Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Team spirit, not team orders

MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.


Team spirit, not team orders

The dust has settled on Sunday’s frantic season finale at Valencia; so it’s time to decide: was Jorge Lorenzo right or wrong to refuse assistance to his team-mate?

Team orders suck, right? Yes, they do. But team orders aren’t always what you think they are. If you are a professional racer and you race for a factory team in MotoGP you will have at least a hundred colleagues. You may be the star man, the best-paid employee, the worker who’s on the telly, the guy who gets chased by the ladies, but you go racing on the backs of everyone else. Without them, you are nothing. There is not a rider on the MotoGP grid who doesn’t know this.

On Sunday, Ducati had a chance to win the MotoGP world championship. A tiny chance, but a chance nonetheless. For several months Jorge Lorenzo had told us that he would happily help team-mate Andrea Dovizioso at the last two races. He made all the right noises and at Sepang last month he did indeed make way for Dovizioso. Everyone assumed he would do the same at Valencia.

But he didn’t. Lap after lap, he rode around behind Johann Zarco, Marc Márquez and Dani Pedrosa, with Dovizioso right behind him. The sense of dismay in the Ducati garage was palpable. Lorenzo knew exactly what was up, but he failed to do what any reasonable team-mate would do – team orders or not – move aside and let the world-title hopeful decide his own fate.

Most likely, Dovizioso wouldn’t have won the title anyway. He needed to both win the race and for Marquez or Honda to make a major mistake, so the odds were stacked firmly against him. He was relaxed all weekend, most likely because he knew his chances were tiny. But that’s not really the point. Lorenzo should have left it to Dovizioso, not because he should obey team orders but because he should respect team spirit.

For many years I’ve tried hard to like Jorge. It’s not my job to like or dislike riders, my job is to write about bike racing, but bike racers are humans, they’re not just names on a result sheet. I’ve known some sweet riders and some nasty riders, but if they’ve got riding talent they deserve respect as racers, if not as human beings. And in twisted way I enjoy the company of some of the dodgier types, because they are red in tooth and claw, which is much of what it takes to be a racer.

Obviously, Jorge couldn’t care less if I like him or not, or indeed if anyone else likes him, because he’s not a popstar, he’s a racer. His job is to win races, not to court record sales or TV ratings.

But I think he did the wrong thing on Sunday. It’s no big deal to swap fourth place for fifth, so why didn’t he? It would’ve saved him a lot of hassle from various journalists (especially the Italians) and it would’ve saved me from writing this blog.

Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

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Total votes: 11
Total votes: 9

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Comments

I must be in the minority, but in my view JL didn't do anything wrong. Dovi and Ducati totally lost the championship at PI. And even at the last round, neither JL or AD had the pace to do the deed. Dovi isn't complaining so why the negative commentary from non-participants?

Total votes: 39

why the complaining? Drama.

that being as it may, Max Oxley does make a good case. 

Mat Oxley

Total votes: 12

The article that starts its review of Jorge with "For many years I’ve tried hard to like Jorgepreempted with a similar tweet. So Mat has tried, but unfortuatly can't find a way to like Jorge and gosh darn it here is another reason he doens't like JL.

https://twitter.com/matoxley/status/929703206208319488

Well at least its blowing up in the comments section over at Motorsport magazine and I guess pulling in readers is really the over all point of writing an article.

 

Total votes: 24

I can't tell if your question is 100% serious

I agree 100% with Matt. The bit about the engineer working for you at 1am to help you eek that extra little thousandth really bring it together.

Perhaps if Dani saw Dovi on his outboard instead of Lorenzo he may of been forced into a mistake.

It's not really as much to do with Dovi winning and more to do with Lorenzo not respecting his team's wishes. Is he not paid enough for that kind of request?

Total votes: 19

Just his opinion.....everyone has one (insert quote that Lorenzo misheard and reacted badly too).
Not everyone likes everyone and not everyone agrees.
Just because you disagree it doesn't mean Mat is trolling.
I happen to agree with him about this and really enjoy most of his writings..

