After nine seasons with Yamaha in MotoGP, Jorge Lorenzo makes his way to Ducati for 2017 with a hall of fame career already under his belt. Alongside his back-to-back 250cc titles with Aprilia in 2006 and 2007, Lorenzo has taken three in motorcycle Grand Prix racing’s elite league – 2010, 2012 and 2015 – and finished all bar one of this nine seasons in the top drawer in the top three in the standings. 65 victories places him fifth on the all-time winners list just 11 behind ‘Mike the Bike’ Hailwood, 64 pole positions places him top of that particular tree. And yet massive, career threatening accidents in both 2008 and 2011 have helped keep his feet firmly on the ground. There’s more than enough material for crankandpiston.com to get stuck into with Jorge Lorenzo during our interview in Abu Dhabi. For the Spaniard though, he prefers to look to the future…
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Jorge, first things first, how was your test with the Mercedes F1 team?
“Well, I’m a lucky guy because I can say I have tried the most extreme bike in the world – the Yamaha MotoGP – and been [crowned] champion with it, but have also tried the car of a Formula 1 world champion. Very few people can say that, and I’m very glad to have had that experience.
How does it compare to a MotoGP Yamaha YZR-M1?
“It’s amazing: the downforce in the corners, and how far you can brake, just 50m before the corners. On the MotoGP bike, that’s nearer 200m. So yeah, on the straights, on a bike, you are much faster, but through the corners? Oh wow!
This isn’t your first single seater experience though, is it…
“No, back in 2012 I tried a GP2 car” – with the Addax team in Valencia – “and before the F1 drive, I visited the factory to use the simulator, and the next day tried a Formula 2 car. So, the progression has been little by little and step by step. But I’ve also done a few car races. Actually the last one here in Abu Dhabi in 2014 [as part of a GT Class-winning effort aboard Kessel Racing’s Ferrari 458 at that year’s Gulf 12 Hours].”
All part of a career change somewhere down the line…?
“Oh no. For the moment, I’m very focused on my bikes. I really think that, in life, it’s impossible to do a lot of things really well, so it’s better to concentrate on one thing, and that for me is MotoGP. But who knows? When I retire, maybe I will have plenty of time to do whatever I want and one of those things could be to do more races. After I’ve taken a big, BIG holiday!”
Looking at MotoGP then, you’ve switched teams from Yamaha to Ducati for 2017. What sealed the deal for you?
“It was mainly for motivation, to be in another atmosphere, with another team and another bike. Y’know, I spent nine years with Yamaha, and even if you are very professional, and every time you put your helmet on you do your maximum, each time you still lose a little bit of your motivation. This feeling that makes you wake up and do your best.
“I’ve been lucky because I’ve for this year I had two options: stay in a championship-winning team, a great team, and another one, also great, but still just a one-time champion with Casey Stoner [in 2007]. So, for me it’s not about being a World Champion for the fourth time with Yamaha. It’s about being World Champion for the first time with Ducati. If you look at the history books, only five riders have won the World Championship with more than one team. So the challenge is bigger, and much more difficult, but that keeps me motivated, and I why I’ve confirmed with Ducati for at least the next two years.”
For those of you wondering, the five riders to win more than one championship with different manufacturers are:
Geoff Duke – Norton (’51) and Gilera (’53-’55)
Giacomo Agostini – MV Augusta (’66-’72) and Yamaha (’75)
Eddie Lawson – Yamaha (’84, ‘86 & ’88) and Honda (’89)
Valentino Rossi – Honda (’01-’03) and Yamaha (’04-’05 & ’08-’09)
Casey Stoner – Ducati (’07) and Honda (’11).
What do you think life will be like with Italian Ducati compared with your time at the very Japanese Yamaha?
“Well unfortunately I cannot tell you too much about that. What I will say though is that life will be very different, and that I’m very happy and motivated, and this, honestly, is what’s most important for me at this time.”
I’ll come back to your earlier Yamaha career in a second, but would like to talk about your final win with the team first. At the time it ended a 11-race winless streak for you, and you mentioned you could finally ‘sleep deep’. Why was that victory so important to you?
“It made sure I left my old team with the best memory possible. Sometimes people can’t understand why I’m so grateful to my old team, and I always explain that without their support and confidence, especially [managing director] Lin Jarvis, I wouldn’t have the life I have now. So it was very important for me to win that final race, to show my gratitude to the people who’ve supported me, who’ve helped me achieve me dreams.”
