Prior to the season closing Valencia Grand Prix I sat down with MotoGP’s official statistician Martin Raines. What had been planned as a five minute chat about Marc Marquez’ rookie season became much more with Raines in full flow about many areas of MotoGP past and present…
Stephen English: What have you thought about Marc’s performance this year?
Martin Raines: I think that Marc has been sensational and has exceeded all of our expectations as a rider. It’s always been difficult for riders in their first year-even Jorge, Valentino and Dani found it difficult when they came up to the top class-but I think that he’s been absolutely superb. He’s a sensation and a really talented guy. I think that he’s been a little fortunate at times because he’s crashed quite a lot but he’s managed to get away with most of them. I think that he’s crashed 13 times and walked away from them. Jorge has crashed three times and damaged himself. So Marc was a little fortunate in that way but as a rider he’s certainly one of the fastest that I’ve ever seen and he’s the quickest rookie I’ve seen.
Given his age and his status as a rookie he’ll always be compared to Freddie Spencer and Kenny Roberts. Where do you think he falls between those names?
We compare him to Roberts because he’s a rookie but Kenny was no youngster when he was a rookie. He was perhaps 27 when he arrived and a really experienced road racer and dirt tracker and he had a great crew with him and he arrived at a time when the strength in depth wasn’t quite what it is now. But he did fantastic because he was coming to new circuits so that was a phenomenal year when he came and beat Barry Sheene…I wasn’t happy because I was a big Sheene fan! It was a great achievement what he did because he had only one bike I think and he was also the only one racing Goodyear tyres at that stage, we don’t know if that was an advantage or a disadvantage though because he was the only guy using them. But he made the most of any advantage he had and was superb against Barry Sheene who had dominated the previous two years and won the title as a rookie.
Freddie is the other one. Freddie for me, up to Casey in the last few years and maybe Marc now, is the fastest guy that I’ve ever seen on a motorcycle. On an individual race at his best I think that he could have beaten anyone that I’ve seen. I’m not going back to the Mike Hailwood’s because I didn’t see those guys so I’m going back to the early 1970’s. I think that the accomplishment that Freddie did you can compare Marc to but you also can’t compare them. Freddie arrived having not being in this paddock and not knowing the circuits and in his first year he goes to somewhere really scary, Spa-Francorchamps, and wins first time out as a 20 year old. In his second year he beats Kenny Roberts who was a great rider with six years experience but Freddie comes along with a three cylinder Honda, that probably didn’t have a lot of advantages over Kenny’s Yamaha, and won the title. That was a fantastic achievement and I think that it’s great the Marc is beating his achievements because it has brought Freddie’s achievements back to attention. People are saying now ‘how did this guy do it years ago as a newcomer to Grand Prix racing?’ I still say that the single best single season achievement for me was Freddie in 1985 winning the 250cc and 500cc titles in the same year. As a one season achievement it was the best that I’ve seen from a rider.
Obviously you look at Marc now with Jorge, Dani, Valentino, Cal how does this compare to the best grids that we saw in 500’s?
In the late 80’s and early 90’s when we had Eddie Lawson, Wayne Gardner, Kevin Schwantz and Mick Doohan in a very strong field. They were all riders who were all dominant in the way that on their day they would be the rider than would win the race. Now you can’t really see anyone challenging the top three. But it’s great that we have those three riders because they would stand out in any era as winners. They are top of their game and this year I think that Jorge has probably ridden better than Marc because he has suffered his injury and he’s on a bike that is probably at a little disadvantage to the Honda. In the early laps of races his strength is reminiscent of Freddie Spencer. In the early laps of races on cold tyres he was superb and would often pull out an advantage in those early laps. He might take risks in those laps to do that but then everyone else had to go faster than him to catch up and it was very difficult to do that. I think that it’s the same with Jorge now and that’s why Valentino is suffering now. Earlier in his car, when he was winning, he never had to push in the early laps. If you remember back to when he was racing Sete Gibernau or Max Biaggi and he’d be comfortable in the early laps and get into the rhythm of the race before pressing his advantage in the last half dozen laps. He could do it then because he was a step above those guys but now he can’t afford to lose out. We’ve seen it this year that in the closing laps he has done really good but he’s already five seconds behind Jorge and to get that back is very difficult. To some extent I think that Valentino is suffering a little bit because he never had to push on a full tank of fuel and new tyres and now he’s trying to do that as a 34 year old. Once the race is in its rhythm he can compete with the others but he’s already behind the others. Do you agree with that?
