Jorge Lorenzo is set to retire from motorcycle racing. The 32-year-old Spaniard has decided to end his career as a result of the disastrous season at Repsol Honda, hampered by extreme crashes and severe injury, and never having become comfortable on the bike.
"I always thought that there are four significant days for a rider," Lorenzo told a specially convened press conference at Valencia. "The first is you first race, the second your first win and then your first world championship - not everyone can win a world championship but some of us made it – and then the day you retire."
The decision to retire came because he could no longer summon the required energy to continue at the level which was necessary. "Everything started when I was three years old, almost 30 years of complete dedication to my sport," Lorenzo said. "People who work with me know how much of a perfectionist I am, how much energy and intensity I have always put into my sport."
"This level of perfectionism requires a lot of motivation, that is why after nine years at Yamaha – so wonderful, probably the best years that I enjoyed in my career – I felt that I needed a change, if I wanted to keep this full commitment to my sport. That’s why I wanted to move to Ducati, it gave me a big boost of motivation and even though the results were very bad, I used the motivation to not give up and keep fighting until I achieved this beautiful Mugello victory in front of all the Ducati fans."
"Then later, when I signed to Honda, you gave me another big boost because I achieved something all riders dream of, to become HRC rider for Repsol Honda. Unfortunately, injuries came very soon to play an important rule in my results and performance, so I wasn’t able to be in normal physical condition to be fast or competitive."
"This plus a bike that didn’t feel natural to me, gave me a lot of problems to be competitive like I want to be. Anyway, I never lost patience and keep working with the team thinking it was probably only a matter of time until everything came into the right place."
The crashes at Barcelona and Assen were the catalyst that caused him to reconsider his desire to keep racing, Lorenzo explained. "Then, when I was starting to see some light in the tunnel, the nasty crash at the Montmelo test happened. And then some days later I crashed again in this ugly Assen crash, which you know the consequences that created."
"I have to admit when I was rolling in the gravel and I stood up, I thought to myself ‘OK Jorge, is this really worth it?’ After all that I have achieved, to keep suffering… I am done with it, I don’t want to race anymore."
The right choice
It took him a long time to make a permanent decision, however. He wanted to make sure it was the right choice. "But then I came back home and decided to give it a try. I didn't want to make any early decision. So I kept going. But the truth is from that moment the hill became so high and so big for me that I was not able to find the motivation, the patience to keep trying to climb this mountain."
Lorenzo expressed his regret for Honda, after they had given him the opportunity, and put so much time and effort into trying to make it work for him. "So I have to say I feel very sorry for Honda. Especially Alberto, who was the one who gave me this opportunity. I remember very well that day in Montmelo test, one of the first meetings I had with him, to start chatting about my move to Honda. And I said to him, 'Alberto don’t make a mistake, signing the wrong rider! Trust me and you will not regret it'."
"Sadly, I have to say, I disappointed him. I disappointed Honda. Takeo [Yokoyama], [Tetsuhiro] Kuwata and [Yoshishiga] Nomura-san [HRC president]. However I think this is the best decision for me and for the team because Honda and Jorge Lorenzo cannot fight to just score some points or even top five or podium, that I think could be possible with time. I think we are both winners that need to fight to win."
The decision comes after a turbulent couple of years in Lorenzo's career. It all started with Lorenzo's decision to leave Yamaha, after feeling he was not treated with respect by Yamaha after the controversial end to the 2015 MotoGP season, in which Lorenzo won the championship ahead of teammate Valentino Rossi. He signed for Ducati at the start of the 2016 season, and would switch to the Italian brand in 2017.
Lorenzo had a difficult first year with Ducati in 2017, struggling to adapt to a much more physical bike. Despite that, he showed signs of promise, scoring three podiums that year. But a conflict with Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali caused Lorenzo to decide to leave at the end of 2018, making his decision after the race at Le Mans. The next race, Mugello, Lorenzo won on the Ducati for the first time, then won the next race at Barcelona as well. He would end the season with three victories on the Desmosedici, his season cut short by crashes at Aragon and Thailand.
The run of success on the Ducati came too late. He had already signed for Repsol Honda, to partner Marc Márquez in 2019. After promising post-season tests at Valencia and Jerez in November 2018, 2019 got off to a bad start, as Lorenzo fractured a scaphoid training on a dirt track bike. That meant he missed the Sepang test in February, and only got on the 2019 Honda RC213V at the Qatar test.
