Moments before the start of last years MotoGP finale at Valencia a Boeing 737 flew low over the circuit, its fuselage emblazoned with a giant portrait of recently crowned World Champion Jorge Lorenzo. A few thousand feet below sat Lorenzo, wearing his specially commissioned champion’s helmet with its 1800 diamante crystals glinting in the autumn sun. (Replicas are available, only $10,300.)
No wonder some British fans call him ‘Gorgeous Jorge’ the man likes to make a song and a dance about his success, and why not? Former champion Valentino Rossi may have missed four races through injury, but Lorenzo won the 2010 title in emphatic style, beating Rossi’s all-time point-scoring record and finishing all 18 races inside the top four – a feat even Rossi has yet to manage.
Lorenzo doesn’t appreciate being compared to his great rival, nor does he enjoy hearing the ‘R’ word spoken too often during interviews, but he mostly puts up with it. At the end of last season there was only one question guaranteed to irk him: “Jorge, would you have won the title if Rossi hadn’t been hurt?” His reply came slowly, the wafer-thin veneer of calmness applied with some difficulty: “No one put a gun to his head and told him to crash.”
In case you hadn’t guessed, Rossi and Lorenzo don’t get on. For three seasons they were Yamaha team-mates and bitter rivals, the cocky young upstart gaffing faster with each passing year. Rossi felt threatened; so much so that he likened his team-mate to a shark, circling in the water, waiting for a sniff of blood.
As it turned out, Lorenzo didn’t have to wait to sniff blood. By the time Rossi shattered his right leg at Mugello the Majorcan was already leading the World Championship. Might Rossi not have crashed if he hadn’t been staring defeat in the face? Perhaps.
Lorenzo’s MotoGP crown is the ultimate prize for a self-made man, a self-regarding racer who is still striving to create himself in the perfect image. He has been obsessed with how people see him ever since he was a kid racer when his father had him take part in mock post-race press conferences.
Since then he has hired a public speaking guru to help him learn from Rossi’s ability to dazzle the camera and a few years ago, while living as a ‘non-dom’ tax exile in Chelsea, he undertook drama classes. Now he is into sophrology, a Zen Buddhist-inspired technique of self-hypnotism which he hopes will make him a better person and a faster racer. In his autobiography he announces that he wants to be better-looking than Brad Pitt, richer than Bill Gates, as graceful as Gandhi and as gentle as Jesus, that he wants to dance like Elvis, sing like Sinatra and drive like Alonso. Then he pulls himself together and decides who he really wants to be: “I’ve made my mind up. If I could choose, I’d continue to be Jorge Lorenzo”.
As a racer he fashions himself on the Spartans. He is a fan of the Greek warriors who combined battlefield genius with humility and asceticism, though the Liberace helmet and ostentatious victory celebrations clash awkwardly with that particular front.
Perhaps we should forgive Lorenzo his busy, confused solipsism. After all, he is only young (he’ll be 24 in May) and he happily admits to being wrapped up in himself. Asked if he is obsessed with Rossi he replies: “I am only obsessed with myself.” And anyway, maybe self-obsession is a prerequisite for success at the very highest level.
If he’s still struggling to work out who he is, Lorenzo is already fully formed and totally genuine as a motorcycle racer. He honed his riding technique on low-powered 250s he is a twice winner of the 250 world title and he has harnessed that same technique to make the most of MotoGP’s 800cc engines, which are all giddy high-rpm power. His riding style uses massive mid-corner lean angle to turn the bike quicker than anyone and compensate for the 800’s lack of torque and thus corner-exit grunt. It remains to be seen how long it takes Rossi and the rest to catch up.