It’s over. After weeks of suspense and a half-hidden flirtation with Yamaha, former 125 and double 250 champion Dani Pedrosa confirmed his retirement at the end of this season at the Sachsenring today
The 32-year-old Spaniard thus brings an 18-year career to an end – all with Honda, and with at least one GP win every year since his first in the 125 class in 2002.
The announcement came at a packed press briefing at the historic German venue, where Pedrosa held his emotions in check as he thanked Honda, his team, and his fans for their support; only faltering briefly when answering questions at the end.
In trade-mark matter-of-fact style, he began: “Firstly, I would like to announce that next year I will not compete in the championship. This decision I have been thinking about for a long time. It was a very hard decision, because this is a sport I love, but despite having very good opportunities to keep racing, I didn’t feel the same intensity for racing, and I now have different priorities in my life.”
He continued: “I’d like to express how fortunate I feel to have this opportunity. It’s been an amazing life to be racing for such an important team, in front of all the fans. I achieved way more than I expected, and I am very, very proud of all that I have done. I fulfilled my dream of becoming a racer, which I didn’t think was possible when I was very young.”
He thanked Dorna, Honda, his original discoverers Movistar, as well as his family and “all the fans that supported me and sent messages to me in many difficult situations.
“Now is a new chapter, and I am happy to start.”
A moment of tearfulness came after he was asked to pick out a special moment. “There are many, but one was when I started racing in Jarama [in trials for the Movistar talent series]. I was very small, and I didn’t imagine with so many riders that I would be picked. From that moment to here … is amazing.”
He revealed that he had originally planned to announce his retirement at the GP of Catalunya early in June, but that an offer from the still formative Petronas Yamaha team meant he deferred the decision. “The opportunity showed up, and you must consider these; and it is better to take these decisions with more time.”
Pedrosa was followed by Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, who echoed the thoughts of many when he praised “especially his behaviour, which has been an example to everybody.” For that reason, Dorna had decided to nominate him to the MotoGP Hall of Fame, where he would be inducted at the final round at Valencia.
From Sabadell, less than 20 km from the circuit of Barcelona-Catalunya at Montmelo, Pedrosa started riding motorcycles at six, and was soon racing minibikes. His big break came in 2002, after excelling in a Movistar-backed series to promote young talent. Along with former Moto2 champion Toni Elias and the ultimately less successful Joan Olive, he was brought into GPs under the wing of current HRC team manager Alberto Puig.
Dani started winning races in his second 125 season, and in 2003 scored a massive title win over Alex de Angelis, before moving to 250s and immediate consecutive championships in 2004 and again in 2005, when he defeated Casey Stoner. The next year he moved to MotoGP, straight into Honda’s factory team, and the 250 title went to Jorge Lorenzo, the rider who has now effectively ousted him from Honda.
Pedrosa took his first senior-class victory in China in his first season, and has been a race winner every year since, amassing a total so far of 31 MotoGP victories. But misfortune, stronger team-mates, and most particularly a propensity for injury have thwarted his championship hopes. He has been three times second, and three times third overall, and only twice finished outside the top four.
Injury robbed him of a distant chance in 2010 (a mechanic’s error jammed his throttle open at Motegi with five races to go). In 2011 he was knocked off and injured early on at Le Mans, having won in Portugal two weeks before, by a headlong Marco Simoncelli, who crashed fatally later that year.
His best chance was in 2012: he was just 18 points adrift of champion Lorenzo. In the first 12 races he took three wins and finished off the podium just once. Then he was again an innocent victim, when Hector Barbera knocked him down at Misano. He’d started from pole. Even second place there would have earned him that ever-elusive title.
The toll of seemingly regular injuries, unlike his rubber-ball team-mate Marquez, may be a function of his small size: just 1.6 metres tall, and weighing a featherlight 51kg. He has also all too frequently had the bad luck to be knocked down by other riders through no fault of his own, and injured almost every time.
This year alone he was sent flying by Zarco in Argentina, suffering wrist fractures although making a heroic return to Texas two weeks later; and then by both factory Ducatis at Jerez, where he sustained troublesome shoulder injuries.
Ironically, left to his own devices, Pedrosa is regarded as one of the safest riders, earning the respect of his peers for this facet.
Pedrosa is also admired by the press and other paddock folk, largely because of his quiet nature, gentle sense of humour, and general resistance to falling into the trap of being a superstar. He can be relied on for a matter-of-fact answer to questions; and notably played the role of sporting gentleman in the 2016 dispute between Rossi and Marquez, after the former had knocked the latter flying at Sepang, and when Lorenzo joined the argument with all fists flying.
Pedrosa lost his Honda seat when Lorenzo offered his services after the French GP in May, and was expected to announce his retirement two races later. The chance to switch to Yamaha intervened, but it is understood that the package – financial and technical – was not enough to persuade him to turn his back on Honda, thus losing the opportunity for a future role with the company.
By Michael Scott