Yeah, definitely. At the moment Vale is one of those riders that if everything goes right for him he can still win races but when you look at Jorge on the first laps of races he gets the holeshot and he’s able to open a one, two or three second gap to Valentino in the opening laps and even if you have the majority of the race remaining you can’t bridge that sort of gap to Jorge.
Yeah, not on someone like Jorge Lorenzo. Especially now when they’re on the same bike and he’s riding so well. It’s difficult and I think that is where the sport developed in recent years. Casey probably started it and if you look at his wins for a high percentage of them Casey was in front from the start. If you look at Valentino’s record there’s only a handful of races where he got the lead in the first couple of laps and led throughout. So he’s not had to that but he’s still been able to win the races.
I always looked at it that Valentino spent years where he was able to focus on one rider-whether it be Kenny Jr, Sete, Max or whoever-but now he has to fight against three guys each year now that are top notch. In the past he could focus his attention on one rider whereas now he’s fighting on three fronts against riders that grew up looking for his mental tricks. I would think that it’s very difficult to overcome that.
Looking at some of the other riders, Dani is now the most successful rider now yet to win a title. What will be his legacy when he retires?
It’s very interesting to talk about Dani and I had a discussion at Aragon about it. Would you rather be Dani with all his MotoGP victories or would you rather be Nicky Hayden with three wins and a championship? I think that Dani has been unfortunate with is injuries and I haven’t personally written him off. On his day he’s superb.
Definitely, up until he broke his collarbone he was ahead of Marc in the championship and looking good to win the title but every year unfortunately for him something happens.
He just doesn’t seem to be robust enough when he does crash to get away with them. There’s a lot of luck in that but let’s say that he’s already a three times world champion, once in 125s and twice in 250s, so at least he has those championships.
Definitely, for me he’s the best 125 and 250 rider that I’ve seen. I’m looking back over the last 15 years but of this generation of riders he was superb. There’s been no one else that came in and could do what he did on a 250 for me. Dani was, dare you say, made for a 250 even though he’s won 25 MotoGP races.
He’s had a good career and won 25 more MotoGP races than we’ve won! But I do feel that he’s been unfortunate not to win that championship. I think that he’s deserved it and I’d like to see him win and next year I wouldn’t write him off to take the championship. He’s a top rider and I think that if he was around five or six years earlier than he was I think that would have been the strongest competition to Valentino because I think that he’s a stronger rider than Sete or Max and that he would have pushed Valentino more in the early years of MotoGP.
Who has been your favourite riders to watch?
My favourite rider to watch has been Freddie Spencer. When he arrived and rode the bike like he did, really sliding the bike out of corners and his fantastic control. He was special and I didn’t think that we’d see the like of him again but then Casey came along and he was in the same mould as Freddie.
Do you think that it’s coincidental that for both Freddie and Casey you could make the case that they were the stars that shine brightest burn shortest? Freddie was injuries and Casey wanted to get out of MotoGP but both had such short careers.
I agree and as you said the light that shines brightest doesn’t necessarily shine longest. Jorge, for instance, rides maybe 1% lower than Casey was able to do but he can do it for a lot longer. To watch on a day and go to a circuit and watch Casey or Freddie I could just watch those guys ride around all day. They were pushing lap on lap closer to the limit of the motorcycle than anyone else that I’ve seen whereas the others leave a little more margin. But because of that maybe they can do it for a long time.
How does that compare to Jorge?
I think that watching Jorge is a different experience to watching Casey and Freddie because Jorge can do it lap after lap.
It’s the same as what we saw with Eddie Lawson. When you see him race he was always ultra consistent.
Yeah and him and Freddie were different but both were superb for the way they rode the bikes. That contrast, and it’s the same now with Jorge and Marc, is fantastic. They go about their business in a different way. Maybe they have to because they have different bikes but they certainly approach it differently. Jorge has stepped up so much and that’s what his biggest strength is. He looks at himself and sees his weakness and improves.
