MotoGP's most experienced crew chief: 'Better to be calm, or you'll go crazy!'


MotoGP has never been more stressful, so how does the pitlane’s top veteran crew chief Antonio Jiménez cope with the technical, mental and physical pressures of a fast-changing championship?

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Jiminez stays calm while celebrating Aprilia’s first one-two with winner Espargaró and runner-up Viñales at Barcelona in September


No crew chief has been working in the MotoGP pit lane as long as Antonio Jiménez, who’s been in the paddock since 1989 and a crew chief since 2002, currently with Aprilia captain Aleix Espargaró.

The 60-year-old Spaniard’s story is a long one, so here’s a quick precis before we get to the nitty-gritty.

Between 1989 and 1995 Jiménez was a mechanic, spannering for Patrick van den Goorbergh, Gary Cowan, JJ Cobas, Alex Crivillé, Doriano Romboni, Carlos Checa and others. In 2002 he became Checa’s crew chief, in the factory Yamaha team, then he moved to Tech3, with Toni Elias, then Gresini Racing with Marco Melandri, Alex de Angelis, Hiroshi Aoyama and Alvaro Bautista. After that, several years in Moto2, followed by his 2019 move to Aprilia and Espargaró.

Mat Oxley: How has a crew chief’s job changed since 2002?

Antonio Jiménez: “It’s changed a lot because the first four-stroke MotoGP bikes were still quite simple motorcycles. From 2002 until 2016 the bikes didn’t change so much, but in the last seven or eight years, since they introduced the first [downforce] aero systems and then all the devices, it’s become very, very, very complicated.

“Now it’s very easy to ruin your race due to a small mistake, because the mechanics have so many jobs. Now we have twice the amount of work and the same number of mechanics, plus we have to pay much more attention to what we do, because there are so many fragile components on the bikes, so it’s very, very easy to make mistakes.

“MotoGP now is much more intense, so you spend a lot of energy, much more energy, because it’s like Formula 1 on two wheels. We have many, many technical meetings and many more people in the garage. When I was in the factory Yamaha team there were maybe five Yamaha engineers in the garage. Now it’s more like forty people, plus the people working at the factory, connected with us.

“It’s become very, very, very professional. Since the start of my career there have been three or four main steps.

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Jiménez (second right) debriefs with Espargaró and other factory Aprilia team staff


“The first was when Dorna arrived in 1992 and made everything more professional. Now we have five onboard cameras! So we have a lot of parameters to control, and we must focus on many different jobs.

“During the last three years MotoGP has become even more complicated. For example, the tyres… the tyres are subject to much more stress [due to downforce aero and ride-height devices], so the hard front tyre from maybe three years ago is now a medium-soft, because the loads are so much greater – the riders brake later and enter the corners with more force.

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“The evolution is too big, so some components on the bikes don’t follow that evolution and for me this is one of the difficulties of MotoGP today. This isn’t a criticism of the tyres, but the tyres are basically the same as three or four years ago, while the bikes have made a big, big evolution.

“Then there is the choice of which tyres we use for the race, which is also a problem now, but the good thing is that it’s the same story for everyone.

“But the evolution of the bikes is so big and I don’t know how they will limit this evolution, because the stress for the riders is so much now. We saw in India [where Jorge Martin collapsed in pit lane after the GP] how much stress they were under.

“Here [we are talking in the Mandalika paddock on the eve of the Indonesian GP] the track is at 60 degrees and we have 300-horsepower engines in the bikes and a lot of electronics components that produce a lot of heat, so it becomes very difficult for the riders, both physically and mentally.

“MotoGP is a very good show but it’s difficult to manage this [end-of-season] calendar: two races in a row, then three races in a row, then another three races in a row. We must really push the riders to the maximum, to really focus and to not make any mistakes. No mistakes.”

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Jiménez (to Checa’s left) in 1995, with legendary engineer Antonio Cobas (second right), team owner Sito Pons (third right) and Romano Forcada (second left), who won three MotoGP titles with Jorge Lorenzo

Team Pons

It’s also very tough for the mechanics…

“Yes, incredibly tough. There are so many different jobs now, plus we also have the limit on engine mileage, so during this stage of the season we have to play with the engines: all the time it’s engine out, engine in, engine out, engine in. We are managing the mileage of all our engines, trying to keep the best engines for the races. Sometimes we change engines just because one engine has done 30 fewer miles.”

