The fragile state
There are a few essential qualities required to survive in an industry like this. Underneath all that ‘glitz’ and ‘glamour’ and obvious love of speed, is an inherent self-confidence that surpasses everyone else. We all know the feeling when we get a good dose of oxytocin, we become invincible and it is this very feeling that makes these motorcycle riders the best in the business. But, just like you and I, these guys experience moments of doubt that can be an achilles heel. Danilo Petrucci felt like the perfect person to observe in this respect as he appears to be so easily pushed around by his own uncertainties even in the midst of his latest successes.
Most of us exist within a particular range of potential but MotoGP riders and their teams feel like exceptions. To race against twenty-three other athletes on bikes hand-built, fixed and tweaked by trusted mechanics, whilst going over 350km/h and always aiming to win even when your opponents are equally as good as you, takes more than the average self belief. Over the last two weekends, Mission Winnow Ducati rider Petrucci has shown serious levels of spirit with his first victory at the Italian GP in Mugello. It was one of the biggest moments of his career and the booster he needed to confirm that he was where he belonged. He danced between first, second and third in almost every session and ultimately finished the day on top. We saw the tears, felt the emotions and believed in his self worth just as much as he did. It was a cloud you’d think he would never descend and, yet, when we arrived at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona his first introduction was like the life had been sucked out of his victory which was only twelve days prior “the victory feels like it was over a month ago” and that cheeky excitement was merely simmering.
Petrucci’s efforts on Friday and Saturday caused the pendulum to swing a bit more. On a slippery track – but one in which Ducati had enjoyed victory in the last two years – Danilo could not climb any higher than seventh during free practice. Little veils of doubt stopped him from moving forward despite good intentions to publicly reverse his concerns. During Ducati’s debrief on Friday Petrucci was “optimistic”, finding “room for improvement” and declared that his “feeling on the bike was quite good”.
Fast forward less than twenty four hours and traction control issues came into play during FP3. His mentality darkened. That sharp smile we know and love became strained and just as quick as it graced his face, it disappeared during his debrief where he explained that: “it was impossible to improve”, “I did a mistake in the flying lap, so I cannot be satisfied” and “our weekend started really, really negative”. The mind is an amazing tool but it also can be your worst enemy and for Petrucci the issues on Saturday were causing battles on more than one front.
Sunday was a new day and, nursing those Saturday issues through the whole race, he managed to finish third. The Catalan GP may not have been the easiest race for Danilo if Jorge Lorenzo hadn’t have crashed and taken Maverick Vinales, Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi with him, but he was still able to stay with the front group and defeat Alex Rins for a podium finish which he said “was like a victory for us and we made it”.
Trials and tribulations. Nevertheless, Petrucci is a mere five points from second place in the World Championship. Interestingly before the race in Catalunya he took himself out of the equation revealing that he was feeling very superstitious about the day ahead: “today before the race I was in my office sitting on my sofa and I said something [reassuring] to myself…because sometimes you say [certain] things and it brings bad luck” but now he is prepping his year around the possibility of a World Championship fight.
It isn’t the first time we have witnessed Petrucci’s transparent nature. It has been a rough couple of years in his motorsport life with near career-ending moments and yet, through all of the challenges he is still here, fighting against his weaknesses. As simple as it sounds, when riders are confident they can win, when they’re not they don’t. That is how it works for each and every one of us, we just forget it sometimes.
It shows that no matter the talent, team or bike package, the mind is the key to any kind of success. Confidence can take someone who is dedicated all the way to the top but equally without it can tear them apart. This makes you realise just how easily the line between the two can be fractured and how incredibly important it is to maintain a healthy balance. It is the constant fight against self doubt that propels athletes forward because once they conquer the mental side of the job, the physical side is usually already prepped and ready to go.
By Sienna Wedes @siennawedes
Photos by CormacGP @cormacgp