UK – 1)NortonIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1949 Isle of Man TTRace350ccJune 13, 1949
Edouard Bruylant (BEL – 2)NortonCircuit de Spa-Francorchamps1949 Belgium Grand PrixRaceSidecarJuly 17, 1949
“Hurst” (GBR – 3)NortonCircuit de Spa-Francorchamps1949 Belgium Grand PrixRaceSidecarJuly 17, 1949

MotoGP Drivers Who Have Died 1950-1959

Racing motorcycles in the 1950s was a dangerous profession that could result in death. A total of 28 riders lost their lives from 1950-1959, a bloody decade for motorcycle racing. The Isle of Man TT claimed 11 of those lives. Today, the Isle of Man TT is the most dangerous motorcycle race in the world.

David Whitworth was the first casualty of the 50s when he and Charlie Salt managed to crash into each other during the 1950 Belgian Grand Prix held at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. Whitworth fractured his skull, died the next day, and was buried in the local cemetery in Spa as he “wished to be buried close to the scene of any fatal accident.”

RiderBikeCircuitRaceDuring EventClassDate
David Whitworth (GBR – 4)VelocetteCircuit de Spa-Francorchamps1950 Belgium Grand PrixRace350ccJuly 2, 1950
John O’Driscoll (GBR – 5)RudgeIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1951 Isle of Man TTPractice350ccMay 31, 1951
Chris Horn (GBR – 6)NortonIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1951 Isle of Man TTRace500ccJune 8, 1951
Dario Ambrosini (ITA – 7)BenelliCircuit d’Albi1951 French Grand PrixPractice250ccJuly 14, 1951
Sante Geminiani (ITA – 8)Moto GuzziClady Circuit1951 Ulster Grand PrixPractice250ccAugust 15, 1951
Gianni Leoni (ITA – 9)NortonClady Circuit1951 Ulster Grand PrixPractice250ccAugust 15, 1951
Dave Bennett (UK – 10)NortonCircuit Bremgarten1952 Swiss Grand PrixRace500ccMay 18, 1952
Ercole Frigerio (ITA – 11)GileraCircuit Bremgarten1952 Swiss Grand PrixRaceSidecarMay 18, 1952
Frank Fry (UK – 12)NortonIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1952 Isle of Man TTPractice500ccJune 4, 1952
Norman Stewart (UK – 13)NortonClady Circuit1952 Ulster Grand PrixRace350ccAugust 16, 1952
Harry Stephen (UK – 14)NortonIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1953 Isle of Man TTRace350ccJune 8, 1953
Thomas Swarbrick (UK – 15)AJSIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1953 Isle of Man TTRace350ccJune 8, 1953
Leslie Graham (UK – 16)MV AugustaIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1953 Isle of Man TTRace500ccJune 12, 1953
Geoffrey Walker (AUS – 17)NortonIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1953 Isle of Man TTRace500ccJune 12, 1953
Ernie Ring (AUS – 18)AJSCircuit de Spa-Francorchamps1953 Belgian Grand PrixRace500ccJuly 5, 1953
Simon Sandy-Winsch (UK – 19)VelocetteIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1954 Isle of Man TTRace500ccJune 18, 1954
Gordon Laing (UK – 20)NortonCircuit de Spa-Francorchamps1954 Belgian Grand PrixRace350ccJuly 4, 1954
Dennis Lashmar (UK – 21)BSASolituderin1954 German Grand PrixRace500ccJuly 25, 1954
Rupert Hollaus (AUT – 22)NSUAutodromo Nazionale Monza1954 Nations Grand PrixPractice125ccSeptember 11, 1954
Ricardo Galvagni (ARG – 23)NortonNurburgring1955 German Grand PrixPractice500ccJune 25, 1955
Julian Crossley (UK – 24)NortonDundrod Circuit1955 Ulster Grand PrixRace350ccAugust 11, 1955
Derek Ennett (IOM – 25)Moto GuzziDundrod Circuit1956 Ulster Grand PrixRace350ccAugust 9, 1956
Charlie Salt (UK – 26)BSAIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1957 Isle of Man TTRace500ccJune 7, 1957
Josef Knebel (GER – 27)BMWTT Circuit Assen1957 Dutch TTPracticeSidecarJune 28, 1957
Roberto Colombo (ITA – 28)MV AgustaCircuit de Spa-Francorchamps1957 Belgian Grand PrixPractice350ccJuly 6, 1957
John Antram (NZ – 29)AJSIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1958 Isle of Man TTPractice350ccMay 26, 1958
Des Wolff (RHO – 30)NortonIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1958 Isle of Man TTRace500ccJune 6, 1958
Adolfo Covi (ITA – 31)NortonAutodromo Nazionale Monza1959 Nations Grand PrixRace500ccSeptember 6, 1959

MotoGP Drivers Who Have Died 1960-1969

MotoGP racing deaths in the 60s were on par with the 50s, claiming 27 lives. Again, the track responsible for the most deaths was the now notorious Isle of Man TT. This decade of motorcycle racing notably claimed the life of female driver Marie-Laure Lambert.