It’s easy to forget that he’s a rookie. The way he’s come straight onto the bike this has been unbelievable.
It’s been phenomenal the way that he’s stepped on to the bikes but maybe with the electronics it’s easy now compared to the 500 to step up. Certainly in Valentino’s day on the 500 it took some learning and you couldn’t just step onto one of those.
That’s true but when you look at Bradl, Smith and every other rookie it takes half the season to adapt.
Dani was very good when he first arrived.
That’s right and it’s interesting because Dani won his fourth race, Jorge his third and now Marc in his second. Casey had pole position at his second race on a satellite Honda so it looks that those guys that can come in and go instantly fast are those special riders.
They show very early in their MotoGP careers, or that’s the indication now. But these are all guys that have come through the Grand Prix system and that seems to be the way to get onto a MotoGP bike. It’s difficult to come from other series, Cal has done it with some success and Nicky was probably the last guy to come across but when you look at the race wins in the MotoGP era there’s only been a handful of winners that came from outside of the Grand Prix system. We’ve had Nicky, Ben Spies, Troy Bayliss, Chris Vermeulen, Makoto Tamada but they’ve all been odd wins here and there. So all the others have come up through the system. It would be nice to see someone come across from Superbikes and win races.
Cal is the first top line British rider in the best part of 20 years. Why has Britain suffered so much during that time?
I think that the TT has absorbed a huge amount of energy for the last 30 years with people going to the TT because for one thing it could be a good pay day and for another the British press gave it so much prominence. A lot of the sponsors will go and sponsor the TT so there was a lot of focus on the TT which I think has disadvantaged the British riders coming into Grand Prix in that time. We’ve had some good guys who probably had the choice of Roads and making a career in the TT or come to Grand Prix.
You look at it now and it’s a distinct choice. Riders are either a road racer or a short circuit racer. Foggy and Hislop were the last ones that did both and then ten years before them you had Rob Mac racing here in one weekend and then over to the North West and the TT the next weekend. We don’t get that now other than something like John McGuiness and Michael Dunlop racing the World Endurance.
And don’t forgot McGuiness did a couple of Grand Prix as a wild card. I think that we’ve missed out to some extent [with top roads riders not racing in Grand Prix] and the British press give so much coverage to the TT. It’s a vicious circle here because if we had more Brits on the grid it would encourage more coverage but I think that we’re in a better position now than we have been in many years. We went years and years without a winner but in the last few years we had Brad winning races and being up there for the championship, Scott being the youngest winner and this year in Moto2. I think that we’ve got a great crop of riders in MotoGP next year with Scott, Brad, Cal and Michael and that’s a good a crop of riders.
Having Cal make such a step forward last year has clearly made a big difference to the sport too and created a lot of interest.
I think that Cal is the best that we’ve had since Ron Haslam or Niall Mackenzie. I think that Niall was unfortunate because he came at a time when finishing on the podium was as difficult then as it is now; he was up against Schwantz, Gardner, Rainey and Eddie Lawson. Mackenzie did it on a few occasions and I don’t know if that was appreciated back then. I’ve enjoyed this season because to see Scott challenging for the championship has been great and I’d like to see a British champion before I leave the paddock.
Next year we have Danny Kent in a good team in Moto3 and I think that he’s made a good move going back to Moto3. He’s at a good team with the potential to win races. Next year we’ll hopefully get some more wins for British riders and I’m very optimistic about Scott on this Honda and I think that bike will be very good next year especially with the extra fuel. That bike will be as good as Honda want to make it and with more fuel and more engines that if Honda put their mind to they could make it very competitive. It’s just depends on how much resources they put in.
Scott has always suffered because he’s a big guy and if you don’t have a joint weight limit, for rider and bike, the laws of physics mean that the guy that’s heavier will use more fuel and at the fuel critical circuits you’ll have to tune them down. To have a fuel limit without a weight limit isn’t good in my view because without it we making the bigger guys suffer. Maybe even Valentino is suffering now. We know that the Yamaha isn’t as fuel efficient as the Honda and with Valentino being about 10kg heavier than Marquez it could mean at some circuits they tweak it down and to have any disadvantage against that Honda isn’t good. Jorge has shown that it can be done though.