Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - ‘Now the proud cockerel is a bit upset’

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.


‘Now the proud cockerel is a bit upset’

Some experts tipped Johann Zarco to challenge for this year’s MotoGP crown. So what has become of him? Best ask Tech 3 boss Hervé Poncharal…

It’s time to examine the strange case of Johann Zarco. Last year the French rookie bulldozed his way into our hearts by bruising egos, ruffling leathers and almost sawing Marc Márquez’s seat unit in half at Phillip Island. And all this on a second-hand motorcycle that wasn’t particularly adored by its previous owners.

No wonder the Frenchman was tipped to challenge for the 2018 MotoGP title. And he did, at least for the first few races. The 27-year-old qualified on pole in Qatar and led the race until he ran out of front grip. Two weeks later, he missed out on his first MotoGP victory by two-tenths of a second and another two weeks later he finished on the podium at Jerez. France was agog with excitement. More than 100,000 fans turned up at Le Mans to see him win. And he might have done if he hadn’t crashed out.

Since then it’s been all downhill. At the last four races, Zarco hasn’t finished in the top six, let alone fought for the podium. So what’s up: is it the bike or is the rider?

The psyche of a motorcycle racer is a very fragile thing. Or at least, it can be. It takes a very special person to willingly crawl into the lion’s mouth, week after week, fully aware of how it may end.

Motorcycle racing is a cruel and pitiless master, to which you must submit everything: your mind, your body and your soul. Some racers, like Mick Doohan and Marc Márquez, have that ability to perform at the absolute limit, week in, week out, without wavering. But other racers are more fragile. Something can happen at the track, something can happen at home, and the spell is broken. Your talent is still there, your will to win is still there, but that final link in the chain is missing. You may only lose a tenth of a second, but that’s all it takes to go from hero to zero. And that’s where Zarco is right now.

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

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Total votes: 36
Total votes: 24

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"Zarco wouldn’t be the first racer to be seduced by the siren call of the sweet life – that momentous realisation that it’s much nicer hanging out on the beach with a good woman than risking your life at 200mph with a bunch of axe murderers."

I really do hope he can regain his edge as this championship is much more fun when he is deuling in the lead pack of axe murderers.

Total votes: 27

There are a few important considerations re Zarco and recent mental state. Herve, whom I respect a great deal, has a perspective here re the LeMans race that has merit. A tough blow for Zarco, that has also been followed by a few more.

The top 8 or so factory bikes have all moved forward with bike development. Tech3 has not of course, and is dropping off of the podium chasing pack. Zarco has asked for more bike, and it isn't coming. I can't blame him. Herve of late may be taking extra effort to preserve his good relations in the paddock so as to not look ungrateful to Yamaha. He has long had to mitigate between his riders and Yamaha re kit. He has political interests.

Zarco is also watching the KTM project sit still this year. Did he ask for that bike? Apparently there were not one but THREE preferable bikes that he doesn't feel he got a good process pursuing for next year due to the paternal at best nature of his beloved and trusted mentor and friend that managed deals.

Zarco looks mentally and emotionally very fit. He will bounce back. But on a KTM, the bounce will not be seen where he could be on the Honda, Yamaha or Suzuki factory bike. We may never see what could have been for Zarco. This may just pass into conjecture.

Hope I am wrong, and the reverse spin of a strong engine reverses the spin of the Orange project. KTM has potential for sure, but I doubt it for the next season or two. Zarco? Very talented. And again, mentally solid.

Total votes: 48

yes, its going to be hard 2 years I hope the real Zarco doesnt get disappeared in the KTM development process.

As much as I love KTM as a brand, I believe Zarco deserves a better factory ride.

Total votes: 29

I think you have it spot on -

He's nervous now that he may not get a MotoGP win this year, and that may continue on throughout his next 2 years at KTM.

He's frustrated that he was guided away from the Repsol Honda seat; which his similarly-technique role model Lorenzo has jumped over to with 100% confidence.  

He's frustrated he passed on a Suzuki chance on a bike that can win this year potentially - that fits his style perfectly.

Even the Ducati is the best or 2nd best bike on the grid at the moment - of which Lorenzo is also winning races on.

And he's seeing the KTM still struggle for a top 10 finish.

Total votes: 29

and everyone please correct me if I'm wrong, but it was the other way around in that Suzuki (or more to the point DB) passed on JZ. I still believe that the KTM ride was his best option because if he's to have a factory ride, he needs to be the #1 in the team and have a bike developed around him. You know that would not have been the case at Honda or Yamaha.

Granted if the SIC team does get a full factory bike & support next season then that would have been a good option for more immediate results likely but that Team didn't even exist when he was contract shopping. 