What are the biggest things that take up your time during a weekend?

“In the past you started on Friday and you worked on the bike to make it turn better, to make it more stable and so on, mainly with suspension settings. Now you must have the bike almost perfect from FP1, so the base must be 90% fixed and then you work with the electronics and tyres. Years ago, we used to change the geometry a lot, but now we only do this if we are in the shit.”

What about aerodynamics?

“We can only homologate two sets of aero, so we can only use them. So you already know what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes you change from one to the other, but nowadays the main work from day one is tyres: tyre choice, tyre pressure and tyre life.”

And because tyres quantities are limited you’re playing with them like you play with engines?

“Exactly. Sometimes in FP1 you don’t use the good tyres because you need to save them for later, so you must manage all of this. But again, the good point is that the regulations are the same for everybody, so you cannot complain about the tyres.

“For me, the most important thing to do after FP1 is to work on tyre choice, tyre management, tyre temperature and tyre pressure over many laps. These are the most important things.”

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Life has never been tougher for MotoGP mechanics, with twice the workload since the introduction of sprints and an exhausting championship season


“But sometimes you must forget this area a bit. For example, at Red Bull Ring, Motegi and Chang [Buriram] you may have brake problems, because at these tracks you are on the limit with the brakes and when you’re on the limit with the brakes then it’s related to the tyres, because you generate so much heat with the big discs. You try to keep the heat from getting to the tyres, but sometimes by cooling one part of the bike you heat up another, so you must find a balance.

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“Being in the factory team can also makes things difficult, because sometimes our engineers say, ‘We have a new swingarm for you to try’, or Öhlins say, ‘We have a new fork for you to try’. But how can we have the time to try these things? It’s impossible!

“Then it’s electronics: engine-brake, power delivery, torque control and anti-wheelie. Everything is related.

“And every race is different. We go from Mandalika, with 60°C on the track, to Phillip Island where we try to keep the brake discs warm! But Phillip Island is no stress for the brakes and no stress for the wheels getting hot, so everything is a bit more relaxed. Then we go to Chang where it will be f**king, f**king stressful, because everything there is an extreme problem: tyres, brakes, bike stability, acceleration, the heat for the rider, everything!”

Do you still enjoy your job?

“Yes, I enjoy it, especially because when I arrived at Aprilia the RS-GP was a project and now it’s a reality. We win races, we make pole positions, so every day we are fighting to be there because we have a high-performance bike and the balance in the team is good since Maverick Viñales arrived.

That made a big step for Aleix, because before he was basically alone. Now we also have a ‘B team’ [RNF], so everything becomes more interesting. For me the motivation is still there, but it’s hard, the rhythm of the season is very hard. So you must be physically and mentally fit, so I work a lot at this.”

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Espargaró and Viñales lead the way for Aprilia at Barcelona


The improvement in the RS-GP must have changed everything for you, because you arrive at races aiming to win, not hoping to finish sixth…

“My first two years here we were trying to create something. Before the good bike arrived I always said to Aleix, ‘Please try to make some laps alone’, because he was always looking for someone to follow. But he told me, ‘Antonio, it’s impossible – I need to follow someone to get a lap time’. The day I have a better bike I will be able to do it alone’. And now he always does it alone.”

Did you know that the 2020 RS-GP with the wide-angle, 90-degree engine was the answer?

“This was the beginning of the light at the end of the tunnel. The first two years with the new bike were very hard [engine and aero upgrades were banned during the 2020 Covid season, which hurt Aprilia particularly because its bike was completely new] and Aleix was basically alone. He still didn’t really have a real team-mate beside him, with whom he could share feedback, so we couldn’t really move forward, step by step.

“Finally in 2021 we started moving forward because our new aerodynamics were really good, so the balance between aero, engine and electronics was much better, plus more people joined the project and we really started to grow.”

