There may have been no MotoGP™ around when William Shakespeare famously enquired, ‘To be or not to be that is the question,’ but it’s a similar question being asked on the MotoGP™ stage over 400 years later. As the season prepares for the final curtain at Valencia next month, team orders or no team orders is the question that dominates paddock discussions and beyond.
They may not have come into play at a dramatic Motegi but Francesco Bagnaia’s (Ducati Lenovo Team) demise in Japan will just increase the pressure on the Ducati riders to help his cause. It is a tough one, with examples and answers to all arguments. Surely with Ducati closing in on Fabio Quartararo’s (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) seemingly untouchable lead in the Championship, Bagnaia deserves all the help he needs from the Italian clan. The question is what you understand as help. The key factor is for team managers to be crystal clear when talking to their riders about what they expect from them. It is when the grey areas appear the problems start, and the mistrust starts.
The classic example of mistrust came a long time ago when Phil Read and Bill Ivy were teammates at Yamaha. After Honda departed in 1967 Yamaha dominated the 250 and 125cc World Championships on those magnificent four-cylinder two-stroke machines. It was decided before the 1968 season by Yamaha and the riders that 125cc World Champion Ivy would win the 250cc title and the former 250cc Champion Read the 125cc. All was going to plan before Read, never known as your best teammate, reneged on the original arrangement.
The seven times World Champion duly clinched the 125cc title in Brno and then told his teammate he wanted to make it a double. The new agreement came to a head at the final round horrible round at Monza, full of anger and accusations. Read beat Ivy in the twenty-two lap 250cc race. Incredibly they ended up on equal points in the Championship but Read was crowned World Champion after their respective race times from each Grand Prix were added together. Ivy, totally crushed by the turn around retired to go car racing a very disillusioned rider. He returned to finance his car racing before passing away in 1969. Read continued to win world titles and upset teammates.
Bagnaia and Bastianini may not have exactly tread on eggshells in their last lap Ducati duels at Misano and Aragon, but they showed ample respect for each other. Teammates may not receive orders but do not wreck their Championship ambitions by doing something stupid at a vital moment – just ask Dani Pedrosa. Nobody will forget and especially the Repsol Honda team that afternoon at Estoril in 2006. It was the penultimate round of the World Championship. Leader Nicky Hayden arrived with a 12 point lead over Valentino Rossi and was comfortably placed third in the race behind the Yamahas of Rossi and team-mate Colin Edwards. His Repsol Honda team-mate Pedrosa was right behind as they raced into that tricky left hand at the end of the back straight with twenty-three laps remaining. The 250cc World Champion Pedrosa left his braking too late, ran onto the kerb, locked the front wheel, with his sliding Honda skittling down teammate Hayden.
That 12 point Championship lead disappeared in a cloud of sparks, Portuguese gravel, and American expletives. Rossi led the Championship by eight points going into that final round in Valencia. I do not know who the happier person in Valencia was. Hayden was crowned World Champion after finishing third while Rossi crashed. Pedrosa followed and protected his teammate in fourth place the whole 30 lap distance but never getting too close.
Orders or no orders, some teammates are never going to help each other. Can you imagine Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo offering a helping hand in those tempestuous Yamaha days. It is not only teammates but compatriots who can help you win world titles. There is no doubt the Italian ‘mafia’ ganged up on Dutchman Hans Spaan to enable Loris Capirossi to become the youngest World Champion when he clinched the final round of the 1990 125cc World Championship with victory at the final round at Phillip Island. Seven years ago, the Rossi/ Marquez war started when Rossi accused Marquez of slowing the pace again at Phillip Island to help fellow Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo in his successful title bid.
So, four races to go including all that intrigue, plots and subplots. William Shakespeare would have loved every minute of it.