Michael Laverty has been named as the newest member of BT Sport’s MotoGP team.
The announcement was made on the same day that the channel revealed its new three-year deal to continue as the exclusive live broadcaster of MotoGP in the UK and Ireland.
The British Superbike rider will be providing expert analysis alongside the likes of James Toseland, Neil Hodgson and Colin Edwards, whilst also helping out in the commentary box and providing coverage of the British Talent Cup.
Laverty sat down with The Checkered Flag moments after the announcement was made, and here’s what the new BT Sport pundit had to say about his new role and the season ahead:
Could I get your reaction to joining the BT Sport team for the upcoming season?
Yeah, I’m quite excited. I’m still racing with BMW in British Superbikes and in World Endurance, and I’ve got quite a busy schedule but I’ve always enjoyed being a pundit. I’ve done a little bit over the years in World Superbikes, and I have been involved in the commentary box whilst on site helping my brother in MotoGP a few years ago. I quite enjoyed it and received really good feedback so it’s something I thought I would like to do a little bit more of, so I spoke to the guys and there was a potential opening when Jules left the team.
Unfortunately I couldn’t commit to more than six rounds so it’s only a third of the series but it will still be good, I’m looking forward to the analysis side of it. We’ve got a new screen this year to give the fans some interaction with what’s going on out there on the track and we can explain that from a riders point of view. I think Keith feels he’s been off a bike too long, Hodgie has had a few years off the bike and I’m currently riding a bike so it’s a nice balance of different eras.
Will the role only involve paddock analysis or will you be heading up into the commentary box as well?
It’ll involve a little bit of both. I’ll be doing some work in the commentary booth alongside Keith. Keith is the main-stay across all three classes. Neil Hodgson will be doing every MotoGP race, and pretty much every MotoGP session, and then Moto2 and Moto3 commentary positions will be rotated between Colin Edwards, myself, JT and Gavin.
Looking ahead to the new season, what are your early predictions based on what we’ve seen in the Thailand and Malaysia tests?
It’s hard to look past Marc Marquez at the moment, especially when you look at his runs in Thailand. He’s just unbelievable, with his strength and his consistency, he just always delivers so he is a sure fire bet to be in contention for that championship at the end of the year.
There have been a few interesting developments over the winter. If you look at Jorge Lorenzo, he went from being the fastest guy in Sepang, to looking like he was in the doldrums in Thailand last week. Of course, a lot of that could be down to the nature of the track. It’s one that he has never visited before and therefore he doesn’t have familiarity with the circuit. It does look like Ducati have made a bike that can turn and if Jorge can get something that turns in the middle of the corners, I think he could be phenomenal so I think Jorge could be a surprise if he gets all the ducks in a row.
Dovi is also there all the time now, it’s a really, really strong field. You’ve got Cal Crutchlow looking like he can win some races again, this is the most comfortable he has been in years – which is good from a British perspective. I think there is a lot going on, but the biggest thing at the moment is seeing what Rossi can do with this Yamaha if they can turn it around. It looks like they still haven’t got to the route of their electronics problem, but Zarco is showing that the bike is capable so I think they’ll pull it together – it’s just taking a little bit more time than expected.
You mentioned Valentino, there are plenty of rumours at the moment regarding his future. Do you think he will keep on going past this year and if so, what will be his motivation to do so?
I’m quite confident that he will stay. I think he will sign a one-year contract for sure, but I almost expect it to be two years and that he’ll keep going – just because he loves it so much. The paddock is home for him and he loves the sport.
As things have developed over the years, with better nutrition, better motorbikes and better electronics, it’s much safer out there and there are fewer injuries. There has been progress with the medicine, in rehabilitation and with generally looking after yourself, it makes athletes go longer and I think Valentino still feels fresh and sharp. As long as he’s got that desire and that drive whilst he is enjoying it, I think he is still going to keep racing.
On the topic of injuries, Rossi’s leg break caused plenty of controversy. Where do you stand on riders training on dirt bikes?
