In The Paddock

Michael Scott | November 8, 2017

Dash For The Donuts, Dani


It’s Marquez’s fault really. Like most things in racing—good and bad. But among his victims, count his teammate in the forefront.

Not just because Marquez reliably has the beating of Dani Pedrosa, because actually he doesn’t. Not every time. At Jerez Dani beat him by six seconds, just the once, this year. There was a reason. It was baking hot, on a quirky low-grip track. Conditions in which, all of a sudden, Dani becomes quite unbeatable.

Sadly, the direct opposite is also true. Make it cold and wet, or even just cold, and Pedrosa is a thing of the past. Down with the backmarkers. The difference is absolutely weird.

In The Paddock

Yet apparently easily explained. To control, Michelins need to be brought up to working temperature, and to do this, the riders have to bully them, subject them to some solid abuse. In other words, throw their weight around.

There lies the root of Dani’s problem. He hasn’t got enough of it.

All this is literally true, not the product of imagination or a typical rider’s equipment-blaming excuse. Tire temperature sensors and lap-time monitors combine to prove the point; other data backs it all up. It’s a cut-and-dried case. Dani gets the front slides and wheelspin to prove he’s trying, and at the same time they prove he is failing.

But can it really be that simple?

Marquez is riding effectively the same bike, give or take some preferences in chassis geometry and suspension settings.

And Marquez isn’t that much bigger. Turn to the official Dorna stats, and you see it is only a matter of 17-plus pounds: 112 to 130 pounds for Marc; and even less in terms of height: 5’2” to 5’5”. Surely not enough to be the difference between night and day. Especially when you think that Scott Redding weighs 172 pounds and is 6’1” tall—now that is an enormous difference.

Perhaps it illustrates a point that frequently strikes me: that the margins between success and failure at this level can be very small.

And yet, the margin in wet results between the two is huge. Marquez was third in the cold and rain at Assen, five seconds behind winner Rossi. Dani was 13th, more than another minute away.

In wet practice last time out at Sepang, Marc was second-fastest, half a second behind leader Dovizioso; Pedrosa was 18th, almost five seconds down. No wonder he was pleased to have managed fifth in the race, albeit half-a-minute behind the leader. This for a man who won at Sepang in the wet in 2012.

No. Clearly there is something else that makes the difference this year, and while it is the tires, Dani’s inability to make them work cuts deeper than avoirdupois. It is a matter of riding style, and Pedrosa has been ambushed with the inability or perhaps unwillingness to change his way of riding.

Have a little sympathy here. He’s 32 years old, which in riding terms means you are likely to be somewhat set in your ways. And the teammate whose style does work (aged 24) is an exceptional case. Actually, that’s putting it a bit mildly. He’s a boy genius who has matured into a masterpiece.

The difference is easy to see. Deceptively Dani is also a point-and-squirt rider, hustling in under the brakes for a relatively slow midcorner speed, then picking the bike up onto the fatter part of the tire and firing it out. The Honda demands to be ridden that way. But Dani does it all so smoothly that you can’t really see the transitions.

Marquez has the same approach, but exaggerated with ultra-violence. Leaping around on the bike, punishing the front and skittering the back sideways, nobody could accuse him of being smooth. But if that’s what it takes to get the tires to work, that sure is what he does.

Is it too much to ask for Dani to do the same?

It’s hard to say so, because Dani’s not just a great rider but also a refreshingly matter-of-fact personality in a world of inflated egos and showboating superstars.

Lorenzo, aged 30, has made notable progress this year in switching from Yamaha to the very different Ducati. He was nine years on the Japanese bike, which suited his smooth, high-corner-speed style. In his words, he’s had to “learn a new language.” But he’s now fluent enough to lead races, and to be a serious threat for next year.

And Rossi was older than 32 when he forced himself to learn new ways of riding, so as to be competitive with the young generation. He’s changed his whole approach.

It seems that nowadays, that’s what you have to do, to deserve a top factory bike.

Either that, or get stuck into a big plate of donuts. CN


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Michael Scott | MotoGP Editor Scott has been covering MotoGP since long before it was MotoGP. Remember two-strokes? Scott does. He’s also a best-selling author of biographies on the lives of legendary racers such as Wayne Rainey and Barry Sheene.