Monthly Archives: November 2023

Mind game masters

It’s all part of a World Championship battle especially if it goes down to the wire, the last round. Throw a few mind games into the pot, stir them around and see what emerges. The weekend fight for the 2023 title between Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin was never going to be an exception.

When you are 21 points behind with a maximum of 37 at stake you have to try and take every trick in the book. Martin never let Bagnaia out of his sight in Practice and the current World Champion and Champion elect appeared a little rattled. He steadied the ship on Saturday and the rest is history. Martin is certainly not the first or last to try and unsettle a great rival. There are some notable names in the mind games club

Those club members employed different tactics to match the situation and the opponent. On the track, on the grid, through the media, in a press conference and testing the loyalty of a team-mate have all been used to achieve that ultimate goal, the world title. Some have been successful, others have not.

Double 500cc World Champion Barry Sheene was a past master of the art. At the big British meetings, he would arrive on the grid smoking a cigarette already wearing his helmet. He had a hole drilled through the front of the helmet to fit a cigarette. He would walk along the front row of the grid and then shake his head while checking his opponent’s tyre and rear sprocket choice. Barry also had the media eating out of his hand and would give his main rivals a tough time in print. One man who was not affected and found the anti-headlines so amusing was Kenny Roberts. The American stole Barry’s world title and went on to win two more.

On the track, Kenny tried every trick in the book to regain that World title in a 1983 showdown with Freddie Spencer at Imola. At the Italian circuit, where Kenny made his European debut nine years earlier, he had to win to prevent Spencer from becoming the youngest-ever 500cc World Champion. Second place behind Kenny would give Freddie the title. They swapped the lead, with Kenny constantly upping and slowing the pace, hoping Freddie may crash or Eddie Lawson on the second Yamaha may catch them and relegate Freddie to third. It didn’t happen, and Freddie’s second place brought him the title and Kenny retired.

Being a teammate to Phil Read didn’t mean an exemption from mind games, as Bill Ivy discovered in 1968. The Yamaha teammates made an agreement that Read would win the 125cc World title and Ivy the 250. Ivy kept his part of the bargain with Read crowned 125cc World Champion, but he reneged on the 250cc agreement. They arrived at the final round in Monza and Read won the race from Ivy. Ivy was devastated and retired only to be killed a year later in a comeback ride. Read went on to win more World titles and upset teammates.

Valentino Rossi didn’t win those nine world titles without joining the club. He certainly got the better of his bitter rival Max Biaggi, both on and off the track, with great riding coupled with clever mind games. The Italian did the same to Sete Gibernau after an altercation in 2004 in Qatar. In the press conference a week later in Malaysia, Rossi told Gibernau and the world’s media that the Spaniard would never win another Grand Prix. And he didn’t.

It didn’t work out the same way 11 years later at the same Press Conference room in Sepang. Rossi launched a scathing attack on Marc Marquez regarding the race at Phillip Island a week earlier. Marquez stood firm and the fight ended up on the track and not in Rossi’s favour. His on-track clash with Marquez, plus another earlier penalty, meant he had to start the final round in Valencia from the back row. He eventually finished fourth but lost the title to teammate Jorge Lorenzo.

Mind games may not always work but they happen, and always will.


By |2023-11-30T11:30:21+00:00November 30th, 2023|Uncategorised|Comments Off on Mind game masters

Never say never, but history is against Jorge

So, it’s come to the last round showdown as expected but not quite as we hoped. 21 points is a massive advantage for Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team). Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) would have to make history to be crowned MotoGP™ World Champion at Valencia on Sunday. Never in the 74-year-old history of Grand Prix racing has a rider pulled back such a big deficit at the final round of the premier class to take the title. Of course, the introduction of the Tissot Sprint race this season has changed the situation. Now, there are 37 priceless World Championship points up for grabs instead of 25, but it’s still a massive ask for the Pramac rider.