Even though you’re looking ahead with Ducati, you have nine seasons with Yamaha to look back on. Do you ever find yourself mulling them and wondering if perhaps you could have done something different?
“Oh yes, there always are. A perfect life is impossible, but to regret things forever is not worth it. You have to learn from your mistakes, but once you’ve done that, it’s better to forget them. I think about my crash in Argentina [from the leading pack in 2016], my accident in Japan [again 2016], when I lost probably second place in the championship. There have been some big mistakes, but I don’t regret them. You cannot change your past.”
Interesting you mention learning from your mistakes, since 2008 was a big year for you in that regard. Do you ever wonder what might have been or feel that an important learning experience for you in your debut year?
“Well we demonstrated that we were very quick and very competitive, and took our first win. Obviously, if you want to fight for a world championship, you cannot crash and you cannot have three zero-point finishes. To win a championship you need to win races, but also finish consistently on the podium, and we didn’t achieve that. But, eight years in the top three” – all bar 2008 – “makes me proud, because I demonstrated my consistency. It’s not easy to do that for such a long period of time.”
Would you say consistency is your biggest strength then?
“[Pause]…yes, I would say so. Consistently, precision and focus.”
Is there one season – or race – across your entire career, 125cc to MotoGP, that defines you career? Not necessarily your favourite, but one that defines you as a competitor?
“Not sure about seasons but two races stand out. One is my first victory in Estoril, in 2008, in MotoGP, but also my first 125cc win in Brazil . They both showed my determination to just go or it, and not be afraid to risk everything. All or nothing, right?”
“Actually, I’ll also say the last race in 2015 [in Valencia]. With all the pressure on my shoulders, I still made a perfect lap in qualifying at the crucial moment. That pole position [helped me make] a good start, the possibility to stay focused and stay on the limit in the race, and win the championship.”
Just going back to your 125cc career, is it true that you couldn’t officially practice for your first race because you weren’t old enough?
“Yes it is. I actually started the championship at the third race in Jerez because during the first two, in Japan and South Africa, I was still 14, so I could not participate and I just watched the races at home on TV. I didn’t turn 15 until the Saturday at Jerez.”
Presumably no sleep at all for your between Friday and Saturday then…
“Nothing. I was pretty nervous because the riders who were there that weekend were like my idols, and on this day I knew that I would be competing at the same event. It was a huge moment for me.”
If you had the opportunity today to speak with your 15-year old self ahead of that Jerez race in 2002, what advice would you give him…er, you…?
“[Pause]…try to have everything under control rather than push too much. That way I would hopefully avoid most of my crashes, because the injuries can be really bad. It’s not a good feeling to break bones and stay for one month in the hospital.”
Like in 2011…?
“Yes. I had a big injury that year in Phillip Island. It was probably the most spectacular or the most unusual moment in my career. And of course one week after that, Marco [Simoncelli] died.
“These are very difficult moments, but there’s no other way than to look forward, to keep working and keep trying to chase your dream. It’s sad, I remember those moments very well – I still get very emotional just thinking about Marco – but it’s better to look into the future with more positive vibes.”
Jorge Lorenzo would end up losing the end of the ring finger on his left hand during a massive high-side accident during warm-up. Though no functionality was lost in his hand, the Spaniard would miss the final two races of the 2011 MotoGP season.
Poignantly, second place at Phillip Island would also mark the final time Marco Simoncelli would climb the MotoGP podium. One race later, in Malaysia, the San Carlo Honda Gresini rider would suffer his fatal accident on lap two.
But on to more positive things…
You have five World Championships to choose from, three from MotoGP and two from 250cc. Which of the do you consider the most satisfying?
“Probably the last one is the most satisfying but my first is the most special. Always, the first things you do in life are the most special. But the most difficult, almost impossible, was definitely the last one in 2015. The competition was so tough and I had to stay so focused, that meant a lot.”
Looking forward then, is it just about that first championship with Ducati? Or do you feel you have something else to achieve in your career? You’re already fifth on the all-time winner’s list, for instance…
“To get even further up that list would be incredible, but to win on two different bikes, and with Ducati, that would be something special: it would be similar to the feeling Ferrari fans have for their champion in Formula 1. This challenge would be not easy and when, if, we can achieve it, only then will I be looking for the next goal. Year by year, you always look forward.”
*Images courtesy of Arun M. Nair, Awesome Group, @Jorge.Lorenzo.Official and Yamaha Racing