Winning a MotoGP championship - in fact, winning any motorcycle racing championship - is very hard indeed. It takes years of training, and a full season of utmost concentration, and hours, days, weeks, months of hard work to get everything as perfect as possible. Losing a championship is done in seconds, maybe milliseconds. A single, small mistake, and you can throw away everything you have devoted your life to achieving.
Jorge Lorenzo came into Assen on a roll, off two victories in a row, at Mugello and Barcelona. Assen is a track which suits the Yamaha, and at which Lorenzo is outstanding. He was comfortably fastest in the morning session, ahead of Cal Crutchlow on the other Yamaha, and was just starting to get into the swing of things on a soaking track when he hit a patch of water deeper than he was expecting. In the blink of an eye, he was tossed from his bike and onto his shoulder, suffering a displaced fracture of his left collarbone which will ensure that he will miss the race on Saturday at Assen. The momentum Lorenzo had been amassing in the previous races just hit a brick wall.
Lorenzo crashed at the worst part of the circuit conceivable. He entered the Hoge Heide corner - a fast right-left flick, with a little bit of camber - at 238 km/h, according to a Yamaha spokesperson, hitting the same section of track he had been riding over for the past seven laps in a row. But the rain which had been falling heavily and steadily had caused water to gradually start pooling in ever greater quantities on the track. The eighth time Lorenzo hit that corner, the situation had changed, just enough for him to be catapulted off his bike and break his collarbone. It was an uncharacteristic mistake from an otherwise flawless rider.
So what caused Jorge Lorenzo's crash? In a press release issued by Yamaha - reporters did not get to speak to the Spaniard, as he went from trackside to the medical center, and from the medical center to hospital in Assen - Lorenzo was quoted as saying it was simply a result of overconfidence. "I think I was too confident, at the moment of the crash I was very fast and felt very strong, but maybe the conditions weren’t the perfect ones to have this high confidence," he said in the press release.
Directly after the crash, reporters went looking for the cause. All of the riders were asked what the conditions were like, whether that corner was particularly bad, and whether the paint used for the white lines was more slippery than at other circuits. The paint used in Holland is the same special paint used everywhere, Marc Marquez asserted. There shouldn't be any difference. And yet everyone complained the white lines were very slippery here. "I touched one on my first exit, and I knew that was something I didn't want to be doing," Nicky Hayden quipped. The kerbs and white were more slippery than at other tracks, Andrea Dovizioso said, adding that he would be bringing up the issue in the Safety Commission.
Cal Crutchlow had his own theory of what happened: as the white lines are sprayed, something seems somehow to leech out of the paint itself, rendering not just the white line slippery, but also reducing grip along a narrow band of track just a few centimeters each side. Perhaps Lorenzo had hit a patch of that asphalt, and in combination with the rain, that had been enough to send him off the bike.
In the press release from Yamaha, Lorenzo was quoted as putting it down to aquaplaning. Hitting water at high speed had pushed his rear wheel towards the white line, and once that touched, the bike just flicked him off. It was a simple mistake, but one which could prove very costly.
Lorenzo now flies back to Barcelona, where he will be operated on either Friday or Saturday, by a team of surgeons at the Dexeus Institut led by Dr Mir. A plate will probably be inserted to pin the collarbone together, and Lorenzo will almost certainly race at the Sachsenring. Lorenzo's teammate Valentino Rossi was optimistic. For sure, it will be difficult, Rossi told reporters, but a plated collarbone heals remarkably quickly. In ten days' time, he could be strong enough to be back on podium pace.
It will be tough, certainly, especially as both the Sachsenring and Laguna Seca, which takes place just 7 days after the Sachsenring, are predominantely left handers. Laguna is the easier of the two, though, with Sachsenring's downhill Turn 13 a particularly hard corner, with a lot of braking followed by a turn which requires quite a lot of strength.
On the other hand, Lorenzo was actually fairly lucky. Originally, the Sachsenring round was scheduled for next week, but got moved late in the planning because of a clash with Formula 1. And crashing at Assen on the first day of practice is better than crashing elsewhere, as the first day of practice is actually a day earlier than any other track.
And this crash does not necessarily mean the end of Lorenzo's title hopes. There are still twelve races left this season, and at the moment, Lorenzo is just 7 points behind Dani Pedrosa. A mistake by Pedrosa, a mechanical issue, or just a repeat of the chaos at Misano, which saw Pedrosa relegated to the back of the grid, where he was duly taken out by another rider; all of these things could seen Pedrosa end with a DNF, and then today's crash by Lorenzo is canceled out. Pedrosa may decide to play it safe in the race, and give away points he may regret at the end of the season. It ain't over till it's over, and we are still 5 months away from the end of the season.
The one question which fans immediately raised after Lorenzo's crash was whether Yamaha could supply Lorenzo's chassis to Cal Crutchlow, to make him more competitive against the Hondas. Yamaha could, but if they did, then Crutchlow would have two sessions of free practice - at least one of which will be wet - plus a 15 minute qualifying session to try to explore the limits of the bike. Even though the two bikes are very close, they will just a little different, and that difference in feel will require a little bit of adaptation. That is the last thing you want to be dealing with halfway though a race weekend, and so Crutchlow is better off racing with what he has. Giving him Lorenzo's bike would not necessarily immediately cure the few problems Crutchlow has been having.
But it is clear that Yamaha want to see better results from both Crutchlow and Rossi. The Italian said on Thursday afternoon that the crash put more pressure on him, to finish ahead of the Hondas, and try to take some points off them. That will be a tall order, but he will surely try. With the front-end remedy found at Aragon still working, there is every chance he will do better here than he has done for the past five races. To do that, he will first have to qualify better. With the weather set to clear up for tomorrow afternoon, he is at least in with a shot. As Nicky Hayden always says, "that's why we line up on Sunday. Because you never know what's gonna happen."