Curious, does anyome know if the Z & F GP School is still operating as normal? Might lend more clues as to their current relationship?

Total votes: 19

It was a couple of yrs ago that Suzuki passed on Zarco. This time, not the case, with them referencing the former.

I don't think Zarco needs to have a bike built around him at all. He is a strong and adaptable rider with a very conventional style. That is beautifully bold btw!

Total votes: 17

Also; there is going to be a certain other Frenchmen entering the Championship next year.  Whom will also be on the bike Zarco would have had he stayed (A 2018 bike for the 2019 season)

I'm sure Zarco isn't exactly thrilled that not only did he gamble on the satellite Yamaha's not panning out - he also didn't expect Fabio Quartararo to get the promotion to MotoGP.

Total votes: 14

I find the response from both Herve and Mat. Zarco's results are still very good for a satellite rider. His podiums from earlier in the year were mainly because of many of the top riders crashing out, and he is consistantly finishing in the top 10 where there are 14 (!) factory bikes on the grid! Both of them act like he is not finishing races or is at the back end of the pack.
I have a feeling there is more going on in Tech3 as Herve seems a little bitter, he did already loose Folger for being "ill".
What more is Zarco supposed to do on that old Yamaha anyway? What more does Poncharal expect? I think being on a factory KTM will give him the support and focus to at least perform as well as he is doing this year which would be a great accomplishment and a building stone for the future.

Total votes: 13

hum, i'm a bit disappointed by the article, I don't think we get a real insight though we get some slightly cheap comments on girlfriends on the Riviera... There is something there though that is rarely discussed which is the mental "prepness" these guys need. I try to explain with an anedocte : in another life i followed a political campaign, and one of the most important members of the party was caught up in a scandal (to be fair, the press mounted it into a major scandal, when, in reality, it was a very minor incident.) But the guy couldn't handle it and let's say that he left the public scene in a very dramtic way. At the time, speaking with insiders and observers, they all came up with the same conclusion : they guy was washed away by the scandal not because he had a conscience but because he was not raised to face that kind of harshness. In other words- in any given field -  the talent and the strong will are not enough if you were never thought to stomach certain things and be able to adapt to new levels of attention, and feel at ease in any type of environment.  Zarco, who is 28, has lived in a bubble for many years and I don't think that he was ever prepared to face the kind of attention he got in the past 16 months. A couple of days ago I posted a comment on one of David's previous articles, forgive me for reposting it here : Zarco does have - or rather, had - a very close, special relationship with his manager Fellon (I'm so tempted to use a Latin expression "nomen omen" but I will refrain). For many, many years, Zarco lived in Fellon's house, sleeping on a couch, in the living room that, at night, would turn into his bedroom. It's easy to guess, how he easily became a father figure and mentor, building a relationship of total trust. A one way relationship : he would make the decisions like a parent with his underage child. Now, Fellon has a son of his own who just turned 14  (guess his name and activity? Lorenzo, motorcycle racer with the Ajo Academy) and he is trying to bank in on all the investments he made on Zarco and secure the future of his son. How many times have we seen a manager make decisions based solely on the rider's interests ? I am not saying that he manipulated Zarco, but during all these years he made all the decisions and some of them - namely the talks with Honda and the strange behavior with Yamaha - were, to say the least, debatable. Contrary to many posters here, I never thought that Zarco was "alien" material, it took him too many years to come through, and many commentators very conveniently forget that he entered the motogp class on one of the finest tuned bikes on the grid, a bike that did quite well in 2016. Moreover we never got the see how he fared compared to his teammate Folger, much younger, less experienced and with a heavy health condition ( plus the horrible incident, which did not break his bones, but probably some of his confidence...) So my question is : how good is Zarco really ? and this is were I think Fellon played a big negative role : Fellon did everything in his power to convince Zarco that he was better than the two official Yam guys, and therefore he deserved an official bike. Of course, every racer has to believe he can beat everyone and win, that's why they line up on Sunday, but you also need to understand your strengths and your limits... I'm sure that the deal with KTM meant more money - for both of them, though rumors have it that the more money is for the manager... - but maybe it would have been more interesting to stick with Yamaha, one more year. Accept a satellite, that might turn out to be a great bike, because finally the electronics will be truly the same for everyone. Moreover, it was very strange how Fellon and Zarco were talking about the right to have an official Yamaha, when at the same time  we heard zillions of times that Zarco does not want to know about bike specifics... how can he play the role that Cal plays for Honda if he doesn't even know, nor care, which chassis he's using ?  It's very confusing to say the least.  As for Honda, well, it seems that the KTM deal was signed and sealed a long time ago .... Leaving Zarco with no other option. And now Zarco is seeing Morbidelli on the Yamaha next year, a Suzuki improving by the day (Fellon stated that Brivio contacted him but he wanted nothing to do with them - without asking Zarco), Lorenzo on the Honda, Petrucci on a well sorted Ducati, and he will be on KTM... not by his real, well pondered choice.... Bottom line : I think that Zarco has had very little to say about his life and his career and now he is awaking up to reality. I might be wrong and we might discover a major champion on KTM next year... personally, I doubt it.  I don't think he was a hero, and I do not think that now he is a zero. 

