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Lorenzo – Why has Mr Perfect become Mr Plonker? | COLUMNS | GASSIT GARAGE

Jorge Lorenzo is the fastest MotoGP rider in the world. Jorge Lorenzo has battled to finish in the top 5 for the last two rounds.

Both of the above contradictory statements are true. So just what is going on with the defending World Champion?

One answer is fairly obvious. The margins in MotoGP are small, and the difference between success and failure likewise. But surely not that much, if you have 64 GP wins and five World Championships in your pocket and a factory Yamaha between your legs.

Another also springs to mind: that Lorenzo is a superb rider, but somewhat one-dimensional. He needs everything to be absolutely perfect – track surface, bike settings etc – before he too can do everything absolutely perfectly. As golden-age hero Randy Mamola once described it to me: “He only has one knife in the box.” Albeit a very sharp one.

But this also is a bit too simplistic. To seek a deeper answer, we need to fall back on what sets motorcycle racing apart from other motorsports. It is the most personal, due to factors including but not exclusively the mobile centre of gravity endowed by a rider moving around.

For there is another, subtler movable element. The state of his psyche.

Head games are an important part of racing. Just ask Rossi, who has made a speciality of disassembling the confidence of rivals including most famously Max Biaggi, and a number of others … in fact almost anyone fast enough to pose a threat.

Including Jorge Lorenzo?

Hitherto the Spaniard has been pretty much impervious to psychological assault from his off-and-on teammate, and there is no clear reason for that to have changed. In spite of Rossi’s full-on anti-Spain initiative of last year, centred around Lorenzo and Márquez. The latter seems to have gained strength as a result.

Lorenzo, however, has become a frequent faller. Eight so far this year equals his combined total for the past three years.

Whatever has undone Jorge seems to have come from within. A conclusion in keeping with his very complex character. Jorge is not an especially warm personality, but he is intelligent, analytical, and has a deep well of self-belief.

Deep, but clearly not bottomless. It goes the other way when the weather turns. Rain completely undermines what is usually one of his strongest weapons.

It started with his famous 2013 Assen crash. He touched a white line on the fastest corner, smashed his collarbone, and returned to race to a heroic fifth 48 hours later. Ever since then, he has been spooked.

Never more so, however, than at the last two races, Assen (10th) and Sachsenring (15th). In both cases, he was a pitiful shadow of a grand prix rider; and it was far from comfortable to watch.

It cast my mind back to past talent collapses. Most ironically that of Freddie Spencer, once virtually unbeatable, turning suddenly into a very average GP rider. The talent that had once illuminated every race and cast a shadow over his rivals suddenly became a muted glow. It was as though he had forgotten how to ride.

Ironical, because if there is any parallel from that era it would be Freddie’s rival Eddie Lawson, nicknamed ´Steady´ for the smooth, inch-perfect riding and considered consistency that are Lorenzo’s hallmarks. It is Márquez with the Spencer touch: fast enough to crash regularly, talented enough to save it without even slowing down.

Another more recent parallel is even less comfortable.

Can anyone think of a rider of surpassing talent who went, over one winter, from a reliable winner to a dismal also-ran? Yes – none other than Rossi. When he moved from Yamaha to Ducati.

Exactly what Lorenzo is doing next year.


Lorenzo, San Marino MotoGP 2016

Lorenzo, San Marino MotoGP 2016