LET’S ENGAGE IN SOME HARMLESS FANTASY
Jorge Lorenzo will return to racing full-time next season. Wait, there’s more. He will be Valentino’s teammate in the Petronas Yamaha Team. But wait, there’s more! Franco Morbidelli will be a factory Ducati rider next year. But wait there’s even more!! Buy now, and we’ll throw in a free set of steak knives at no extra cost (this is not true).
This is all speculation on my part of course but stick with me. Before I go on, you must watch this Jorge Lorenzo interview which took place after the recent Sepang pre-season test. Click here or below for that (the video is free but you will need a MotoGP.com login to view it).
Are those the words of a test rider? On the contrary, those are the words of someone who still believes he is the fastest rider in the world. Let’s break it down.
I’M BETTER THAN YOU (OR AT LEAST AS GOOD)
Consider Lorenzo’s comments when describing his interactions on track with Fabio Quartararo. Lorenzo clearly stated that the only reason he could not keep up with Quateraro was that the Petronas rider was riding with new tyres, while Lorenzo was on used tyres. Remember Quartararo is arguably the fastest Yamaha rider at the moment.
This statement implies that given equal equipment, Lorenzo would easily be able to stay with and follow Quartararo. Extrapolate further, and this makes Lorenzo as fast as the fastest Yamaha rider. Quite a feat for someone still not at 100% physical fitness and with compromised bike fitness. Note also his lament at only having access to the 2019 bike. Just imagine what he could have done on the 2020 bike (tongue in cheek here).
Lorenzo clearly believes he is at least as fast as the fastest Yamaha riders. And the fastest Yamaha rider (Quartararo) was the fastest rider of the entire Sepang test. His comments regarding Maverick Viǹales confirms this notion. Lorenzo made it seem like following Viǹales was a walk in the park. With equal tyres, he was able to track and observe Viǹales and provide feedback concerning the issues Viǹales was having on corner entry. Piece of cake. Viǹales is the second-fastest Yamaha rider. Where does that put Lorenzo? In Lorenzo’s mind, right at the apex.
Manufacturers hire test riders to help fast track development of their racing machines. They direct their focus at testing and evaluating new parts and solutions and providing feedback to the engineers. Rarely do we get to hear from test riders, and when we do, they never comment on their ability to follow a contracted racer. That’s because they can’t. They’re just not fast enough.
Lorenzo is different. His comments in this interview are the words of a racer, not a tester. Oh sure, he did remember to throw in the obligatory comments about providing feedback to the full-time riders and improving the bike. But this seemed like an afterthought. I suspect deep down Lorenzo is contemplating how the bike would work for him when he returns to racing.
FAILING TO DENY IS AS GOOD AS A CONFIRMATION
Whenever journalists quizzed Casey Stoner about a potential return to racing via wildcard rides (when he was a test rider for Honda and Ducati after his retirement), the answer was always an emphatic no. When journalists ask Dani Pedrosa about wildcard rides, his response is also a definite no. What was Lorenzo’s reaction to this same question?
There was no flat-out denial, but rather, external thoughts on what he needs to do to satisfy the requirements to be competitive in a wildcard ride. He will now work to achieve those things.
So how exactly does Lorenzo find his way back to racing full-time?
Step 1: extricate yourself from a horrible situation at Honda. Check.
Step 2: become a Yamaha test rider. Check.
Step 3: ride in wildcard races (about to be checked).
Step 4: out-perform full-time riders in said wildcard races (he will do everything he can to check this).
Step 5. Now, this is the crucial part. Lorenzo has a change of heart, and backed up by his wildcard results, announces a return to full-time racing with Petronas Yamaha. Remember Petronas Yamaha will be a rider short due to Quartararo’s move to the factory team in 2021. Boom.
WHAT ABOUT ROSSI AND MORBIDELLI?
There is little chance of Rossi retiring at the end of the 2020 season. Most importantly, he has delayed his retirement decision until probably Mugello, which falls at the end of May. Should he decide to retire at that time, he would miss out on the season-long farewell tour he deserves. No, Rossi is racing next year as Lorenzo’s teammate in the Petronas team.
This, of course, pushes Morbidelli out of Petronas Yamaha and into the loving arms of the factory Ducati team (Morbidelli’s contract with Petronas expires at the end of 2020). Ducati missed out on signing any of their targeted riders this offseason. As a result, Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci survive for a time, but next year will see them punted in favour of Morbidelli and Jack Miller (both of whom will have their best seasons in 2020).
You may think I’m crazy for coming to these conclusion based upon one inconsequential pre-season test interview. But let’s not underestimate the mind of a champion with unfinished business. This is all driven by Lorenzo’s self-belief in his speed and ability. He wouldn’t be Yamaha test rider just months after retiring from racing, from Repsol Honda no less, without a belief that he still ‘has’ it.
Fantasy or reality? Let’s see if any of this plays out. What fun!
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