Teammates From Hell
The first person you must beat is your teammate, riding the same bike. There’s no more direct measure.
The old cliché is especially poignant for 2019. The pairing of Jorge Lorenzo with Marc Marquez on the class-leading Repsol Hondas is potentially spellbinding.
In some 40 years in MotoGP, I can’t recall a single example quite so tasty. Trolling through the records, there is at least one surprise—just how often the outwardly calm Andrea Dovizioso’s name comes up in pairings from hell.
Less surprising is that Lorenzo appears on the list regularly. And let it be said that in most of those misalliances, he has ultimately come out on top, one way or another.
The ultimately, if indirectly fatal, Yamaha in-team battles between Phil Read and Bill Ivy was a signal example in the 1960s. My memory goes to the 1970s, when the ever-vocal Barry Sheene sounded off about the recruitment of Pat Hennen to the Suzuki ranks. He explained his resentment to me. He’d been pushing for his good friend Gary Nixon to take the slot, but the American was badly injured in a pre-season crash. Compatriot Hennen was a last-minute replacement, and Barry resented what he saw as the youngster’s rank opportunism.
Sheene denounced Hennen as amateurish, writing memorably: “If you pay peanuts, you get a monkey.” Sheene’s great friend Steve Parrish later told me: “Some monkey. This one had horns.” But Hennen—the first American 500cc GP winner—was himself injured before any real chance to resolve the rivalry.
Tell the truth, none of Barry’s bedfellows had a comfortable ride; Sheene took the “beat your teammate” dictum very seriously, and took every opportunity to establish himself as top dog, on or off the track.
Fair enough. This is the stuff of which champions are made. The list of mutual hostilities over the years contains many great names.
Long-time fans will recall 1988, when Yamaha’s triple champion Eddie Lawson’s abrupt switch to Honda took everyone aback. Nobody more so than incumbent champion Wayne Gardner, who had shared many previous public spats with Lawson when they were on different bikes. Wisely, although both rode Rothmans Hondas, they were operated out of separate trucks and separate pits. Lawson, by the way, took the title.
A little further down the road, Wayne Rainey got the chance to show a hitherto unseen abrasive side, when reigning 250 Champion John Kocinski moved up to the dominant Marlboro Yamaha 500 squad of Team Roberts. Rainey never missed a chance to pour scorn on the upstart.
In a way, this could be seen as a sign of grudging respect.
That’s probably always the case. Nobody needs to fall out with a teammate who doesn’t pose any threat. But Nicky Hayden, the ultimate nice-guy racer, came very close to blows with his 2005 Repsol Honda teammate Max Biaggi, for the latter’s apparent assassination attempts with ultra-close overtakes, even just in pit lane. Hayden would later (eventually) forgive Dani Pedrosa for knocking him off at Estoril, almost costing the American in 2006 title.
Dovi appears in some memorable duels. When paired with Crutchlow at Tech 3 Yamaha they kept the battles for the track, but when I asked Dovi if the two had friendly relations, he responded: “Friends is a big word.”
Dovi and later Ducati teammate Andrea Iannone were bad friends, especially after the latter knocked Dovi down in Argentina in 2016, and the more so when Dovi was retained by Ducati in spite of “The Maniac’s” often better results.
But Dovi’s real ire was preserved for Lorenzo at Ducati over the past two years. Not surprising, when he was getting much better results but getting paid much less money.
Things have started very differently for 2019 with compatriot Danilo Petrucci joining Ducati. The new boy has even moved home to be closer to the senior rider to train together, and the pre-season love-in at the recent team launch had each speaking warmly of how they could help the other. We shall see how long that lasts.
And we shall see how it goes between new Honda teammates Lorenzo and Marquez.
Jorge has plenty of experience of in-team hostility, and not all of it generated by himself. At Yamaha, Rossi was absolutely filthy on him, and eventually left the team in disgust.
Marc on the other hand operated alone in the smaller classes, and with the most unthreatening Pedrosa alongside him in MotoGP. And he cannot fail to have observed that since he arrived in 2013, Lorenzo is the only rider to have beaten him to the championship.
Adding extra spice is that each will potentially be taking points off the other, possibly opening the way to a more consistent rider—say Vinales or Rossi—to snatch back the crown.
Stand by for a vintage year.CN