MotoGP: gentlemanly or full of vicious passions? by Mat Oxley on 25th September 2018
Jorge Lorenzo’s Turn One exit at Aragón ended his chances of another MotoGP victory. But who is to blame for this latest controversy?
I like to think that Jorge Lorenzo has heard of George Orwell, the author of 1984, Animal Farm and other important novels. One of the Briton’s best-read creations is Homage to Catalonia (Homenaje a Cataluña in its Spanish translation), which recounts his grisly experiences of fighting in the Spanish Civil War.
Orwell joined a militia in Barcelona and fought on the Aragón front, close to where Lorenzo and Marc Márquez fought on Sunday. In May 1937 he was shot in the throat by a sniper and nearly died.
Lorenzo didn’t suffer so badly at MotorLand Aragón. His sustained a dislocated big toe and a compound fracture of another toe when he was flicked over the handlebars at the first corner, after Márquez had snuck past him.
His early exit was a real shame, not only for the three-time MotoGP king but also for the title fight, because with two Ducatis buzzing around the points leader, there was just the teeniest weeniest chance that the championship dynamic might get turned upside down. However, it was Lorenzo who got turned upside down.
And he was mad about it: “Marc destroyed my race and my foot,” he fumed. “He also destroyed the possibility I had to win the race and probably also in Thailand.”
In fact, Márquez had done no such thing. The reigning champion started from third on the grid, sneaked past Andrea Dovizioso on the brakes and then swept past Lorenzo as they attacked the tight first corner, a notorious accident black spot. No doubt, Márquez was on the limit, his tyres not fully up to temperature, the rubber crabbing across the asphalt as he tipped into the corner, so he ran wide, because he would’ve crashed if he had tightened his line any further. But there was no contact – he had the line, so it was his corner. Lorenzo’s job was to limit the damage. He also ran wide, onto the dirty part of the track, where his rear tyre skidded sideways, gripped and ejected him from the seat.
“Marc didn’t allow me to enter the corner,” Lorenzo added. “He made me go to the dirt, where I opened the throttle and crashed. It was a block pass. He didn’t care about me, he just braked very late and didn’t think about the exit of the corner.”
After Lorenzo’s media debrief I spoke to several members of his Ducati team. None of them agreed with their rider’s view of events, although they wouldn’t say so on the record.
Some top racers are like this. Their brains get clouded by red mist, so they are only capable of seeing things from their own point of view. Strength can come from this perspective, because any self-doubt, any nagging feeling that you’re not right can be a real chink in a racer’s psyche. As Mick Doohan’s faithful crew chief Jeremy Burgess used to say of the five-time world champion: “Mick is always right, even when he’s wrong.”
Orwell didn’t only write serious books about war, society and humanity; he also wrote for newspapers. While he was preparing to write 1984 at the end of the Second World War he published a story, headlined The Sporting Spirit, about a series of football games played by the British against a visiting Russian team.
He wrote that sport is ‘an unfailing cause of ill-will’, ‘much bad feeling’, full of ‘vicious passions’ and that ‘if you wanted to add to the vast fund of ill-will existing in the world at this moment, you could hardly do it better than by a series of football matches.’
Orwell didn’t only have it in for the players, who would stop at nothing to win, he also noted that ‘the spectators work themselves into furies over these absurd contests’.
The most famous line from this story goes thus: ‘serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting’.
Does this have anything to do with what happened at the first corner on Sunday? Of course it does.
“Block passes are not normal for me,” Lorenzo continued during his debrief. “It’s not illegal, but there should be a gentleman’s agreement. A block pass is the opposite of that. If [race direction] don’t take any action, I will have to do same and do things I don’t like to do.”
Motorcycle racing isn’t a gentleman’s sport. But is any kind of professional sport gentlemanly? Not really.
Lorenzo’s outburst came as something of a surprise, because he seemed to have changed in recent months. He is more relaxed and more himself than he’s ever been. On Saturday afternoon at Aragón I asked him why. “I’m older, so I’m more relaxed, because when you’re older you have more experience and you see things in a different way.”
