Honda's Missed Trick: How HRC Could Have Taken The Sting Out Of Pedrosa's Return
When Dani Pedrosa finally returns to the MotoGP paddock, he is in for a very rough ride. Pedrosa's injury has been shrouded mystery - at least, it has been since he was photographed at a bowling alley in Barcelona, only to announce he would be missing his home race at Montmelo, just a few miles away, a couple of days later. Rumors that he had reinjured his collarbone in a training accident - possibly involving a supermoto bike - emerged on the Spanish website Motocuatro.com in the days between the Barcelona and Silverstone rounds of MotoGP, fueled further when it was announced that Pedrosa would have yet more surgery to fix a loose piece of bone in his collarbone after Silverstone.
Naturally, the press - and most especially, the Spanish section of it - are chomping at the bit to speak to Pedrosa. They are determined to get to the bottom of this intrigue, and the Spaniard will face a barrage of questions in every one of the press briefings he attends. Doubtless the Repsol Honda team will organize an extra press conference on Thursday to handle most of the questions, but the answers he gives there will be subjected to intense scrutiny overnight, and revised versions of the questions then put to Pedrosa the next day, a process which will repeat every day until Sunday night, when the Spaniard is likely to fly home to Barcelona. Any hopes of being able to concentrate on racing are surely in vain.
Yet it all could have been much easier for Pedrosa. If the Repsol Honda team - or rather, its two separate wings, the Repsol Media Service and HRC - had been a little more opportunist, cynical, and adroit at exploiting events, and using the insatiable hunger of the press against them.
Pedrosa's main challenge will be to maintain his concentration at Mugello as he faces intense scrutiny from the press. While he is trying to focus on assessing his fitness and working on finding a race setup, his daily rider debriefs will be full of questions about his time off, how he reinjured his collarbone, and what he was doing at the bowling alley. Maintaining focus on a race weekend is hard enough normally, the media spotlight that Pedrosa will be under will make it nigh-on impossible.
So how can Pedrosa avoid the attention from the press? The answer is that it's too late now, for the Repsol team have missed their prime opportunity to expose Pedrosa to the press under controlled conditions. If Dani had been at Assen, his weekend at Mugello would have been a lot easier. Here's why.
The news that Ducati would be bringing a radically revised version of the Ducati Desmosedici to Assen for Valentino Rossi set the media and the message boards alight. The additional news that the bike was basically a destroked GP12 - Ducati's 2012 MotoGP bike, which Rossi has been testing at Jerez and Mugello - with the crankshaft and the conrods the only parts different between the GP12 and the GP11.1 (as Rossi's new bike has been dubbed) added more speculation in the press about the validity of the testing regulations and whether and to what extent Ducati had broken them.
Rossi's press debrief on Wednesday was naturally packed. Starting a few minutes after its usual scheduled spot of 4:30 (Rossi is notoriously late for everything except the race itself), the debrief went on well past its alloted 15 minute length, extending into the first few minutes of the traditional pre-event press conference, due to start at 5pm. Pedrosa's usual press debrief is at 4:45, slotted between Rossi and the press conference. He speaks to the Spanish media first, then to the Catalan press, and finally to the English-speaking media.
If Honda or Repsol had been smart, Pedrosa would have been at Assen on Wednesday, and would have spoken to the press at his usual appointed slot of 4:45. The press - and especially the Spanish press - would have been forced to choose: abandon Rossi early, and give up their chance of asking Rossi about accusations of cheating (much has been made of the GP11.1 in the Spanish media, though the factory has been cleared of any wrongdoing by MotoGP's bosses) to head off to ask Pedrosa about his injury. Attendance would have been sparser that it now will be at Mugello, where the novelty of the GP11.1 has worn off.
Fortune would have smiled further on Repsol Honda had Pedrosa elected to turn up at Assen. Events - unpredictable though they are - would have conspired to take much attention away from Pedrosa's return. First, there was the cancellation of all practice on Thursday afternoon due to oil on the track. Then there was the cold-tire controversy that caused all three Repsol Hondas to crash in Friday morning's extended FP2 practice, and the debate that the difficult warmup procedure of the spec Bridgestones engendered. And finally, there was Marco Simoncelli's first-lap crash - again caused by cold tires - taking Jorge Lorenzo in his fall, and allowing Casey Stoner to extend his championship lead.
No doubt Pedrosa would have faced a good deal of questioning at Assen, but with nothing to do but practice his answers with his media handlers, and perhaps shake hands with a few fans, Pedrosa could have done so without the extra stress of a normal race weekend. Press conferences and questioning could easily have been cut short, citing physiotherapy sessions and medical appointments as reasons - real or imagined. Pedrosa could have weighed in on tires and Marco Simoncelli, diverting attention from his own situation.
Most importantly, though, Pedrosa would have headed to Mugello with time on his hands. Once in Italy, he could have focused on racing, with only the daily press debriefs and standard questions ("how are the tires, where are your problems, when will you test the 1000") to deal with. The bulk of the pressure would have been off, diverted elsewhere beforehand.
Life is tough enough as a motorcycle racer, just handling the demands of the sponsors and the fans (or as they are also known, the people who pay their wages) alongside finding the total focus needed to ride a MotoGP machine at its very limit. Facing the media is part of the job, but a little deviousness on the part of the team can help ease that path. And after Dani Pedrosa's turbulent past 8 months and struggles with injury, he needs all the help he can get.