Losing focus in MotoGP


I interviewed Sito Pons at the Sachsenring, chatting about his times winning 250 World Championships in the late 1980s. He told me that when he was training – running or whatever – he only ever had two rivals in his sights.

“When I trained, in my head there were only two riders: Toni Mang and Carlos Lavado,” said Pons, who won the 1988 and 1989 250 titles and now owns Pol Espargaró’s Moto2 team. “They were my focus, no one else, because they were fastest and most consistent riders, so I knew if I could beat them, then I could be world champion.”

All racers need a focus and when they lose that focus, things can start to go wrong. After his first crash of the year at Catalunya, Jorge Lorenzo revealed that one of his focuses this year had been to do the whole season without crashing. An admirable goal, but possibly distracting from the only goal that matters, winning the world title? He crashed again at the next race at Assen and then again on Friday in Germany.

Lorenzo certainly seemed to have lost his normal focus during Friday practice at the Sachsenring. Instead of his usual manner of chipping away at things, always focusing on Sunday, he was a man on a mission, like he had something to prove, to show the world that he really is a superman. He was fastest on Friday morning and then roared out of the pits on Friday afternoon, once again with the hammer down.

His out-lap was nine seconds faster than anyone else’s and he was into the 1m 22s on his second lap, when most riders were at least two seconds slower. His last full lap kept him at the top of the times for most of the session and the first half of his fateful final lap was only 0.07 seconds slower than the fastest of the session. This was surely a momentary lapse of reason from the metronomic machine.

Cal Crutchlow certainly thought so. “Jorge did a great job at Assen – I think he came here with his confidence too high,” he said.

Lorenzo’s exit apparently had a dramatic effect on Dani Pedrosa. There is no doubt that Pedrosa always considered Lorenzo his main title rival, so when the reigning champ flew home to Barcelona on Friday, this time with no hope of returning, Pedrosa’s focus changed entirely. Instead of focusing all his energies on outfoxing Lorenzo and defeating him in the race, now he had to focus on trying to take advantage of his absence. With Lorenzo out of the way, Pedrosa also had a momentary lapse of reason and suffered a massive highside as a result.

Like everyone else in MotoGP, Pedrosa knows that Bridgestone’s slicks are a nightmare in cool morning sessions. Every time a rider leaves the pits with new tyres he is in the lap of the gods until he has worked enough heat into the tyres and made it through the danger phase. Pedrosa was starting his second lap out of the pits when his rear Bridgestone punished him for not treating it with all due respect.

One former factory 500 star – who didn’t want to be named – had this to say about the Bridgestones. “The tyres are a disaster. I’m amazed the riders don’t make more of a fuss. I really feel for them being in that head space where they know the tyres might not be up to temperature but they’ve still got to push. It’s a real head f***. The problem is that Bridgestone don’t want to spend money.”

I too blame the tyres more than the riders. Not so, Bridgestone. “The track was a little cold and to avoid this accident is very difficult,” said Bridgestone’s MotoGP boss Hiroshi Yamada. “The rider needs to take care the first two laps. I don’t want to say it was Dani’s fault but…”

And what about Marc Márquez, what is his focus? To have fun, win races and mug his rivals, probably. His only complaint on Sunday was that he didn’t have to fight more for his win. You would never hear Lorenzo or Pedrosa say that, would you?

The irony, of course, is that a few months ago everyone said it would be rookie Márquez who would be writhing around in pain and missing races. Now here he is, leading the world championship (again) while his two biggest rivals lick their wounds. The kid didn’t crash all weekend at the Sachsenring. When asked about his team-mate’s disastrous tumble he said he had learned all about cold-tyre crashes at Assen, and he still had the broken finger and toe to prove it.

Márquez is a fast learner and he will need to be so this coming weekend at Laguna Seca, which he will see for the first time when he lands in California anytime now. “I will do some laps on a scooter when I get there and I have already asked Valentino if I can follow him around in FP1,” he joked during Sunday’s post-race press conference.

When someone asked Rossi how Márquez will find the notoriously tricky hillside circuit, the nine-time champ deadpanned and said, “Easy!” Then he started laughing, then he got serious again. “No, Laguna is a very, very difficult track; it is something very particular… But anyway, I expect this f***ing bastard to be faster than me!”

For the second consecutive race, it was a great press conference: three grinning maniacs in a row. Just the way we like it.

And there’s a good chance it could be the same top three next Sunday, with Lorenzo unlikely to race and Pedrosa unlikely to be at full strength. And with Márquez possibly, just possibly, not nailing Laguna 100 per cent on his first visit, another big chance for Crutchlow…

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