One final question: what's the situation in the updates department ? I read everywhere any kind of rumor and speculation, and I would love to have an informed answer : does the existing contract between Yamaha and Tech 3 state that Yamaha must give all new parts and update to their client? I assume that the current contract is exactly like the one sealed in the provious years... so what's the status? And which bike is Zarco on ? Does anyone have a clear picture of the situation?  

Total votes: 53

I like your posts here MGM but man, paragraghs would really make them easier to read for these old eyes.

Total votes: 32

My apologies. 

In my defence,  i cannot get around this text editor- I'm technologically challenged-  and i am therefore unable to bypass its  lines and paragraphs setting. They break in a way that does not make sense for me.  

In other words there is a difference between new line or new paragraph but not here. Sometimes i just need a new line but i have no choice other than moving to a new paragraph even if I'm still on the same line of thought....

And so i stick to one continous line instead of breaking it into paragraphs that don't make sense to me....

I will be more careful!  Apologies!

 

Total votes: 23

You can either use the default rich text (html) editor and use Shift+Enter to break into a new line, or just switch to plain text editor and type like normal.
The latter only work until the preview however, where everything is forced back into html and ruin all the lines and paragraph you made in plain text. So basically the site kinda forces you to just get used to the html editor.
Not a big problem in itself, but it's kinda jarring.

This is OOT, so I'll shut up now.

Total votes: 9

it's not that hard, is it?

enter = new paragraph
shift+enter = new line
you could as well "emulate" a paragraph by shift+entering twice, then you have a blank line to separate visual pieces of text

(on a mobile device I recon it's indeed a bit more challenging though)

Total votes: 14

That I'm technologically challenged!

So I'm here, basically  with my smarthphone in my hand.... and haven't got a clue of what you just wrote...;)

Total votes: 14

:) nevermind then ;)

haven't checked whether there is a way to do that on a phone in the ckeditor David uses

Total votes: 15

people are actually up-/downvoting our little conversation 🤷‍♂️😄

Total votes: 17

And real comments don't get approved, right David?

Total votes: 11

At the moment, I am behind in the comment queue. If commenting is important to you, take out a subscription, as subscriber comments are published automatically. Taking out a subscription also helps ensure that the site will be able to continue to exist in its current form. You can subscribe here.

Total votes: 10

Crazy, right? 

I wish i were a freshman from the sociology department and I were assigned a report on behaviourism and social media... :)

Total votes: 11

Zarco is a 28 year old man, not a 19 or 20 year old.  Sorry you can’t blame everything on the manager, Johann has 50% of the blame, at least.  Zarco had a shot at the HRC factory ride, said as much, and also said it would be hard to beat Marc on Marc’s bike, but it’s still a competitive seat and maybe the two best seats on the grid as Honda spends more money than any other factory by a fair margin, and historically has been extremely competive in the modern era.  He passed.  Then there was the Suzuki, which wouldn’t pay what HRC would, but the bike suits his style.  Also would be Morbidelli’s seat on a factory spec Yamaha, and maybe even Petrucci’s seat on the factory Ducati.  His options were some of the best in recent years for a rider as it seemed he had factories courting him.  And he/they said no, to all of them in favor KTM.  Thems the breaks.  You made your decision so get on with it, and be positive.  

I also don’t buy the factory teams moving on.  Let’s look at Zarco’s results in 2017.

Pole at Assen and Motegi

Fastest lap at Qatar, Austria, Phillip Island and Valencia

Podiums at LeMans, Sepang, and Valencia

As you can see, competitive until the end of the season.  Every year the factories do updates to their factory bikes, sure didn’t stop him last year.  

And Herve is an amicable guy.  Never known him to be a bs’er.  He usually tells it like it is.  Sounds like he is none too pleased right now and probably justifiably so.  Zarco’s issues are between the ears.  As they say in this sport, just pull your finger out and get on with it.  You are getting to do a job many would kill for, and being well paid all in with contract, endorsements, etc.  Blaming your suspension technician just ain’t the way to do it.  

Total votes: 12