A wrong turning
Lorenzo never really got comfortable on the 2019 bike, though he showed signs of progress in the early part of the season. But things went wrong in Barcelona. The Repsol Honda rider had a massive crash during the test, in which he suffered minor damage to his vertebrae. Two weeks later, at Assen, he crashed heavily during practice, fracturing two vertebrae in his neck and back.
Lorenzo never fully recovered from that crash, still suffering pain when he rode the Honda. Lacking confidence in the front end, a crucial part of Lorenzo's riding, didn't help, and he was constantly afraid of another crash. Though the vertebrae were healing well, the seed of doubt had been planted. Lorenzo had come within a hair of suffering a spinal injury which would have meant he might never have walked again. Spinal injuries and head injuries are the two things riders fear most. Pain, they can endure. Life changing injuries are a different ball game.
So comes an end to a remarkable career in motorcycle racing. Jorge Lorenzo was raised by his father to be a world champion, father Chicho even writing a book about how to raise a child to be a champion. Lorenzo entered Grand Prix racing in 2002, at Jerez, the third round of that season, having had to wait until he was 15 years of age to join the Grand Prix paddock.
He won his first race the following year, 2003, at the Rio Grand Prix in Jacarepaguá in Brazil. The next year, he won three races, finishing fourth in the 125cc championship.
In 2005, Lorenzo moved up to the 250cc class, where soon found success. After a year of adapting to the class, scoring six podiums, he took the 250cc title the following two seasons. Yamaha had recognized his talent early, starting talks with Lorenzo in 2006, the Spaniard moving up to partner Valentino Rossi in the factory Yamaha team in 2008.
That was the start of a fraught relationship. Yamaha had brought Lorenzo in as insurance, after Valentino Rossi had shown an interest in either retiring or going off to race on four wheels, in F1 or Endurance. Rossi resented the presence of Lorenzo, and had actively worked to prevent Yamaha from signing the Spaniard. Even in 2007, Rossi's then teammate Colin Edwards was telling journalists that Yamaha would be keeping him in the factory team because Rossi didn't want Lorenzo as a teammate.
That Rossi was unhappy with Lorenzo as a teammate was evident from the start. The Italian made the switch to Bridgestone tires in 2008, but demanded that only he would get the Bridgestones, leaving Lorenzo on Michelins, and giving him an excuse to erect a wall in the garage, and stop the sharing of data, as neither Michelin nor Bridgestone would allow data to be shared between the two riders.
Lorenzo made a spectacular start to his MotoGP career, in every sense of the word. He took pole position at the first three races of 2008. We was on the podium at Qatar and Jerez, before getting his first win in just his third MotoGP race, at Estoril in Portugal. At the next race in China, he managed to highside himself to the moon, smashing both ankles, but finishing fourth in the race nonetheless.
The next race, Barcelona, he had another huge smash, knocking himself unconscious and earning a stay in hospital. It taught him a valuable lesson, and it him some time to find his feet again, only returning to the podium six races later at Misano.
Champion at last
In 2009, Lorenzo made his first full bid for the title, finishing second behind his teammate Valentino Rossi. In 2010, he finally achieved his lifetime goal, winning the world championship after Rossi suffered his first major injury, breaking a leg at Mugello, and missing three races.
That was the year that Valentino Rossi had had enough of being Jorge Lorenzo's teammate, and departed for an ill-fated spell at Ducati, replacing Casey Stoner, who had moved to Honda. Stoner formed an almost unbeatable combination with the Honda, taking the title from Lorenzo in 2011, though Lorenzo got his revenge in 2012, winning the MotoGP title for a second time, becoming the first Spanish rider to win multiple titles in the premier class.
2013 saw the arrival of Marc Márquez, replacing the retiring Casey Stoner. Márquez made an even bigger impact than Lorenzo had on his debut, winning the championship at his first try. In doing so, Márquez pushed Lorenzo as Lorenzo had pushed Rossi before him, forcing him to extend himself to the limit to try to retain his crown.
Man of steel
That year saw what would become perhaps the defining moment in Jorge Lorenzo's career. At Assen, during a soaking wet FP2 on Thursday, Lorenzo hit a patch of water as he entered the terrifyingly fast right-left kink of Hoge Heide. He landed heavily, and broke his collarbone. Desperate to hold onto his chances of retaining the title, he flew back to Barcelona on Thursday night, had his collarbone plated by Dr Mir, and then flew back to Assen late on Friday night.
