Former 500cc World Champion Wayne Gardner will be offering his GP insights on a regular basis to cyclenews.com readers and we’re happy to have him. For more from the Wollongong Wonder, visit his website at www.waynegardnerapproved.com.au.BLAST FROM THE PAST
I just can’t understand the buzz surrounding John Hopkins’ possible 2011 return (albeit temporarily) to MotoGP aboard a Suzuki. Personally, I think the announcement by the team that he could be drafted in as a stand-in rider is just an afterthought. With Suzuki only fielding Alvaro Bautista this year, it’s understandable that they need another option if the Spaniard becomes injured and unable to ride. The whole thing is merely a contingency plan to keep the bike on the track to keep Dorna happy. But Hopkins? Personally I’d have gone with a younger rider. Like it or not, John is a rider who has had his chances. Sadly, serious injuries, lifestyle choices and personal demons have taken a massive toll on his career. Don’t get me wrong – he’s had some brilliant rides, but that was a long time ago. I think he was a young guy with a lot of talent at the right time. But he made some bad decisions. Joining Suzuki in the first place was probably the biggest.Having said that, I think that he also hasn’t performed when he should have performed. I think that somewhere along the line he also fell off the rails. It’s disappointing, but I don’t see him making a successful return. I think his days as any type of force in motorcycle racing in general are finished. Anyway, why would Hopkins want to even consider throwing a leg over the Suzuki again? The bike is uncompetitive and there’s clearly only a minimum of effort going into its development this year. It doesn’t stand a chance. And if he turns up with no speed, no form, having done nothing at all in Superbikes, then I don’t see what benefit his input would provide to anyone. In fact, I’d argue that it’s a perfect recipe for a big crash and more nasty injuries. If the chance to race a GP or two does indeed present itself, he should think long and hard before taking it.
News of the terrible injuries sustained by F1 driver Robert Kubica in a rallying accident eight days ago is extremely sad and I sincerely hope he manages to recover sufficiently to resume his racing career. Not surprisingly, the incident has also raised questions about the type of activities top-line competitors – whether they be from F1 or MotoGP – should be engaging in when they’re not actually racing. It’s always a difficult one to answer. Pushing themselves to the extreme and testing the limits is exactly how these guys got to be the very best in the first place. When they then reach that pinnacle, how do you curtail the instincts that got them where they are?Certainly in the case of MotoGP, skills definitely need to be honed, fine-tuned and maintained during the long off-season. That’s why Valentino Rossi and others opt for motocross as a way of staying in shape over the winter. Sometimes it does all go pear-shaped, which is exactly what happened when Vale damaged his shoulder. But what do you do? In one sense, a certain degree of risk has to be undertaken in order to remain at the top of your game. The question therefore becomes one of minimizing that risk and applying some common sense. Teams can put as many restrictions in a rider’s contract as they like – no skydiving, no skiing, no ski jumping, no crocodile wrestling, no whatever. However, none of this will alter the fact that lying at home in a box of cotton wool for four months is equally problematic. Personally, I was always mindful that I represented a significant investment for my team and sponsors, and as such shied away from taking massive risks in the off-season (I spent a lot of time motocrossing, cycling, Jet Skiing and water skiing). These days, I reckon there are a few top-level guys who possibly forget their obligations from time to time. They maybe need to think more about the big picture.
TOP OF THE PILE
It’s very impressive to see Marc Marquez at the top of the Moto2 pre-season timesheets. It’s clear he’s taken no time at all to adapt to a different style of machine and I think we’ll definitely see him challenge for the title in his first attempt. Having said that, I think the fact he can be up there so quickly probably indicates that the rest of the field are fairly ordinary. I don’t expect that to be the case for long. I think Marquez is the first in a long production line of young Spanish champions that we’ll see making their way up the GP ladder over the coming years. He’s a shining example of the type of talent we can expect to see.Put this all down to the amazing Spanish system, which boasts a fantastic rider education and training program backed by the government and Dorna. With all these resources, there’s no way they’re not going to develop amazing riders. But even by the highest standards, I think Marquez is exceptional. If there’s any rider capable of being the next Rossi, then I think this guy is it. Once again, the enormous success of the Spanish model shows just how poorly Motorcycling Australia approach their responsibilities here in my own country. As it stands now, any rider with talent and potential has basically no chance of making it. There’s no programs, no initiatives, no funding, no care, no interest, no anything. It’s a complete disgrace. That’s why I have to look at other options to help further my own kids’ racing careers.