Rossi and Lorenzo: into 2016


Yamaha has launched its 2016 factory team and hostilities between its riders are already fizzing

I don’t usually do team launches. They are the exact opposite of racing: totally safe and entirely predictable. Attending a MotoGP launch is a bit like going to a restaurant and reading the menu but not eating the food. A pointless exercise.

But there are exceptions. During more than three decades of doing this job (luckiest man alive) I’ve worked out that most big sponsors are businesses with money to burn, like those flogging tobacco, mobile phones, oil, that kind of thing. I’ve also learned that the dirtier the money the better the launch.

Marlboro’s week-long shindigs in the upmarket Italian ski resort of Madonna di Campiglio were the stuff of legend. Few other businesses could afford to rent half a town and half a mountain for a week and to feed and water (wine and whisky, in fact) several hundred MotoGP and Formula 1 journalists. These events set the standard for excess and ostentation, unlikely to be beaten this side of the Roman Empire or Roman Abromavich’s yacht.

Last year’s CWM LRC Honda team launch did have a go at matching Marlboro’s extravagance. Funded by city-trading company CWM FX – now under investigation for fraud and money-laundering – it was an epic knees-up.

I still feel dirty for drinking so much of their champagne. At the height of this frenzied affair in a slinky London nightclub, where dancing girls found themselves cavorting onstage with drunks in suits, I espied Jack Miller snogging a local lass on a barstool, while LCR team owner Lucio Cecchinello giggled nervously, torn between enjoying himself too much and worrying about getting his money out of CWM boss Anthony Constantinou, recently on trial at the Old Bailey for groping an employee. Then Cal Crutchlow sidled up to me and shouted over the bangin’ tunes: “Wolf of Wall Street!”

He was right, of course. The party was exactly that: city bad-boys high on wealth, power, champagne and probably other stuff, letting down their expensively coiffured hair.

So, you might ask, why did I bother attending Monday’s Movistar Yamaha team launch – a daytime do in a mobile-phone head office, where the most exciting thing on offer was the free wifi?

I was there to observe Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo in their first MotoGP engagement since post-season testing concluded at Valencia a little over two months ago.

Would they shake hands? Would their eyes meet? Would Yamaha announce their decision to rebuild the Berlin Wall within their garage? The answers to these questions were yes (although only perfunctorily), not really and no.

But if the wall won’t be rebuilt it looks like the team-mates will be kept apart – at least when off the racetrack – by something else: human bodies.

From the Archive: The making of Valentino Rossi (August 2015)

At their only other recent engagement – for the launch of Yamaha’s MT-10 road bike at November’s Milan show – the man who kept them at apart was none other than Yamaha Motor Company president Hiroyuki Yanagi, who stood bravely between the pair, who spent most of their time on stage looking in opposite directions.

At Monday’s team launch at the Movistar HQ in Barcelona it was Yamaha MotoGP managing director Lin Jarvis who sat between them during a slightly awkward press conference, which they entered from opposite sides of the auditorium. Who will take over from Yanagi and Jarvis at the races: bouncers or brolly girls?

I am not exaggerating the enmity that exists between the two. It’s been there ever since they first shared a garage eight years ago and since then it has swollen like a suppurating pustule, on occasion erupting messily. This year hostility between the pair is already fizzing and bubbling and they’ve not even started their engines.

Jarvis has the unenviable job of keeping a lid on this festering internecine war while at the same time trying to beat Honda and the rest. It’s like fighting a war on two fronts and it won’t be easy.

On Monday Rossi admitted that their pair’s unforgettable duel for last year’s title has already put them “in delay” for 2016, because while Ducati, Honda and Suzuki started dialling-in their bikes with Michelin during last season, Rossi and Lorenzo were so focused on the present that they had no time to worry about the future. Again in late November, while Yamaha’s star men recovered from the stresses of battle, rival factories once again sallied forth to continue their work with Michelin.

Because press launches are so safe and predictable, Monday didn’t throw up any spectacular news. The press conference was interesting enough, if only for the way riders and team management expertly batted aside awkward questions with wondrously anodyne answers. Only in the heat of battle during the season, once blood is up, do things get interesting.

From the Archive: Jorge Lorenzo – Crystal-clear winner (February 2011)

The press conference lasted a little over 20 minutes, with the media throwing questions at Jarvis, Rossi, factory development chief Kouichi Tsuji and team director Massimo Meregalli. It was more than two thirds done before someone finally asked the reigning world champion a question. For the first 14 minutes Lorenzo sat there quietly seething. This is nothing new: the Spaniard is well used to living life in the shadow of the sport’s biggest star and he knows how to transform the media’s indifference and the public’s occasional hostility into a steely resolve that wins world titles and million-pound bonuses. After all, it is points that win championships, not popularity.

It would be a fascinating season in prospect if only these two were involved. The human story with Rossi, Lorenzo, Marc Marquez and the rest is bigger than it’s ever been, while the technical story, with the arrival of Michelin tyres and Dorna’s one-size-fits-all rider aids, will deliver many unexpected twists and turns. And it all begins at Sepang in less than two weeks.

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