The sport has progressed so much in recent years, it’s almost critical that you are riding motorbikes. You can spend time in the gym or on a push bike, and you can have good physical fitness, but when you get on a motorbike you work different muscles and the adrenaline effects your heart rate in different ways– you can’t really replicate it if you’re not training on two wheels.
Valentino hurt himself whilst Enduro riding, which isn’t strictly what we would do specifically to train for our sport. We would train with motocross bikes, on the dirt track or on supermoto bikes. Enduro is based more around the fun aspect, but it is a good endurance-based form of training because you can sustain a reasonable level of heart rate for a long time. It is still training, but it’s one of those ones which you could probably put to the back of the list.
I don’t think you’ll ever see it stop. The young riders coming through in Spain and Italy spend so much time on dirt track bikes, on cross bikes and on little pit bikes, it’s making the sport evolve. They’re just learning to take a smaller bike to the absolute optimum levels of what grip is available to them and then they translate that across to the big bikes, so it has its benefits and I don’t think its going away any time soon.
Looking at the Brits, Scott Redding has moved across to Aprilia this year. Do you think that’s a good move for him and will the bike match his riding style?
Yeah you know it’s funny, I’ve spent a lot of time with Aprilia as I was a test rider for them a few years ago. They’ve taken a big step forward with the engine and with the chassis and I think for Scott, getting involved with a proper factory team can only be a good thing as they can adjust the bike to his preferences.
He is a tall guy, he’s heavy, I think he is around the 80 kilo mark, and there is not a lot he can do more to lean down due to his size. He does have his work cut out for him, pulling 80 kilos around isn’t easy especially when you have other riders like Dani Pedrosa at about 54 kilos. If Aprilia can work with the aerodynamics and progress with development on the engine so they can get a bike that really suits him, I think we will see the best of Scott.
This is a great opportunity for him. He’s got a tough team mate in Aleix Espargaro, who is the best Aprilia rider we’ve seen in the last five years – even back to CRT days with the Aspar Aprilia team. If he is matching Aleix, he is doing very well. That’s what he has to do. Get as close to Aleix as possible and then hopefully get a second year on the bike, develop it further and then we might see the best of Scott Redding.
So Scott takes over from Sam Lowes, who goes back down to Moto2 with the obvious aim of winning the title… Can he do it against the likes of Alex Marquez and the KTMs who were very strong towards the end of last season?
I think he has his work cut out for him. Looking at the times so far in testing, you wouldn’t say that he is going to be a winner right from the off but he says he has been working a lot on race pace and if that’s the case then in Qatar we could see a surprise.
There is a lot of hard work ahead of Sam. The KTM is a new bike for him but I think, looking at the development from Oliveira and Brad Binder at the end of last year, that it looks like the strongest package on the grid. It looks like he is getting a good bike, and even though it’s not the direct factory machine, I think he will have good equipment under him and a good team around him.
It’s going to be a tough year ahead for sure. Alex Marquez’s times at the Jerez test were quite amazing for a Moto2 bike so he probably starts as the favourite. We will see how it evolves over the first two or three races, but I think Oliveira will be a tough candidate over the full 18 rounds.
Speaking of Alex Marquez, do you expect him to be in MotoGP next year? If so, where could he go? Could there be a Marquez domination of Honda?
I can’t see him going to Repsol just yet, but looking at the current Mark DVS team, they seem to be building that stepping stone all the way through the sport, so they can take him from Moto3 to MotoGP. I think there could be some opportunity with the team he is with, with a little more HRC involvement than Tito Rabat, Scott and Jack Miller had.
I think if Alex delivers the Moto2 world title, he could be a shoe-in to step up with his current team but if he doesn’t win the world championship, I’m not certain they will move him up just yet. I think he is probably the next candidate though. They’re always looking at the next Moto2 rider so I think Alex is the one with the spotlight on him but he will have to deliver to goods to get that step up.