Why did Lorenzo do it?


Why Rossi’s failure on the Ducati could be Lorenzo’s biggest reason for going there

Anyone who tells you they know why Jorge Lorenzo quit the manufacturer that’s won five of the past 10 MotoGP titles for a brand that hasn’t got close to winning the championship for the past eight years, is making it up.

But let’s take a look at the possible reasons behind the defection.

Most pro riders do what they do for three main reasons: joy, ego and money. Usually, money comes last in the list, if only because the cash follows the fulfillment of the other two factors.

This is just my best guess, because only Jorge Lorenzo knows for sure, but I believe his prime motive in making the switch is to secure himself a place in the roped-off VIP area of motorcycle racing’s pantheon. So far, in seven decades of Grand Prix racing, only five riders have won premier-class world titles on different makes of machinery: Geoff Duke (Norton and Gilera), Giacomo Agostini (MV Agusta and Yamaha), Eddie Lawson (Yamaha and Honda), Valentino Rossi (Honda and Yamaha) and Casey Stoner (Ducati and Honda).

If Lorenzo can join that elite, there will never any be doubt that he is one of the all-time greats. To be mentioned in the same breath as Duke, Lawson and the rest is all it takes, forever and ever and ever.

At the same time, he will match Rossi’s feat of winning the title on rival brands and, even more importantly, he will surpass Rossi’s doomed attempt at winning on the Ducati. In fact, perhaps that last goal is what fires him up more than anything: Lorenzo is unlikely to win more world titles than Rossi, so this is his chance to get one over on the man who has defined the modern era of motorcycle racing.

And could this be another case of Rossi’s mind-games backfiring? The nine-time world champ used to be the master of the psychological wind-up, but his attempt to destabilise Marc Marquez last October backfired badly. And his efforts to wind up Lorenzo in Qatar last month may go the same way.

Lorenzo greeted the news that Rossi had renewed his Yamaha contract with the words, “he has done well to renew because he didn’t have many other options.” Rossi spat back with “to go to Ducati you need big balls, so I think we will see Lorenzo at Yamaha next year.”

Will those words come back to haunt Rossi? It’s quite possible that Rossi’s repost was an attempt at reverse psychology, to encourage Lorenzo to leap off the user-friendly M1 onto the diabolical Desmosedici. But the Ducati is no longer diabolical; it’s an entirely different motorcycle.

Andrea Dovizioso would almost certainly be in the thick of the fight for the 2016 title with three second places from the first three races, if he hadn’t been bumped off in Argentina and Texas. And there’s no doubt Lorenzo is a faster, hungrier rider than Dovizioso. In other words, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t win right away on the Duke.

We all know now that Rossi went to Ducati at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons, mostly because he couldn’t stand being upstaged at Yamaha by the company’s new favourite son.

Now there’s every possibility that Lorenzo may be going to Ducati at exactly the right time. The all-new Desmosedici that Gigi Dall’Igna created last year is an altogether different motorcycle and it’s a corner-speed, rather than a point-and-squirt machine, so its dynamics should suit Lorenzo’s butter-smooth riding technique just fine.

So that’s the joy (of riding a bike that works for him) and the ego (doing something Rossi couldn’t do) taken care of. What about the money? No doubt, Ducati will pay Lorenzo plenty more than Yamaha pay him. Racing is a supply and demand business like any other. Lots of riders want a winning bike like the M1, not so many want to ride a tainted bike like the Duke. So Ducati has to pay a lot more money than Yamaha to get a top rider on their bike.

Except, of course, that Ducati won’t pay Lorenzo a penny. Uncle Phillip Morris will sign Lorenzo’s pay cheque just as they’ve signed Marlboro Ducati and Marlboro Yamaha pay cheques for decades. And Uncle Phil’s biggest brand Marlboro has money to burn, certainly lots, lots more than Yamaha can afford.

Of course, there’s a huge irony behind the whole Lorenzo to Ducati thing. It was Rossi’s infamous failure at the iconic Italian factory that forced the monster egos at Borgo Panigale to finally believe that everything Casey Stoner and other riders had been telling them for years was true: that the Desmosedici was a freak of a race bike. But only once Rossi had failed did Ducati’s bosses admit to themselves that they were the problem, not the riders, so they brought in Dall’Igna to create a whole new bike and a whole new strategy within Ducati Corse. In other, words, Rossi’s failure on the Ducati will be the prime factor behind Lorenzo’s success, if he does indeed succeed.

So that’s the future; what about the present? The silly season has come earlier than ever this year, with Rossi and Lorenzo already signed and a Maverick Vinales Yamaha announcement surely imminent (although that’s merely my own poorly educated guess).

Thus Lorenzo has 15 races to go with Yamaha, during which time the company’s Japanese engineers will want him to win races and the title, while at the same time doing their damnedest to make sure he doesn’t access any info or data that might help Ducati to help him in 2017 and 2018. These days, any valued and important employees who announce they are leaving to join a rival company are told to clear their desks and leave the building immediately. Lorenzo is in that exact same situation but he’ll still be sitting at his desk in early November. It’s going to be a strange season.

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