Dani Pedrosa is in his eleventh season in MotoGP. Throughout that period, he has seen many changes in the premier class. He raced in the last year of the 990s, then throughout the 800 era, and saw the return of the 1000cc machines. Only Valentino Rossi has been in MotoGP for longer, or raced, and won on, a greater variety of machines.
Pedrosa arrived in MotoGP being heralded as the next big thing, the prime candidate to challenge Valentino Rossi for the title. He started strongly, winning races in his first season, and clearly being competitive. But the focus would shift in his second year to his former 250cc rival Casey Stoner, who took the factory Ducati ride and blew the competition out of the water in 2007.
In 2008, Jorge Lorenzo came to strengthen the top of MotoGP, creating the narrative of the four MotoGP Aliens. When Stoner hung up his helmet at the end of 2012, Marc Márquez stepped into his boots and upped the level of competition even further.
The level of competition Pedrosa has faced has meant he has not received the recognition he deserves for his incredible record. In eleven seasons, Pedrosa has won 29 races in MotoGP, putting him in 8th place on the all time winners list. His win at Misano, after a very difficult start to the season, laid any doubts to rest over his motivation, and his ability. Pedrosa remains capable of winning any race he lines up on the grid for.
I spoke to Pedrosa at Misano, intending to look back at his time in MotoGP, and to discuss how things had changed. But the conversation took a slightly different tack than I was expecting. In our conversation, Pedrosa talked about his relationship with the press, and how that had colored his time in the class. Pedrosa has not always been the most talkative of riders – questions are sometimes answered with a tiny nod or shake of the head, where another rider might explain in great detail – but when he does talk, it is always worth listening carefully.
Q: This is your eleventh season in MotoGP. You’ve seen a lot of changes. When you came to MotoGP was it what you expected? What were your first impressions of your first year in MotoGP?
Dani Pedrosa: I remember that the media effect compared to 250, or 125, was huge. The interest of the media about the classes, and the effect of being a rider in one class or in a different class, even though you were always in the front was totally different.
Q: Was it a shock?
DP: Yeah, as a negative. Not for the media obligations, but for the feelings, of heart.
Q: For example the criticisms?
DP: No. For you, the passion, the passion for riding the bike and riding it fast is the same if you are in 125 or if you are in MotoGP. The love you have to expose yourself there is the same. But the effect of that on others was a disillusion, to see that they care a lot more about the big class. Which is understandable because it’s the big attraction from the three races on Sunday..
Q: Did you feel it almost devalued 125s, 250s and the things you achieved?
DP: No. For me it was huge to be world champion, only one guy can do this a year. But it was just that maybe then, I expected the people to care the same way. But then when you jump, you feel it’s not the same.
I thought that when I was in 125 and 250, I thought that my experience with the press was already normal for the experience with the press. But then when you go to MotoGP the experience with the press expands way bigger. And then you see the difference. Now you see that you were actually playing just a small percentage part.
Q: In English we have an expression, a big fish in a small pond, and you suddenly realized it was a very small pond you were in. Was there distraction? Did that actually make it difficult to concentration on adapting to MotoGP?
DP: No. It’s not easy, the part that you have to measure every word you say, because there’s always someone willing to twist the things you say to profit off that. At the beginning you make a lot of mistakes because you are naive about that.
Q: Have you changed to be a little bit more cautious with the press over the years then?
DP: Cautious is not the right word, but basically you cannot always say everything as 100% of what you want. Sometimes your feelings or the truth actually is there, but you cannot always share everything that you want and at that moment. But you get to know that.
Q: Is that frustrating sometimes? Certainly when I’ve spoken to some riders after something happened, at the time they will tell you, “no, this is what happened, why it was doing this, and it was okay.” And then afterwards they say, “I couldn’t tell you that because things were a little bit different but I couldn’t tell you the whole story because of the way that things change in the middle of one season. After the season is finished you look back differently.” Is that the same for you? Is it frustrating that you can’t always speak your mind?
DP. Sometimes. Depends on the situation. Sometimes, yes. But most of the time I’m not one that likes to share a lot of my things and my thinking. So actually I struggle more with that part than to want to say.
Q: It’s more frustrating that you have to speak.
DP: Yes! [Laughs]
Q: The championship, you came in on a 990 and then immediately the rules changed to 800 which were totally different bikes. Was that difficult? Were all the changes which we’ve seen, because we went from 990 to 800 and then to 1000 and now we’ve got spec electronics. Have those changes made it more difficult or easier?
DP: Difficult, of course. When I jumped into the 990s, the bike was amazing. It was just get on the bike, put the tires in and ride. Just by riding you get to know how to ride it and you get fast.
Then all of a sudden there were changes. No experience in MotoGP, just one year, and need to develop the bike, need to develop the tires and need to race at the same time. It was in my second season, so if it turns out that those changes all fit together and the combination is working, that's fine. But if it turns out that it’s the opposite and you have to carry all that and try to get out of the problems, then it’s very difficult. Of course after debuting the 990 would be perfect to have a continuation of that experience. Continue with the same bike, the same team. You just do one step better.
Q: Was it almost like starting again?
DP: At the time with Honda we struggled to get the 800 to work.
Q: The first 800 was a difficult bike?
DP: Yes, the first and the second year.
Q: Was it almost like starting again from zero?
DP: The project, yes.
Q: How much fun was it? Was it a lot less fun to ride the 800 as well?
DP: A little bit less fun.
Q: Was it more like a 250 or not?
No. Way much more power than a 250. But the weight was there, and I don’t know, it was not like a 250.
Q: These bikes you’re riding now, the 1000’s, now that we have a bigger bike, more power, smoother power, and Michelins again, are these bikes easier to ride? Are they again more fun than the 800 or not? More like the 990s or are they very different?
DP: No, they are different now. These days they are different. The way of riding the bike is also different. Because we come from an area of, the riders now they are all used to the Bridgestones for a long time, most of them. So we push the new tires and the new bikes the same way.
The riders, the tires, they all are different than when I started in 990, the riding style wasn’t like that. In the 990 it was very strange to start the race and push from the beginning. You play a bit in the beginning, warm up the tires, do some cruising on the first laps, try to get your position, try to see the line, see who is faster or not. And then when you see clear, boom. You attack middle of the race, end of the race or when you see the chance. But these days now, since 800s the strategy is "last one home is a bad egg".
Q: Some people probably blame Casey Stoner for that change, or was it you?
DP: And me! When I was in the 990 if I had the chance in practice, I went out and I’d profit every lap. Then when everybody wake up I was already gone! I remember it was like this before.
Q: I remember lots of people always complaining when you won because you were gone within a lap and a half. That hasn’t happened for a while now.
DP: Sepang my last victory was like this.
Q: Is it more difficult to do that now? Has something changed?
DP: No, now what is difficult is not to get caught or to get the right position. Because everyone is going from the start. If you get in the middle of something or with someone, the race can be…
Q: Almost over in the first corner, which is why qualifying has become so important?
DP: Yes. And then you spend all the race trying to recover one position.
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