One belief common among motorcycle racing fans is that racers will ride harder while they are negotiating a new contract, only to slack off once the contract is in the bag. Ask a rider about this, and they deny it fervently, saying they have to ride just as hard after a new contract is signed as they did before. That their contract situation affects their performance is beyond question, though it is not as simple as it appears.
Bradley Smith is a case in point. Since the start of the season, the Englishman has known he has been riding for his place next year, with Yamaha and Tech 3 taking a seriously look at riders in both Moto2 and Moto3 to replace him. The pressure was starting to get to Smith, the Tech 3 man crashing rather too frequently, with the low point being the race at the Sachsenring. Smith crashed four times that weekend, twice on Friday, once on Saturday, and again in the race. It was a very tough weekend indeed.
So when Smith signed a new deal with the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team ahead of the race at Brno, there was a palpable sense of relief. With this future secure for another year, he could get concentrate on racing again with a clear mind, and without the pressure of his results being judged every race. Over the course of the weekend at Brno, we asked Smith how he felt after his contract extension, and what effect he felt it had had on his results. His answers were revealing, and provide an insight into the pressure which all MotoGP riders must function under.
On Thursday, before he had turned a wheel, Smith clearly expressed his relief at signing the new deal. "[I'm] more relieved than anything else. My first initial response was difficult to sum up. I suppose I didn't realize how much it was, not affecting me, let's say, but playing on your mind until everything was cleared and sewn up. So yes, very pleased to be riding the bike again for 2015," Smith told us.
Did he think the uncertainty over his contract had had an impact on his performance? Smith preferred to look at it another way. "I think how I manage to decipher it when I look at it, is it was affecting decision making," Smith said. "So when I was having warning signs, or when there were certain decisions I needed to take on the bike... As a rider, you get a warning and you should listen to it, because it's the bike telling you something." Smith was not heeding those warnings, and trying to force the bike to do what he wanted. "Because of the situation I was in, basically I was ignoring everything, and seeing how far I could take it until, well until it threw me off in the end. That's what it finally came down to. Rather than the pressure, or this that and the other, it was just almost a desperation as such. I think that's really the reason behind some of the issues."
Once Smith hit the track, it was clear that his riding was improved now the pressure was off. The Tech 3 rider was fast on Saturday, just missing out on a front row start. The race did not go as well as hoped, the Englishman suffering the same tire problems which slowed up Marc Marquez. On Saturday, after qualifying in fourth, just 0.004 behind Andrea Iannone, Smith spoke again of the improvement made having signed a new contract.
He was disappointed to have missed out on a front row start, Smith said, because he felt he could have been closer. "Coming into the last corner, I looked down at the time difference, and saw I was up three quarters of a second," Smith said. "I didn't choke, but there was four thousandths in that last chicane, I know it. I'll take that, though." He had made a better decision to switch from the soft front to the medium front for his final run. "A good call from my point of view, I changed from the soft front tire to the medium one for the second run. I had already done the lap time with the soft one." Switching front tires in pit lane cost time, and meant he would only get one flying lap on the medium front. "That was a bit of a gamble, and it lost me time, and it meant I couldn't get a second lap. But I thought with that tire, with one lap, I can nail it. Obviously I managed to, so I'm pleased with that."
Was the fact that he managed to get so close to a front row at Brno related to his new contract? "The disappointing thing for me is that I rode today exactly as I rode at Sachsenring. But today everything stuck and everything worked." Less pressure certainly helped with that. "For sure, I'm riding more relaxed on the bike, I haven't got that pressure of, I have to do it. I know how to, and that's the main thing."