One of the more intriguing things about spending a few years in a racing paddock is watching people grow and mature. Young riders come in to the Grand Prix paddock as exuberant 15 and 16-year-olds, certainly with the anachronistic maturity of all dedicated sportsmen and women, but still clearly young teenagers, that explosive mixture of energy, hormones and sheer joy driving them into paroxysms of hyperactivity. A few years later, those young boys (and now girls as well) turn into young men, and a fuller, more mature personality emerges.
Such is the case with Scott Redding. Three years ago, when he first moved to Moto2, he was still a teenager with an impish grin on his face, looking like he was either planning trouble, or just returning from it. At the launch of the Marc VDS Racing program last night, at the Belgian team's workshop a stone's throw from Charleroi airport, a different Scott Redding was on display, calmer, more mature, more serious but without having lost his sense of fun. More focused, too.
Redding knows that this year, he is playing for keeps. The goal is to either win the championship, or go down trying. This is his best chance, perhaps, with the introduction of a combined rider/bike minimum weight removing some of the advantage of the lighter riders, though the new limit of 215kg for both rider and bike still favors riders closer to 60 kg than to 70kg. His preparation has changed, spending the winter in Spain, riding, rather than in the dull English winter, where MX tracks are open on Saturdays and Sundays only, for a couple of hours each day.
Scott Redding is ready to become Moto2 champion. A conversation with the young Englishman:
MotoMatters.com: This is your fourth season?
Scott Redding: It is my fourth season isn't it? I was a bit worried that I'd done one year more!
MM: It's championship time isn't it?
SR: Yes, definitely, for me that's the target this year, to actually really fight for the championship. Last year we said we would go top five every race, and the majority of the time we reached that. Whereas now, we decided, I decided in myself that I really need to go for a championship before moving up to MotoGP.
MM: That was one reason to decide to stay for another year in Moto2?
SR: Yeah. The weight limit also kind of made me stay and it gives me a bit more of a chance, it makes it a little bit more fair. Because last year, if I was maybe 8, 9kg lighter, you know, the difference it would make would make me a regular podium finisher. The races I seemed to lose by a little bit here, a little bit there. I've always been fourth; if it was a little bit less, I could have maybe been higher up in the championship.
MM: I made a chart of top speeds for the race at Motegi, because Motegi was awful because of the back straight.
SR: Yeah, it was terrible.
MM: You were always 7, 8 kmh slower. Was there anything you could do about that?
SR: The only thing I could try and do about it was to try to pass the lighter rider and just try to block them, but that corner, straight out of the second gear, low RPM, I just didn't really have a chance. I'd get halfway along the straight and they'd already be coming alongside me so they'd pass me back, but then we'd get to the fast bit and I can't pull away, because they're in front of me. It was the same at Misano, I was with Kallio and Rabat, and that was the worst race I had to do, because I was passing them all round the circuit, but every straight we'd come on to the back straight with the fast right, always going into there they were passing me, but there was nothing really I could do about it, it was just something out of my control.
MM: How much difference do you think the weight is going to make?
SR: To my opponents like Luthi and Espargaro and Simon, not a big difference, but to people like Mika, Rabat and the real smaller riders? Maybe they won't be there at the places like Motegi, Misano, the stop-and-start circuits. So maybe I won't have to worry so much about them coming through at the end of the season at certain tracks.
MM: You say this year is the championship, how do you change your approach ?
SR: Just being more relaxed, and enjoying it still. Not to be too focused on it. If you enjoy it, you're also faster, and for me, being in Spain all the winter, having fun, training with the Supermoto, motocross, I feel really happy, like no stress or anything. And it just makes riding a bike just like an everyday thing, instead of going to race, it's like going to more ride the bike but just do the best I can on it.
MM: So in fact, to focus on the championship, you focus on the championship by focusing on it even less, almost it's almost like a paradox.
SR: Yeah, because the more I seem to think about it, the more you get into too much detail, but at the end of the day, you've got a pretty good set up anyway, and in the end you just have to ride the best you can on the day, it comes down to nothing else.
MM: So far, Pol Espargaro has looked pretty impressive. What can you do about him?
SR: Yes he's fast, but it's always just one lap. He is fast, but always with the new tire, always the first three laps he is fast. And we need to try and close the gap a bit, but also, he's never trying anything, he's got his set up and he just goes chasing lap time, lap time, lap time, whereas we're trying to find a good set for all season round, which we're pretty close to, and just to try and be ready for the season, instead of just at the test. I was fast just in the test last year all the time, and pretty fast the year before, but when it came to the season, it was a different story. So you know, I just want to be ready for the season, not just the tests, which is the big thing I've changed.
MM: Last year, the Kalex was clearly a fantastic package, it seemed to be the best bike, except in the wet. All of a sudden, in the wet, it didn't work...
SR: For me, in the rain, if it's properly wet-wet and the track grip is not bad, the Kalex is really good, but if there's not so much track grip, like Malaysia, Valencia in the mixed conditions, it really doesn't work. This is why the mixed conditions at Jerez were good for me to get confidence in the rain. I was fast in the rain as well, and that was just a confidence thing. But for the mixed conditions we had some things to try, but then you have to have the right conditions to try them.