19 times in that 74-year-old history the premier class world title has been decided at the final round. Only three times has the rider not leading the Championship going into that final round won the title. The biggest deficit pulled back was in 2006 at that never-to-be-forgotten final MotoGP™ race in Valencia. Valentino Rossi, riding the factory Yamaha, had an eight-point advantage over his old Repsol Honda team-mate Nick Hayden. The American had been brought down by his team-mate Dani Pedrosa at the penultimate round in Estoril and we all thought his big chance had gone. We were wrong. Rossi crashed, Hayden finished third behind the Ducatis of Troy Bayliss and Loris Capirossi to become the last American to win the title.

It was a lot more controversial in 2015, when Rossi arrived for the final Valencia showdown with a seven-point advantage over Yamaha team-mate, and not best friend, Jorge Lorenzo. Just two weeks earlier Rossi had been involved in a couple of unforgettable clashes with Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) at Sepang in Malaysia. As a result, together with an earlier penalty, the Italian had to start the 30 lap race from the back of the grid and Lorenzo knew exactly what to do. He won the race with Rossi fighting his way through the field to fourth, but it was not enough. Lorenzo grabbed his third and last world title by five points. Rossi’s big chance to win his tenth world title had gone for good.

The first time a rider not leading the Championship won the title at the final round in 1992 was in very different circumstances. Mick Doohan arrived for the final round at Kyalami in South Africa with a two-point advantage over World Champion Wayne Rainey, but that does not tell the true story. Australian Doohan, riding the Rothmans Honda, held a 65-point advantage when he broke his leg in a qualifying crash in the eighth round at Assen. Severe complications prevented him from returning until the penultimate round at Interlagos in Brazil

Doohan could hardly walk, let alone race, but somehow fought through the pain to finish 12th in the race which was won by Rainey. He held that precious but fragile two-point lead going into 28 laps of the Kyalami circuit two weeks later. Doohan gave it all and more to finish sixth. Rainey’s third place retained the title for the World Champion by four points. I remember as media manager for the Honda team I had to organise the instant destruction of 200 World Championship-winning tee-shirts, press kits and photographs before Mick saw them.

Doohan was devastated, but two years later won his first world title for Honda. He captured four more consecutive titles for Honda, and so take heart for the loser this weekend. Look to the future after disappointment and don’t dwell on the past. So, Jorge, history is against you but never say never. Win that Tissot Sprint on Saturday and the pressure is on.


By |2023-11-23T12:23:30+00:00November 23rd, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Never say never, but history is against Jorge

Settling Pecco and Jorge rather than starting in Qatar

When that enormous red ball of the sun disappeared below the barren desert landscape and you heard thousands of light bulbs clicking into action, you knew the new season was underway. For 16 years the floodlit Lusail circuit was the beginning of a new season, but now the roles are reversed. Suddenly the 5.380km circuit is the venue where a MotoGP™ World Championship can be settled rather than started. 14 precious points separate Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) and Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) at the penultimate round on Sunday. For the first time this season, the title race could be settled after the Tissot Sprint and the Qatar Airways Grand Prix race in the desert

Arrival in Doha always heralded a complete change of life. The winter was over and family and friends knew better than anybody the travelling lifestyle had returned, after a seemingly too-short winter. You soon discovered the waistline you had requested on the uniform trousers had changed dramatically over those hungry winter months. The shoes you requested were too big and those shirts had problems covering your larger than it had been in November tummy. You reunited with colleagues who you were going to spend much of the next eight months within commentary boxes, media centres, airports, hotels and, of course, bars.

The Lusail International Circuit staged its first Grand Prix in 2004 and its first opening round in 2007. The heat and television timings back in Europe made it tough and so Qatar came up with a solution, which I honestly thought was pie in the sky. Flying in over hundreds of kilometres of desert sand the next year suddenly the silhouette of the floodlit Lusail circuit pierced the darkness below. In 12 months the circuit had been floodlit. The 2008 Qatar Grand Prix was the first ever World Championship motorsport event on tarmac to be staged under lights. The transformation took just 175 days. The opening round was staged under the Lusail lights until this season with just one break for Covid.