With all this new technology it seems like the rider and engineer are much more integrated now, like F1 drivers and engineers, so do you need to tell your rider what to do with the aero, ‘Don’t lean off too much here because you will stall the wing,’ and so on?

“If we try some new aero that might have a big effect we tell the rider to be careful if he does this or that, but we are only allowed to homologate two sets of aero, so this doesn’t happen very often. But yes, we must be careful with new aero, because it can change the balance of the bike.”

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Jiménez keeps cool once again, celebrating Aprilia’s first MotoGP victory, in Argentina last year


Like when Aleix tried the rear wing without the fork wings at Jerez and crashed?

“Something like this!”

Downforce aero is still a very new science in MotoGP…

“You have to understand that in a racing car you really only have a vertical force – 95% of the time the aero force is always in the same direction.

“In MotoGP the rider is so important, because how he moves on the bike affects how the aero works. So you tell him, ‘Ok, if you move like this when you’re in fifth gear at 280km/h [175mph] maybe you will change the balance of the bike in a way you didn’t expect’.

“Ten years ago the bike was always the same – you only changed the fairing when you crashed! Now sometimes we try some aero parts on the front of the bike, sometimes on the rear and sometimes together. Always using the different parts we have homologated.”

Aleix seems like a lovely guy but when he comes into the garage he’s very emotional, either up or down, so how do you deal with that?

“The thing I’ve learned with Aleix is that when he comes into the garage very excited, with the adrenaline very high, is not to move. I just sit and listen.

“He may say, ‘Why are we using this tyre?!’. And I say, ‘Because I told you before, we have to manage the quantities or whatever’. But always staying calm, because this is the only way with Aleix.

“Some crew chiefs shout when their riders shout. And this is not the way. You must understand that these guys play with their lives at every corner. Aleix always gives his maximum every time he’s on track. He’s never slow. I respect this, so when he comes into the garage I stay calm and in 30 seconds he’s also calm. Then I try to give him what he needs.”

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Espargaró after his first ride on the new 90-degree RS-GP at Sepang, February 2020. He was so impressed he cried in the Aprilia garage!


“I’ve always been like this. When I worked at Showa I was just a young guy, working with Mick Doohan and John Kocinski, when suspension was everything. Mick would say, ‘The bike isn’t stable, it’s not turning and there’s no grip or traction!’.

“I learned to say, ‘OK, Mick, don’t worry’. Then I opened the forks, changed the springs, made two clicks to the preload and said, ‘OK, try it now – you should have more stability and when you release the brake you will have more turning’. I wasn’t 100% sure of that, but I said it with conviction!

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“Then Mick would come back to the garage, and he’d say, ‘I’m not sure’. So I’d say, ‘Don’t worry Mick, we’ll try something different’. Then I took out the rear shock, changed the spring and took off a little preload.

[As Jiménez says this he shivers and the hairs on his arms stand up!]

“Always you have to show the rider that you have the situation under control – this is the most important thing.

“You know how long Aleix spoke with me today [Thursday]? Two minutes! The maximum he speaks to me on Thursdays is five minutes and tomorrow morning it will be another minute, because he has full confidence in me, this is so important.

“At the end of each day we spend time together with the team, going through our check list, so he tells us everything he felt about the tyres, the electronics, the aero, everything, all the good things and the bad things, then we prepare for the next day.

“If Aleix really wants to see something on the data he will sit there for maybe 15 minutes with our performance guy and that’s it. He is very practical, because some riders spend too much time looking at the computer screen and get confused.

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Jimenez on the Mugello grid in June, with Espargaró and wife Laura


Is Saturday more stressful than Sunday, with practice, qualifying and a race?

“The most important thing for me is always to be in Q2. When we go directly to Q2 I’m more relaxed, because you are always looking to start from the first or second rows. Now being on the first two rows and starting well is 50% of the race.

“So for me the first stress point is second practice [on Friday afternoon], when you must try to be in Q2. If you make it direct into Q2 you know you have an opportunity for the races.

“Everything is so tight, but I can control the stress. I try to be calm at all times, maybe because I’ve been here so many years! For me the stress comes if you’re not performing well, but it’s always better to be calm, otherwise you go crazy!”