Total votes: 12

What I don't understand is why Lorenzo used the argument that he was the faster rider when his pit board showed showed +0 for around 18 laps?? That usually means your not going any faster right?

Total votes: 17

JL would have been able to hear AD's bike behind him & consequently how he was faring. IMO that would be telling him a bigger story than the pitboard. He can be a hard person to like (JL) but in this instance I feel he did what he genuinely felt was in AD's best interest. He crashed stepping up the pace trying to get Dovi closer to the leaders & how long did Dovi last once he no longer had Jorge to follow?

Total votes: 19

I don't doubt for a minute that he thinks what he did was the right thing. It just seems to me that it wasn't his decision to make. He's rides for a team and the heads of that team made a decision. He could only do PR damage to Ducati and his personal brand at that point. I don't see how he gained any fans from the decision. Remember sponsors opinions matter as well not just the armchair patriots. Like Matt stated. He didnt stand to gain anything from that decision and still ended up with DNF for his troubles. Why not let Dovi ride over the the limit to try to win and inherit any mistakes from Dovi over riding. It was all around selfish in my opinion.

Total votes: 17

That's just really disappointing, to have a (formerly) respected journalist let his personal dislike for a rider shine through like that. That tweet is from a Trumpish level.

Total votes: 33

IMO, JLo had nothing significant to lose, and everything to gain, by letting Dovi by. If he lets him slide by, and Dovi wins, good, if Dovi doesn't win, at least JLo wasn't "in the way". Either way it's a positive for Jorge, especially considering he expects everyone in the Ducati team to support him 100% in his title bid next year. He might get 100% of the Ducati team's minds next year (because they are goal-oriented pros), but I don't think he was ever going to get 100% of their hearts, and this only makes it worse IMO.

If he had moved over, the cards would've been dealt by the universe anyway. As it was, with JLo in front of Dovi, the team felt that Jorge was dealing one of those cards.

It seems extremely likely Marquez would've taken the championship anyway, but who knows what would've happened in an alternative universe of Dovi closer to the front? That would've been a little bit more pressure on everyone. Like Nicky used to say: "that's why we line up on Sunday". I'm not saying Jorge stopped Dovi, but it didn't look like he helped.

Total votes: 14

I know a lot of folks around here are not what I would call fans of Formula 1 but I must point out what happened at this years Hungarian GP if you are not aware.

The cliff notes version is Mercedes driver Bottas was in 3rd with teammate Hamilton in 4th. Hamilton was faster then Bottas and the team asked him to let Hamilton past to see if he could close the gap to the leading Ferraris. He did and tried for 10 laps, to no avail. He then slowed and let his teammate Bottas back by into 3rd on the last lap, which he promised the team he'd do over the radio.

I didn't, for one second, believe that he would. But he did and was duly impressed. 

Sure you can claim that racing a bike vs car is apples & oranges in regards to what the racer has to manage in the heat of battle but my point is how a team can work together when there is trust. Those points he gave up could easily have come back to bite Hamilton in the arse but he was honorable to his team. 

Total votes: 13

In an earlier post I said that if Gigi believed him, then Lorenzo deserved to be believed.

I've changed my mind.  As Mat Oxley says, Lorenzo is a solipsistic brat. 

Ciao

Total votes: 17

The part about the way you gain the love of your team by respecting the spirit ... yeah ok, I get the point.

But I really hate team orders, I'm here to see a race, everyone against everyone. I watch motogp since 2001 (not so much I know) but I can't remember a teammate let pass. Remember Pedrosa/Hayden ? Rossi/Lorenzo (2010 AND 2013) ? Zarco/Vinales ? etc. etc. That's part of reason why I love this sport, no bullshit on track.