I loved those Thursday afternoon Championship photo sessions on the Losail start and finish straight, before the first practice session of the season the next day. There had been Valencia and pre-season testing but this was the first time we saw the bikes and riders in their new livery. Valentino Rossi on a Ducati in 2011 and back on the Yamaha two years later. Casey Stoner on a Repsol Honda in 2011 and four years earlier, even before the floodlights arrived, the first Ducati ride that led to a World Championship in 2007. That same year the number 1 plate was proudly displayed on Nicky Hayden’s Honda for the first time. Marc Marquez made his MotoGP™ debut for the same team in 2013 and Jorge Lorenzo in Ducati leathers for the first time, after leaving Yamaha in 2017.

Qatar will be full of added tension and anticipation with so much at stake this weekend, but it will be different. Already the Moto2™ World Championship is sorted and 37 points are up for grabs in MotoGP™. The first chance for Pecco Bagnaia to retain his world title, although Valencia looks the most likely showdown venue a week later. I always remembered the Lusail circuit as the start of the adventure. Next year it returns to herald the start of the 2024 season. Marc Marquez’s first race on the Ducati sums up my memory and feelings perfectly, although Sunday could be a very special Championship decider.


By |2023-11-15T20:42:15+00:00November 15th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Settling Pecco and Jorge rather than starting in Qatar

Can Bautista do a Bayliss?

The circumstances are so remarkably similar. As the world focuses on the superb battle for the MotoGP™ world title, the World Superbike Champion arrives to join in the fun. Double World Superbike Champion Alvaro Bautista, fresh from that amazing final round in Jerez returns to MotoGP™ in Malaysia on Sunday. His appearance as a wildcard on the factory Ducati brings memories flooding back to 2006 and a certain Australian, Troy Bayliss.

After winning the World Superbike Championship, Bayliss was brought in by Ducati to replace the injured Sete Gibernau at the final round of the MotoGP™ World Championship in Valencia. The world was totally focused on the Nicky Hayden/Valentino Rossi fight for the ultimate prize, the World Championship.

Sounds familiar so far. Bautista joins the grid on Sunday while the world focuses on the fight for the title between Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) and Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing). Bayliss had plenty of MotoGP™ experience with four podium finishes for Ducati before returning to Superbikes. Bautista not only returns to a series that brought him a world title,16 Grand Prix wins and three MotoGP™ podiums but to a track that he loves, no wonder why. The Spaniard has won two Grands Prix at the sweltering Sepang circuit on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. In the same year as Bayliss’s Valencia success, Bautista won the 125cc race and the title. Two years later he won the 250cc Grand Prix by over two and a half seconds on his way to second place in the Championship.

Seventeen years ago in Valencia, history was made. Bayliss won the Grand Prix from fellow Ducati rider Loris Capirossi with Hayden crowned World Champion after finishing third. The very first Ducati one/two in the premier class did not go exactly unnoticed but Hayden’s first and only world title stole all the headlines. Bayliss returned to Superbikes to continue his domination after producing a ride that has never been replicated. He is the only current World Superbike Champion to win a MotoGP™ race. American Ben Spies is the only other rider to win a MotoGP™ race after winning the World Superbike Championship but not as the reigning Champion. The Yamaha rider won the 2011 Dutch TT in Assen two years after his Superbike Championship success. Without a doubt fellow American and Superbike Champion Colin Edwards deserved to join him. Who will ever forget the Texan crashing at the final esses in the 2006 Dutch TT with the chequered flag already fluttering in the breeze ready to celebrate his first Grand Prix win? Edwards stood on the podium 12 times and finished fourth and fifth in the World Championship.

The reverse scenario is not quite so barren but probably contains fewer riders than you would imagine. The 250cc World Champion John Kocinski won 500cc Grands Prix on Yamaha and Cagiva machinery before becoming World Superbike Champion. Four time 250cc World Champion Max Biaggi won premier class Grands Prix for Yamaha and Honda before dominating the Superbikes. Carlos Checa won a couple of 500 cc grands prix for Yamaha before switching and winning the World Superbike Championship.