Sidecar driver Claude Lambert and his passenger, wife Marie-Laure Lambert, entered the 1961 Isle of Man TT in their BMW sidecar. Unfortunately, the pair crashed at the 35th-mile marker Gob-ny-Geay, and Marie-Laure died from her injuries.

RiderBikeCircuitRaceDuring EventClassDate
Peter Ferbrache (UK – 32)AJSTT Circuit Assen1960 Dutch TTRace350ccJune 25, 1960
Bob Brown (UK – 33)HondaSolituderin1960 German Grand PrixPractice250ccJuly 24, 1960
Mike Brookes (UK – 34)NortonIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1961 Isle of Man TTPractice500ccJune 10, 1961
Marie-Laure Lambert (CH – 35)BMWIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1961 Isle of Man TTRaceSidecarJune 12, 1961
Ralph Rensen (UK – 36)NortonIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1961 Isle of Man TTRace500ccJune 16, 1961
Ron Miles (AUS – 37)NortonDundrod Circuit1961 Ulster Grand PrixPractice350ccAugust 9, 1961
Tom Phillis (AUS – 38)HondaIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1962 Isle of Man TTRace350ccJune 6, 1962
Colin Meehan (NZ – 39)AJSIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1962 Isle of Man TTRace350ccJune 6, 1962
Hans Schuld (NED – 40)NSUTT Circuit Assen1962 Dutch TTPractice250ccJune 29, 1962
Marcelin Herranz (FRA – 41)Moto MoriniCharade Circuit1963 French Grand PrixPractice250ccJune 1, 1963
Brian Cockrell (UK – 42)NortonIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1964 Isle of Man TTPracticeSidecarJune 2, 1964
Peter Essery (UK – 43)MatchlessIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1964 Isle of Man TTRaceSidecarJune 8, 1964
Roland Foll (GER – 44)HondaTT Circuit Assen1964 Dutch TTPractice125ccJune 26, 1964
Karl Recktenwald (GBR – 45)NortonSolitudering1964 German Grand PrixRace500ccJuly 19, 1964
Vernon Cottle (UK – 46)AJSImatra Circuit1964 Finnish Grand PrixRace350ccAugust 29, 1964
Norman Huntingford (UK – 47)MatchlessTT Circuit Assen1966 Dutch TTRaceSidecarJune 25, 1966
Toshio Fujii (JPN – 48)KawasakiIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1966 Isle of Man TTPractice125ccAugust 26, 1966
Brian Duffy (UK – 49)YamahaIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1966 Isle of Man TTRace250ccAugust 28, 1966
Alfred Shaw (UK – 50)NortonIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1967 Isle of Man TTPractice500ccJune 10, 1967
Werner Daubitz (DDR – 51)MZSachsenring1967 East Germany Grand PrixPractice July 16, 1967
Ian Veitch (NZ – 52)KawasakiIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1968 Isle of Man TTRace250ccJune 10, 1968
Johann Attenberger (GER – 53)BMWCircuit de Spa-Francorchamps1968 Belgian Grand PrixRaceSidecarJuly 7, 1968
Josef Schillinger (GER – 54)BMWCircuit de Spa-Francorchamps1968 Belgian Grand PrixRaceSidecarJuly 7, 1968
Rolf Schmid (GER – 55)BMWHockenheimring1968 Hockenheim Grand PrixRaceSidecarOctober 13, 1968
Arthur Lavington (UK – 56)VelocetteIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1969 Isle of Man TTPractice350ccJune 6, 1969
Bill Ivy (UK – 57)JawaSachsenring1969 East German Grand PrixPractice350ccJuly 12, 1969
Frantisek Bocek (CSK – 58)JawaBrno Circuit1969 Czechoslovakian Grand PrixRace350ccJuly 20, 1969

MotoGP Drivers Who Died 1970-1979

Another decade of motorcycle racing meant another 24 motorcyclists dead. The Isle of Man TT claiming 11 riders was expected when looking back at previous decades of racing at this extremely dangerous race.

After the death of one of the most talented riders of his era, Finnish rider Jarno Saarinen, at the 1973 Nations Grand Prix (Italy), increased demands for better safety conditions for all motorcycle racers who competed in world championships intensified.