But I get the point. I understand Ducati ... but honnestly, Lorenzo did nothing wrong (and like the vast majority, I'm not a fan of what the guy expresses when he talks). If Dovi wanted so much to pass, then show your front tyre. That's it, welcome in MotogGP. And Dovi able to win against Pedrosa and Zarco ? Not a chance ! That's exacly why Marquez took the risk to go away, he knew Dovi would never win this race.

Marquez is something else, I just can't dislike a genius like that, even if I supported Dovi :)

Great season, see you next year ;)

Total votes: 13

Maybe I misunderstood ur comment, but if you watch Hayden and Pedrosa 2006 Valencia you will see that Pedrosa let Hayden by very clearly. 

Total votes: 6

Yep, he most certainly did.
Making amends for an almost very costly mistake by taking Hayden out of a previous race.
2006 was a crazy year, right across the field.

Total votes: 3

Matt often likes to state how he has no preference in riders, how one day Rossi fans don't like him next day Stoner fans, next day Jorge fans, ect ect. But when was the last time he tweeted anything along the lines of 'I've tried for many years to like (insert name)....'? When was the last time he started an article critiquing of a rider like that? How can he publicly state his contempt for a rider than in the next sentence say he is impartial to all of them? So when reading his articles I have to read it with that in mind. Mat has never liked Jorge.

Or was this just Mat trolling to get more hits on his article hence generating more online revenue for his employer. Did he write this thinking hey this will create controversy and in turn hits to my post? Looking at the action in the comments sections I would be willing to bet this is the most active comments column he has written since Sepang 2015.

tldr; So yeah was Mat trolling us for online hits or has his dislike of Jorge overwhelmed him, forcing him to tweet about it and then write an article? 

Total votes: 13

And how quickly the internet forgets how good Jorge is at Valencia.  This is like saying following Casey at Phillip Island is a bad idea and he is probably slowing you down.

Race wins at Valencia:

Jorge: 4 [2016, 2015, 2013, 2010]

Mat Oxley: 0

Dovi: 0

Total votes: 19

Lorenzo is not on a Yamaha.  Based on your "logic" he would be battling for the world championship, not still looking for his first Ducati win.  Lorenzo on a Ducati is not the same as Lorenzo on a Yamaha and the two cannot be compared.

I'm a big believer in team play.  When you stack hands on something you are agreeing to a united effort via a common strategy.  If you aren't prepared to pull with the team and instead follow "everybody, let's compromise and do it my way!" you shouldn't join the team in the first place.

Like it or not Lorenzo stacked hands on the common approach...and then decided he knew best, completely blindsiding the rest of the team.  When you stray from the team script you assume full responsibility for whatever happens next (no-one else agreed to what you are doing), so Lorenzo needs to wear the fallout for making the team look just a little ridiculous.     

Contrast this with the way it could have gone down: run wide let Dovi through, Dovi makes no impression on the leaders, Dovi and Lorenzo issued "formation wheelie" team orders and they come across the finish line side by side with a couple of monster wheelies.  We'd all be going "Team orders aren't so bad after all!" and Ducati/Motogp would have a PR coup even in defeat.

But Lorenzo knew better, so he needs to wear whatever flak arises. 

 

Total votes: 11

Ducati Wins

Dovi - 6

Jorge - 0

Total votes: 8

is for me one of the most likeable riders in MotoGP. Intelligent, articulate honest, reasonable and fair. He is also a very skilled rider.

Total votes: 14

is that you? cheeky​ (joke!)

Total votes: 8

Nobody talks about Valentino Rossi when he ruined Maverick's chance (however slight) to be in the title hunt. Why the double standards

Total votes: 12

If he had not passed Dovi on the last lap at PI, AD04 would have only needed to finish second (instead of first) combined with a MM93 DNF to win the title.

Total votes: 3

Because it wasn't the last race of the season and Yamaha did not send multiple messages via dash board and neither did they keep shaking a pit board at him telling him to drop behind Maverick.
Apples and Oranges.

Total votes: 4