MM: Does the bike produce too much grip?
SR: I think it's just like you say, the rear grip's really good on the Kalex, and it's just destroying the tire, and in the beginning it's alright, but then you start losing the rear on corner entry, and stuff like that, which was the problem with me. But on the other hand, Mika could ride the mixed conditions really well, so it was a bit of a Catch-22. Like, if he can ride it, I can't, what's sort of going on? Is it me, is it not? But then Espargaro was struggling. It just comes down to, I don't know, maybe too much weight transfer from my body size. Mika also runs a set up which is quite a lot different to many other riders because he is one of the smallest riders, so maybe it helps that he's not getting the weight transfer as much. The problem is in this game it's all questions, you know? To find the answer, you have to keep trying and failing and learning.
MM: How disappointed were you not to move up to MotoGP?
SR: I was a bit pissed in the beginning, but then I thought, like, I'm not there, but it's not a big deal. At that time, I was 19 years of age, I'm now 20, and if I go there, I'll be there for a long time. Better to maybe do a year here. And I want to get a championship, you know, I've been there or thereabouts, but I want to be the guy on top. Then move up, I don't think I'd deserve it unless I'm second or third, but been challenging all season, Then you deserve it. You don't really deserve it unless you're fighting from the class below. So, I also put that into consideration, and it also made me think to stay. And another reason was the bikes, you know, not knowing what bike I would get. I wasn't really willing to go with the Ducati that strongly, so, you know I think we did the right thing in the big picture.
MM: When do you start thinking about next year?
SR: It all starts from through the winter, you're always thinking about the following year, because it all starts from the fact that every time you go on the bike, they're all looking at you. But the main thing is the results. They don't care what else you do, if you can't do the results, they have no reason to want you. So it comes down to being there, and there when it counts, which is in the race and in the championship.
MM: We're going to Austin this year, new track, what are you like with tracks you've never seen before?
SR: I kind of thrive off it. I like a new challenge, like new circuits for me where I've definitely got a really good chance of winning. Every time we go to a new track I just seem to adapt really well, because I'm more motivated because I want to be the fastest guy at the new track. It's just something different, and you've never rode it before, you've got different track conditions, corners, it just gives a big atmosphere to the whole weekend which I really like. You know, I looked at the track on the net, it looks pretty awesome, but we have to see how it is when we get there, see how the tires are working, the bike set up...
MM: Marc Marquez has gone up to MotoGP. You raced with him last year. Two questions: first of all, what do you expect him to do this year, and the second question, when you watch him on a MotoGP bike, are you watching him with half an eye measuring yourself against that?
SR: To start with how I feel how he's done, I feel that's how the Moto2 world champion should go into MotoGP. They should be going straight away, pushing it, it's still a bike with two wheels, you know? And I think he's doing a really good job, and I think that's how I would like to go. He is doing a really impressive job at the moment, but in the race, we'll have to see how the pressure goes. I think he might find it a bit harder. But you know, he is fast, and that's the whole point of being in MotoGP.
MM: So he's not faster than you expected, he's what you expect a champion to achieve?
SR: Yes, a lot of people were saying about Bradl last year. He did do a good job, but should have been better in my eyes. It was a good job that he'd done, but the guys who were behind him were guys on Ducatis, stuff like this. Marquez is mixing with the big guys. You know, we all cook with water, so he should be there like he is.
MM: Seeing what he's done, and know how close you were too him, you think you can be able to match that, or at least get close to it?
SR: It's just there's so much a mix of things, with the bike and stuff. He's got one of the best bikes, so he has a little bit easier. But you know, if you give me the same bike or a good competitive bike like that, I'd want to be doing the same. You should be like top 5, that's what I would like to do. Which is what he's doing, he's even top 3, you know mixing it with the guys. That would be the sort of performance I'd be wanting to put in. You can't do that with a Ducati, in my eyes, you just wouldn't be able to do it, so you know, it's to do with the bike, the rider, and how it sort of mixes, and he's got on that bike and he's gelled with it straight away.
MM: Finally, a prediction, where you going to end at the end of the year?
SR: For the championship? Hmm. I think it's going to be close, to be honest. But like I said, obviously I want to go for the championship, but that's quite a hard call to make now, because anything can happen, especially when it's so early. I think there will be two people fighting, but yeah, I think it'll be top 2, top 3, and I just want to be there every race, on the podium and fighting for the victories.
MM: There's going to be you and Espargaro, who else do you see that can be there? Obviously Thomas Luthi has a problem with his elbow, but who else?
SR: When Luthi comes back, he'll be strong. Simon seems not bad at the moment, he's also floating around, same as Terol. But again, with the tests it's hard to sort of say, because some guys are with Supersport engines. So do you want to take the big risk in testing, and not make the first race because you crashed then OK. But in my eyes, I don't want to do that this year, I want to be the guy that's maybe on the top step in the first race. That means more to me than being on top in testing. It's just all a little mixture of all the little things that you need to make to be at the top.