In team sports, the role of a teammate is easy to understand and follow but in MotoGP™ it can be a very different story. Many riders will tell you the first person they want to beat to that chequered flag is their very own teammate.
Crunch time for teammates approaches fast with just three rounds remaining of this extraordinary MotoGP™ season starting at Valencia on Sunday. Six riders have a chance of claiming that ultimate prize. In that group there are two sets of teammates. Will the other two contenders be looking for support from the other side of the garage?
I remember the first time I realised just how important a trusted teammate can be on two wheels. It probably comes as no great surprise that Phil Read, seven times World Champion and without a doubt the most underestimated rider in the history of Grand Prix racing, sparked the interest. There is absolutely no doubt Phil was not your ideal teammate as both Bill Ivy and Giacomo Agostini found out.
At the TT in 1968 I watched Read win the 125cc race despite Ivy setting the first 100mph lap riding the beautiful 125cc four cylinder two-stroke. Ivy admitted later he slowed to let teammate Read win because the plan at the beginning of the season was for Read to win his first 125cc title and Ivy his first 250. Everything appeared to be going to plan for the Yamaha team. Read won the penultimate round of the 125cc Championship in Brno to clinch the title. Ivy assumed he would return the compliment and finish second in the 250 but Read had different ideas. He won the race and out of the blue declared he was chasing the title because he wanted Yamaha to continue racing the next year and that he’d done all the work to develop the 250 bringing Yamaha their first world title.
In a toxic atmosphere at the final 250cc round in Monza Read stuck to his guns. He won the 22-lap race from Ivy in which the Yamaha pair lapped the rest of the field. The drama did not end there. Incredibly the teammates found themselves level on points at the head of the 250cc Championship. Read was crowned World Champion after the times from the races they had both completed were added together. Read continued to win more World titles for Yamaha and MV Agusta where his relationship with teammate Agostini was strained, to say the least. A disillusioned Ivy retired to go car racing. To fund his new career, he returned to two wheels riding the 350cc four-cylinder Jawa. He lost his life when the Jawa seized in practice for the 1969 East German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring.
Thirty-eight years later Repsol Honda teammates fell out big time but for a very different reason. You rarely saw Nicky Hayden get angry in public but what he screamed to teammate Dani Pedrosa in the Estoril gravel trap was not difficult to understand. It was the penultimate round of the 2006 MotoGP™ World Championship in Portugal and Hayden arrived with a 12-point advantage over his former teammate and World Champion Valentino Rossi. On the fifth lap of the race Pedrosa, the current 250cc World Champion, was fourth behind Hayden but the situation both in the race and the Championship changed in the blink of an eye. With 23 laps remaining Pedrosa took out the Championship leader at the tight left-hand bend at the end of the slightly kinked back straight. Running onto the kerb he locked the front wheel and skittled Hayden into the Portuguese gravel.
All was forgotten two weeks later when Hayden clinched the World title after finishing third behind the Ducatis of Troy Bayliss and Loris Capirossi. Rossi crashed defending an eight-point lead and a remorseful Pedrosa protected Hayden’s back throughout at a very safe distance in fourth place.
In the next three weeks those six Championship contenders are going to discover who is a true teammate or even just a true mate.