Saarinen became an inductee of the FIM MotoGP Hall of Fame in 2009, and to this day, he is the only Finn to have won a motorcycle road racing championship (250cc class in 1972.) He finished second to 15-time Championship winner and biking legend Giacomo Agostini during the year before his untimely death.

RiderBikeCircuitRaceDuring EventClassDate
Robin Fitton (UK – 59)NortonNurburgring1970 German Grand PrixPractice350ccMay 2, 1970
Les Iles (UK – 60)BultacoIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1970 Isle of Man TTPractice125ccJune 1, 1970
Michael Collins (UK – 61)SeeleyIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1970 Isle of Man TTPractice500ccJune 3, 1970
Dennis Blower (UK – 62)BSAIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1970 Isle of Man TTPracticeSidecarJune 3, 1970
Santiago Herrero (ESP – 63)OssaIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1970 Isle of Man TTRace250ccJune 8, 1970
John Wetherall (MLT – 64)NortonIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1970 Isle of Man TTRace500ccJune 12, 1970
Brian Steenson (UK – 65)SeeleyIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1970 Isle of Man TTRace500ccJune 12, 1970
Maurice Jeffery (UK – 67)NortonIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1971 Isle of Man TTRace500ccJune 12, 1971
Christian Ravel (FRA – 68)KawasakiCircuit de Spa-Francorchamps1971 Belgian Grand PrixRace500ccJuly 4, 1971
Gunter Bartusch (DDR – 69)MZSachsenring1971 East Germany Grand PrixPractice350ccJuly 8, 1971
Gilberto Parlotti (ITA – 70)MorbidelliIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1972 Isle of Man TTRace125ccJune 9, 1972
Hans-Jurgen Cusnik (GER – 71)BMWBrno Circuit1972 Czechoslovakian Grand PrixRaceSidecarJuly 16, 1972
Renzo Pasolini (ITA – 72)Harley-DavidsonAutodromo Nazionale Monza1973 Nations Grand PrixRace250ccMay 20, 1973
Jarno Saarinen (FIN – 73)YamahaAutodromo Nazionale Monza1973 Nations Grand PrixRace250ccMay 20, 1973
Billie Nelson (UK – 74)YamahaOpatija Circuit1974 Yugoslavian Grand PrixRace250ccSeptember 8, 1974
Phil Gurner (UK – 75)YamahaIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1975 Isle of Man TTRace500ccJune 4, 1975
Rolf Thiele (GER – 76)YamahaTT Circuit Assen1975 Dutch TTRace250ccJune 28, 1975
Paolo Tordi (ITA – 77)YamahaMugello Circuit1976 Nations Grand PrixRace350ccMay 16, 1976
Otello Buscherini (ITA – 78)YamahaMugello Circuit1976 Nations Grand PrixRace250ccMay 16, 1976
Walter Worner (GER – 79)YamahaIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1976 Isle of Man TTRaceSidecarJune 7, 1976
Les Kenny (AUS – 80)YamahaIsle of Man TT – Mountain Course1976 Isle of Man TTRace250ccJune 12, 1976
Hans Stadelmann (CH – 81)YamahaSalzburgring1977 Austrian Grand PrixRace350ccMay 1, 1977
Giovanni Ziggiotto (ITA – 82)YamahaOpatija Circuit1977 Yugoslavian Grand PrixRace250ccJune 18, 1977
Ulrich Graf (CH – 83)KreidlerOpatija Circuit1977 Yugoslavian Grand PrixRace50ccJune 19, 1977

MotoGP Drivers Who Died 1980-1989

During the 80s, the motorcycle racing community experienced fewer deaths than in the preceding decades, which could be because the Isle of Man TT was removed from the IFM roster in 1976, being handed to the United Kingdom after safety concerns (took them long enough!). The British Grand Prix replaced the Isle of Man TT.

MotoGP legend Giacomo Agostini started to protest in favor of the removal of the Isle of Man TT in 1972 and stated “he would never race again at the Isle of Man” before declaring it too dangerous a track for international competition. Agostini believed it was outrageous that professional riders were forced into competing there.

Modern-day MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi, who did a lap on the famous course, stated: “I did a lap of the Isle of Man, and I understand why people love this because it’s f**king awesome. It’s unbelievable, great. But, unfortunately, it’s too dangerous. Sometimes, riders are crazy.” And we all know Rossi was not the type to scare easily.

