A Ray of Light?
“Resilience,” according to the latest definition posted on Jorge Lorenzo’s Twitter account, is an “ability to cope with the adversities of life, to transform pain into a driving force to overcome and emerge strengthened by them. A resilient person understands that he is the architect of his own joy and his own destiny.”
To accumulate five world championships and 65 grand prix wins – only Agostini, Rossi, Nieto and Hailwood have more – you would assume resilience is a requisite. Anyone doubting Lorenzo’s own particular strand has a short memory (Mugello last year, anyone?). But it speaks of just how far the 32-year old has fallen in recent months, how many “adversities” he has faced, that he needs to remind followers that, yes, he does possess these qualities, and yes, he can come back from this.
That photo of Lorenzo sat at a marshal’s post on the outside of Turn 10 minutes after a move that took down Andrea Dovizioso, Maverick Viñales and Rossi sums up where he is right now, and signaled a new low. And in this, his most trying season to date, that says a lot.
The Majorcan sits 15th in the world championship with just 19 points to his name. Of the five races he has completed Lorenzo has mustered a best finish of eleventh. He’s classified no closer than 14 seconds to the race winner and is already four wins and 119 points back of team-mate Marc Marquez. Incredibly, one has to go back to last year’s Austrian Grand Prix (ten months and five days before Sunday’s outing) to find the last time Lorenzo finished a race inside the top ten.
Thankfully there was some understanding after his blunder on Sunday. The rash braking move on the second lap that exploded the leading pack and turned the race in Marquez’s favour was brushed off as one of those things by Rossi. “This is racing,” shrugged the Italian. “Sometimes it happens.” As Marquez moved by Dovizioso for the lead at that corner, the Italian sat up. Lorenzo, already committed to overtaking Viñales for third, found he had braked just too late to avoid the Ducati that was squaring off the corner.
Dovizioso found no reason to reject Lorenzo’s apology. It was a racing incident after all, that – uncomfortably for the #99 – appears to have impinged heavily on the title fight. After a testosterone fuelled year as a head-banging 250cc rookie, Lorenzo has become one of the more vocal advocates of safe riding during an eleven year stay in the premier class. Sunday’s move was a one-off for a rider not known for such bouts of impetuousness.
But Viñales did have a point when he pondered the timing of Lorenzo’s attack. “You can overtake me on the straight where we are slow! You only need to wait four corners,” was his message. Considering braking and corner entry has been the Majorcan’s big weakness since jumping aboard the RC213V, you do wonder why the move had to come there with the leaders just ahead. It wasn’t a good look – particularly when on Saturday he told us “I will ride a bit more aggressive” in the race.
To his credit, he didn’t shy away from his mistake. “No apology is enough at the moment,” he said before admitting he had “probably tried to overtake Maverick in the wrong moment, in the wrong place.” What’s more, he acknowledged a ring-rustiness when dicing at the front. “I was too excited, knowing that I was feeling good and I just felt that I could go faster and faster.”
I guess we can add this crash to that trouble-filled outing in Argentina and listless showing at Jerez to moments when we thought the only way was up. Lorenzo’s problems until now have been well documented. Injuries carried over from a bruising end to 2018 and a “stupid” training crash in February that broke the scaphoid bone in his left wrist means, even now, eight months into his Repsol Honda stay, he has never reached full fitness.
Then there is the bike: the ’19 RC213V has won four from the year’s seven races. But Cal Crutchlow’s relative struggles suggest this has been a feat of Marquez-inspired genius more than Honda rolling out the very best bike. The engine is much improved, yes, boasting greater grunt and top speed. But the Englishman’s struggles with the front end – the bike’s best weapon in previous years – speak of the balance still not being quite right.
Lorenzo’s two years at Ducati taught us that, when bike balance and seating position is not exactly to his liking, performances will suffer. At Jerez he was some way from an ideal feeling. “The bike is transferring too much weight to the front and it’s difficult for me to have enough energy in the arms,” he said at the time.
At Mugello, his struggles were all-too-apparent to Aleix Espargaro, who spent much of the race impatiently sitting behind his more top speed-heavy RC213V. “He lost the flow. He is not riding with confidence. He’s a flowing rider but now he’s stopping the bike a lot in the apex of the corner. You can see he’s struggling,” said the Aprilia man.
Team boss Alberto Puig’s comments last week hardly soothed worries that a radical change in bike character was incoming. “That Jorge is not adapting to the bike doesn’t mean that it’s bad,” said the Spaniard. “What we can’t do is change the bike just because one rider can’t adapt to it, especially if Marc is winning.”
Then there is the issue of fitness. Crutchlow regularly notes how physical the RC213V is to ride. Injury explains a good deal of Lorenzo’s struggles, but there have been comments regarding his preparation in recent months. A relentless schedule of promoting his name for personal sponsors deprived him of crucial time that should have been devoted to physical preparation. Just compare his run up pit-lane after a mechanical failure in Austin to Marquez’s efforts four years before and the differences are there for all to see.
The worrying trend is just when there seems to be some light, another adversity is almost always waiting just around the corner: Lorenzo was second in his first official session carrying that famous Repsol livery in Qatar before a high-side the next morning set him back; a positive day of testing at Jerez in May was offset by a frightening fall at turn seven; then his brilliant first lap at Montmeló was undone by the crash, an event exacerbated by a fast fall while testing the very next morning.
Which leads us to ask: Can it get any worse? With Assen and the Sachsenring around the corner – two of his bogey tracks in the past – there remains that possibility. But Montmeló did at least offer a ray of light. It was, he said, “the most consistent weekend” of the year. And the first 23 corners of Sunday’s race were classic Lorenzo: fast and sharp off the line, gaining six positions on lap one in a quick-moving blitz toward the front.
His trip to HRC headquarters in Japan in early June appeared to bear some fruit. Riding position was worked on further and Honda’s reaction to bring another updated fuel tank with grooves aided his cause when braking. “I have to say that Honda worked really quick,” he said after Monday’s test in Barcelona. “I was really surprised about the capacity and speed for giving me these new pieces and some of them were good.” Even a day on from one of his career lowlights and he was looking ahead, focused on the future.
Which brings us back to resilience. If history is to be judged, Lorenzo will come back from this. This is the rider, after all, who once finished fourth two days on from breaking both ankles. The same rider that would not lie down and give in during a title punch up with Valentino Rossi that led to the veteran Italian pressing the self-destruct button. And the one who won his first race for Ducati ten days after the company’s CEO had downplayed his achievements, asserting he was only a “great rider.”
Lorenzo has to come again. He has no other option. Because, let’s face it, should life not get any easier in the coming months, he has few places left to turn.
By Neil Morrison @NeilMorrison87
Photos by CormacGP @cormacgp