Written by Staff Writer at CNN London
It has a star-studded cast that defies belief.
An indomitable Italian arrives to compete at Formula One’s highest level for the first time this season and, for the first time in 43 years, and more importantly for the first time in two decades, the British Grand Prix is set to be celebrated on the world stage
Mattia Binotto will join three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton on the grid, both for Ferrari.
The Italian has scored no points for his team this season and only picked up four points last year.
Such a lack of success has led to the most interesting chapter in the ‘MotoGP: the show must go on’ saga since champion Valentino Rossi made his grand prix debut in the early 1980s.
The 36-year-old is a three-time world champion and has a record for 11 years, but came within just three points of never winning another race.
In 2002, he finished fifth at the final Grand Prix of the season, the British Grand Prix. That year, he crashed in qualifying and retired while trailing the eventual winner, then champion Valentino Rossi.
Ever since, the greatest hope of a British MotoGP team has revolved around a homegrown rider, William Dunlop.
It’s impossible to forget Dunlop making the podium in 1985 and ’86, winning the first at Silverstone. On those occasions, however, his team, David Abraham, qualified him outside the top five and he had a poor start on the opening lap in the second race.
“William Dunlop failed to leave an impression on me on his first two appearances at Silverstone,” said Abraham, who died in 2012. “But these young riders are all very gifted and the fans need to get behind them.”
He’s come a long way since then and Dunlop is now set to lead the most significant British Grand Prix since he won the first of his 125cc titles in 1989.
Lapping the circuit with Dunlop late last year, the BBC’s pit road reporter, Sarah Bowler, says Dunlop “did not carry himself as a dark horse.”
She said: “Perhaps because the big names have been discredited by the past year, he has managed to catch the imagination.
“Despite starting the season way down the field, he’s surpassed expectations and is a better rider than we thought.”
The most impressive aspect of Dunlop’s MotoGP season has been his winning percentage, achieving a podium finish in all but two of the races and finishing as high as fifth overall.
That number would have only been bettered by Rossi, whose career has dragged on as a result of more than 40 different crashes.
“He’s absolutely working all cylinders, the best he’s been since he began competing in international racing,” Sarah Bowler added.
“It’s almost as if he’s grown into it.”
The hunger, the physical strength, the appetite to destroy their rivals? Dunlop insists: “When I’ve been lucky enough to race with Valentino, I’ve had no choice but to listen.
“He was always telling me what it was like to be a world champion. He was always telling me about everything: the pressure he felt, how he always tried to win, and how you should never listen to what the guys in the Grand Prix paddock were saying to you.
“You should just win. It’s how he was when he was in his pomp.
“It’s been nice to follow him, but I’ve been fortunate to race with other greats like Mick Doohan and John Surtees and experience a lot of racing.”
The Red Bull owned Honda team could never have dreamed back in January of Dunlop winning the final race of the season and collecting 10 points.
Scottish rider Scott Redding collected the other nine points in the end and finished second overall.
Dunlop described himself as “delighted,” saying: “This season has been huge for me and I’m sure I’ve been able to give all my fans back home something to shout about.”