Two weeks after Lorenzo had risked, perhaps not ‘everything’ but certainly ‘a lot,’ to limit his injury’s effect on the championship standings (he finished 5th, one place behind a struggling Dani Pedrosa), the topic came up in Thursday’s Press Conference at the German GP. Cal Crutchlow remarked that Lorenzo’s decision at Assen had raised the bar for all riders facing the question: Should I race with this injury?
Ironically, or perhaps not, Crutchlow himself had raised this bar at Silverstone last season when he slipped past the medical exam process to turn in his own amazing ride through the pack with a broken ankle. He pointed out that now more riders would be using Lorenzo’s Assen ride as a precedent: if he was allowed to ride at Assen, why can’t I?
Lorenzo didn’t like the sound of that, saying other riders should not use him as an example and instead listen to their own bodies to determine if they should sit out or compete while injured.
All weekend I heard different responses to the situation, from respect for athletes who push through pain, to scorn for the willingness to put others at risk by competing at well below 100% fitness.
One paddock insider expressed the opinion that riding a MotoGP bike is difficult enough at full fitness–any physical or mental weakness is a liability that increases the risk of crashing, and thus increases the chances of a crash involving other riders.
The more time I spend photographing MotoGP, the more fascinating the riders become. In the past few years I’ve come to believe that, while superior physical differences (their reflexes and fine motor skills) are significant, it’s the mental differences that are the most interesting.
I suppose anyone who has ridden a motorcycle even a bit beyond one’s comfort zone can appreciate some part of the physical aspect of riding a racing bike. For most of us, even the speed of racers in local events is impressive compared to our street riding.
By the time we consider Grand Prix riders, their level of performance is so high that I suspect most of us have very little idea how challenging it is to move a motorcycle around a track that deftly.
While the skills with throttle, brakes, and balance are on a level similar to the best athletes in other sports, I think that what really sets motorcycle racers apart is their ability to overcome fear.
As Randy de Puniet heads to Japan to test Suzuki’s 2014 MotoGP bike, the possible availability (some won’t be convinced it’s a reality until a pair of Suzuki motorcycles appear on the grid in Qatar next April) of two new factory seats has spawned a Silly Season unto itself.
If that possibility entailed another satellite prototype team, the furor would be considerable, but that it’s a new factory team means reason and rationality are running for their lives.
So once again we have the chance to observe the unique mindset of the top level motorbike racer. To that mindset, at least in this modern era, the factory ride is the Holy Grail of motorcycle racing. It’s easy to see why this has happened.
After the days of the 500cc two-strokes, when a highly-developed formula meant a privateer team could compete with the deep-pocket teams, the four-stroke era has seen costs skyrocket, and factory-deep pockets dominate the win column. It’s for very good reasons that riders feel you have to be on a factory bike to win races. But the thing is, not all factories are equal.