I’ve done some more coaching in Almeria with Tracksense this month, which proved to be interesting. A certain F1 driver was there for his first ever motorcycle trackday. I was told not to say who, but he’s been a world champ... Almeria is very technical; I’ve been coaching there for more than 10 years and my best lap was a 1.35 on a 500cc GP bike back in 2002. The fastest clients I coach are in the high 1.41s and are either racing at a national level or fast club level. A BSB guy will get a high 1.38. So, this F1 driver turns up and hires a standard S1000RR on his first visit to the circuit and posts a 1.45! My best ever lap on a road-going S1000RR is a 1.41 and that’s pushing because of lack of ground clearance. He virtually wore the pegs and brake pedal away – it was bent backwards when he finished. It goes to show how talented and fearless he is. Speaking of fear, a lot has been said lately about the number of crashes in MotoGP/ Moto2/Moto3. As spectators, we just accept it as part of the risk and assume that every rider must have a similar number of crashes each year. But that’s not so.
Also, the riders who crash more often aren’t less talented, as world champ Marc Marquez has proven with 27 crashes in 2017. The short-term problem with crashing is fracturing a bone or breaking ligaments and not being able to race, but for most people that sentence doesn’t make sense. Breaking a bone is bad enough and usually rest and recovery is the first thing on everyone’s mind, not jumping back on a motorcycle to finish qualifying practice or line up for a race. Racers must be wired slightly differently than your average Joe, otherwise the fear of crashing and injuring themselves would stop them from competing. There are long-term issues with crashing, too – I have arthritis, aching joints, missing digits, back/neck pain, different-length legs and reduced joint mobility. And I was one of the lucky ones. Marquez obviously has no fear whatsoever when he talks about pushing the bike to the edge everywhere to get feedback. He is mesmerising to watch and has taken it to a whole new level.
He doesn’t want to crash but if it happens when he’s trying to find the absolute limit of adhesion, then so be it; he accepts it, as do his team. In Valencia last year, where he didn’t need to win, he still pushed past the limit and could have lost the title. He wanted to stand on top of the podium when he won the championship, and risked everything. Only Marquez could have saved that slide! Rossi, on the other hand, has picked up a few serious knocks over the years and these are now ingrained in his memory, so he maintains a small safety margin throughout FP and QP. But he seems to leave his safety margin in the pit box for the race because the risks are worth the reward. Sam Lowes on the other hand won’t accept that he’s not competitive and will ride over the limit to prove his point, whether his bike is working or not.
Fear doesn’t come into his thinking, he is just dead-set on trying to beat or match his team-mate’s lap time and will take big risks to do it. Like in some other sports, competitors can seem to block out the fear and pain when adrenalin kicks in. We know adrenalin masks pain and lets us continue to a certain degree when injured, and maybe Marquez’s adrenalin is more powerful than anyone else’s. Bautista and Crutchlow are similarly fearless as they’ve crashed nearly as many times. Marquez could have crashed at least 50 times over the season had it not been for his cat-like reactions in saving the front from folding. Watch how he gets so far off the inside of the bike in anticipation of the front Michelin sliding. As his knee is tucked in under the bike because of the huge lean angles he carries, he is in a position to use his knee and elbow as a lever to lift the bike back up. This is a technique only he has perfected. It is another level of riding, but to do this he has to block any fear of getting injured out of his head – he’s something else.