The 2018 MotoGP season is only a few weeks away, and the fans, teams and pundits are all excited for the new campaign, including commentator Keith Huewen.
The BT Sport pundit spoke with The Checkered Flag just moments after it was announced that the channel had signed a new three-year deal to provide exclusively live coverage of MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 in the United Kingdom. Here’s what he had to say about the upcoming season.
Let’s start with Jorge Lorenzo, how would you rate his first season with Ducati?
Hot and cold. I think Jorge is a fantastic rider – even on a motorcycle that wasn’t working for him particularly well, he still put plenty of effort and mileage in. He didn’t spit his dummy out – he worked with the team, and it looked really close-knit. I was impressed with the way Jorge went about his business last year. He never looked downhearted. He never looked like it wasn’t going to work out for him.
Now it’s pretty tricky to roll that on for a second year. The Thai test was a disaster for him. Andrea Dovizioso went well but it was Jack Miller that was the quickest Ducati of the weekend. Thailand is just going to be one of those places. I’ve got a feeling that perhaps it favours the Honda to a certain extent and perhaps it doesn’t favour Ducati yet…but it’s early days.
I don’t think you should ever take too much out of testing though and with a man as good as Jorge and with the team as good as Ducati, it should come good, but the emphasis is on should.
And if things don’t go his way this year, can he keep his head?
Well that’s a great question and it’s the one that everyone is asking. I would have said in the past, no. I would have said that his head will implode at some stage, but based on the form that he showed us last year and the effort, mileage and time he was prepared to put in, perhaps it will be different this time.
It’s not easy riding a motorcycle round and round and round, testing and grinding out the mileage. All the times, all the data and all the info – it’s a bloody tough job and Jorge put that mileage in last year.
There are only two or three riders in my lifetime that I could watch on their own. Jorge is one of them, Casey Stoner is another and maybe Freddie Spencer. Those three just have such a manner. Marquez of course… I suppose you could add him in there… and there are one or two others I suspect, but for me personally it’s all about those three.
Jorge has a great touch on a motorcycle but it’s got to be right and there lies the problem for him for sure.
Moving on to Yamaha. Many would say that they had a nightmare season in 2017. They struggled again in Thailand. Do they need to be worried?
It’s a funny thing isn’t it, Yamaha. I mean, the M1 was the best all-round motorcycle. At all the tracks, wherever you were, the M1 Yamaha was the king. Let’s look at Maverick Vinales. They had to prize him away from Suzuki to come to Yamaha. His heart was at Suzuki but his head went to Yamaha. It was the right decision but after the first three or four rounds it kind of started to fall apart for him.
Then you’ve got Johan Zarco, who comes in and does so well on an independent Yamaha. He rode the 2017 bike really well in testing so it’s a strange situation we’ve got going on with Yamaha at the moment. I cannot quite get to the bottom of why it is the way it is.
Yamaha’s veteran, Valentino, gets over it on a Sunday, which you would expect a man of 39-years-old to be able to do. I sometimes wonder how he can find the motivation that he does at that age… I don’t know how he does it… but anyway that’s a whole new story. Yamaha have got to really find some momentum to make it work in free practice and qualifying before we get to race day, because Maverick Vinales isn’t going to be able to perform at his very best. Vale might get over it because he is the man he is, but Maverick needs it to work for him earlier on in the weekend.
The problem, I suppose, is that when you’ve only got 1.5 seconds separating 24 motorcycles or thereabouts, it’s all so tight, it’s all so close. Air temperature change, track change, small adjustment changes here and there, makes that tenth or two difference and that can be the difference in finishing in the top 10 or not.
Can we really read much into the pre-season tests?
I don’t try to read too much into testing. Sepang was stinking hot – half the days were wasted because the track was too hot. I know Thailand quite well and it is a lot easier to ride there at this time of he year than it will be in October. It’s going to be sweatier, it’s going to be hotter, it’s going to be stickier – the whole thing is going to be different. The track is going to respond differently, the bike is going to respond differently…
You’re not hearing too much out of Honda right now are you? Not like you did the last few years. They’ve started their year quite well which is a great big worry for everyone else, though I don’t think we can write the Ducati off just yet and I don’t think we can write Yamaha off just yet either.
We’ve got a lot of exciting rookies moving up from Moto2 this season. Who will achieve the most in their debut season?
I would like to have thought that it would be Franco Morbidelli, although I still think there is just a tiny question mark over the Mark VDS MotoGP program. So far we haven’t seen it shine and they have got quite a big job on their hands with their rookies for this year as well.
Nakagami has instantly gone better than I thought he would. Cal Crutchlow is very enthusiastic over Nakagami’s performance on the Honda. Nakagami has settled in really, really quickly.
Rookie-wise, I don’t think we’re going to see what we saw last year with the Johan Zarco and Jonas Folger situation. Hafizh Syahrin is a good signing for Tech3, and it is actually very good for the sport. That part of the world is a key market. Sepang was (probably) already sold out but now it will be sold out twice over. I think Hervé Poncharal will get the best out of having Syahrin. I think that will work quite well. We’re not going to see a Johan Zarco performance though – I don’t think – during 2018.
Speaking of Johan Zarco, what is it about his style that has allowed him to adapt to the MotoGP bike so quickly?
It’s the whole man. I can’t believe I am rooting for a Frenchman in 2018 – I genuinely am!! I love Zarco. He is wonderfully eccentric, wonderfully unusual and is a real dose of fresh air through the MotoGP paddock. He is a completely different character to anybody. He has got a manner about him that you’re just think, “is he real?”
He is just a completely different human being that really enhances the paddock. But better than that, mate he can ride a motorbike. He has got a wonderfully gentle touch with the motorcycle. I mean, he doesn’t do motocross, he’s too impressive – nice and smooth, really smooth and that’s how he can run tyres softer then perhaps someone else might.
I reckon Yamaha might give him a little bit more than last year. They won’t have given him full factory stuff because the full factory team would be up in arms, but I wonder if Hervé is getting just a little bit more action from the factory than he’s had before?
Race wins on the card?
Definitely. I think Zarco is on for a race win this year, and it could even be the opening round in Qatar.
If we can move onto Bradley Smith. There was a lot of pressure on him towards the end of last season but in the end he managed to keep his ride. Where do you stand with Bradley?
Bradley is a gentleman and he really knows his stuff. He is the right kind of person to have in a development team because he is analytical. He is very bright. He’s got a bright manner about him and he works hard. Don’t forget, he’s took some fairly large injuries and still did a good job at KTM.
KTM chucked the kitchen sink at it last year financially, and in every other way, and I think they will be doing the same again this year. It will be interesting to see where Bradley is with it. I mean, Pol has hurt himself at the moment so we’ve got a team-mate that’s out of the equation but the jury is out with Bradders.
The expectations have obviously risen, so they are going to be wanting more from him. What, in your mind is realistic, achievable goal they should be expecting to achieve week in, week out?
If you’re a team man, you’re looking to beat your team-mate. First stop, team-mate… that’s the way to play. He should be able to do that easily. Everyone was talking about Mika Kallio taking his ride last year but he should be able to beat him. Kallio is a good rider, but he’s been there and done that. He is a good test rider.
If he doesn’t beat him, then Bradley is under-performing. You can only really, from a yardstick point of view, measure up against your team-mate because everything else is moving differently. If Bradley beats his team-mate by a margin every time, then he’s doing the right job.
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