So, can history repeat itself after 17 years in the 20-lap race at Sepang on Sunday? Understandably the spotlight will fall on the Bagnaia/Martin fight for the Championship with three rounds remaining. I promise you I will be paying a little more attention to Bautista than I did on Bayliss during the historic afternoon in the Spanish sunshine in 2006.



By |2023-11-08T17:02:50+00:00November 8th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Can Bautista do a Bayliss?

The next Marc Marquez faces his biggest test yet

I would think Pedro Acosta was licking his lips with anticipation after watching those last two incredible MotoGP™ races.  The 19-year-old Spaniard will be joining in the fun next year and I bet he can’t wait to get involved. I’m sure there is also a certain amount of trepidation for the Murcia rider who has exploded into Grand Prix racing. Six wins in his first season brought him the Moto3™ title. After finishing fifth in his first Moto2™ season last year Acosta is poised to add the Moto2™ crown after seven wins on the Red Bull KTM Ajo machine. He needs to finish fourth or higher at the Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix in a couple of weeks’ time to be crowned the Moto2™ World Champion with two rounds remaining.

If he wins the World title this year he will achieve something no other rider in the modern era has done. Acosta will be the only rider to win two world titles in separate classes in his first three years competing in World Championship racing. Not even the likes of legends Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi, Dani Pedrosa or Jorge Lorenzo arrived so quickly with World titles under their belt

In those first three years, Acosta has won 16 Grands Prix. Fifteen of those came in his first 50 starts and only Valentino Rossi has done better. The nine-time World Champion won 20 Grands Prix in his first 50 starts. Rossi also won 17 races before his 20th birthday. Pedrosa is the youngest rider to clinch two world titles. The Spanish Honda rider was just 19 years 18 days old when he won the first of his 250cc world titles to add to his 125cc crown. As long as Acosta wins the Moto2™ crown this year he will be the second youngest to win two world titles. At the moment Marquez is the second youngest with Rossi third. Marquez won an incredible 26 Grands Prix before his 20th birthday with Pedrosa on 21, Rossi on 17 Maverick Vinales (Aprilia Racing) on 16 and Lorenzo with 15.

Despite all the headlines and success, the next step into the premier class is massive for Acosta. When he joins the MotoGP™ grid under the Qatar floodlights on the GASGAS Factory Racing machine at that opening round of 22 next season, the pressure will be on. Comparing him to Marc Marquez is understandable after his success so far but it’s a tag that will hang heavy around his neck. Remember when Marquez arrived in MotoGP™ in 2013. He blew the premier class apart on the Repsol Honda. He won just his second Grand Prix in Austin and went on to re-write the history books. He won five more Grands Prix and the world title after finishing third in the final round in Valencia. Marquez and Kenny Roberts are the only riders in the 75-year history of the sport to win the premier class in their first season, apart of course from Les Graham who was the 500cc World Champion in the very first year in 1949.

Even Marquez did not win his first MotoGP™ race, but others have, starting with Geoff Duke in 1950 when he won the TT on the Norton. Jarno Saarinen won the opening two 1973 500cc rounds on the two-stroke Yamaha before his tragic death. Who will forget Max Biaggi’s debut with that stunning win at Suzuka in 1998.

I don’t think anybody is expecting Acosta to emulate these feats, especially Marquez with a title win. Never has the level of competition been closer or more intense. Twenty-two Grands Prix and 22 Tissot Sprint races is the longest and toughest test we’ve ever witnessed. Acosta first has to win the Moto2™ World Championship before that massive step into MotoGP™.

The next Marc Marquez? Only time will tell but I can’t wait to see how he fares.


By |2023-11-02T09:59:40+00:00November 2nd, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on The next Marc Marquez faces his biggest test yet
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