The latest rider insight from Freddie Spencer, looking at the Spanish MotoGP Grand Prix at Jerez
This is Freddie Spencer coming to you after the 2018 Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez.
Now, everybody’s excited to be back on the European continent after some drama-filled few races to begin this season. Now, hopefully, we’re moving on from that and we’re going to get down to business and see what’s going to happen in the world championship as things settle down.
We can now see which riders are going to be tough for the entire season and how the equipment performs over a different variety of races in different conditions.
Now, Jerez: I remember the first time I raced there was in 1989 and when we got there, there was this beautiful new facility. The hotel hadn’t been built yet, the hotel, which is right there on the property, though the golf course was built. It wasn’t really like it is today, finished and manicured, but I knew it had the capability to be a pretty amazing place and it’s amazing to be able to go to the southern part of Spain, with very nice weather and a lot of spectators.
For that reason, I did a World Grand Prix Legends event there a couple of years, so I’ve ridden on it – not since they repaved it recently – and it was certainly great to ride there.
Speaking of that, Wayne Gardner, who I do the event with, his son Remy, unfortunately, broke both his legs in a motocross accident before the weekend of the Spanish Grand Prix and so I want to give a shout out to him and hopefully, he recovers soon.
We’ve seen a lot of riders get hurt; Valentino Rossi crashed hard last year and it knocked him out late in the season. A lot of the riders do motocross for training, and I did the exact same thing, I did motocross for those reasons, but always thought there was a little more risk in it. I didn’t do it that often – flat tracking was what I did, it’s what Marc [Márquez] does and what Valentino does at his ranch – and you don’t hear of anything happening in that training, and hopefully, it stays that way. The riders have to do it, and there’s been a lot of talk and people understand the concerns about it. Riders do it during the season to stay sharp, continue to improve, to work on bike control and maintain that edge in their performance. They just have to make sure that nothing happens and they don’t make a mistake. Nobody wants to get hurt, they certainly don’t want to do it on purpose and hopefully everybody can understand that.
A couple of things happened this weekend, certainly some exciting things.
One, Johann Zarco signed with KTM. There’s a lot to that story, and I think one of the things that’s interesting is the fit between the rider and the team. I know the guys who run the racing programme and I’ve met them at a classic event in Austra, and their whole attitude as a team is very family orientated. You get the feeling that, for Johann, that’s a very important ingredient. His whole focus, his whole life has been with his manager and that support and being focused on racing and wanting to do well. It’s a strength that serves him well, and KTM, even with its vast experience in the other classes, MotoGP is the one that’s most difficult to be successful in for many reasons. It takes a lot of money, a lot of engineering expertise and a lot of talented people, off the track and on. It also takes that special rider to win a world championship or even a race. That’s not easy, so I think it’s going to be a poor fit. I think also, as the manager of Johann said, there seems to be some friction there with Valentino and the factory effort and Johann. That’s probably down as much to anything as the success that Johann had riding last year’s bike. This year, he’s on the 2017 bike that the factory guys struggled with last year, and he seems to be pretty well, so again, I think it’s a great opportunity for him and I wish him luck. I think it’s a great opportunity for him and I wish him luck; I think it’s great for KTM and it’s certainly great for the Grand Prix family itself.
The stronger the teams, and the more of those that there are, the better the race there’s going to be for everyone, and the better the show there’s going to be.
On the subject of the Yamaha guys, they’ve shown moments of improvement. You look at Maverick Viñales’ performance in the last race, and as soon as the temperature increased in the afternoon, it became difficult to watch. I mean he’s really struggling, mid-pack, and maybe 15th or 16th, even sometimes lower for most of the session. He seems to be able to come through and put in that one lap, but that’s not what you’re looking for. You can watch him, and he seems to be – more than Rossi – really struggling with the bike’s stability. I don’t know if that’s a sign of the set-up that he’s running electronically or maybe suspension wise, trying to get a feel and confidence of where the grip level is and be able to react to it better. Hopefully, they’ll get that worked out because it looks like they’re pretty discouraged and there are certainly things they need to work on.
The Ducatis: it looked like Jorge Lorenzo was pretty happy and Andrea Dovizioso was also happy going into qualifying, and, as the weekend progressed, getting ready for the race. That was a good sign because I don’t think this has been a good track for Dovi – he hasn’t had a whole lot of success here – but Jorge certainly has. It’s a track that certainly suits him, and it’s a track that Dani Pedrosa does well at too, which rewards a rider smooth in the transitions, not too aggressive on the edge of the tyre, and allows for better tyre management as the race goes on. That’s why Jorge and Dani have great success at Jerez.
