Reviewing The 2014 MotoGP Season - Part 3: Jorge Lorenzo

The third part of our review of the 2014 season, in which we take a look at the top 10 finishers in MotoGP, sees us turn to Jorge Lorenzo, the man who took the final spot on the 2014 MotoGP podium:

3rd - 263 points -  Jorge Lorenzo

If Marc Márquez' season was one of two halves, then Jorge Lorenzo's 2014 was doubly so. The 2010 and 2012 world champion ended the first half of the season in fifth place overall, 128 points down on the leader Marc Márquez. By season's end, Lorenzo was third, having outscored Márquez by 29 points. If Lorenzo hadn't gambled on a tire change at the last race at Valencia, the difference would have been even greater: in the eight races before Valencia, Lorenzo had outscored Márquez by 54 points in total.

It all went wrong for Jorge Lorenzo during the winter. The Movistar Yamaha rider was under the surgeon's knife three times during the winter break to fix some minor problems and remove old metalwork, most notably from the collarbone he broke in 2013. That made putting together a training schedule more difficult than usual, and Lorenzo's fitness, usually his strong point, took a nosedive.

He arrived at the Sepang tests so badly out of shape that he did not fit into his leathers. Not only did he have to contend with being four or five kilograms overweight, he also had to deal with new tires from Bridgestone and a Yamaha M1 which was struggling with a liter less fuel. The tires – identical to 2013, but now using the heat-resistant layer which had previously only been used at a couple of rounds – lacked the same feel on the edge of the tire, making it more difficult for Lorenzo to maintain his high corner speed style. This was made worse by the nervous throttle response of the Yamaha with less fuel, making it even harder to control the bike. Lorenzo's style requires a massive amount of energy at the best of times. With two factors making it even worse, there was no way an out-of-shape Lorenzo was going to be competitive for any longer than a single lap.

The entire situation put real pressure on Lorenzo, and it started to get to him. This was all too evident at Qatar, where he made a bee line for Bridgestone boss Hiroshi Yamada to complain about the tires every time he got off the bike. During the early part of the season, TV shots of Lorenzo in the garage always seemed to feature the Spaniard scowling, shaking his head, or shouting at crew chief Ramon Forcada. There were even rumors that Lorenzo was considering dumping Forcada and looking for a new crew chief.

On the track, too, Lorenzo's struggles were painfully clear. The Movistar Yamaha man got a fantastic start at Qatar, but crashed out on the first lap when he pushed too hard into the right hander at Turn 15. At Austin, Lorenzo committed what is the certainly the strangest jump start I have ever seen, taking off when the lights were switched on, rather than switched off. Two races in, and Lorenzo was already 44 points down on Marc Márquez, the title already pretty much out of reach.

It took him a while to find his feet again. He went through three physical trainers, many hours of training, and much dieting. Alpinestars were kept busy, often having to modify his leathers twice in a weekend to adapt to his changing body. He also had to learn to accept that some things could not be changed. After riding the 2014 Yamaha for the first time at Sepang, and seeing the speed of Aleix Espargaro on the Open class Forward Yamaha, Lorenzo tried to persuade Yamaha to switch to the Open class, something which the factory was never prepared to consider. He tried to put pressure on Bridgestone to revert to the 2013 tires, complaining to Yamaha, Dorna, the Safety Commission, anyone who would listen.

In a way, Yamaha's previous approach to handling Lorenzo came back to bite them. In previous years, Yamaha have allowed Lorenzo to think that rules which he didn't like could be changed – the loss of an engine at Assen in 2012, after being taken out by Alvaro Bautista in the first corner being the prime example. Lorenzo believed that rules would be changed to suit him. They were not, and his suffering continued as a result of that belief.

Once he resigned himself to the situation, however, he turned his season around. Instead of worrying about things which he could not change, he worked with Yamaha to help make the M1 a better bike, his crew making the bike smoother and easier to ride. The new exhaust and many software updates made a massive difference, but Lorenzo seized the opportunity he was given. He modified his style, worked on his fitness, adapted to the circumstances. In the second half of the season, he was once again a threat at every race.

But the Spaniard did not regain his composure completely. At Assen, in tricky half-damp conditions, Lorenzo's nerve went. Memories of 2013, of the pain he went through to compete at that race, gripped him, and rendered him embarrassingly slow. Assen 2013 may have been a high point for him in terms of mental strength, but it had left him scarred, fear lurking in the depths of his consciousness. After Assen, he managed to gain control again over those fears, though doubts surfaced again at Valencia, the last race of the year. Before 2014, Jorge Lorenzo always appeared to be have incredible mental fortitude. This season, the first few cracks appeared in that armor. Stress fractures?

Where that leaves Lorenzo for 2015 is hard to say. Going on his incredible form in the second half of 2014, he will be a tough man to beat next season. With no changes of any significance to the technical rules, the Yamaha M1 should be a match for the Honda RC213V, especially if Yamaha finally perfect their seamless downshift. A newly-motivated Lorenzo on a competitive bike should be more than enough to give his rivals a run for their money, and stake a claim to the 2015 MotoGP title. It will require him to keep his nerve, however, and not succumb to stress as he did in 2014. In 2015, we will see just what Jorge Lorenzo is made of.


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Comments

Excellent, perceptive summary (as usual). One minor nit: Turn 15, where Lorenzo crashed at Qatar, is a left-hander. (I've re-watched that race more than any other from the 2014 season, so it's ingrained in my memory!)

All the talk and excitement for 2015 is around Marquez vs Rossi, especially after seeing how sensitive and inconsistent Lorenzo seemed to be in most of 2014 compared to his usual metronomic self.

I think his rejuvenated performances in 2H14, a stronger Yamaha in 2015 and all the hype around his two main competitors is just the motivation Jorge needs to take that one small extra step. He is still an impossibly fast rider with ever-improving racecraft (still learning from Vale and Marc), so I actually see Jorge as the wildcard for next year. Vale must take another step forward, especially in qualifying, if he is to have a shot at beating Jorge. Vale himself never fails to mention Jorge after Marc when talking about his main competition for next year.

Very intriguing and I would never dismiss Jorge as a SERIOUS title contender for next year. This is a 3 horse race along with the enigma (at least to me) that will once again be Dani Pedrosa just slightly behind. I think the other Hondas and new Ducatis will provide fantastic entertainment not too far behind but all just speculation until we see the testing...

Much is made of Lorenzo's early-braking, high corner speed style. The riders coming up through Moto2 are said to be more reminiscent of Marquez: brake late, power out, slide the back end as needed to find the apex.

There seems to be no happy medium that will complement both styles equally, particularly when it comes to the tires. With Lorenzo's style already being something of an exception, it seems likely that his problems are only going to get worse. If the majority of the grid is best suited by hardware that doesn't suit him at all, trying to stick with his current style seems likely to create more frustration.

He's also (IIRC) one of the least experienced dirt riders in the premier class. Again, not doing himself any favors in the current environment.

Vale's seen the writing on the wall; if the bike won't suit him, he'll find a way to suit the bike. Lorenzo gives the impression of a man who, upon finding that his square peg won't fit in the round hole, just repeatedly goes in search of progressively larger hammers. Maybe it's time for a new strategy.