RiderBikeCircuitRaceDuring EventClassDate
Patrick Pons (FRA – 84)YamahaSilverstone Circuit1980 British Grand PrixRace500ccAugust 10, 1980
Malcolm White (UK – 86)YamahaSilverstone Circuit1980 British Grand PrixRaceSidecarAugust 10, 1980
Michel Rougerie (FRA – 87)ChevallierAutomotodrom Grobnik1981 Yugoslavian Grand PrixRace350ccMay 31, 1981
Sauro Pazzaglia (ITA – 88)MBAAutodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari1981 San Marino Grand PrixPractice250ccJuly 11, 1981
Alain Beraud (FRA – 89)YamahaBrno Circuit1981 Czechoslovakian Grand PrixRace250ccAugust 30, 1981
Jock Taylor (UK – 90)WindleImatra Circuit1982 Finnish Grand PrixRaceSidecarAugust 15, 1982
Iwao Ishikawa (JPN – 91)SuzukiBugatti Circuit1983 French Grand PrixPractice500ccMarch 29, 1983
Michel Frautschi (CH – 92)HondaBugatti Circuit1983 French Grand PrixRace500ccApril 3, 1983
Rolf Ruttimann (CH – 93)MBAAutomotodrom Grobnik1983 Yugoslavia Grand PrixRace125ccJune 12, 1983
Norman Brown (UK – 94)SuzukiSilverstone Circuit1983 British Grand PrixRace500ccJuly 31, 1983
Peter Huber (CH – 95)SuzukiSilverstone Circuit1983 British Grand PrixRace500ccJuly 31, 1983
Kevin Wrettom (UK – 96)SuzukiCircuit de Spa-Francorchamps1984 Belgian Grand PrixPractice500ccJuly 7, 1984
Alfred Heck (GER – 97)LCRCircuit Paul Ricard1988 French Grand PrixPracticeSidecarJuly 21, 1988
Ivan Pallazzese (VEN – 98)ApriliaHockenheimring1989 German Grand PrixRace250ccMay 28, 1989

MotoGP Drivers Who Died 1990-2022

As you may have noticed, the number of deaths in MotoGP has drastically decreased compared to previous decades. The lower mortality rate is due to many factors, such as protective riding gear and upgrading safety at most circuits.

On October 23, 2011, a collision occurred between Colin Edwards and close friends Valentino Rossi and Marco Simoncelli in the Malaysian Grand Prix. Simoncelli lost control of his bike, sliding in the direction of the gravel. What happened next will haunt many a MotoGP rider and fan for many years.

Simoncelli’s tires suddenly regained traction, making the bike change direction into the path of oncoming traffic. While Simoncelli was hanging onto the right side of the bike, he was hit by Edwards before Rossi hit him in the head area. No rider had any chance of missing Simoncelli, who died half an hour later in the circuit’s medical center.

Alarmingly, there have been three recent deaths that rocked the motorcycle world to its core, involving very young drivers:

The circumstances and age of the drivers have led to safety concerns going forward. The FIM responded by introducing safety reforms:

  • Riders participating in any of MotoGP’s 3 classifications must be 18 years old beginning in 2023.
  • The age limit in Moto2 and Moto3, the two classes on the ladder directly below MotoGP, is presently fixed at 16 and will now move up to a minimum age of 18.
  • The grid sizes sanctioned by the FIM for the junior series were lowered from the beginning of 2022, and a year added to the minimum ages.
RiderBikeCircuitRaceDuring EventClassDate
Nobuyuki Wakai (JPN – 99)SuzukiCircuito de Jerez1993 Spanish Grand PrixPractice250ccMay 1, 1993
Simon Prior (UK – 100)LCRHockenheimring1994 German Grand PrixRaceSidecarJune 12, 1994
Dajiro Kato (JPN – 101)HondaSuzuka Circuit2003 Japanese Grand PrixRaceMotoGPApril 6, 2003
Shoya Tomizawa (JPN – 102)SuterMisano Circuit2010 San Marino and Rimini Grand PrixRaceMoto2September 5, 2010
Marco Simoncelli (ITA – 103)HondaSepang International Circuit2011 Malaysian Grand PrixRaceMotoGPOctober 23, 2011
Luis Salom (ESP – 104)KalexCircuit de Barcelona-Catalunya2016 Catalan Grand PrixPracticeMoto2June 3, 2016
Jason Dupasquier (SUI – 105)KTMMugello Circuit2021 Italian Grand PrixQualifyingMoto3May 29, 2021
Hugo Millan (ESP – 106)KTMMotorland Oregon CircuitEuropean Talent Cup RaceRaceMoto3July 25, 2021
Dean Vinales (ESP – 107)YamahaCircuit de Jerez-Angel NietoSupersport 300 World Championship RaceRaceSupersport 300September 25, 2021

Conclusion

All racing has an element of risk, and the drivers get paid to consider that risk. The risk of being a motorcycle racer is that your chance of dying on the track is higher when compared to most other racing sports. This element of danger is what makes motorcycle racing so intriguing.


References

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