No doubt, the fact that he has achieved what his old rival Valentino Rossi never achieved – to win on the Ducati – and the small matter of banking €24 million over the last two seasons has also contributed to his newfound sense of equanimity.
The 2010, 2012 and 2015 MotoGP champion has also changed as a racer. He has made huge adjustments to his riding technique to master the Ducati and he has adapted his race strategy to suit the Michelins, which means battling with his rivals, rather than clearing off into the distance, as he did in his Yamaha/Bridgestone days.
In recent races he has made plenty of superb passes on his rivals, most especially Márquez. He has learned to divebomb with the best of them, because that’s what you must do if you want to win in MotoGP’s current technical era.
There was his stunner of a block pass at Turn Nine with three laps to go at the Red Bull Ring, where he stuck his GP18 inside Márquez’s RC213V, leaving the reigning world champion slithering and sliding and unable to prevent Lorenzo taking the lead and winning the race.
Then there was Turn 12 at Misano, a 130mph right-hander, where he swept past Márquez as they battled for second behind winner Dovizioso.
Márquez never complains when he gets stuffed by a rival. He’s clever enough to know what would happen if he did. Presumably his mum and dad told him that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Someone needs to remind Lorenzo of that old proverb.
Of course, sport is supposed to be a good thing – teaching people to be better people on the racetrack or on the football pitch can help them become better people in the real world. But this is more relevant to grassroots sport than to the corporate behemoth of professional sport.
Sport England, the body that encourages lower-level sport in this country, insists that “sport has a positive social impact, from education to community safety”, with key benefits of improved education, life learning, crime reduction and community cohesion and safety.
Until recently, Lorenzo’s no99 logo featured a halo and a pair of devil’s horns. This neatly summed up his psyche, and indeed the psyche of most racers. The 31-year-old has long been keen on meditation as a way of staying calm and focused, so he’s caught between being Buddha and Beelzebub.
The day after the accident, Lorenzo posted his latest thoughts on Instagram, which suggest he’s had a long, hard think about the race and its aftermath. They make fascinating reading and offer an excellent insight into the mind of the man who has won more races than anyone, apart from Giacomo Agostini, Rossi, Angel Nieto and Mike Hailwood.
‘I have always thought that life and sport are like a rollercoaster, a mixture of moments and emotions,’ he wrote. ‘As in the famous [fairground] attraction, we can find ourselves on a long, stable climb. When you are a novice, you think that your life will always be like this, in continuous ascension.
‘You think, naïvely, that those descents that your parents or your friends have suffered will not happen to you. Even those who, like me, have been up and down hundreds of times, like to ignore what we already know: everything that goes up must come down. Because in the end that fall always comes. And sometimes that fall feels so abrupt and so long that it seems that it will be the end (although it almost never is).
‘Between those two extreme moments there are also shorter ups and downs, which make you lose your bearings, and blind curves, which make it impossible for you to know exactly what your destiny will be.
‘Thanks to that contrast of emotions one gets to feel alive and that is why rollercoasters are so addictive. In order to appreciate the satisfaction and security of an ascent, you need to go through the anguish and doubts generated by a descent. In order to have the clarity of vision you need to go through those moments. Blind curves are necessary if life isn’t to become predictable. I think that every one of us lives on our own rollercoaster. And in most cases we ourselves are the engineers and builders. Of course, once we get into the car on the rollercoaster we can only decide in what way we are going to live those moments. On Sunday I lived my latest descent. I did not like it. In fact I hated it with all my might, while I was cursing myself for not having foreseen it. Now, lying on a bed, with my foot wrapped in an ice pack, I cannot stop thinking about how I can improve my next rollercoaster and if I will live it better.’
On Monday afternoon Márquez phoned Lorenzo to check on his condition, which will no doubt defuse some of the tension between the two, just months before the become team-mates. I think Lorenzo realises his immediate post-race analysis was wrong and clouded by red mist. Let’s hope he’s able to move on and ride at 100 per cent next week in Thailand.
Source: Mat Oxley @ Motorsport Magazine. 25 September 2018.