Monthly Archives: September 2022

Team orders or no team orders – That is the question

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.

By |2022-09-29T10:56:16+00:00September 29th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Team orders or no team orders – That is the question

“Please don’t crash”

What a compelling heart-stopping first lap in Aragon. Watching the return of Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) over the weekend brought back so many memories and an expression under my breath of genuine concern. Even when commentating on what unfurled in front of me I would whisper to myself away from the microphone, ‘Please don’t crash.’ Watching a rider return to the rigours and dangers back in the saddle after a serious injury was a double-edged sword. It was great to see them back in the fray but after all that pain and sheer hard work they had endured to return, I prayed they would not crash

So many riders have returned from serious injury to find success. Grand Prix motorcycle riders always have been and always will be tough guys. It is what the sport is all about. Nothing will stop riders from competing if humanly possible, often at the expense of pain and suffering when they have finally cried enough and retired. Barry Sheene and Alex Criville not only won 500cc world titles after returning from serious injuries but also became national heroes in their respective countries. Sheene’s two life-threatening accidents at Daytona and Silverstone rather than two world titles made him a British icon. Criville became the first Spanish rider to be crowned a premier class World Champion two years after a serious hand injury kept him out of action for over two months.

I remember two very different comebacks that had very different times scales involving World Champions Mick Doohan and Jorge Lorenzo. One lasted 56 days, the other just two days. Mick Doohan’s pinched grey face matched his mood when he arrived for the penultimate round of the 1992 500cc World Championship. When he showed me the spindly remains of his legs and especially the right leg I understood just why. His right calf was still encased in a light cast while the wounds below reminded of our local butcher’s shop. Mick had missed four Grands Prix after breaking his leg in the final qualifying for the Dutch TT. The Australian rider had seen his massive Championship lead slashed to 22 points coming into the penultimate round at the dangerous chaotic Interlagos circuit on the outskirts of the massive sprawling City of Sao Paulo in Brazil. He had almost had to have his right leg amputated after infection set in after the operation. At one point, both his legs were sewn together to try and restore circulation from one to the other.

Watching Mick complete 121km in the drizzle was a humbling experience coupled with fear of what injuries he would suffer if he crashed again. He did not but all that pain and effort was unrewarded. Somehow he finished in 12th place which meant no World Championship points. Wayne Rainey won the race and two weeks later won the title by four points. It was a bitter pill for Mick to swallow but after a difficult 1993 season, all that pain and anguish was rewarded when he won the 1994 500cc Championship for Honda. That win just opened the floodgates for the Australian legend who won four more world titles on the trot

Even on that tiny television screen in the Assen commentary box in 2013, it was obvious Jorge Lorenzo had broken his collarbone when he crashed in the second wet practice session. That horrible dropped left shoulder walk through the gravel trap said it all for the World Champion. He was immediately flown to Barcelona to have a titanium plate fitted with ten screws to repair the snapped collarbone. We surmised he could be back in a couple of weeks at the German Grand Prix but Jorge had different ideas. He flew back on the Friday night and was passed fit to race after the Saturday morning warm-up. Race he did and finished fifth after 26 laps of pain. Unfortunately, the story of the defence of his world title did not have a successful conclusion when he crashed and re-broke the collarbone at the Sachsenring two weeks later. He lost the world title to Marquez but two years later won back his crown amidst the Valentino Rossi/ Marquez shenanigans.

So can Marquez follow in the footsteps of the likes of Sheene, Criville, Doohan and Lorenzo. Of course he can but while he has been away the opposition has got both stronger and younger, beware of those young pretenders at the next three Grand Prix in Motegi, Buriram and Phillip Island. The eight-time World Champion won the last MotoGP™ races to be held at all three. Stand by for the fireworks.


By |2022-09-23T08:23:18+00:00September 23rd, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on “Please don’t crash”

Pecco poised to join the greats on the honours board

Twelve years ago, I took a bemused Jorge Lorenzo and Nicky Hayden to the legendary Lord’s Cricket Ground in London, the home of world cricket. It was a media pre-event before the British Grand Prix and the two World Champions were more than a little confused attempting to play the great game, but were fascinated by the honours board in the pavilion. Any player who had taken more than five wickets in one innings, known as a ‘Fifer’, was honoured. Around one hundred names starting back in 1884 were listed

Pecco Bagnaia arrives at Aragon this weekend determined to find his name on a shorter MotoGP™ Fifer honours board. The Italian Ducati rider has won the last four Grands Prix and since 1949, only seven riders in the premier class would have their names engraved on that imaginary MotoGP™ special board. Those seven are the only riders in the 74-year history of our sport to have won five or more consecutive premier class Grands Prix.

No great surprise at the names and especially the top man. Between the 1968 West German Grand Prix and the 1969 Ulster Grand Prix, 15-times World Champion Giacomo Agostini won 20 consecutive 500cc Grands Prix. Riding the MV Agusta, Ago won at some remarkably diverse venues including the Isle of Man TT circuit, Imatra in Finland, Montjuic Park in Spain and the Sachsenring, Brno and Nürburgring road circuits.

Both Mike Hailwood and John Surtees took full advantage of the superiority of the MV against their mainly single-cylinder challengers. Hailwood won 12 successive 500cc races between the 1963 Belgium Grand Prix and East Germany a year later. Surtees made it 11 in a row, including victory in every one of the seven 1959 World Championship races. Another British star, Geoff Duke, was the first rider to win five in a row. Riding the 500cc four-cylinder Gilera, Duke won the 1954 Belgium, Dutch, West German, Swiss and Nations Grands Prix to set the ball rolling.