Lorenzo was passed fit on Saturday morning, ended morning warm up in eighth, then went on to finish the race in fifth position starting from last on the grid. He had lost only two points to championship leader Dani Pedrosa, and been far more competitive than anyone expected.
It was an other-worldly performance. The effort of the race had taken every ounce of grit and determination he had in his body. He had dealt with pain and suffering he never imagined existed, and triumphed over it. "I did something incredible that shows how the mind can push the body to the limits," Lorenzo said of that race.
But the crash came at a huge cost. Two weeks later, Lorenzo crashed again during practice, bending the plate on his collarbone. This time, he did not fly off for surgery and try to race, but instead came back a week later for the race at Laguna Seca.
Since the 2013 Assen crash, Lorenzo lost confidence in mixed conditions. He was still hard to beat in the dry, and fast when it was fully wet, but when grip was low, he suffered. It was partially a testament to his style, his ability to carry corner speed hampered by a lack of grip. But it was also because never found the confidence to push in tricky conditions, to try to put heat into the tires and trust that they would carry him.
2014 was a year of recovery for Lorenzo, coming back from multiple surgeries during the winter. He turned up at Sepang out of shape and overweight, and it took him a season to get back in form. That year stood him in good stead, however, Lorenzo capitalizing on an underperforming Honda forcing Márquez into mistakes in 2015, and triumphing over his teammate at the end of the year to take the title.
That was also not without controversy. The feud between Rossi and Márquez blew up during the flyaways, and while Lorenzo got on with the job of trying to win races and taking back the championship lead from Valentino Rossi, Rossi got caught up in conspiracy theories about Márquez' behavior at Phillip Island, and the penalty Rossi was given as a result of running Márquez off the track at Sepang handed the title to Lorenzo.
Lorenzo's career since then was defined by conflict, of one sort or another. The Spaniard felt that Yamaha hadn't supported him enough when he won that very controversial championship, and so left for Ducati. He was lured to Ducati by Gigi Dall'Igna and a salary of €25 million over two years, with Dall'Igna believing that Lorenzo was the last piece in the puzzle that would bring them the MotoGP title.
But Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali had opposed the signing of Lorenzo, wary of paying a famous rider a lot of money to try to win a title. Ducati's experience with Valentino Rossi had made him skeptical of this strategy, and though Lorenzo showed signs of promise, Domenicali's patience ran out, and he made pointed remarks about the Spaniard. Those remarks wounded Lorenzo's pride, and he held meetings with Repsol Honda at Barcelona, signing a contract for 2019 and 2020 with the team before Mugello.
At Mugello, Lorenzo's season turned around with a win, and he went on to look like a force which could threaten the hegemony of Marc Márquez and Repsol Honda. But it was not to be.
Breaking the mold
What is Jorge Lorenzo's legacy? He was the fourth of the so-called MotoGP Aliens, the foursome which dominated the series between 2006 and 2012. Along with Valentino Rossi, Dani Pedrosa, and Casey Stoner, they took victory in almost every MotoGP race between 2007 and 2012. Only exceptional conditions would allow others to prevail. Ironic, then, that Lorenzo's retirement leaves the first of those Aliens, Valentino Rossi, as the last one left on the grid.
Lorenzo is also a defining rider for Spanish motorcycle racing. He was the first Spanish MotoGP champion, and the second premier class champion after Alex Crivillé took the 500cc crown in 1999. But he was also the first Spanish rider to win multiple titles, his second in 2012 arguably more significant than his first in 2010.
He will be remembered for his time with Yamaha, above all. His style and smoothness was unparalleled, his ability to brake late, fling the bike on its side, and get drive out of corners, all while looking like he wasn't even trying, was what confounded his rivals. His corner speed was legendary. "The only time I get the same lean angle as Jorge is just before I crash," Cal Crutchlow would joke, when he was at Tech3 Yamaha, and could see Lorenzo's data from the factory team.
Standing trackside, watching Lorenzo brake, tip in, turn, and then exit, you never noticed he had even moved on the bike. He was so smooth, his motion so fluid, it was hard to get your head around. Watching him, it was hard not to think of the T1000 from the movie Terminator 2, as if Lorenzo was made of molten metal and flowing from one side of the bike to the other.
Lorenzo is an unusual character, a result of the upbringing by his father. Deprived of a normal childhood by his father, forced to train and practice and improve, working for his father's goal of raising a MotoGP champion. Jorge Lorenzo made that goal his own, and achieved and exceeded that objective. He was, in his own words, not just a great rider, but also a great champion. He will be missed in retirement.
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