Cal Crutchlow is what I think is a good indication of where the Honda is at, at this point of the season, because of his ability at different tracks. Look what he did in Argentina – he was pretty good in Austin but not quite as strong, and certainly not as strong as he was at Jerez – but he needs to work on his aggression. He had a crash in Austin, and he had one in the race here, and I think that’s the one area that he’s going to make all those mistakes in, and that’s all it is. He seems to have the speed, he’s getting the most out of what he can at Honda and helping them, as he talks about wanting to see support getting stronger. He vocalises that, and a lot of people get onto his back about that, but I understand it and the contribution he’s been making and I think it’s a valuable one. But he’s going to have to work on that one low area and that position he takes when he has speed, not to make the mistake and crash out.
As we got ready to start the race, one of the things that was going to be interesting was what Jorge could do. He seemed confident, and he knows that he has to start doing something and show that the deserves to be on the Ducati team, and, much less pressing was the fact of how much money they might reduce his fee for next season. So at the start of the race, he did exactly what I thought he was going to do, and that was to jump out in front, and try, maybe not so much to get away, but to control the pace a little bit. But Marc Márquez came through and was able to get up front and pull away instead.
Dovizioso did what he does so well, which is qualifying around fifth after getting the most out of practice and qualifying, and getting the bike into a good position. As the race goes on, he gets stronger and stronger, and that’s really quite a professional management style, which I like. It rewards the rider’s efforts and you build up as the race goes along. Unless you can get out front and just pull away and control the pace, and make everyone else play catch-up, the second best plan, or plan B, would be to maintain pace and get through the pack, because that’s where most mistakes are made. Then, everybody settles down and gets into a consistent pace, and if you get stronger and maintain your pace, you don’t really have to push too much and take risks. That’s where Dovi is doing a great job, and so, as the race went on, Márquez was out front – three/two Ducatis – and Pedrosa was right there battling for the podium. Márquez looked like he had it under control.
I want to talk about Pedrosa before I talk about the race: he said that the result in Austin was amazing, and he’s obviously a warrior (he’s not called a samurai for nothing), and it’s an indication about what I’ve talked about so many times. It’s how he rides the motorcycle because of his size. He’s not very big, he’s not very strong, but he doesn’t need to use those qualities to manipulate the bike. He’s able to use the bike’s inertia and the bike’s movement, anticipating the change in direction and get it in the right position around the track. So when he does have an injury, he’s able to work around it. That’s what he does every lap of every corner, so he does not have to over-grip or depend on that, and certainly, the pain was there and all – that’s a strength that he has, that internal fortitude, discipline, mental strength and the technique to be able to perform. On Sunday, he was in contention for second place, even with that injury.
Now, let’s talk about the major incident in the race. You could see it coming because of the frustration on track. You could see Dovi was starting to get frustrated as Marc inched away by a couple of tenths per lap. Dovi knew that if he was to have any chance of winning the race, he needed to get past Lorenzo. Lorenzo, because of his entry speed, not so much his deep braking, he carries the speed and he also gets that dramatic direction change in the middle, gets off the throttle and off the corner because he picks up the throttle very early. All that was interfering with Dovi’s ability to get into position to make a pass on the brakes at the end of the back straight, where he had tried it the lap before. So you could see it coming when Dovi’s bike started to move around as he was trying to stay close. It wasn’t a matter of power as they were on the same bike, but Dovi wanted to get close enough to out-brake Lorenzo. Now, the concern that you have is that you want to make the pass, but you don’t want to get by, to allow him to square the corner off, but you wouldn’t want to take out your team-mate – that’s the team’s number one rule. So, like I said, you could see that frustration coming, and I could almost feel it through the screen, and they went into the corner and Lorenzo moved up while Dovi tried to make the pass, which was understandable. So here we had that situation, and that was basically what happened, and Lorenzo tried to square up and got connected in an unfortunate position that threw Jorge into Dovi and we had the crash. I think the right decision was made because it was a racing incident, but the only thing about the decision was when the riders blamed each other. That’s where I would’ve said: ‘I got in deep, and it all started because he tried to pass me on the brakes. I understand him needing to do that, but unfortunately, that’s what caused it.’
It was just one of those unfortunate things, and hopefully, we’ll be able to move onto Le Mans as nobody was hurt. It was a great race, and I look forward to the next one, and I hope you do too.