Five-time World Champion Mick Doohan fought back from serious injury to win ten in a row for Honda in the nineties. The Australian won ten of the 15 1997 rounds in succession. Doohan would have moved into second place behind Ago with 13 successive wins if teammate Alex Criville had not beaten him at Jerez to the delight of the home crowd.

Who will forget 2014 and the next Honda multi–World Champion? Surely Marc Marquez could not repeat his rookie success of the previous year and retain his MotoGP™ world title? Any doubts disappeared in a cloud of exhaust smoke as the young Spaniard won the opening ten races of the season. It was only in August that the run finally came to a halt at Brno in a race won by his Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa.

No honours board would be complete without a certain Valentino Rossi and again it was on the Honda that the nine-time World Champion won seven in a row in 2002. He led the four-stroke charge winning nine Grands Prix that historic season. The Doctor won five in a row for Yamaha in 2005 and 2008 and for both Honda two-strokes and four strokes in 2001 and 2002.

Back to the cricket at Lord’s in 2010. The ground staff at this legendary venue were mostly Australian. They loved MotoGP™ and especially Casey Stoner. Incredibly they allowed the two World Champions to play a game on the famous second pitch at the Nursery end of the ground. Pictures of Jorge with pads on trying bat and Nicky chucking instead of bowling the ball were shown throughout the World. The groundsmen loved it until the Air Asia hostesses arrived on their hallowed turf wearing high-heeled shoes to serve the traditional strawberries and cream and cups of tea to the media. The game ended abruptly.

There should be no such interruptions for Pecco on Sunday as he strives to emulate some of the greats of our sport and join that very special Fifers club. Probably no strawberries and cream and cups of tea in pit lane if he does it.


By |2022-09-14T19:47:48+00:00September 14th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Pecco poised to join the greats on the honours board

We’ve always been a loyal old lot

Misano just about ticked all the boxes in that recent Global Fans Survey. Ninety-four per cent of the fans put exciting racing top of their priority list. The MotoGP™ clash and certainly the last lap between Pecco Bagnaia and Enea Bastianini would have met that particular criterion. Just three hundredth of one second separated the two Italian Ducati riders at the end of 27 laps. Ninety-one cent of the fans put overtaking and on track action top of their list. I think the Moto2™ race, with perhaps just a few too many crashes and less than half a second separating the first four in another breath-taking Moto3™ race, would have sent most people home satisfied and happy.

Ever since that very first World Championship race at the Isle of Man in 1949 the sport has attracted a very loyal and knowledgeable worldwide following. It has always had that extra edge to it that other motorsports have never been able to understand and match. Its popularity has often reflected in the mood of the World and in many cases provided fans with a glimmer of light in countries suffocated by suppression.

In that first year the World and Europe were recovering from the rigours and horrors of the Second World War. People from England flocked to the Isle of Man for that very first race just four years after the war had ended. They were free at last. They could travel again and even to Europe for those other Grands Prix in Switzerland, Holland, Italy and Ireland. Motorcycle racing led the revolution one year ahead of Formula One and soon welcomed back old war time enemies Germany and Japan to join the fray.

When the Iron Curtain cut off countries in the late sixties such as Czechoslovakia and East Germany, it was Grand Prix motorcycle racing that provided the repressed population with a glimmer of light. Despite the problems and restrictions massive crowds flocked to the Brno and Sachsenring road circuits to get a taste of a very different World. The authorities hated it and tried to prevent certain national anthems being played to celebrate race wins but the riders and teams kept coming back.

In 1983 I remember my conscience was in turmoil when I landed in South Africa for the opening Grand Prix of the season at the height of the Apartheid segregation ruling. I came home five days later so proud how the Grand Prix paddock had totally ignored the legislation and laws. In 2011 MotoGP™ was the first World Championship sport to return to Japan after the earthquake and tsunami resulting in the radiation leak at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. Many riders did not want to go but everybody arrived to put on the show. Some riders may have showered in bottled water throughout their stay but the Japanese people and especially race fans never forgot.

I am convinced Grand Prix racing has retained its popularity because it is prepared to make changes. These changes throughout the seven decades have not been popular at the time. Switching to purpose-built tracks from the road circuits. The demise of the 250 and 500cc two-strokes for the four strokes in Moto2™ and 3 and MotoGP™. The splitting up of qualifying and even last week the announcement of the arrival of Sprint races next season. I, like many others of my generation, have not always agreed with these changes but they are imperative if our sport is going to survive in an ever-changing World. Of course, mistakes have been made but standing still or going backwards is never going to work.

The survey clearly illustrated that increasingly younger fans are following the sport and especially females. They are younger than their male counterparts. One third of those have been following the sport for less than five years and 56% of those female fans are aged between 16 -34 years old.

As one of those grey or in my case white-haired fans, I have two simple requests for the future. Please keep the admission prices at a level which are affordable to everybody. Please don’t price yourselves out of the market. Sprint races next year but please keep the racing as simple as possible. Do not confuse or clutter pure racing with too many regulations.

Finally, my top prize after reading the survey goes to those amazing Dutch fans. Despite not witnessing a Dutch winner for 32 years they are the most active race goers with 73% of them attending a race in the last five years.

The Dutch and all MotoGP™ fans have always been a loyal old lot.

By |2022-09-08T09:19:52+00:00September 8th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on We’ve always been a loyal old lot
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