Sour Grapes?

Neil Morrison picks apart an element of last weekend's race at Jerez

As a member of the press pack, it’s always difficult to know which Dani Pedrosa you are going to get. Perhaps more than any other rider, the diminutive Spaniard can fluctuate from extremes. On certain days – usually when lady luck doesn’t desert him and all is going well – the diminutive Catalan can shift between banalities and what sound like pre-rehearsed sound bites with consummate ease, leaving a notepad filled with words low on meaning.

That can all change if the day hasn’t gone to plan, however. Or when he feels in some way slighted. When fully engaged or sensing there is a message to send out, the three-time world champion can articulate his viewpoint as well as anyone. To do so fluently in five languages underlines an intelligence that possibly doesn’t always come across on TV.

That he does so in a quiet, understated manner sometimes masks just what is being said. Mugello two years ago comes to mind, when he was asked where a wayward, out-of-sorts RC213V that was still adapting to spec-Magneti Marelli software needed improving. “The engine, the chassis, the electronics,” came a deadpan reply before later adding: “Acceleration, wheelie, grip, traction control…”

So when the 32-year old sat in HRC hospitality on Sunday afternoon and spoke at length, describing and explaining the clash that caused a second painful DNF in four outings, one was inclined to sit up and take note. Clearly reeling from the discomfort caused by a banged-up hip, Pedrosa insisted that Jorge Lorenzo was to blame for the coming together (“he didn’t pick up the bike”) that took both Spaniards and Andrea Dovizioso out of podium contention 17 laps into a dramatic Spanish Grand Prix.

And he wasn’t finished there. Special anger was reserved for Race Direction with Race Director Mike Webb coming in for another kicking, with Pedrosa accusing him of showing a lack of respect. He was apparently in a continued state of confusion regarding Race Direction’s methods. Johann Zarco’s move that led to his fall in Argentina and ultimately a fractured right wrist, and the lack of punishment that followed, clearly still irked. “It was a race incident for me in Argentina [but] it wasn’t for Marc with Vale…” he railed.

Webb meanwhile had paid him the ultimate disservice by refusing to even show up when Pedrosa had gone to see the members in Race Direction after the premier class race. His comments were later hailed as those of a slighted, noble warrior. A quick scan of fan’s opinions expressed online suggested Pedrosa was right and Lorenzo was the culpable one, needing to hang his head in shame.

What appears to have been overlooked in all of this though was that it was Pedrosa sat behind both Dovizioso and Lorenzo mid-way through the Dry Sack hairpin when he pointed his RC213V toward the middle of the track, hanging off its right side. The #26 was coming from some way back, his mid-corner speed evidently higher than if a clear track lay ahead. Dovizioso had a point when noting: “we [the Ducatis] decide the line because the rider in front always decides the line.”

The fact Webb, as his job stipulates, was overseeing the second of the weekend’s Red Bull Rookies encounters – as the Race Director always does – was the ‘other side of the story’ to Pedrosa’s grievance. Webb would go on to call-it correctly saying, “I don’t think any of the riders made a ridiculous manoeuvre that had zero chance of coming off.” Racing incident. End of.

And the Zarco incident in Argentina was four weeks ago. There was no contact then. Other riders had gone off line at that particular corner in that particular outing without suffering his fate. So why was Pedrosa kicking up a stink?

Perhaps we should go easy on Dani, though. It may be a bit much to apportion the majority of blame his way, as Dovizioso did. It could be argued Lorenzo should have seen him coming and reacted accordingly. And he is, after all, a racer. See a space open up after spending several laps too many behind (and on a narrow and limiting course like Jerez) and any rider worth his salt will aim for it.

It should also be considered that the events of the past four months can’t have been easy for a rider, who, let it not be forgotten, has acquired as many grand prix wins as Mick Doohan. Seeing ex-manager Alberto Puig appointed team manager in January wouldn’t have filled Pedrosa with ease. Not only did the pair unceremoniously part ways back in the winter of 2013 after an eleven-year working relationship – an event you can bet your house on the elder Spaniard remembering – but memories of 2016, a year during which Puig publicly lambasted Pedrosa’s performances on Spanish TV, are still relatively fresh.

News of Honda’s interest in acquiring Zarco’s services (little wonder that Argentine incident still rankles) for 2019 and beyond wouldn’t have assuaged fears for his future and Dani was surely in no doubt as to the requirements needed to hold that seat in the Repsol garage for a 14th straight year in ‘19: principally performing at team-mate Marquez’s level, if not higher. “The contract is coming if you are fast,” he told us in February.

But three months on and 2018 has veered wildly off script. His post-race comments can mostly be levelled at the frustration that yet another campaign is quickly slipping away. Pedrosa began the season injury free and, crucially, HRC upped its winter game, providing an engine that was smoother, punchier, and more powerful than what went before. He spent a good deal of winter working on wet-weather riding – last year’s obvious frailty – and testing performances – second at Sepang, first in Thailand – suggested he was starting the year from a position of strength we hadn’t seen since 2013.

And he’s never been far away. Pedrosa was part of the leading group for 17 of the 22 laps in race one, had podium pace at round two, and Austin’s heroic comeback from injury- “one of the most difficult [weekends of my career]” – proved his commitment to the cause is still second to none. Yet in spite of all that he already sits ten places and 52 points behind Marquez in the title race.

So 2018 is following a trend that has come to define his time in the premier class: hapless, unfortunate, out of luck; call it what you will. But, for a different set of circumstances, Pedrosa could be leading the championship as the series heads to France. Understandable then, that he griped on Sunday evening, even if his ire was misdirected. Potential-wise, Pedrosa is currently right up there with the best of them. Whether that will be enough to hold onto his seat remains to be seen, a thought that surely carried a sting when we all huddled around and the cameras focussed in on Sunday afternoon.

Words by Neil Morrison @NeilMorrison87

Photos by CormacGP @CormacGP