Neil Morrison Blog and getting down with the kids
Teenagers. Strange creatures for the most part. Fun and cheeky, yet moody and delicate; adolescents enduring those formative years pocked by greasy skin and the ever-present haunted look that comes with the dawning of adulthood are never easy. Any parent will tell you managing them can be a challenge. And many of the paddock’s teams have different means of staying on top of those raging hormones and impulsive acts.
For the most part Aki Ajo has it down to a fine art. And the Monlau Estrella Galicia set-up is similar in some ways, wherein riders must comply with a rigid structure and training regimen to become accustomed to the rigors and expectations seen at the highest level of the sport.
For Monlau, its roll call of riders speaks for itself. Former championship challengers – Miguel Oliveira, Alex Rins, Jorge Navarro – have all passed through its ranks, while Alex Marquez’s 2014 world crown bears testament to its expertise. Watched over by Emilio Alzamora, manager of Marc Marquez, the know how is certainly in place to extract one’s potential, no matter how young the rider, how pimply the skin or brazen the attitude.
Interesting then, to observe the current predicament of Italian wonder-kid Enea Bastianini. Many believed 2017 would be his year. He has the bike. He has the team. And now he has the experience. So why, beginning his fourth grand prix campaign, is the 19 year old, so far off Moto3’s top ten, let alone the front of the field, a place that talent and recent history dictates he should rightfully expect to be?
Two races in and a title challenge already seems a long way off. Bastianini has yet to register a world championship point, appearing lost, unfocussed and forlorn, while Joan Mir and John McPhee – using the same factory supported Honda NSF250Rs – set about the season’s opening act with the kind of vigour that speaks of a winter’s worth of honing physical and mental focus.
The success of Honda riders in the opening two races is just one aspect that makes Bastianini’s current malaise all the more trifling. After all, he finally got the move he wanted at the end of last year, having angled for a switch to Emilio Alzamora’s Estrella Galicia squad in the autumn of 2015, only for his previous employer, Fausto Gresini, to wave a contract bearing his name to remind him he was going nowhere.
Now he’s here and it’s impossible to shake off the feeling that things have already turned sour behind the garage door. After a lowly showing at an official test in Jerez, the alarm bells started ringing two weeks later when he was 18th fastest at another official shakedown in Qatar. The first race hardly went any better and Bastianini put in another meek showing in Argentina, only fighting for lower top ten places before a careless fall compounded his misery.
A renowned late braker, the Italian has failed to find front-end comfort aboard the Honda’s 2017 chassis. But in Argentina it seemed there was more at play, especially with rumours circulating that an ultimatum had already been issued in his direction.
One factor appears to stem from Bastianini’s refusal to adapt to Monlau’s strict scheduling and training programme. The team, that employs riders from the age of twelve to compete in Spanish junior categories right the way through to the junior class, has a detailed working method that it requires its riders to fulfil. Team boss Jordi Arquer explians, “We have one method. He has come from another team with another method. Ours includes things like what you do at home, how you organise training, and the communication you have with staff that want to help you organise this training.
“Also it’s how we work at the track, outside the box. Not always, but usually before a race we give our riders a timed schedule of all the weekend. Maybe in Moto3 this isn’t usual, but it’s what MotoGP guys do. So we try to give a system that is as professional as possible so riders will get used to working in this way. We don’t insist it’s the best way. It’s just our way. We try to give the method to a 12-year old kid and a 16-year old kid.” Thus Catalan team-mate Aron Canet, has few issues concerning how and when to comply, given that he has been a part of this team since his days in the FIM Junior World Championship.
But it’s clear this does not work for everyone. Rins felt slighted by his treatment in 2014, feeling team-mate Alex Marquez was clearly favoured, while Navarro was another to leave for pastures new two year later, giving the impression he had never felt comfortable within Monlau’s ranks. Again, in Termas de Rio Hondo, reports suggested Bastianini was distant from team members.
One is perhaps entitled to wonder whether, in these situations, a degree of flex should exist. Sure, Bastianini should pay greater attention to the new demands of the team. But should he be castigated for not adhering from the off? Hailing from Rimini, a sleepy seaside town on Italy’s east coast that transmits a carefree attitude as horizontal as the droves of sun-loungers that line its beaches, it should come as little surprise he was has never going to buy into this stricter approach straight away. It’s clear good management is about finding what works for your rider, even if that temporarily bends the rules of your own means and methods.
However, the reality for the Italian is that if he continues at this rate this must hyped year will be over soon after it has begun. In Alzamora, there is a figurehead convinced of his team’s working methods, and one that is unlikely to flinch.
A shame in some respects that we’re judging kids for imperfections at an age when some of us – author included – had difficulties speaking without maintaining eye contact with our shoes. Yet this is the reality of modern racing. Long gone are the days when talent alone could win titles and there are riders at Bastianini’s age willing to put the work in. Criticism must be levelled in the rider’s direction too. Had he not known the means by which the team operates before pushing for the move, and the expectations that would be levelled at him?
At one time or another, every 19-year old has felt that he knows best. But for Enea, the painful truth is that there appears to be no alternative than accepting the powers that be and knuckling down.
Photos by Monster Energy/Northcott