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.