MotoGP 2009: Best Brit
Not since the heady days of late legend Barry Sheene have British fans witnessed home talent enjoying as much success in Grand Prix racing as Bradley Smith did in 2009.
It was a year in which the Oxfordshire rider brilliantly converted undoubted potential into major success, as he became the most successful British Grand Prix rider for a generation.
Two victories in a cauldron atmosphere at Jerez and Mugello made Smith Britain’s most successful Grand Prix rider since Sheene and justified why he had been touted as of one the brightest prospects to emerge in the UK in decades. A maiden win in Spain also ended his own personal quest for an elusive first win.
Riding for the Aspar Aprilia squad, expectation and pressure was high with the Spanish squad the dominant force in the 125GP arena.
Nobody was more aware of the need to succeed than Smith himself and he needed the win in Jerez to inject much needed impetus to a season that had made a faltering start.
He was fifth in the rain-shortened Qatar night opener and tenth in Japan following a near huge high-side that left him soaked him blood after the jagged edge of a smashed fairing left him with a gaping neck wound.
When he kept his nerve to win a pulsating Italian GP in Mugello, Smith led the world championship. No other British rider had held that distinction since Sheene in 1979.
His hopes of title glory though suffered a crushing blow at the pivotal mid-season stage.
He’d qualified second on the grid at the Sachsenring in Germany, but had an instantly forgettable race when he crashed twice in the opening four laps and failed to score points for the first time.
Worse was to follow though.
His wild celebrations at a brilliant home pole position at Donington Park proved premature as Smith crashed out of the lead in a five-lap dash after rain had halted proceedings.
He remounted to finish 20th, but ultimately it was the mistakes in the German and British races that robbed him of his chance to mount a stronger title assault.
Aspar Aprilia team-mate Julian Simon won both the Sachsenring and Donington clashes to inflict maximum punishment on Smith.
And Simon would prove to be Smith’s nemesis for the rest of the season as the Spaniard went onto clinch his first world title.
Undeterred and appearing mentally more bulletproof than ever before, Smith then embarked on arguably the best spell of his riding career.
He ended the season with six successive podium finishes that included four narrow second places.
He had emerged from a pack of hot young Latino talent that included the likes of Nicolas Terol, Pol Espargaro and Andrea Iannone to pose the most serious threat to Simon’s domination of the 125 class in the second half of the campaign.
In the final three races in Australia, Malaysia and Valencia he lost out in thrilling last lap battles to Simon. The margin of defeat combined in the final three races amounted to less than 1.5s and showed the huge strides Smith had made in establishing himself as a consistent podium threat in 2009.
Smith might have become Britain’s best Grand Prix rider since Sheene and shown with unrivalled dedication and no shortage of talent that he is a genuine star in the making. In Sepang he clinched second place in the championship, yet inexplicably he got no offers to move to the new Moto2 600cc four-stroke class as he desperately craved.
Smith re-signed with Aspar Aprilia for another shot at the 125 title and will undoubtedly start 2010 as a pre-season favourite. Are we to finally to see a British world champion in again in Grand Prix racing? Watch this space.