Horror accidents and lightning comebacks: Pecco's predecessors

by Michael Scott - Automatic translation from German

Just a week after his scary crash in the Catalunya GP, Pecco Bagnaia limped his way back onto the MotoGP podium at Misano. A look into the history and hero books of the motorbike world championship.

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Championships are often influenced by crashes - and usually negatively. So it was all the more pleasing that the horror accident shortly after the start of the Catalunya GP had a mild outcome: Pecco Bagnaia was leading through the first two corners, but then flew off wildly and landed in the middle of the track. Participants and fans alike were left breathless.

Pecco was incredibly lucky to survive the terrible highsider without any broken bones (according to equipment supplier Alpinestars, 24 g had an effect on the impact), and had every reason to be grateful that Brad Binder's KTM "only" rolled over his legs. It's hard to imagine what could have happened otherwise.

Nevertheless: multiple bruises, especially painful on the coccyx, and a large haematoma on the right knee are not trivial injuries.

Only four days after being taken away in an ambulance, the Ducati factory rider returned to the paddock at Misano last Thursday. Visibly battered and limping, but at least without crutches. After receiving medical clearance, he got back on his Desmosedici GP23 on Friday - albeit at a leisurely pace.

Bagnaia continued the tradition of brave riders who defy pain and injury.

Although the World Champion had to regularly operate the rear ride height device outside the Lenovo pit in order to even climb off his bike again, he fought his way straight into Q2 on Friday. This was followed by a place on the front row of the grid and two third places in the sprint and main race, which he fought for with an iron will.

With five wins from the first ten races, a mature Bagnaia had just begun to give the impression of the invincible #1 this season. A defending champion in control of his own destiny. A dangerous position in motorbike racing.

Before the horror crash, his lead over Jorge Martin had grown to 66 points - and counting. After the near-disaster in the Catalunya GP, it shrank to 50. Despite Bagnaia's heroic effort, Martin continued to nibble away at the Italian's cushion with a perfect Misano weekend. Before the intense Asian tour, the two are separated by 36 points. A small advantage considering that since this year, up to 37 points are up for grabs on a single GP weekend.

Painful twists and turns in the title fight

Two episodes in particular from the past three decades remain in the lasting memory of fans and observers. They not only decided the title race, but also signified the end of remarkable careers.

Once in 1993, when Wayne Rainey quickly approached an injured Kevin Schwantz. It looked as if Rainey was well on his way to a fourth consecutive title - until the momentous accident.

In 1999, it was Mick Doohan's crash that cleared the way for his Repsol Honda team-mate Alex Crivillé to win the title. Admittedly, Doohan was not leading the world championship standings at this early stage of the season. Kenny Roberts, who was to triumph the following year, had celebrated surprising victories at the overseas GPs at the beginning of the season. But hardly anyone doubted that Mick would also have dominated for the sixth year in a row.

The pendulum can swing both ways. Doohan was well on his way to the title in 1992 when he crashed at Assen. At that time Rainey, injured at the time and third overall, had all but given up. With renewed hope, however, he was still able to make up his large points deficit.

On the other side is the story of a racing legend: Doohan's leg, broken in two places, entailed serious complications. It could only be saved by sewing both legs together to guarantee the blood supply. It never fully recovered, but Mick came back after eight weeks and made a desperate attempt to save the title. In the end, he was four points short. If it had come to the threat of a drivers' strike at the penultimate Grand Prix in Brazil, he would have actually won.

There are other stories that might have inspired Bagnaia. The record for the fastest comeback after a double leg break is held by Randy de Puniet, who returned in 2010 after 26 days. In doing so, he undercut Rossi's 41 days in the same year. The difference is that Valentino Rossi - on crutches - finished 4th in that German GP and was on the podium a week later at Laguna Seca. But the title went to Jorge Lorenzo.

In 2013, Jorge Lorenzo rode to fifth in Assen 36 hours after a collarbone operation - but Marc Márquez won the world championship by 14 points. In 2011, Colin Edwards was third in a wet Silverstone GP nine days after breaking his collarbone. He would have liked to ride the Catalunya GP before but had not been cleared.

Barry Sheene was the comeback king: in 1975 he was back on his 750cc two-stroke bike 49 days after suffering a fractured femur and arm, among other injuries, in a fast crash at Daytona. He was also soon back after a violent Silverstone crash in 1992.

There are more such heroes who fought their way back after injuries: Franco Uncini, Kevin Schwantz and Marc Márquez, to name but three. GP riders simply have a different approach to injuries. They ignore them.

Some of those mentioned above went on to win world championships after their much-publicised comeback stories. None, however, in the same year. Maybe Bagnaia will succeed.