In The Paddock
The Lorenzo Sanction
I was struck again in a close dinner-table encounter at Le Mans just how small and delicately built is Jorge Lorenzo. On screen in leathers, you’d have no idea. Especially if he’s crashed and is all puffed up in his airbags.
Have another look at Marquez. At 5’6″ he only looks big when standing next to Dani Pedrosa. In fact, aside from three 5’1″ giants—Rossi, Petrucci, and rookie Mir—it is clear that small is better. The smallest being Dovizioso, at 5’5”.
Who’d have thought? It’s easy to forget that MotoGP’s superheroes are just ordinary blokes, but with unusual (indeed exceptional) talents, and perhaps even more importantly obsessional drive.
Lorenzo’s drive is particularly obsessive, ever since his fresh-faced start back in 2002, when he had to wait until the second day of practice before he was old enough.
With Jorge, there’s always been a special intensity, in word and deed.
This is obviously not just from the way he keeps changing his support staff (nobody lasts long in the Lorenzo camp), but also changing teams. In MotoGP, he could have stuck with Yamaha and added to his three titles with them. His style suited the bike, and they suited him, but that would have meant staying with teammate-from-hell Rossi, who has no pity on anyone so fast and who did everything to make Jorge’s life uncomfortable.
Jorge, accepting no compromise, is somewhat unearthly himself, though in a different way. Unlike Rossi, he’s never courted popularity. Or if he has, it’s been rather clumsily, over-considered. He lacks Rossi’s gift of spontaneity and his fan-base success. Lorenzo fans are in that camp because of respect more than his charm.
Anyway, he chose the hard road, switching to Ducati, the task sweetened by a record payout rumored to be $26 million. After more than a year of struggling to change his style completely, and at the same time changing at least some aspects of the Ducati so it could meet him halfway, he finally achieved what Rossi could not in his time with the Italian team. He started winning.
It had taken him more than a full season, but from there on until he was violently tossed by a mechanical failure in Thailand, he was right there. Sweetest of his three wins was that last-corner slam-dunk over Marquez in Austria.
However, by the time Jorge had got to grips with the big red Desmosedici, it was already too late. Ducati was looking to save money; Jorge was looking for appreciation. He called HRC, and they grabbed him. On the cheap.
Not surprisingly, he didn’t jump right on to Marquez’s bike and start winning. For one thing, his process of adaption was hampered by repeated injuries. As a result, always eager to be disrespectful (quite rightly, perhaps), a Spanish reporter went on the attack in the week before Le Mans. Triggered by the vaguest of twitter rumors, Spanish sports daily AS reported that Honda was ready to terminate his contract prematurely, after the first of two years.
“Fake news” went up the cry from the rest of the press, and from an angry Lorenzo.
After all, he had 23 bad races with Ducati before his first of three wins. Le Mans was only his fifth for Honda. He finished 11th.
Underwhelming, but there’s another dimension that contradicts the rumor.
At Honda, they have always preferred to believe it’s the bike that wins, not the rider. Consequently, Marquez’s serial superiority might be good for the trophy cabinet, but not for the ego of the engineers.
Honda is without doubt anxious to prove that they are not reliant only on Marquez. His previous teammate Dani Pedrosa’s win rate had dropped off badly in his final couple of season. Time for a change.
This gives Lorenzo an ace in his hand. His riding style is very different, but HRC will be trying everything to make a bike that suits him. Might be difficult this year, with engine design already frozen and only chassis and suspension to play with. But they would not have thought it would be an instant shift, and for next year there is nothing to stop them making a special engine spec just for Jorge.
Physical size and emotional distance notwithstanding, don’t write Jorge off just yet. Maybe there won’t be a win this year, though I’m expecting there will, and significantly enough the next two circuits—Mugello this last weekend and Catalunya in a fortnight—are where his Ducati breakthrough happened.
Surely there will be more in 2020. This would make Lorenzo only the fourth rider ever (with Hailwood, Lawson, Mamola, and Capirossi) to win on three different makes.
Not sure that he’ll actually supplant Marquez, but then again, maybe he won’t have to.CN